Grab your ski mask and get ready to conquer Los Santos with our ‘GTA V’ guide

rockstar suing bbc grand theft auto 5 guide main

Before you check out the guide, you can read our review of Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto V is here. There’s so much to do, right? Los Santos is a big city, but then there’s the many miles of countryside outside of it, not to mention an entire ocean floor littered with collectibles. Where do you start? At the beginning, sure, but where to next once that’s done? There’s no wrong answer in GTA V. Explore or not as you like. Read on for some help getting a grasp on some of the game’s basic systems, and hopefully avoid some of the trial-and-error that comes with learning them. 

Starting fresh

Grand Theft Auto V starts out with a prologue that introduces some of the story’s key characters. You’ll have to play through all of it before you get to a point where you’re able to explore Los Santos and the surrounding region. Bear in mind that your ability to switch between multiple protagonists is limited at first. It’s a good hour or two before you’ve got two characters to play with, and several hours more beyond that before the third joins the party. All in, you’re probably looking at 3-5 hours of mainlining the story if you want to hold off on exploring until all three characters are in the mix.

Grand Theft Auto 5 Starting fresh

The entire map is open and available to explore from the very first moment you set foot in Los Santos. Your only barrier is the in-game map, which is shrouded at the start in a “fog of war” that slowly reveals itself as you explore more and more of what’s out there. For those that want to fill in some of the map before the story’s various missions send you all over, it’s useful to keep handy the paper map of the region that ships with the game. It doesn’t show you everything, but it highlights a number of the major landmarks that are scattered throughout the world.

Getting around

It wouldn’t be a Grand Theft Auto game if you weren’t stealing tons and tons of cars all the time. It’s right there in the title, after all. You’ll find the same varied mix of vehicles – with wheels, with wings, and with rudders – roaming the streets that you did in past games. Storing cars that you’ve stolen is still an option, but it works a little differently in GTA V.

It wouldn’t be a Grand Theft Auto game if you weren’t stealing tons and tons of cars all the time.

Every safehouse comes with a space where you can store a car or two, but each of the three characters also has his own garage. Franklin, Michael, and Trevor-specific map icons are marked green, blue, and orange, respectively, and this color coding helps to identify each of their garages. Drive or walk up to one and press right on the D-pad when the prompt appears in order to enter it. Inside, there’s enough space for a handful of vehicles, at least five or six. It works like the garages of previous games; take a car out of the garage, and it’s gone until you store it there again. Abandon a stolen car (rather than wrecking it), and you might be able to find it in the game’s impound lot.

Franklin, Michael, and Trevor also all have their own character-specific vehicle that always spawn outside of whichever safehouse you’re visiting. You’ll want to mod these cars early, since any upgrades stick even if you lose or destroy the car and have to grab a replacement at the safehouse. Focus on the armor first, then the engine and anything else that improves acceleration (like turbo tuning). Also be sure to grab bulletproof tires. Note that these three vehicles are the only ones you can customize using the iFruit companion app. You’ll come to recognize them quickly as you meet each character.

Boats and planes work a little bit differently, in that you’ll have to purchase dock space at the local marina and a hangar to store those. Otherwise it’s the same. Leave the vehicle you’d like to store in the appropriate storage location, and it’ll be waiting for you when you come back.

For up and coming auto thieves, you’ll find the best rides in and around Vinewood. Keep an eye out for sports cars. You’ll want to have Franklin around to boost cars; he can get in and get one started more quickly than Michael or Trevor thanks to his background as a repo man, and he doesn’t have to break a window in order to do so.

Getting away

At some point, the cops are going to come after you. That’s fine. This is Grand Theft Auto, after all. It helps to know how you can get away though. Whenever you’ve got a wanted level of one or more stars and the cops can see you, your minimap will flash blue and red. Break their line of sight and the flashing stops and the police start to actively search for you, using your last known location as a starting point. You’ll see each cop or police car highlighted on the minimap with a vision cone extending out from it when they’re in search mode.

Grand Theft Auto 5 Getting away 1

The trick from here is simple, in theory at least: stay out of those vision cones. That’s not always feasible given the layouts of the roads and freeways around Los Santos, but it’s what you have to do. There’s no on-screen indicator that communicates how much time you have left before the police call off their search. Your wanted level simply flashes to let you know that they’re searching, and disappears entirely when they call it quits.

There’s no real trick to getting away, you just need to be sensible. In the city proper, make use of alleyways and the empty spaces under raised roadways. The aqueduct might seem like a good place to hide out, but be aware that the fuzz will look in there as well. You might also look to any body of water that’s deep enough for you to dive beneath the surface of. You can’t hold your breath forever, but swimming underwater is good cover for getting away.

