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Looking back at 5 years of… Grand Theft Auto V


There is no denying that Grand Theft Auto V is an absolute juggernaut. It’s numbers speak for itself: Currently the 3rd best-selling video game of all time and one of the highest grossing entertainment products ever, it is essentially printing its own money, and I don’t expect it to stop any time soon.

17th September and GTA V celebrates its 5th birthday since releasing on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 at the very end of their lifecycles – with Xbox One and PS4 releases following in November 2014. In the week that was we also received albums from Drake with his third longplayer ‘Nothing Was the Same’, Kings of Leon and their sixth album ‘Mechanical Bull’ and Motörhead released their penultimate album ‘Aftershock’. Game publishers were wise to give GTA V a wide berth as there were no other notable releases that week.

As with other Rockstar games, a brief trailer was released in November 2011 offering a glimpse of the world and very little else, at least at the time. Watching it now, it is clearly Michael with the voiceover and we also get a quick look at Trevor and Franklin too, though at the time we assumed just the one character, whoever that may have been.

More trailers followed, including a trio at once highlighting the three characters, and it became immediately apparent who was going to be the crowd favourite, Trevor Philips. But even with these character introductions, gamers had still only seen about 20 minutes of actual footage before the game released.

As diverse and unique as the three main characters are in GTA, they all share the same thing in common: they are deplorable human beings… but written and voice-acted so well that each were a joy to play as.

Then came the first gameplay footage, and much like the recent Red Dead Redemption 2 gameplay trailer, it was all fans needed to be completely sold. Rockstar showed us a snippet of what we could do in Los Santos and it was all we needed. As was standard for Rockstar though, we had a few last-minute delays to the release date.

In a nutshell, Grand Theft Auto V tells the story of three career criminals at various stages in their ‘careers’, as they join together to take down the motherload of heists, the Union Depository.

Franklin is a petty crook at the start, but Michael sees potential in him, even more so when they have no option but to work together after Michael catches his wife bumping uglies with her tennis coach. He races to confront him and ends up pulling the coach’s house down with the help of Franklin. Only they tear down the wrong house and must pay to have it repaired.

It’s here that players got a first real taste of the Heists in GTA; multi-tiered missions where characters each had their own tasks to complete and were the standout moments of the game. This first one was a much smaller affair – targeting a jewellery store – but as the story went on, the bigger the heists became.

It was also during this first heist that Michael uttered a phrase that not only triggered something in the back of Trevor’s mind as he watched the action unfold on the news in his caravan, but it’s also a phrase that I had heard one too many times during my experience of GTA V.

The plan was for myself and my friends to go to the midnight opening at our local Game store and spend all night and the following day playing the game as a group.

Having just seen Jason Manford live with my sister – who ever so kindly dropped me off at the shop afterwards (she told me I had to put that bit in) – spirits were already high, but I knew the real fun started when I had a copy in my hands. I’d even booked the day off work to take full advantage of it.

It must be said that the event was handled badly; a swarm of people around the door when we arrived with not even an attempt to form a queue. Then after 30 minutes of being there we were told we had to collect a numbered ticket which was our place in the ‘queue’, so that put us even further behind. Still, the camaraderie between us and other dedicated players helped pass the time, even two hours after the ‘opening’ when we were still queuing. Looking back now though, this was probably the peak of my first day with Grand Theft Auto V.

We were home for around 3am but the second disc needed installing so it was nearer 4am before we were even ready to start. I offered the controller to my friends as it was my copy and I could play at my own pace whenever.

Less than an hour and eyelids were drooping, and on more than one occasion I could hear myself snoring. I think by 5am we had all but given up on playing any of it without some sleep first. We did the sensible thing and called it a night.

I had already booked this day off from work in anticipation of playing a full day of GTA V, so I awoke early to maximise my play-time. Deciding that none of us were fully paying attention the previous night, we started the game from the very beginning.

We got to the bit with Michael saying his infamous line – “You forget a thousand things everyday. How ’bout you make sure this is one of ’em” – and we were fully engrossed. None of us could take our eyes off the action. It is a fantastic opening mission, truly setting the scene for the story.

And then, my Xbox 360 booted me to the menu, with no explanation why. I put it down to the age of the console and tried again.

We didn’t get that far the second time, and it happened again.

And again. And again.

Luckily, the postman arrived with another copy (Disclaimer: I had pre-ordered a copy of the Special Edition online but didn’t want to spend my day waiting ‘patiently’ for the postman so pre-ordered another copy at my local GAME store to pick-up at the midnight opening, with the intention of selling the other Special Edition on), so we tried this version of the game to see if the problem was a faulty disc. Same again, so we fully uninstalled it as the feedback online was to try that as the install disc may have caused the problem.

Same again though, only this time I don’t think we even got to the bank vault.

