Reviews are live now for Grand Theft Auto V in advance of its September 17 release, but that’s not going to be enough for some of you. This is a big game, perhaps Rockstar’s biggest to date in terms of the density of content, and there’s no way a 2,000 word review can appropriately capture all of it. You probably have some questions even after reading our review, and we’re going to try to answer them. Read on for a look at some of the more technical aspects of how GTA V feels in your hands. You should also treat this post as a live forum; I’ve played through the entire game and have logged no less than 50 hours in Los Santos. If there’s anything you want to know that isn’t addressed here, ask away in the comments below.
This is touched on in the review, but driving feels very tight in GTA V. The sense of heft that GTA IV‘s cars carried is toned down significantly. Weight and momentum will carry you into sharp turns in a way that may be less realistic, but lends itself better to playing a video game. You’re able to cut through the crowded traffic patterns on Los Santos’ many freeways easily. Every vehicle is different, of course, so a taco truck isn’t going to offer you the same speed or maneuverability as a sports car, but you’ll rarely find yourself fighting against the controls in cars that are built for performance.
The abundance of open spaces in GTA V make a lot of difference as well in comparison to Liberty City’s concrete-and-glass canyons. You might have a blast tearing through Vinewood behind the wheel of an Infernus, but it’s not going to be nearly as useful once you get out into the rural northern portion of the map. Dirt bikes, ATVs, and the like handle uneven terrain with bouncy grace. The divide between on-road handling and off-road handling counts for a lot in GTA V‘s moment-to-moment play, and it’s a factor you’ll always have to consider when you’re looking at the parameters for a given mission.
Air and water vehicles are similarly improved in terms of the diminished sense of heft. Helicopters lose control more easily than they did previously, but again, it’s largely across-the-board improvements to vehicle handling in these categories. You feel the influence of skills (detailed below) more when you’re flying than anywhere else. Unskilled pilots feel more turbulence and are generally less steady behind the flight stick. Boat just aren’t commonly used unless you seek one out off-mission; steering them through Los Santos’ relatively calm waters is serviceable, if unremarkable.
Gunplay in GTA V feels like a happy middleground between Red Dead Redemption and Max Payne 3. Enemies aren’t nearly as canny as they were in Max Payne 3. Taking cover was an option in Payne, but the AI was designed to constantly keep the pressure on. Compare that to Red Dead, which felt similar from a gunplay perspective, but fell more traditionally into a cover-based shooter mentality. You’ll take cover more often than you won’t in GTA V, but enemy movement patterns feel more organic. It’s not always a constant rush to push you out of cover, but it’s also not ever going to settle into a pure shooting gallery.
That said, cover is more important in GTA V than ever. Your three characters are all somewhat fragile, even with body armor. They’ll auto-recover up to half health if you can avoid damage for long enough, but this healing factor comes at the cost of less health overall. If you immediately start out playing GTA V like you have the previous games in the series, you’re going to die a lot. Franklin, Michael, and Trevor simply can’t absorb as much damage. Often, it’s just enough for a mad dash across a street and into an alley. The recovering health helps to keep fights going longer, you just have to be smart about it.
There’s also a satisfying sense of impact when your bullets find their mark, with targets going down convincingly and the auto-target seamlessly jumping to the next-closest aggressor. The target lock is maintained even if you adjust your crosshairs slightly, making it easy to score headshots on a running target with a quick upward flick of the right analog stick. That said, your shooting skill level has an impact on how much hand-holding the game offers you. As you get better, your shots will fall closer to where the crosshairs are resting and you’ll maintain a tighter lock in auto-targeting.
Skill meters return from GTA: San Andreas, and while they’re slightly re-formulated now, they work in pretty much the same way. The more you do a thing, the better you’ll get at doing that thing. Spend a lot of time swimming underwater and you’ll be able to hold your breath longer. Run all over the place and your stamina will improve. You can also head to locations like the shooting range and flight school to specifically work on certain skills. None of it is necessary, but it’s simple enough that it slides right in alongside the game’s many other off-mission diversions.
Early on, it’s easy to grow frustrated with how the controls feel. Each character starts with specific strengths and weaknesses in the different skill groups. If you hop into a helicopter with Michael before ever going to flight school, it’s not going to be a smooth flight. The vehicle simply won’t cooperate as well as it would with a seasoned pilot like Trevor at the stick. The skill bars are easily ignored, as they improve organically over the natural course of play, but they offer a hook for tackling off-mission diversions that min/max-ers can latch onto.
By “secondary controls,” we’re referring to commands that don’t directly influence a given character’s moment-to-moment ability to survive. How does it feel to flip through radio stations while you’re in the midst of a car chase? How seamless is the ability to switch from one protagonist to another, really? Radio stations can be changed quickly by tapping left on the D-pad, though you can also hold the button down to bring up a radial menu of all the stations. Time slows down while you’re in this view, but it doesn’t stop completely. Since changing the station requires you to take your finger off the left thumbstick – the one that’s busy steering whichever vehicle has a radio – it’s often not the best idea in the middle of a lengthy chase.
Time similarly slows down when you open up the character and weapon switching interfaces, though it’s not nearly as disruptive. You can’t switch characters off-mission if you’ve got a wanted level, so it’s rare that you’ll have to worry about losing control of your vehicle when you want to jump to someone else. The time dilation is actually a boon when you’re swapping to a new weapon in the middle of a firefight, though you’ll generally want to ensure that you’re in cover when you do, due to GTA V‘s new approach to health and healing.
Lastly, there’s each character’s special ability. Franklin can slow down time when he’s behind the wheel, Michael can slow down time when he’s on foot, and Trevor goes into rage mode, upping his damage dealt and reducing his damage taken. Activating and deactivating a special skill is a simple matter of clicking the left and right thumbsticks simultaneously. It definitely takes some getting used to before switching in and out of the mode becomes a reflexive act. You’ll probably catch on quickest with Franklin; his ability to cut sharp turns and weave through traffic in slow-mo becomes indispensable during chases.
Think of this post as a starting point. You probably have questions about GTA V. Use the comments section below to let us know what they are and we’ll answer them as quickly as we can for you.