Grand Theft Auto 5 Getting away 2

Outside the city, you’ll mainly just want to avoid all roads. Generally speaking there’s an element of improvisation to shaking the heat. You’ve got to watch your minimap, see where cops are spawning, and travel in directions that steer you away from their vision cones. Cops tends to spawn on roads or in parking lots, so heading out into the open country is always a reliable bet for shaking any serious heat. You can also try taking to the skies, but be aware that police choppers start to spawn – at all altitudes – once you’re at three stars or higher.

Right to bear arms

It’s not long before you build up a healthy arsenal of firepower in GTA V. Your guns stay with you once you’ve got them in your inventory, barring a handful of plot-specific moments that limit what you’ve got access to. Ammu-Nation continues to be the weapons provider of choice in the GTA universe, and they’re everywhere in Los Santos. Guns, gun mods, and ammo all cost money, with one notable exception: Trevor is such a big deal up north in his Sandy Shores home that the local Ammu-Nation there gives him all of his guns for free. He still has to pay for ammo, mods (prioritize suppressors and extended mags), and armor, but there’s no cost at all for the rest of it. Make sure you stock up once you’ve got control of Trevor.

Grand Theft Auto 5 Right to bear arms

Also worth noting: you’re not faced with a one-or-the-other situation when you pick up multiple weapons of the same type (ie pistols, SMGs, assault rifles, etc.). Holding down LB on an Xbox 360 controller brings up the radial weapon wheel. Highlight the weapon class that you want to equip and then use the left and right buttons on the D-pad to cycle through your inventory in that class. A display in the center of the wheel shows you which weapon you currently have selected along with a list of all mods currently fitted to that weapon.

Making money

You get most of your money in GTA V by playing through each of the story-connected heists, but you’ve got plenty of other options if you want to make some quick cash. Convenience stores and liquor stores that you’re able to walk into can be robbed; it’s as easy as pointing a weapon at the cashier until he or she coughs up some money. Also keep an eye out on the streets for armored cars; blow open the rear doors (or just blow it up) and you’ll get cash from that as well.

You’re probably looking at 3-5 hours of mainlining the story… until all three characters are in the mix.

Playing the stock market is always an option. There are two: LCN and BAWSAQ. The former ties directly to the events of the game, so you’ll want to pay attention to what’s going on – and watch LCD closely – when your actions in the story relate to some company or another. This is especially true for the assassination missions that unlock roughly halfway through the story. Take note of everything you’re told in the pre- and post-mission briefings for these assassinations, since your killing are intended to influence stock prices in one way or another.

Then there’s BAWSAQ, which is tracked on Rockstar Social Club influenced by the behavior of the overall GTA V community. If a lot of people are stealing one type of car or robbing one store in particular, the stock on BAWSAQ related to it is going to fluctuate. Always remember the basic rule of playing the stock market: buy low, sell high.

Grand Theft Auto 5 Making money

There are still other ways to earn money beyond that. If your minimap suddenly strobes white, watch for blue and/or red dots there; this is an indication that one of the dynamic “citizen in need” moments is happening. Sometimes it’s a pickpocket, sometimes it’s a gang shootout, and sometimes it’s just a random drunk couple looking for a ride. You can earn some extra scratch by helping these people out… or not. Why return the $2,000 you’ve just recovered, to the lady over there when she’s just going to take it all back and give you a $200 reward? Why drive this lone hitchhiker to his wedding when you could just as easily sell him off to a cannibalistic mountain cult that pays handsomely for fresh meat (true story)?

Strangers and Freaks

There’s more of a clear divide between critical path missions and optional missions in GTA V than there ever has been before in the series. All optional missions fall under the heading of “Strangers and Freaks,” and all of them appear initially on your minimap as question marks that are color-coded to each character. The Strangers and Freaks missions generally follow their own plot thread; once you’ve met a particular character for the first time, all subsequent mission markers in their storyline are identified on your minimap as an icon consisting of a question mark and the first letter of the mission-giver’s name.

You can easily check on how many “open” missions your three characters have by pressing and holding the down button on the D-pad. When the radial character switch interface appears, you’ll usually notice a number over each character portrait. This number denotes how many missions the character hasn’t yet started; if there’s no number, there are no new missions to be collected.