By this point, one friend had left for work, and the other was getting more and more agitated. In a final ditch attempt to salvage the day, he then went and bought a copy of the game despite not owning an Xbox 360 yet. He was planning to buy one eventually, but this had brought those plans forward.

We had three copies of the game strewn across the floor. And not one of them worked. It was only at this point that we thought there might be a problem with the Xbox so we tried another game. That worked fine so I vowed to return to Game the next day and request a fourth copy to try.

Unsurprisingly, the same thing occurred with copy no. 4 and by now I was at a complete loss at what to do. I was so frustrated as I couldn’t work out why. I needed a game that could cause maximum carnage with minimal effort. Diablo III was the first game that popped into my head. I put the disc in the tray.

An error popped up on screen simply saying that there was a problem reading the disc. It all made sense now, the issue was with the disc tray and it not being able to read the discs properly. But what about the game that worked fine? Turns out that was already installed on the hard drive so all the Xbox needed to do was simply check the correct disc was present and then boot from the drive, something the disc tray could just about manage. Mystery solved, but I still couldn’t play Grand Theft Auto V. Or most of my games for that matter.

In the end, I had to fork out for a new Xbox, and then sit through the beginning of GTA V for the 85th time. It was this whole experience that I think left a sour taste in my mouth when it came to GTA, at least on Xbox 360. Or it could have been down to the Xbox One releasing two months afterwards, but whatever it was it meant I never got around to completing the main story until July 2016, almost three years later. I was never disappointed in the game – and the same friends and I played the hell out of the Heists when they arrived in the Online component of the game – but the disc errors did ruin my experience with the game. Perhaps it shouldn’t, but it did.

Another reason was because I remember when San Andreas came out and the opening hours to that game blew me away. They are up there with the most fun I’ve ever had whilst gaming, so, when hearing that V was going back to Los Santos, I couldn’t wait to explore again, and hopefully find Grove Street. I did eventually, when I had a working 360, but by that point the novelty had worn off.

Fast forward to the start of 2018 and I had an itch that could only be solved by playing GTA. My 360 was packed away as we were in the process of moving house, and it has since remained packed away and not sure if it will ever be resurrected. Thankfully, it was one of those ‘rare’ occasions where Grand Theft Auto V was on sale on the Xbox One, where it launched a year after the original release.

This was where I experienced the GTA I had been hoping for back in 2013. This time around there were no disc errors or other factors to ruin the game, and I got the GTA V experience I had been hoping for. The world, the soundtrack, the missions, everything just felt better.

The missions in particular offered something that no GTA had done before. Each felt like that they were moving the main story onwards, where it felt in previous games that many were just filler featuring a cast of characters that didn’t offer anything outside of a small sub-story. There were certainly fewer main missions than previous efforts, but they included set-pieces that GTA simply hadn’t done before.

Both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One versions proudly sit at 97 on Metacritic and it is currently the third bestselling game of all time. Rockstar was always going to be onto a winner with any main instalment of the franchise but I don’t think even they could have predicted its success so long after release. A lot of this can be attributed to selling the game on two console generations but even without this, GTA V would have been an absolute juggernaut regardless. It regularly features in the UK Top 10 selling games for the week, even five years after release, so that should tell you all you need to know about how well this game has fared.

It may have sold a literal ship load of copies, but as with any Grand Theft Auto game, it garnered almost as much criticism, some more concerning than others.

Primarily, many gamers were not happy with the portrayal of women within the game. A game featuring three male main-characters and any women relegated to the supporting cast will rightly earn some criticism for this. The women were there a lot of the time to be poked with a stick and ridiculed, or objectified, by the three main guys. But GTA is a franchise built on satire, and the main trio were also in for a hefty amount of ridicule, but that was left to the player to do the ridiculing as we were controlling them; the difference being this was subtler and not as explicit in the sense it is there for you to see first-hand.

More criticism was directed towards a specific mission called By the Book. This involved Trevor torturing an NPC to give up some information, and the player getting to choose from several ‘tools’ at their disposal to do the torturing. Criticism was directed at this, seeing a series of quick time events to do the actual torturing, almost giving players first-hand experience; press a button enough times and get the information you need. Again, this was considered satirical but how far is too far?

And then there was Lindsay Lohan…

But where is GTA Online I hear you ask? Well as this originally launched two weeks after the single-player game we have separated the two and GTA Online will have its own retrospective coming up, so stayed tuned for that!

What are your memories of Grand Theft Auto V? Were you, like me, one of those that went to a midnight opening? Were your first few hours more successful? How long did you wait before purchasing a second copy on your new Xbox One? Let us know in the comments below!

Richard Dobson
Richard Dobson
Avid gamer since the days of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Grew up with the PS1 and PS2 but changed allegiances in 2007 with the release of Halo 3.
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