When I first started playing Red Dead Redemption, I was so very captivated by it, that I wrote a post about it after only a week. I’ve had Grand Theft Auto V for 2 days, and I’ve already decided to write about it.
So, what does that tell ya?
My in-game playing time has been even less, too; I’ve had school, a first date with a lovely woman, and more school… beyond the usual distractions of eating and sleeping. By the time you read this, I will have only played for roughly 6 hours, but it’s already been an absolutely beautiful experience. I mentioned this to a friend, when he was asking me about it, but for as much as I love and revere Red Dead Redemption as my favorite game, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to find GTA V rising right up alongside it.
So, what has captivated me so much? I’m glad you asked :). I won’t ruin any story elements for you, but if you’d like to avoid reading about some of the fantastic details and things that have made me laugh with glee, go ahead and stop here. Otherwise…
When the game arrived at my house, I was giddy. I haven’t played a new GTA game, on its release, since San Andreas… rather fitting, I think, that this new game is set in part of the same area. I had to wait until that night to do the mandatory install, but even the intro Rockstar title made me grin with appreciation. Gunfire, sirens, and the classic wanted stars appear in the top corner, before one of them moves down to center-screen and shifts into the Rockstar logo.
So, the game opens on what is probably my favorite intro/tutorial lesson I’ve played before. You’re taking control of characters who already know what they’re doing and are in the middle of a heist – and jumping right into it from the get-go was an immediate blast. I guess the jokes about “First thing I’m going to do in GTA V? Driving tutorial” weren’t so accurate this time around ;). When I first played Red Dead, I commented on just how much fun shooting a gun was in that game. The first thing I noticed in GTA V was just how similarly satisfying the gun control is – Rockstar has taken every element of a GTA game, including the many leaps they made with GTA IV, and polished absolutely everything. The menu design is crisp and intuitive, the character control is absolutely fluid, cars drive wonderfully, the storyline has been an complete blast to watch unfold, and of course.. the visual quality is absolutely breathtaking.
Just as I did while riding my steed through the western wilderness, on numerous occasions (even while driving), I’ve stopped what I was doing just to take in the beautiful scenery. The beaches are populated with sunbathers, the streets are filled with interesting groups of people, and true to their pre-release claim, every single building is unique. Let me say that part, again. Every building you see in this game looks different from every other building (save for an apartment complex, or something). The cell phone makes a return, but it’s so much more valuable, now… your character uses it for email, texting, the Internet, taking pictures… and, in a fantastic surprise that few have mentioned, you can use it to perform a quick save wherever you are. The new police/wanted system is absolutely brilliant, as well. It works on line-of-sight, and after being hidden for a short while, the radar shows individual cops and a cone of view that sweeps around as they search for you. Eventually, they give up.. and wanted stars gone! Of course, the cops are also great shots, now (but not unrealistically so, from what I’ve seen)… so it really balances out. If you get a helicopter on you, though, things are sure a heck of a lot hairier.. but I’ll get to that later. Rockstar didn’t just polish everything, though.. the really implemented a lot of new, and wonderful, ideas.
When I was first exploring, I walked into a strip club, but what got me excited wasn’t a bunch of digital babes.. but an ATM. I walked up to it, out of curiosity, and I laughed when I saw that using the machine shows a transaction history for my character – itemized credits and debits from mission earnings, barbershop visits.. just about everything. These little things have kept popping up, here and there, and every one makes this new iteration from a classic game series feel like a breath of fresh air. I mentioned laughing, and I’ve actually done so quite a bit during my few hours playing this game, some of it because the writing is genuinely funny and some of it because I was giddy with excitement about the madness of a mission or a cool new feature. The character-switching idea works so much better than I imagined it might, and exploring this world as three different people (the third isn’t yet playable for me, though), could’ve been a cumbersome mess – but it’s absolutely brightened the whole world with possibility. The various characters are all really deep and well-written, and playing the game has felt like I’m playing a movie. Heck, the intro theme, alone, very much echoes the movie Heat… but my favorite discovery, so far, actually does the most to complement this movie-feel. I almost didn’t realize it at first, but GTA V doesn’t have load screens when starting or ending missions. You move up to the mission-start marker, and often without even a camera change, the mission setup begins. A cut-scene then plays out, but the final shot flows right into controllable game-play again… no fading in or out, it’s all seamless, and it adds SO much to the grand scope of this unfolding story.
I could probably gush for hours, but I’ll wrap things up with a list of some of the great things I’ve discovered and loved so far:
- Car customization is back, and it’s really quite deep
- Characters can sneak.. which allows for silent take-downs and helps avoid being caught by people who might shoot you
- I’ve gotten away with murder without a single wanted star popping up, due to the reality of the new police system, but it’s sort of haunting to do so
- While walking too close to the airport fence, I earned a 3-star wanted level… and took my surprised character on one HECK of an adventure
- After escaping the police, I took my character on a contemplative drive out in the wilderness (not too far, but the map is so huge). When he was lost in the middle of nowhere, instead of trying to get back to civilization, I just switched to my other character, and picked up back in the city. The second character was driving a cab… which was either accidental or brilliant
- The map really is very, freaking huge
- You can ride a ferris wheel!
- The radio can still be adjusted step-by-step, but there is also an option to manually select which station you want while driving
- When entering station-selection, the game enters a slow-mo mode… allowing you to make your choice without crashing your car
- Car crashes are really cool looking
- I’ve seen a coyote, but unlike in the wild west, these animals are much more skittish around humans
- I haven’t run into any mountain lions… yet
- Instead of jumping over a short wall, my character slid across it like over the hood of a car
- Skills can be developed, which affect other elements (e.g. running more often develops stamina, practicing at a gun range increases accuracy)
- I went underwater a little bit, and the quality is different in different areas: it was murky and filled with debris in a city channel, clear and clean in the open ocean.
- You can go underwater
- As the sun set, I watched the shadows on the building next to me slowly fade away into nothing
- There are tow-truck missions
- Everything is perfect
Red Dead Redemption blew me away – giving me the perfect western, and really changing the landscape of what I thought a game could be. GTA V is doing that all over again – taking every element from Rockstar’s game-making history, stirring it into a pot, pouring out the ideal mixture… and then slathering it with fresh ideas and beautiful design.
I can’t wait to see what I discover next!