Okay, let’s get the formalities out of the way. Is Grand Theft Auto V the best game of the year? Easily. Is it the best game of this current generation of consoles? Definitely – and it’s quite possibly the best video game yet. I say this after playing it for “only” 20 hours.
“Only” 20 hours is only about half-way done. In judging the game, however, I feel it’s appropriate to draw on the wisdom of Trevor Phillips, the redneck sociopath who’s one of the three main playable characters. When one of his henchman offers to get him anything he wants, Trevor replies in vulgarly funny fashion: “The problem is that I don’t know what I want,” he says. “It’s like pornography or the perfect turd – I’ll know it when I see it.”
That GTA V is, er, perfect is a conclusion that can easily be made after only a few hours. I came to my own realization after taking part in a thrilling jet-ski race, where the sun was glistening off immaculately rendered ocean waves that sent me rollicking and bouncing. It was sublime.
With apologies to Trevor, there is nothing turd-like about GTA V. I can’t wait to spend another 20 hours getting lost in its giant, beautiful and hilarious world.
Indeed, there has never been such a massive and meticulously crafted virtual environment before. Set in Los Santos and its surrounding desert, a loving recreation of Los Angeles and Southern California, GTA V is astonishing in its physical beauty. Mountains go on forever into the horizon, vivid lightning crashes through the sky, wildlife scurries about wherever you look, crowds of people go about their business.
And there’s so much for you, the player, to do. Drive cars, boats, planes, helicopters, submarines, play tennis, compete in a triathlon, get a tattoo, ride roller coasters and Ferris wheels, learn yoga, test guns at a firing range, buy and manage businesses, collect clothes, get a haircut, surf the web, snap and share photos, go for a walk with your dog… it’s a virtual world that presents almost as many possibilities as its real counterpart.
But it’s not just a technical masterpiece, because almost all of those activities – from the action-oriented to the mundane – are fun, or at least funny.
Take the simple act of watching television. Reformed gang-banger Franklin, one of the other two main characters, plops down on his aunt’s couch and turns on the tube to see what’s on. The cartoon airing is “Kung Fu Rainbow Laser Force,” about a conservative group of super heroes who advocate intolerance of minorities and abstinence from sex.
Franklin lights up a joint and the screen gets hazy while the show’s theme song blares: “Sex is bad, violence is good, gonna save the neighbourhood… from sex!” He doesn’t much notice, though, since he’s too busy getting fried: “Yeah man, this makes me feel clean and relaxed as a [expletive]. Yeah… happy!”
Bored with that, he hops into a car and drives a few blocks before a neon sign reading “Vanilla Unicorn” catches his attention. He realizes it’s a strip joint, so he heads in. A stripper named “Cheetah” wastes no time in propositioning him for a lap dance. “Sure,” he says.
Cheetah starts grinding away on him to Rihanna’s Only Girl in the World while a bouncer stands guard nearby. Suddenly, the bouncer walks off so Franklin begins caressing the dancer’s naked body, which slowly activates her “like” meter. The bouncer pops back into view and Franklin quickly pulls his hands away.
The back-and-forth is repeated a few times until the meter is filled, at which point he asks Cheetah if she wants to come home with him. Alas, she tells him she doesn’t sleep around, but she does invite a friend in for a double dance. Now it’s harder for Franklin to see the bouncer and he inevitably gets caught, then unceremoniously thrown out the front door. He stands up, brushes himself up and wonders what no-good he can get up to next.