You've heard the reports about past and present Grand Theft Auto games. More times than you even wanted to, you've encountered information and ruminations about GTA's hard-core violence, blisteringly foul language and rotgut use-and-abuse-a-hooker horridness. But when the latest in the series hits the store shelves and sells $800 million worth of software in a single day, and then takes in over $1 billion in its first week, well, then even casual observers start wondering just what this franchise has going for it.
That kind of cash spill puts all of the summer movie blockbusters to shame, after all. And, indeed, nearly 20% of Plugged In readers reported in an online poll that someone in their family had either already purchased the game or were planning on doing so.
So let's start there. What's the big draw with Grand Theft Auto V?
Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Thugs and Hos Roam
Strictly from a gamemaking perspective, this latest GTA is a technically impressive feat. Its "go anywhere, do anything" world is vast and varied. Even if you want to skip the main missions for a day or two just to play a little virtual golf, ride ATVs in the desert, go scuba diving, practice parachuting or buy some threads, there's plenty of open and seemingly endless cityscape to do it in.
You can also, of course, stuff money into a stripper's g-string or beat some innocent to a bloody pulp behind a dumpster … but I'm getting ahead of myself.
This game's innovative structure introduces us to three central characters—troubled upscale thug Michael (who worries over his sleep-around wife and rudderless kids), up-and-coming repo man/gangbanger Franklin (who wants to claw his way up into some big-time crime) and meth entrepreneur Trevor (who's quite simply an insane, murderous psycho). Once this trio is introduced, the game allows us to jump between these guys at will and work through their scores of multilayered missions.
When you get to the meat of it, then, this see-the-city/set-fire-to-the-city game becomes something of a 100+ hour interactive movie. It's an unspooling actioner that's complete with a twisting storyline, lots of car chases and crime-land bloodletting, as well as complicated characters who range from somewhat sympathetic to out-and-out monstrous to crazily cringe-worthy.
Those are the plusses of the game … or at least as close as it gets to plusses. The negatives are pretty much everything else.
On Second Thought, Better Slam the Door on That Whole Home Idea
Let's face it, the GTA games have always been about shock. With each new title, its creators have seemingly asked themselves, "What kind of crazy, feculent, underbelly of city-life muck can we rub gamers' noses in while we run to the bank smirking?"
So torture is the latest jolt du jour. One mission involves slowly extricating info from a guy through the button-flicking process of slowly extracting his teeth with a pair of pliers. Next, you can mix it up and waterboard the sap with a can of gasoline, and mulch the small bones in his hand with an oversized wrench.
The scream-filled "fun" goes on and on.
But while that may be the latest approach to bloodletting, it's only the tip of the icepick. Skulls are crushed underfoot, bones are broken, faces are slammed, chests are blown out and brains are splattered under spinning tires. Whether you're in a shootout with dirty cops or pounding a passerby for a little pocket change, anyone in this game can be turned into an instant victim.
Many can be turned into sexual subjects, too. You can "experience" as many lap dances and close-up camera shots of naked stripper breasts as your virtual wallet can afford. Flirting and fleshy caressing can lead to (off-camera) intercourse. Picking up a prostitute for a moaning quickie in the alley is still an option. And now you can also help out a scandal-sniffing paparazzo by shooting some video of a "teen" TV celebrity in the midst of realistic-looking, barely covered anal sex. From online sex sites to full-frontal male nudity to casual sex conversations between a brother and sis to misogynistic radio commercials involving women and urinals, the sexual visuals and discussions are as vulgar as they are diverse, including even images of rutting animals for gamers' viewing "pleasure."
Speaking of vulgar discussions, crass, crude and obscene dialogue swirls through everything. This is a seriously detestable world filled with repulsive characters who aren't shy about demonstrating their "skill" at stringing together f-words and worse. Then add rampant alcohol consumption, drunk driving and drug-induced hallucinations. Also, vapid advice from psychiatrists and vile demands from corrupt federal authorities.
GTA V takes rough-and-ready potshots at pretty much everything you can imagine squeezing into one dank inner city—from twisted religion and dirty politics to marital infidelity and pornography. All in a crime-glamorizing roleplaying package that young gamers will do almost anything to obtain (if early sales numbers are any indication) and immerse themselves in for weeks at a time.
Oh … did I mention yet that you can steal cars in this game? No? Can you still remember when the idea of teens (merely) imitating an in-game carjacking seemed like one of the really troubling parts of that first Grand Theft Auto game?
Next-Gen Console Addendum: A year after its initial release, Rockstar Games reworked and re-released the hard-edged GTA V for next-gen consoles PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This newest version comes with a trunk full of upgraded graphics, new character events and quests, additional songs, new vehicles and new weapons.
It also gives gamers the ability to access a first-person (opposed to the game's previously third-person) perspective. That may seem like a minor adjustment, but when translated into this vast urban playground, it turns the already rough action into a visceral pummeling. Punching, kicking, gunning down and running over in-game characters and splattering their blood on the pavement is now very up-close and personal.
"In third person, you are a camera that can control a polygonal character, but you are not that character," The Daily Beast reviewer Alec Kubas-Meyer said describing his feelings of discomfort while playing the new version. "There is a disconnect, which allows for some distance between his actions and your button presses. When your camera is the character's eyes, that disconnect is gone, and that makes all of the violence much more unsettling."
He continues, "No, it's not real and it doesn't feel that way, but it feels wrong in a way that third person violence does not."
That intensified immersion applies to sexual situations too. In third-person mode, the camera would typically break away when your character picked up a prostitute on the street and invited her into his car. In first, you stay right there in the midst of the "action" as you pay for and receive "sexual favors" that are rendered with exceedingly graphic movements, positions and sounds. Trips to strip clubs for topless lap dances get similar treatment.
Additionally, players can now find "Easter egg" peyote plants, which cause characters to hallucinate when eaten and turn them into a variety of random birds and beasts. Beastified, you can attack and kill people … or drop excrement on their heads.