Developed by Rockstar North and distributed by Take-Two Interactive, Grand Theft Auto V is probably this year’s most anticipated video game. It cost some $265 million to make, well beyond the budgets for Marvel’s Avengers and Iron Man 3, and more than twice what was spent creating its predecessor, Grand Theft Auto IV.
After approximately five years in development, the big question now is whether GTA V has any chance of living up to all of the critical and financial hype. The game officially releases tomorrow, but review embargos ended earlier today.
It should be noted that Rockstar was very selective about which sites and freelancers received early copies of the game (even PAR‘s Ben Kuchera was not among them). That being said, here’s what the first volley of critics’ reviews have to say about the long awaited fifth installment.
IGN‘s Keza MacDonald gave the game an overall score of 10.0, which on the site’s review scale equates to “Masterpiece.” She calls GTA V a “leap forward in narrative sophistication for the series” while also remarking that no part of the gameplay hasn’t been improved since the series’ last iteration.
“Grand Theft Auto V is also,” MacDonald continues, “an intelligent, wickedly comic, and bitingly relevant commentary on contemporary, post-economic crisis America.” According to her review, “Nothing is safe from Rockstar’s sharp tongue, including modern video games.”
“One of the very best video games ever made,” she concludes.
Tom Hoggins via The Telegraph writes that the game is “brilliant, of course.” In fact, he doesn’t really have anything negative to say either.
He loves the game, and those who made it, “My admiration for video game designers knows no bounds, but it befuddles as to how a mass of land as huge as Los Santos is so tightly crafted and densely interactive. There’s a natural openness, diversity and cogency to the design of the map that makes it a pleasure to explore. And it’s a place in which the game’s missions can slot into in a way that leads to emergent and unexpected thrills.”
Despite calling the game, “the most immersive spectacle in interactive entertainment,” Chris Suellentrop at The New York Times admits that, “For all that the game does right, it has a genuinely problematic aspect that is not its enthusiasm for violence or sex but its lack of interest in women as something other than lustful airheads.”
But that doesn’t prevent Suellentrop from calling GTA V “quite liberal” on the whole, and locating the game harmlessly between, “‘Pulp Fiction’” and Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Ocean’s’ movies, in a sun-dappled land where using a grenade launcher to mow down American soldiers — or a cavalcade of clowns — is a lighthearted romp.”
In her review at Gamespot, Carolyn Petit praises the game for its “huge, gorgeous, varied open world” and “great vehicle handling,” but also calls it “politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic.”
Maybe not so intelligent after all
The Guardian‘s Keith Stewart notes that, “Yes, some people will hate GTA V. Some, like me, will thoroughly enjoy it while acknowledging its complications, its shortcomings as a narrative adventure.”
Elaborating on those shortcomings, Stewart argues, “Last of Us says more about humanity in five minutes than GTA V does in its 70-plus missions.” Still, maintains Stewart, the game is worth your time and the five stars he gave it, “no one constructs worlds like Rockstar and this one is worth many, many hours of exploration. It is fun, so much guilty, ridiculous fun.”
The Escapist‘s Greg Tito writes that the game’s three main characters are lazily immoral, beyond sympathy, but nevertheless charming.
Tito only wishes that “the morally reprehensible script written by Dan Houser lived up to the achievements in game-making that Grand Theft Auto V otherwise embodies.”
In perhaps the most damning criticism of the game currently available, Tito declares it a missed opportunity. “Rockstar had a chance to elevate,” he writes, “and they wasted it on portraying characters you don’t want to spend five minutes with, let alone the hours it would take to play through the game’s story.”
Joystiq‘s Xav de Matos isn’t keen on the game’s main characters either, calling them “some of the most unbearable people I’ve ever had the misfortune of interacting with.” But he continues, “Thankfully, interacting with Grand Theft Auto‘s world is better than it’s ever been.”
Stephen Totilo at Kotaku marvels at GTA 5‘s environments as well, “In GTA V, Rockstar has created one of gaming’s most impressive worlds.” Harkening back to the genre’s origins, the game creates a sandbox that’s as fun to play in as any, and more ambitious than most. Most importantly, or perhaps not, Totilo lauds the game for its “unparalleled” attention to detail.
The staff at Edge magazine agrees, echoing both Stewart and Totilo when claiming, “No one makes worlds like Rockstar, but at last it has produced one without compromise. Everything works.”
Bestowing on the game a perfect 10/10 score, the staff review argues that while “there are wrinkles,” none that are “so serious as to prove ruinous.”
That includes the game’s treatment of women, which Edge writes off because while “every female in the game exists solely to be sneered, leered or laughed at,” so, apparently, do the male characters.
Amidst thousands and thousands of other words, Destructoid‘s Jim Sterling calls the game both reflective and deflective. “All three characters,” he writes, “in their respective ways, feel representative of the Grand Theft Auto series as a whole, and contribute to making GTA V what it is — the ultimate culmination of Rockstar’s beloved and despised series.”
Polygon‘s Chris Plante agrees, calling Grand Theft Auto 5 “the culmination of the series, Rockstar’s catalogue and arguably the entirety of AAA video games.” At the same time, Plante also notes the glaringly diminutive role of women in the game, “While most of Grand Theft Auto 5 feels like an evolution of the blockbuster video game, its treatment of women is a relic from the current generation, which is too often fixated on bald men and big breasts. In terms of landscape and architecture, San Andreas is the most realistic virtual world I’ve visited, but the population is aggressively, comically, distractingly male. I cannot think of any piece of media more fascinated with the male phallus.”
Plante mercilessly details other problematic elements of the game. “Other moments,” he writes, “are even more egregious in subverting the game’s comic, winky tone, taking Grand Theft Auto in disturbing, uncomfortable directions. One scenario asks the player to swap between slowly torturing one Middle Eastern man and racially profiling another. The script plays it for laughs. I felt nauseated.”
As a result, Plante scored the game a 9.5, and recommended it “without much in the way of qualification,” at least according to Polygon‘s review scale.
Giant Bomb‘s Jeff Gerstmann takes a more detached approach to the game, focusing more on its systems and gameplay than its characters and narrative.
Regarding presentation, he writes that, “the characters themselves emote well in cutscenes,” and “the city itself is nicely evocative of Los Angeles.” Gerstmann calls the game “less surprising” than some might like, but maintains overall that “while you could certainly pick out a handful of individual systems or design choices that feel like they’ve been handled more intelligently elsewhere, none of those other games bring together so many interesting and disparate systems with the same level of aplomb on display here.”
Game Informer‘s Matt Bertz strangely compares the game’s portrayal of southern California to something Joan Didion wrote, “a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension.”
Despite laying this out as the game’s narrative backdrop, Bertz writes that “the plot doesn’t live up to the high standards set by Red Dead Redemption and GTA IV,” and instead cites its design and gameplay as what make the game so praiseworthy, leading it to be the “most well-rounded” Rockstar game to-date.