Developer Rockstar Games could have gotten away with simply recycling Grand Theft Auto IV, the previous iteration released during the same console generation. People would have bought their new game even if it were just more of the same. Certainly, many other developers crank out sequel after sequel with little to no functional improvements year after year. And gamers lap it up. However, Rockstar has never been satisfied merely meeting expectations. They seek to defy them, and defy them they have.
Grand Theft Auto V achieves what its predecessors strove toward, convincingly immersing the player in the experience of being a criminal. Though law-breaking and havoc have always fueled the Grand Theft Auto experience, the games have typically felt more like amusement parks than actual worlds. Each mission played like a specific ride which you got on, enjoyed, and then got off in search of the next one. Though Rockstar made valiant attempts to create a sense of persistent identity in an immersive world, the overall game mechanics never really came together to fully suspend disbelief.
By contrast, logging into Grand Theft Auto V feels like waking up to another life, that of a professional criminal confronting a world of persistent challenges while negotiating meaningful relationships. A storyline which switches the player between three main characters keeps the experience fresh. Just as you get into a rhythm as one character, the story calls you to take the reins of another, and each has their own unique misadventures to get into.
Personally, I love bounty hunting as the psychopathic Trevor Phillips. The bounties come as text messages with a mug shot of the bail jumper and an aerial shot of the terrain where they were last seen. Tracking them involves searching the landscape for the right area, then searching that area for the target before apprehending them. The experience delivers a refreshing departure from the typical go-here-and-shoot-this mission, requiring the player to show initiative, patience, and strategy.
Aside from the scope and diversity of its gameplay, Grand Theft Auto V immerses the player by effectively conveying the sense that crime is, well, crime. Here are 5 ways Grand Theft Auto V makes you feel like a criminal.
5) Private Property and Personal Space
Previous iterations of Grand Theft Auto felt more like a sandbox than a virtual world, mostly because the player could roam free and harass anyone without much in the way of consequence. Beating on too many innocent passersby would eventually attract attention from police, but the threshold of acceptable conduct was fairly predictable.
In Grand Theft Auto V, you can never be too sure how the world’s population will react to your presence. Stand too close to someone on the street, and they’ll object. Ignore their objection, and eventually they may turn hostile. Entering property where you are not welcome will earn you the ire of owners or hired security personnel.
During my first bounty hunting mission, I was tasked to hunt down a bail jumper who was last seen near a quartz quarry. I found the site at night, long after its staff had gone home. As I explored the area in search of my bounty, I was confronted by a security guard who insisted that I leave. Regarding the threat as little more than in-game ambience, I ignored him. Then he turned hostile and started taking swings at me. Since my mission required me to be at the quarry, I thought to somehow lose this guy and reenter somewhere undetected. I tried leaving the property, thinking he might give up once I did. He persisted. So I decided to escalate the situation and draw my pistol. That, as it turns out, was a mistake. The guard drew a shotgun at close range and ended the confrontation permanently.
That kind of organic reaction to criminal activity, even something as minor as trespassing, makes the experience much more authentic than it has been in previous games.
4) We Call the Cops!
Similar to how players could roam free and harass passersby without severe consequence in previous Grand Theft Auto games, they could also hijack or steal virtually any vehicle without much regard for the law. The only thing you really had to worry about in previous games was stealing a car in the immediate presence of police. They would notice that. Otherwise, in true Scarface fashion, the world was yours.
The consequences prove more realistic in Grand Theft Auto V. If the player hijacks a vehicle or steals one in the sight of bystanders, the cops get called and the player has to evade the law.
Full of the bravado conditioned from previous games, I found myself stranded at a rural airstrip and looking to procure a ride. Adjacent to the property sat an auto repair shop with a conveniently placed station wagon outside. Though I saw the mechanic dealing with a customer in plain view of the vehicle, I paid them no heed since they were not police. However, as soon as I busted the vehicle’s window to steal it, they got on their phones and reported the crime.
I didn’t take the threat very seriously until responding squads tracked me down and defied my attempts to evade. As my stolen vehicle took damage from rams and bullets, I found myself thinking – actually thinking – that this was not worth it, that I should not have stolen the station wagon, that it would have been easier to call a cab. Such a thought process has never occurred to me in any other Grand Theft Auto game, because the consequences for blatant criminal activity were not sufficient to act as a deterrent.
3) Designer Heists
The story in Grand Theft Auto V revolves around heists. The three main characters’ storylines converge for large multi-stage operations earning serious cash. The player controls how these heists play out by selecting from various plans and hiring different accomplices whose skills command varying cuts of the job’s take.
I went cheap on my first heist, and paid the price. An inexperienced hired gun ended up crashing his bike during the getaway and dropped nearly half the $4.5 million take. In retrospect, I could have earned significantly more had I hired a better gunman. Even though he would have taken a bigger cut, there would have been more to go around.
Such choices and consequences provide a much more robust sense of accomplishment or failure depending upon the outcome. More than just how you did during the job, how you planned it and who you hired makes the result yours to own.
2) Waiting for Your Cut
After a heist, each character gets a cut of the take, but has to wait for stolen merchandise to be sold before the money gets wired to their account. While barely qualifying as a game mechanic, this little dose of ambience makes a huge difference in how the player experiences the game.
We don’t often associate delayed gratification with criminal activity. However, professional criminals undoubtedly must employ a fair amount of deliberation and patience. Knocking over a liquor store proves a high-risk, low-reward endeavor which does not require the level of planning necessary to rob a bank or clean out a high-end jewelry store.
Not getting an immediate payoff after a heist adds a sense of lingering anticipation. When the cut finally arrives, it’s like rediscovering forgotten leftovers. Oh yeah, I get to enjoy that!
1) True Police Evasion
Evading the police has always been a key component of the Grand Theft Auto experience. Observed or egregious criminal activity earns you a “wanted level” which increases in severity with additional law-breaking. In the last generation of games, wanted levels could be decreased by finding special pick-ups in the game. Otherwise, the only way to evade the police was to take a vehicle to a body shop to have it resprayed and thus disguised.
This old method of evasion led to some rather unrealistic scenarios. Often, you would lead police on a chase where they would stick to your tail right until the moment you entered the body shop and then conveniently not recognize you after you reemerge.
Grand Theft Auto IV presented improvements which made the experience more realistic. In that game, you had to get out of sight and escape a zone where police were looking for you. The size of the zone increased along with the severity of your wanted level. You could still get resprayed, but only if no cops were around to see you enter the shop.
Grand Theft Auto V perfects the system. Players no longer have the option of respraying their vehicles to evade the police. Instead, they must physically evade them, get away and hide out of sight until the authorities give up their search. In a way, this makes evasion much more straightforward and thus easier. But it can also make evasion more difficult in certain situations. No wanted level can be dismissed as inconsequential, as lower ones could in past games. Any crime can potentially lead to a desperate chase, which provides incentive for less conspicuous approaches.
In these and many other subtle ways, Grand Theft Auto V delivers on the promise of its predecessors. More than a crime game, this title stands out as Rockstar’s magnum opus. Indeed, it is one of the very best video games ever made.