GTA V is absolutely brilliant. Obviously. I’m not going to sit here and tell you all about how big the world is (huge), how entertaining the story is (very), how many things there are to do (loads) and how beautiful the game is (incredibly). Instead I’m going to ask what I think is a pretty reasonable question: Is GTA V the best game ever made? To start with, I’ll give you a handful of personal experiences that help to illustrate the breadth and depth of the world that Rockstar has created.
- I switched from Franklin to Michael in the evening. Michael was cruising around listening to classic rock in a green and orange sports car from the 90’s that I had heavily customized. It was perfectly in character and absolutely screamed mid-life crisis.
- I drove out of the city as Michael after a particularly difficult turn of events. I just went North. At one point I stole a dirt-bike and started driving along the ridges of mountains in order to climb them. I ended up driving to the top of Mt. Chilliad, grabbing a parachute and base-jumping off. As I floated down into the Hick settlement below the caravans and motor homes were illuminated by soft lighting from the street light, diffused through a slight mist. Poverty and red-necks have never looked so beautiful.
- During the first heist my gunman fell off his motorbike as we swerved into some sewers after being chased through the Los Santos storm drains. I, as Franklin, jumped off my motorbike, grabbed the money and then abandoned our comrade. We didn’t lose any of the money and Michael congratulated Franklin for his quick thinking back at the safe house.
- Michael got into a foot race with a psychotic, furious and fitness obsessed woman. During the race I vaulted a wall as a short-cut and was immediately called out as a cheater. At the end of the race the mad woman declared my victory null and void due to my dishonest path-finding. Michael still took it as a victory.
- I accidentally scooped a policeman into the bucket of a digger that was being used in one of the heists and played around throwing him up in the air and catching him again.
- I discovered that if you press B/O while in mid-air from a jump, your character dives head-first into the ground or does front-flips if you’re high enough. I then spent 20 minutes throwing Michael down a set of subway stairs using his slow-motion special ability.
- I dressed Franklin in a tuxedo then went on a robbery spree, blasting the doors of clothing stores open with a shotgun before shooting the registers, grabbing the money and escaping in a taxi I had stolen. I repeated this until the police caught up with me, at which point I attempted to escape through the storm drains and ended up flipping my car before getting gunned down.
- After the payout from the final heist I bought the Cargobob with Trevor and went around picking up cars and hurling them into traffic and off of mountains.
- I took part in a dirtbike/ATV race around the quarry and won. This seemed to upset the gathered motorheads, who decided they would try to kick the crap out of me. I beat them down with my bare hands as Trevor, then poured gasoline over their bodies, set fire to them and then took a selfy with their burning bodies and my tricked out quad-bike in the background.
You get the idea. This game has incredible scope and almost endless opportunities for emergent gameplay. But is the best restaurant the one with the most items on the menu? Of course not – it’s the one where all the dishes are delicious and every ingredient is of the highest quality available. I would argue that GTA V has both. The key is the attention to detail in every aspect, from world building to animation to vehicle handling to the radio. You hardly have to spend any time in a boat during the game’s main missions, but Rockstar has created probably the best water ever in video-games and made the boats a joy to pilot.
Base jumping could be a throwaway activity but Rockstar has improved upon and refined the parachute controls from GTA IV’s “The Ballad of Gay Tony”, making parachuting even better than in the ridiculous Just Cause 2. This extends to everything – everything GTA V does it does almost as well as, and in some cases better, than games that deal solely with that subject. Every element, taken in isolation, is mechanically sound enough to be the basis for an entire game about just that. And yet it is all crammed into the same world.
GTA V gives us a buffet where every single morsel is Michelin star quality. It doesn’t have the narrative depth of The Last of Us or The Walking Dead, and it isn’t a profound, borderline spiritual experience like Journey. That is because it is a pure game without pretensions. It embraces the limitations and the opportunities inherent in the world of video games and creates the ultimate game. It’s fun, it’s silly, it’s about shooting people and driving cars really fast into rivers and blowing up helicopters and punching mimes in the face and customizing cars and clothing and playing. When you play GTA V you are playing in the same way children do in playgrounds. Rockstar have given us a massive sandbox and told us to run wild. There is more excellent, fun and varied gameplay in GTA V than in any other game that exists. For that reason, I think that GTA V really is the best game in existence.