Grand Theft Auto V: Reinventing the Open-World Rulebook
IGN's first look at GTA V offers a selection box of scintillating glimpses of what's in store next year.
by Alex Simmons
November 12, 2012
Ask any GTA fan what their favourite mission of all time is, and Three Leaf Clover is guaranteed to rank highly. The heist mission from Grand Theft Auto IV encapsulated everything that was great about the series in 15 minutes of gaming nirvana. It had everything: a bank robbery with hostages held at gunpoint; a shootout against SWAT teams on the streets of Liberty City with police helicopters circling above; and a last-ditch attempt to escape the cops by fleeing along the subway tracks on foot. It was action packed, was bursting with variety and was superbly paced. It was the perfect GTA mission.
So it's hard not to feel a pang of excitement when Rockstar says that Three Leaf Clover is the inspiration for much of Grand Theft Auto V and that heists will be the game's backbone. Better still, Rockstar claims each will be bigger than any heist mission it's done before.
Heartbreakingly, Rockstar is not quite ready to show off the heists in Grand Theft Auto V just yet. However, the first mission unveiled is just as explosive and, more importantly, it perfectly demonstrates the dynamic between the game's three protagonists.
The mountain bike returns in GTA V. Race to the top of Mount Chiliad?
Michael is the first to be introduced, sitting next to the pool on the terrace of his grand mansion. He's an ex-gangster who made his money and is now working with the government under a witness protection scheme. He enjoys the finer things in life, and there's a fewer thing more luxurious than his sprawling home, with stunning vistas across the city, tennis courts and a plasma TV so big it'd put most multiplex cinemas to shame. Works of art adorn the walls and expensive furniture is dotted throughout every room, but Michael's life isn't without problems. His relationship with his wife is evidently beyond repair and the only words they share when they pass in the hallway are expletives, before she barges through the front door, takes the sports car and skids off into the distance - no doubt heading to the nearest mall to spend even more of Michael's money on overpriced tat.
Elsewhere in the house, one of Michael's daughters is playing a rhythm action game and barely acknowledges his presence when he walks in the room. Despite appearances, life isn't all that sweet.
Los Santos has a very different vibe compared to Liberty City. It's more open, less claustrophobic.
Back to the demo, Michael heads over to the garage and climbs on his mountain bike to cycle to a meet-up with Trevor and Franklin. It's a brief trip along the affluent streets of Rockford Hills, one that's soundtracked by the click-clacking of a dozen water sprinklers, each soaking a perfectly-manicured lawn.
Los Santos has a very different vibe compared to Liberty City. It's more open, less claustrophobic, and it feels more relaxed even though it's just as busy, if not more so. Indeed, Rockstar claims GTA V has twice the number of types of pedestrians going about their business in the game, which we hope makes for a much more vibrant environment to explore.
Even the cops are more prevalent and when we switch over to Franklin his drive through Los Santos is interrupted by the shrieking of police car sirens in the distance, shortly followed by three cop inceptors cutting through the traffic in pursuit of an unseen felon. Obviously, we're all used to feeling the heat on our backs when we've broken the law in previous GTA games, but the presence of the boys in blue feels much more evident in everyday life in GTA V.
GTA's take on Venice Beach is where we first meet Franklin.
As for Franklin, his method of getting to the meet-up with Michael is far more sophisticated than riding a mountain bike. He's a repo man working for an Armenian luxury car dealership, so his car for the day is Grand Theft Auto's equivalent of an Audi R8 Spyder, the 9F. It's a beast of a machine and is the first time convertible cars have been properly realised in GTA. It may not sound like much, but the moment you climb inside and the roof pops down you cannot help but smile. Sure, it's a tiny detail but it's things like this bring the world of GTA to life, and GTA V is bursting with such moments.
It's also here we're treated to a glimpse of one of the game's many dynamic events. Like the dynamic events in Red Dead Redemption, these aren't side missions per se - although GTAV is packed with these too, such as assassination missions - but procedural moments that you either get involved with or ignore. As Franklin waits in a parking lot a Gruppe 6 security van pulls up. It's begging to be stolen, but do you strike now, dragging the driver out of the van and attempting to escape through the jam-packed streets of the city; or do you tail it and wait until find a quiet intersection where there are fewer prying eyes? Either way, successfully pull off the robbery and the cash is yours, and according to Rockstar there will be far more ways to spend your hard-earned (or hard-stolen, as the case may be) than in GTA IV.
Trevor is the most colourful of GTA V's protagonists and arguably the most psychopathic lead ever to appear in the series.