Skills and special abilities

Each playable character has his own set of skill bars relating to shooting ability, driving, flying, stamina, and the like. These skills all improve with repetition (ie the more you run, the higher your stamina rating gets), but there are other ways to improve them as well. Flight School offers an easy route to maxing out your flying ability – you’ll get there before you even complete all of the challenges – and doing so cuts down on the amount of turbulence that character experiences in flight. Visiting an Ammu-Nation firing range, on the other hand, offers an opportunity to boost your shooting. There’s generally a nominal fee for a lot of this stuff, but it’s minor ($15 for a round at the shooting range, for example). 

There’s more of a clear divide between critical path missions and optional missions… than there ever has been…

Special abilities are also unique to each character, though they’re all activated (and deactivated) in the same way: press down on the left and right thumbsticks at the same time. Franklin’s special allows him to slow down time while he’s driving. Vehicles also accelerate more quickly and lose less momentum after collisions while the special is active. It’s extremely useful for some of the story’s tighter chase missions and getaways, but really, it’s helpful whenever you want to do a little precision driving.

Michael has the same basic ability as Franklin, except for him time slows down when he’s on foot. When his special is active, Michael is basically just channeling Max Payne’s bullet-time feature. He’s more deadly because he’s moving faster than anyone else in the world. Trevor also becomes more deadly when his special is active, but not because of bullet-time. Instead, Trevor goes into a rage mode that makes his weapons do more damage while reducing the damage he takes.

Each special ability serves a purpose in different situations. Franklin is obviously the wheel man. Michael is best used as a sniper, since his bullet-time ability makes scoring headshots at extreme ranges no problem at all. Trevor is best saved for all-out assaults, those moments when you really just need some nutjob with a shotgun to run in and  clear a space out. Each character’s special meter – visible as a yellow bar at the bottom left corner of the screen, below the minimap – refills automatically over time.

Stuff you should try

Now that you’ve got the basics down, here are a few specific things that you might want to try out, or at least keep in mind. Got some of your own? Or some other tips that weren’t mentioned here? Please, by all means, share it in the comments below!

Mind your airspace: Here’s a pro tip that should help everyone. Most of us have a blimp via unlock code, compliments of a launch window GTA V purchase. Most of us are probably going to want to hop in that blimp right away and fly all around. That’s fine. It’s a slow-moving beast, but it’s a neat way to tour around the map. Keep one thing in mind though: restricted airspace is not your friend. Be careful not to fly the blimp over the airport or the prison or the military base. It’s a crap getaway vehicle, being that it’s a giant freaking balloon floating in the sky.

Leaving on a jet plane: It is possible to break into the military base and steal a fighter jet. The moment you enter the restricted zone, your wanted level will spike up to four stars and tanks will roll out in force, so you’ve got to act quickly. The most reliable way to steal a jet that we’ve found: fill up Trevor’s special meter, get a helicopter, and fly high, high over Fort Zancudo (if you’re high enough, you won’t trigger the alarms). Once that’s done, skydive down into the base. You’re aiming for the large open hangar that’s adjacent to the runway. There’s always a jet inside. Activate Trevor’s special as soon as you hit the ground and make a beeline for the jet. Then get the hell out of there. You’ve got enough acceleration that you should be able to take off as soon as you clear the hangar.

Grand Theft Auto 5 Stuff you should try 4

Channel your inner Jacques Cousteau: There’s a significant chunk of real estate in Grand Theft Auto V at the bottom of the ocean. In addition to an assortment of optional mission collectibles, you can often find armor and weapons discarded among the seaweed as well. Before you can explore, however, you’ll need scuba gear. Roughly midway through the game you’ll be able to buy a business up north called Sonar Collections. This gives you access to a submarine, and you’re automatically wearing a scuba tank whenever you bail out of it. You’ll also unlock a Strangers and Freaks mission that gives you access to a Zodiak boat; just like the sub, you’re scuba-equipped whenever you bail out of this one. 

Build your empire: There’s another route to earning cash that we didn’t get into above: going legit. A number of businesses available for purchase are scattered across Los Santos. You’ll likely need to make some money from one or  more heists before you can start buying up serious property, but doing so gives the character that owns the property – yes, ownership is character-specific – a weekly influx of cash. You’ll also occasionally get optional missions related to your owned businesses that improve your income. Be aware though: these are on a timer. Act quickly when you get the call or you’ll miss your opportunity. You can’t ruin your business by missing these, but your weekly earnings will take a hit.

