A few weeks ago, I had the rare opportunity to experience Grand Theft Auto 5 – quite easily the biggest game release of the year – in action. The demo lasted about 40 minutes and included a lot of what we've loved and come to expect from GTA games, but the really exciting aspects were the ones that had the potential to completely change the way we play GTA.
Grand Theft Auto 5 is in many ways a Rockstar Games greatest hits package, encompassing many elements from past GTA games as well as from Red Dead Redemption. The result is a game that fans of open-world games simply cannot ignore. Here are ten reasons why.
Three contrasting playable characters
GTA5 involves three central characters - Michael, Trevor and Franklin – who are each drastically different from each other and yet have come together for the same purpose. While you will have to play as a specific character during certain parts of missions, the rest of the time, you can switch between them on-the-fly. And while you take control of one character, the other two will go about living their lives. This immediately multiplies GTA5's replay value, allowing you to basically live the lives of all three characters, as opposed to just one.
In-depth role-playing features
Past games, like GTA: San Andreas, have flirted with RPG-styled character development, but GTA5 takes it to a whole new level by developing your character across nine different parameters – stamina, shooting, strength, stealth, flying, driving, mechanic ability, lung capacity (for swimming), and special abilities. While each of the characters will have their strong points, you'll be able to develop all three characters across these attributes the way you like, thus letting your character evolve based on your play style. This again brings in a ton of replay value, with the ability to try different skill variations.
Progressive economy system
Grand Theft Auto 4 gave you many ways to make money, but not many avenues to spend it. Rockstar has clearly learned from that, and GTA 5 includes a deep and progressive economy system that not only lets you earn money, but gives you various ways to spend it and keep earning from your investments. For example, you can learn yoga and then turn that ability into a business by starting your own yoga classes. As always, you can invest in property, but you now have more options, like adding a heli-pad to your house should you gain access to a helicopter.
Taking a leaf out of Max Payne's book, the characters in GTA 5 each have special abilities, which can be used for a limited time and each comes with a cooldown period before it can be resused. Michael can slow down time during gun fights, Franklin can slow down time while driving, while Trevor has the ability to take lesser damage and inflict more. With all three characters required to perform different roles during missions, these special abilities can turn out to be vital.
All about heists
GTA 5 won't include boss battles, but the game will feature a bunch of landmark heist missions, which are massive in scale and require lots of planning and impeccable execution. Heists form the crux of the game, and it's what brings these contrasting central characters together. Planning is one of the key, and can make the different between the success and failure of a heist mission. Each of the three characters will be given tasks to perform during the planning stage, from stealing vehicles to procuring masks to gaining access to weapons. For the more elaborate heists, you'll also be able to recruit other non-playable characters to your team. And should these other members make it out alive, they'll level up and be available to you again in future heists.
Random encounters and busy NPCs
Random encounters were a blast in Red Dead Redemption and gave players a lot of incentive to explore and free-roam, and such random encounters will now also make their way into GTA 5. As our demo shifted to Michael as he walked around Hollywood, he heard calls from a narrow alley asking for his help. This turned out to be a celebrity in need of assistance from the paparazzi and eventually led to an escort mission, which GTA games are no strangers to. The game world is also far more densely populated than ever before, and the NPCs in it are busier than ever. They'll either have a story to tell, be busy taking pictures of landmarks, or try to sell you something on the streets.
This generation has been all about action-adventure games with cinematic set pieces and seamless switching between gameplay and cutscenes, and Rockstar is bringing this level of presentation to GTA 5, something no open-world game has been able to successfully pull off. The addition of background music – a first for the series - during certain moments of exploration and missions also aims to bring an added level of drama and immersion.
Explorable underwater world
We've been able to swim and ride boats in past GTA games, but for the first time, GTA 5 will let you go underwater, where lies a detailed and explorable world, complete with marine life of all shapes and sizes. Certain boats in the game will be equipped with scuba gear. While there won't be underwater missions, you can dive deep down and look for and explore ship wrecks, but you will also encounter dangers in the form of sharks.
What is a good open-world game without customisation? GTA 5 is taking customisation to a whole new level by letting you personalise everything from your own appearance to your cars and weapons. Drive into a Pay N Spray to customise the look and performance of your cars; equip your weapons with scopes, silencers and higher capacity clips; or change the look of your characters with new clothes, hairstyles and tattoos.
The demo ended with so many features still unexplored and left me with so many questions. We still don't know anything about multiplayer or if the game will feature any sort of co-op gameplay. What I do know, however, is that GTA 5 has already surpassed my rather lofty expectations.
The whole world is talking about next-generation consoles right now, but Grand Theft Auto 5 is an important reminder of what a talented developer can still pull off on PS3 and Xbox 360. It is an audaciously ambitious game even by Rockstar's standards, and judging by what I've seen, they're well on their way towards pulling it off.
Grand Theft Auto 5 is set for release on 17th September for Xbox 360 and PS3
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