For the purposes of this demo Franklin leaves the security truck well alone, which leaves us with Trevor, the most colourful of GTA V's protagonists and arguably the most psychopathic lead ever to appear in the series. His introduction is one you won't forget: the camera's begins up close on his contorted face, before pulling back to reveal the complete picture - Trevor, squatting on a stinking toilet in his beaten up trailer, squeezing out what can only be described as the mother of all turds.
Yanking up his trousers without wiping (his mother would be appalled), it's immediately apparent this guy is a handful. Even though you're controlling him, he feels unpredictable, no more so than when we're shown a couple of new touches for GTA V. Trevor, after driving along the dusty roads of Blaine County, past Mount Chiliad towering in the distance on the other side of the Alamo Sea, pulls up on the side of the road and grabs a tank of gasoline from the back of his pickup truck. He then tips the jerry can upside down and pours a trail of gas that leads to the truck. One strike of a match later and BOOM! Fire engulfs the vehicle while Trevor stands back and admires his handiwork. As the rubber from the tyres burns fiercely, thick black smoke spewing into the sky, we're left wondering how many other neat touches like this there are in the game, and how players will use such freedom to create an almost limitless collection of tools of destruction. Then again, anything in Trevor's hands can probably cause an awful lot of damage.
The question is, what's this guy like when you're not in control of him? By now it's common knowledge that you can freely swap between Grand Theft Auto V's three leads, and that while you're not directly controlling them the other two will happily go about their everyday business. But in Trevor's case, on the evidence provided, this is one guy you want to keep on a short leash.
The pickup truck burns after Trevor experiments with a jerry can of gasoline.
Switching between characters is fast and effortless. An on-screen menu displays which characters are available (one might not be, especially if you're in-mission) - select one and the camera pulls out and shoots skywards to show a bird's-eye view of the map, before panning to the next location and zooming back towards the ground to plant you inside the brain of your chosen character. It's very reminiscent of Call of Duty: Black Ops II's Strike Force missions, where you're also able to switch characters who have different specialities for different tasks.
Even though Michael, Trevor and Franklin lead very different lives, as the story unravels they become close. The mission we're shown, which appears early in GTA V but isn't the first, opens with Michael, who arrives at the meet-up with Trevor. These two go way back, but they've been recently reconnected through Michael's work with FIB, which is GTA's equivalent of the FBI. The pair have been drafted into to carry out a hit-and-run against another government agency and their target is being held in one of the upper floors of the IAA (read CIA) building in downtown Los Santos. This being GTA, walking up to the front door and ringing the bell is not going to get him out.
The Los Santos skyline looks beautiful, the monolithic skyscrapers cutting dark, ominous silhouettes against the orange cloud-kissed sunset.
The meet-up is the first time Trevor and Franklin encounter each other face-to-face and understandably the psychotic nut-job is cautious of the new recruit. But he puts his faith in Michael's judgement - after all, Michael describes Trevor as his "best friend" and Franklin "as the son I never had", and together they make a well-rounded if somewhat unconventional team.
Back to the mission and the plan is simple: experienced pilot Trevor will fly a chopper to get Michael close to the target while Franklin provides sniper support from a nearby skyscraper.
We play out the first part of the mission as Trevor, flying the chopper with Michael riding shotgun. From above the Los Santos skyline looks nothing short of beautiful, the monolithic skyscrapers cutting dark, ominous silhouettes against the orange cloud-kissed sunset. To the east it's possible to just make out Del Perro peir and beyond it the ocean, while to the west there are the rolling hills of the countryside. Far below freeways and roads snake in all directions and the pin-pricks of light reveal a city going about its business.
The short flight provides a brief glimpse of the scale of the game: Rockstar has already gone on record and said Grand Theft Auto V will be around five times bigger than its predecessor, and what's visible from the chopper is about three-and-a-half times bigger than the sprawling deserts of Red Dead Redemption.
As ever, a mini-map in the bottom-right of the screen pinpoints your objective. It also displays an artificial horizon while flying, which pitches and yaws as the chopper circles the tight cluster of buildings that makes up central Los Santos.
There's only one building we're interested in, though, and as Trevor eases the helicopter onto its roof control switches to Michael, who steps out, hooks a wire onto the building ledge and rappels down the side. The game's fastidious attention to detail is immediately apparent at this point - long shadows flicker across the glass building as Michael edges his way down and inside office workers go about their business, seemingly unaware that some guy in a black one-piece is looking through their window on the 30th story.