If you have even a passing interest in video games, chances are you’ve heard of Grand Theft Auto 5. It’s very likely that you’ve played it, or know someone that has, considering the number of copies this title has moved since initial launch. Take-Two Interactive, the game’s publisher, recently (as of April 4, 2017) reported that the game shipped more than 75 million copies. Knowing all that, chances are you don’t really need an introduction to this game.
However, the ever-increasing sales figures indicate that new players are drawn to GTA 5 despite its age, meaning plenty of new potential customers would like to read up on the game before taking the plunge. However, most reviews don’t really discuss the subject of morality.
Before we get to that though, let’s look at the game itself. Grand Theft Auto 5 is a sandbox action-adventure title with an emphasis on player freedom. While the single player campaign does feature a mostly linear main storyline with standard plot progression for a set of recurring characters, players are let loose in a vast and vibrant open world with a host of features to play with, and given the freedom to explore it at their own pace, in their own way.
The first thing any player will notice about the game, even before the gameplay itself, is the stunning level of graphical fidelity on display, regardless of platform. Comparatively, this is one of the best looking games to grace the 7th generation consoles, while it also makes great use of the upgraded capabilities of the 8th gen systems. Players with high-end PCs will get the best experience though, but be warned – at the time of this writing there literally does not exist a consumer system capable of outputting a stable 60 FPS at 4K ultra settings.
GTA 5 sidesteps many of the inherently negative trends seen in AAA games regarding visual language. Instead of dulling colors and using a muted palette, the world of GTA 5 is lively and powerful. We’ve used the word vibrant before, but it really is the best descriptor of Rockstar Games’ rendition of fictional California. The browns and grey prevalent in some other highly popular game franchises take a backseat in this title, which won’t ever come across as bleak or dreary.
When it comes to actually playing the thing, those last two descriptors still don’t hold up. The majority of GTA 5’s gameplay is divided between playing on foot and sitting behind the wheel, though the game offers a staggering measure of variety regarding what manner of vehicle it is you’re driving. In fact, “staggering variety” was probably emblazoned on the wallpaper of every workstation in Rockstar North’s offices, since GTA 5 offers everything in bulk. There is an immense amount of varied and diverse side-missions to complete, NPCs to meet, collectibles to hunt down, Easter eggs to discover, activities to partake in and locations to explore.
When it comes down to value-to-cost, GTA 5 is one of the best bets you have. This isn’t a cookie cutter military shooter with a campaign that barely lasts six hours. In fact, you’ll likely go well over 100 hours of playtime before you finish half of what the game has to offer. And even if you do somehow make it to 100% completion, you can always augment your gameplay with the vast array of cheats available in GTA 5, or the community made mods (provided you’re on PC).
The production quality doesn’t lapse with the audio either. The game offers a wealthy soundtrack full of songs from many different genre archetypes on the radio stations, and the OST tracks are filled with personality as well. The voice acting is superb in terms of quality, and it’s clear the actors really put their heart and soul into these performances. One weak aspect, however, is the sound of the weapons. Audio feedback is crucial in this sort of thing, but each gun in the game feels like a peashooter. Instead of delivering thundering bangs, they sort of just "poot poot" while the enemy’s health bar decreases.
Now, there might be a ton of things to do in this grand, lively, open world, but the nature of these things, plus that of the story Rockstar wanted to tell, is where it might get a bit uncomfortable for some folk.
If the name wasn’t a dead giveaway, Grand Theft Auto is about crime, and lots of it. Combat is a major aspect of the game, and you’ll be gunning down a lot of virtual people on your road to 100% completion. Violence is an absolute must when playing this game, as the progression criteria for most missions in the game requires that you kill a number of opponents.
While there are some tame activities – like yoga, for example – to ones which are significantly less objectionable – racing, hunting and solving a murder – usually anything you’ll be doing will involve using various projectile or melee weapons to snuff out the life of your fellow man. Gameplay also involves an obligatory, interactive torture scene in a single mission of the game, where players must use waterboarding, electrocution, or the forcible removal of teeth to compel an NPC to divulge sensitive information. The player is fully in control during these sections, and every method is shown without censorship. Players may also visit strip clubs with fully modeled nude characters present. What’s more, the game offers a toggle-able first person view, which coupled with the interactive lap dances given by nude NPCs is responsible for highly explicit content.
The storyline of the game reflects these aspects as well. The vast majority of the characters are amoral, dysfunctional, drug using, adulterous, sociopathic, selfish, greedy, mass-murdering criminals, and the plot expects us to identify or even sympathize with them and their issues.
The plot itself revolves around a trio of criminals whose lives are in different stages of disarray banding together to pull off a string of heists while navigating the intricacies of a corrupt federal agency and their own personal agendas at the same time. While undoubtedly an interesting topic, it would be impossible to explore without treading upon controversial themes – not that Rockstar particularly has a care for tact.
The developers have a track record of reveling in controversy and purposefully seeding their games with offensive content which acts both as a challenge to those they consider too stuck-up, and a way to pander to their sizable audience which would consider holding back to be ‘selling out’ at this point in the franchise’s history.
In terms of immoral content, this game has it all. Violence in droves, inappropriate language, explicit sexual content, gore, the promotion of drug use, criminal activity, and crass humor. Pretty much the only field into which GTA 5 doesn’t tread is the occult, but even this is questionable. The game features a fictional cult built around some made-up religion which on its own might be problematic. However, the game paints this cult as entirely deplorable and evil, with its members only ever appearing as enemies in the game. There is another church in GTA V, but you cannot enter nor do you ever see a priest or anyone going in or out.
That said, the game’s multiplayer mode, GTA Online, features a scene upon the player’s first death showing a stylized afterlife wherein the leader of the game’s fictional cult resurrects the player. On the one hand, this is explanation for the respawning game mechanic, however it also indicates that the cult’s beliefs are true within the continuity of the game, presenting a troubling scenario.
At the end of the day, GTA 5 is a technically impressive and marvelous game into which immense amount of effort was put by the developers. This is an extremely polished gaming experience which doesn’t cease to awe on the practical front. However, a deeply rooted and inherent immorality that permeates the very fabric of Grand Theft Auto 5 could make it inaccessible to those potential players to whom this sort of thing is a deal breaker.