Best of 2013: Grand Theft Auto V
With Christmas only days away and the inevitable end of the year closely following it, I’ve reached that special time where I get to list off what I consider to be the best games of this year. Keeping with my tradition, I will be counting down my top three video games of 2013 throughout this week. There are only two rules. One, the game must have been released sometime in 2013, and two, I must have played the game myself. This list is subjective but keep in mind that any one of these games could be considered a legitimate contender for game of the year for any of you. These are all games you should play, if you haven’t already.
Grand Theft Auto V has a lot to live up to. It’s not only the most expensive game ever made, but it also has to meet expectations set by its predecessor Grand Theft Auto IV and some would argue Red Dead Redemption, both excellent games. It also faces more competition with other open-world games such as Sleeping Dogs, Saints Row and to a certain degree, the Assassin’s Creed games. It’s very easy to compare GTA V with its contemporaries and note the shortcomings, but even then GTA V is still a great game.
The most defining feature of GTA V is its massive scope. For one, it stars not one, but three protagonists in an inter-weaving narrative that riffs on Capitalism, patriotism and greed. It takes place in Los Santos, a fictional version of Los Angeles and Northern desert area called Blaine County. The story, and the world where it’s set, spoofs just about every aspect of American culture, from twitter to Scientology to Hollywood. It’s boasts a massive game world, a plethora of mini-games and many side missions to complete. It also features a large online multiplayer mode (which I can’t comment on having not played it), however the single player game has enough content to last you for well over 40 hours.
As I mentioned before, GTA V stars three protagonists. First is Franklin Clinton an ambitious African-American seeking to leave “the hood” behind. Next is Michael De Santa, a fifty-something retired bank robber going through a mid-life crisis while living with his dysfunctional family in his mansion in Rockford Hills (the game’s take on Beverly Hills). Trevor Phillips, a psychotic and unstable meth dealer and member of Michael’s now-defunct heist crew rounds out the trio. The player can switch freely between these characters and the gameplay is always fresh as a result. Each character continues their daily life when the player isn’t controlling them, which is an excellent way of building character. Trevor for example, has a tendency of being found in undignified scenarios be it sleeping in a dumpster or vomiting in a fountain. All of this adds up to each character feeling like a real person with their own goals, flaws and fears.
Though the narrative is equally driven by all three characters, Trevor is easily the most interesting of the trio. He’s a despicable outlaw yet has a twisted moral code and is oddly sympathetic. He has a problem with authority and isn’t afraid to speak his mine. Despite all his flaws he’s a genuine character who has a tendency to call people out on their BS. He takes advantage of every opportunity which makes him, oddly enough, a true capitalist. His character serves as a metaphor for the hypocrisy of Capitalism,, which serves as a central theme in GTA V. I rarely knew what he would do next and his introduction into the story is one of the more memorable gaming moments I experienced all year.
The missions are the bread-and-butter of any Grand Theft Auto game and in this regard, GTA V is outstanding. Many of the missions in are large enough to be the last mission in any other game this year. There are few boring moments among the 69 story missions GTA V has to offer, but the best of them are the heist missions. Each heist is done in several stages and offers the player two completely different methods of approaching a score. The player also chooses who will go with them on each heist; a better crew is more expensive but ensures fewer mistakes, it’s a great use of consequence to motivate the player. That being said, the missions are typically linear, which conflicts the open-world structure of the game, but they are so enjoyable that you won’t care.
More than any other Grand Theft Auto game, GTA V has a great atmosphere. Not just from Rockstar Games’ attention to detail, the addition of an original score or the spoof TV programs and radio stations. Every element comes together to produce a game that’s bursting with atmosphere. There are few things as enjoyable as flipping off people in traffic. The gameplay is just as good. The shooting is good (though unfortunately not as good as Rockstar’s own Max Payne 3), the driving is lots of fun and the cover system, while a bit clunky, gets the job done.
The weakest part of Grand Theft Auto V is the story. The narrative lacks a central antagonist until very late into the game. The narrative sort of twiddles its thumbs until something exciting happens. At times, there’s little to look forward to from the plot. It lacks the likeable cast of side-characters from GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption and none of the three protagonists have a strong motivation like Niko Bellic and John Marston. The game also has multiple endings but, without spoiling anything, two of the three endings in this game have severe consequences but the third has none whatsoever. It completely negates the other two endings. It’s perfect example of how having multiple endings makes a worse game rather than better.
Grand Theft Auto V is a good game in just about every area. It lives up to the lofty expectations set by previous games but it doesn’t exceed them. There are a few moments that blew me away and that’s not much else I can say. It’s one the better games of the year, but it’s not the best game of the year. If you’re one of the few people who hasn’t bought Grand Theft Auto V, I highly recommend you play it.