Game review: Grand Theft Auto 5 - First Impressions

Sitting down to play the most eagerly anticipated game of 2013, I couldn’t wait to see whether all the media hype was justified.

But wait is exactly what I had to do - first needing to delete a couple of old games on my XBox 360’s hard drive to free up 8GB of space to install the first disc!

GTA5

GTA5

Watching a loading screen and a gallery of pictures which provided a glimpse of key characters in the game took around 20 tedious minutes.

At this point it’s worth bearing in mind that Rockstar have warned not to install the second ‘play’ disc, as it may cause annoying texture or lagging problems.

But enough of that triviality - what about the game itself?

Well, the opening sequence looked amazing, transporting the player to a bank heist nine years ago, which somewhat inevitably, goes terribly wrong.

A mixture of cinematic cut scenes and an introductory tutorial, the events are immediately enthralling, and as violent as you would expect.

Within minutes you experience the game’s key dynamic of switching between characters in the heat of the action, and playing as two of the main characters, Michael and the psychopathic Trevor, mercilessly kill security guards, scores of police officers, set off a bomb and drive at breakneck speed to try and get away from the cops.

Things don’t go quite according to plan, and after all that mayhem we are brought back to the present day, watching Michael, who is now a wealthy but frustrated ex-criminal, deep in therapy with an irritating shrink.

The dialogue is hilarious and after a dig at people who sit around all day playing computer games, the camera is sweeping across the beautifully rendered world of Los Santos - the fictional city based on Los Angeles, which gamers first encountered in 2004’s GTA San Andreas.

Before long I took control of the third protagonist, Franklin, a repo man and former drug dealer who is trying to escape the petty crime of the hood.

The foul-mouthed cut scenes with his sidekick Lamar are nicely interwoven with the action - it all feels very fluid - and when the game really begins, the endless possibilities for entertainment become apparent.

Hurtling down city streets in a red sports car while trying to escape police patrols, I instantly recognised the voices of Dr Dre and MC Ren on NWA’s Appetite for Destruction blaring from the radio, and started having some serious fun.

The game’s world feels huge - nowhere near as claustrophobic as the New York style city setting of GTA 4 - so much so that I spent the next hour achieving very little of note.

Back at Franklin’s home I changed my clothes, drank a beer, settled down to watch some television including a cartoon mocking anti-gay military legislation, and had a smoke that left me rambling incoherently and basking in a warm glow!

I walked outside into sparkling sunshine, had a fight with a tramp who insulted my mother, and after nipping to the nearest Ammu-nation gun store to buy a knife, headed to the strip club.

The GTA series have always been a fascinating take on the dark side of the American dream and this latest incarnation is sure to generate much controversy, noticeably for its serious issues with women.

Not everybody reading this review may be familiar with the franchise, and bearing this in mind I think it’s safe to say GTA 5 has an 18 certificate for a reason, and if I had a child I would be wary of letting them play this game until they were in their mid-teens at least.

But on first impression the satire is sharp, the gameplay is every bit as exhilarating as I expected and I’m looking forward to seeing how the ability to shift perspectives during elaborately planned heists gives the missions a different feel to the series’ efforts so far.

This nihilistic crime epic can be hard to defend morally, but it’s hard not to be taken in by its outrageous, scintillating and technically astonishing offering.