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A Tale of Three Thieves

The US-centric pool of headlines that the satire swims in is nothing new to GTA fans. It’s the series’ signature, though this time around, it seemed more than a little shallow by hitting on the obvious and then simply cranking it up. Most everything, from the iFruit logo to Lifeinvader, seem good for one or two laughs and then you’re stuck seeing them for hours on end. The previous games doled it out in small doses but GTA V is saturated to the point where it becomes numbing.

Story-wise, the game makes no bones about being a “Mature” level title with plenty of content intended for adult audiences. It’s a bloody, testosterone-fueled power trip to hell and back carefully kneaded with lead, gunpowder, and an occasional trip to the strip club in between turning pedestrians into road bumps.

The only characters I actually felt any real interest in was Franklin who felt like CJ 2.0 from GTA: San Andreas and Trevor whose insanity made him come across as the Joker of Meth, or Tim Thomerson’s Lester from ’87’s Cherry 2000. Michael’s story was the weakest of the lot as his story tries to leverage middle-age crises as a former bank robber in with a dysfunctional family that was easy to give up on.

Rockstar expects to add heists later on.

Above: All three have their own baggage to sort through.

Michael’s was only interesting when he was actually focusing on what he used to do best – being a thief. Dealing with his family came off like a peripheral detour to the fun stuff, something that the game actually acknowledges later when it conveniently removes them from the storyline for a time before dropping them back in. His wife, daughter, and son are molded from the usual stereotypes – the rebellious, vapid daughter caught up in being a star at any cost, the shiftless gamer playing FPSes all day long, the frustrated wife.

There’s no reason to care about any of them other than what the story dictates their roles as in relation to Michael’s mental well being which felt like a load of boat anchors every time they were brought up. You could always visit his shrink for the latest Tony Soprano style breakdown, though you won’t be missing much if you don’t….other than getting an opportunity to steal the doctor’s car and selling it. Don’t worry, he really doesn’t mind.

Trevor’s insanity, on the other hand, leads the player into a whole world of ugly as he invades others’ lives and continues to lay waste to anyone in his path. I didn’t know how far he was going to go and that uncertainty made his own role in the game a lot more interesting. The torture scene in the game was a brutal reminder that for all of his Joker-like insanity, this was a guy used to doing nasty things to strangers. Another episode later in the game underscores this, challenging players on how much they’re willing to enjoy walking in his shoes knowing what he’s done which begged the question of what GTA V could have been like if Rockstar dropped the satire and took the more serious route as they did with Red Dead Redemption.

GTAV

Above: Technically, any one of these three can fly that chopper. Trevor starts out with the highest flying skill, but after a few lessons, Franklin and Michael can be just as good. No, there is no volleyball scene.

Franklin seemed to be the most even-keeled out of all of them with the people hanging with him leaving me little wonder on why he wanted to get out of the ‘hood. On one hand, Franklin walks on water to help them out. And then a day later, they’re ragging on him on his roots as soon as he decides to put on a new pair of shoes. At the end, after getting ragged on about the ‘hood again from an NPC that Franklin never really interacted with, I had Franklin hang up the phone and go on his merry way.

All three main story characters also have “special abilities” that are fueled by gauges that slowly fill up whenever any of the three do something like driving against traffic, experience near misses, or getting into gun fights. Franklin’s, for example, slows down time on the road to make seemingly impossible turns and passes as his experience as a wheelman should show. Trevor’s sheer rage ability grants him greater damage, and Michael’s focuses on accuracy as a seasoned thief.

The single-player missions cover a gamut of activities ranging from highs experienced while racing, stealing specific vehicles, assassinating dirty executives for a stock market windfall, to lows such as moving giant cargo containers around or hacking computers with a boring mini-game. Casing joints for upcoming heists, gathering the required gear for your chosen approach (loud or stealthy), and then picking the right crew to sneak into a target or get away with the loot make up the best parts of this half of the game. The only downside is that there are only so many heists to actually go through with.

Activities, such as golfing, tennis, and yoga, seemed pointless and the collect-a-thons which cover pieces of a letter to alien chunks of a spaceship are about as rewarding as a root canal. I didn’t see any value to doing any of these in the single, or multiplayer, halves of the game. Part of me secretly wished that these would have been replaced with Saint’s Row IV approach – not its extremes – but in providing tons of activities outside of the main story that spoke to each character in diverse ways while at the same time providing decent rewards. Sure, I could fly a plane and pick up drops with Trevor ad nauseaum, but like much of the single-player, there was a lost opportunity for him to do a lot more in expanding his empire in the desert to fill in that void such as with the related Online-only jobs.