Find all the things: The story in GTA V visits many locations in Los Santos, but many others are skipped over. You won’t visit the prison or the military base. You won’t see any concerts at the city’s Hollywood Bowl knock-off, and you won’t bury any bodies beneath the Vinewood sign. Make sure you get out there and really explore. There’s a lot of little tidbits hidden away. Can you find the abandoned hippie commune? The mountain fort of the Altruist Cult? The wind farm? Find these and other spots, and keep them in mind. Remember: GTA Online is coming on October 1, and at that point the map becomes a giant playground for you and your friends.


Of course there are cheats. Grand Theft Auto games always have them. You’re under no obligation to use them, and we won’t judge you if you do. Take note, however: turning a cheat on deactivates GTA V‘s save feature and disables Achievements/Trophies. These cheats will give you different ways to enjoy the game, but they won’t be useful for unlocking anything. Keep that in mind before you use them.

PlayStation 3 cheats

Raise Wanted Level R1, R1, Circle, R2, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right
Lower Wanted Level R1, R1, Circle, R2, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left
Fast Run Triangle, Left, Right, Right, L2, L1, Square
Give Parachute Left, Right, L1, L2, R1, R2, R2, Left, Left, Right, L1
Explosive Melee Attacks Right, Left, X, Triangle, R1, Circle, Circle, Circle, L2
Bang Bang (Explosive Bullets) Right, Square, X, Left, R1, R2, Left, Right, Right, L1, L1, L1
Flaming Bullets L1, R1, Square, R1, Left, R2, R1, Left, Square, Right, L1, L1
Slow Motion Aim Square, L2, R1, Triangle, Left, Square, L2, Right, X
Drunk Mode Triangle, Right, Right, Left, Right, Square, Circle, Left
Change Weather R2, X, L1, L1, L2, L2, L2, Square
Slidey Cars Triangle, R1, R1, Left, R1, L1, R2, L1
Slow Motion Triangle, Left, Right, Right, Square, R2, R1
Spawn Buzzard Circle, Circle, L1, Circle, Circle, Circle, L1, L2, R1, Triangle, Circle, Triangle
Spawn Comet R1, Circle, R2, Right, L1, L2, X, X, Square, R1
Spawn Sanchez Circle, X, L1, Circle, Circle, L1, Circle, R1, R2, L2, L1, L1
Spawn Trashmaster Circle, R1, Circle, R1, Left, Left, R1, L1, Circle, Right
Spawn Limo R2, Right, L2, Left, Left, R1, L1, Circle, Right
Spawn Stunt Plane Circle, Right, L1, L2, Left, R1, L1, L1, Left, Left, X, Triangle
Spawn Caddy Circle, L1, Left, R1, L2, X, R1, L1, Circle, X
Spawn Rapid GT R2, L1, Circle, Right, L1, R1, Right, left, Circle, R2
Spawn Duster Right, Left, R1, R1, R1, Left, Triangle, Triangle, X, Circle, L1, L1

 Xbox 360 cheats

Raise Wanted Level RB, RB, B, RT, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right
Lower Wanted Level RB, RB, B, RT, Right, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left
Fast Run Y, Left, Right, Right, LT, LB, X
Give Parachute Left, Right, LB, LT, RB, RT, RT, Left, Left, Right, LB
Explosive Melee Attacks Right, Left, A, Y, RB, B, B, LT
Bang Bang (Explosive Bullets) Right, Left, A, Y, RB, B, B, B, LT
Flaming Bullets LB, RB, X, RB, Left, RT, RB, Left, X, Right, LB, LB
Slow Motion Aim X, L2, RB, Y, Left, X, L2, Right, A
Drunk Mode Y, Right, Right, Left, Right, X, B, Left
Change Weather RT, A, LB, LB, LT, LT, LT, X
Slidey Cars Y, RB, RB, Left, RB, LB, RT, LB
Slow Motion Y, Left, Right, Right, X, RT, RB
Spawn Buzzard B, B, LB, B, B, B, LB, LT, RB, Y, B, Y
Spawn Comet RB, B, RT, Right, LB, LT, A, A, X, RB
Spawn Sanchez B, A, LB, B, B, LB, B, RB, RT, LT, LB, LB
Spawn Trashmaster B, RB, B, RB, Left, Left, RB, LB, B, Right
Spawn Limo RT, Right, LT, Left, Left, RB, LB, B, Right
Spawn Stunt Plane B, Right, LB, LT, Left, RB, LB, LB, Left, Left, A, Y
Spawn Caddy B, LB, Left, RB, LT, A, RB, LB, B, A
Spawn Rapid GT RT, LB, B, Right, LB, RB, Right, Left, B, RT
Spawn Duster Right, Left, RB, RB, RB, Left, Y, Y, A, B, LB, LB

Editors' Recommendations