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Rockstar North releases it's first GTA in over 5 years, to great success.

Thoughts & Impressions – Grand Theft Auto V – Part 3

Welcome Back! We’ve come to the end of our Thoughts & Impressions series on Grand Theft Auto V. In our final installment well be talking about GTA Online and what we think of it thus far. We’ll also be giving you a brief final thought and score from many of our staff members. Grand Theft Auto V is a massive game, maybe one of the most ambitious in gaming’s history, and its been great getting to spend the last several weeks with our readers and listeners experiencing the game together. Make sure you check out Part 1 and Part 2, as well as our SpolierCast series, also in three parts. Listen to Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here. Enjoy!

 

I’m an online gamer. I have been since the first time I tried it. I have always loved the competitive nature of it. I bought the network adaptor for my PS2 back in college and spent most of the time I should have studied actually playing Madden and Tiger Woods (I was ranked 97th in the country at the latter thank you very much!). I think it all started with Goldeneye. I LOVED playing that with my friends and I remember wishing I could do it all the time. Then came Halo. Did you ever go to a Halo LAN party? I did. A lot. Then the current generation of gaming really changed everything. Online stopped being a novelty and became standard. I have spent hundreds of hours playing Call of Duty online, and many more playing Split Second, WWE2K, and most other sports games. I say all that so you know that I have a ton of experience playing online, and so that when I say GTA Online is a top 5 online experience for me, that’s really saying something.

Sure the game had a ton of problems when it first came out. Most people couldn’t get on and the ones that could were having issues with corrupt save files and character deletion. I don’t really want to focus on that though. One, I have only had one small issue since I started playing Online (I had to replay the first 30 minutes of the tutorial). Second, it’s fixed for almost everyone now and Rockstar is about to drop a patch that will fix most of the remaining bugs. So if that’s your issue, it’s fixed now. Get over it and go play! Sure there are still a few minor glitches. Cars tend to jump around on-screen a bit at the start of races and now and then computer generated cars will suddenly teleport into another lane. But have you really thought about the size of this world and just how much freedom you actually have? It’s truly a modern marvel and a great achievement for gaming, so let’s not focus on the few minor problems.

I have never really played anything like GTA Online. Sure you could play Red Dead or GTA 4 online, but they pale in comparison to what this game is. The sheer amount of freedom in the open world has what has drawn millions of players to the GTA franchise since GTA III dropped on the PS2. But never have we had that same amount of freedom in an online setting that we can share with our friends. I have played online for a total of 14 hours now (not nearly as much as I want). Whether I’m on to goof around with friends, or I’m on to play for real and earn cash and level up, each and every experience has been unique.

Let’s talk about just goofing off. There are literally countless things you can choose to spend your time doing online in this game. Playing tennis or golf (which play surprisingly well) is super fun. You can get in all the cop chases you can handle, and with the improved AI of the cops, often more than you can handle. You can use your online time to explore the map without the distractions of the story mode. Me and a complete stranger decided to take a trip up to the top of Mt. Chilead together and race down. There is always the running and gunning to do which can be both fun and annoying. It can be a lot of fun to shoot the occasional random other player and rob them (I shot my new friend that beat me back down the mountain in the face. He didn’t consider me a friend after that), or to shoot one of your buddies for a laugh. It can get out of hand at other times though if you are in a random lobby with strangers and you are getting shot at every 30 seconds (I usually leave those lobbies).

When you are ready to get online and play for real is when the real fun begins though. While the game is still immensely fun to play with total strangers, have friends to play with is just so much better. I try to always have a game-plan going into an online session. If you have enough people, take advantage of creating a private game session so you can play without being bothered by others. In the world of GTA Online, money is the name of the game. You need to earn as much as possible and continuously try to be leveling up. If you find yourself between missions, or waiting for more friends to get online, grab a buddy and rob some stores. Whenever there is free time, this is the best way to earn quick cash and experience for levels. You make some quick cash and the increasingly difficult cop chases that occur as your crime spree grows are quite fun and challenging. Once every hour, I try to steal a nice car and sell it. If you are getting the right ones, it’s a free 5-9k every hour the game lets you do it. The most fun way to level up and earn cash is to constantly be doing the general missions, races, and team death-matches. Racing is a lot of fun and there are tons scattered all over the map with a variety of types (land, air, water). When you are playing with several friends and you have an even number, I suggest you try rally races. They are a ton of fun. If you are good at driving, I suggest you place bets. You can really make a lot of extra cash that way. There are the team missions where you compete over a common goal. The death-matches can be fun, but aren’t my favorite. My favorite common missions to date are the three Top Fun missions. One team is flying fighter jets and trying to kill the other team and prevent them from reaching their goal while they are driving a variety of other vehicles depending on what Top Fun you are playing. The larger your group is, the crazier it gets.

Specific level missions are really where it’s at however. As you progress up in the level system, you will unlock more challenging missions that can involve several players. Completing them earns good cash and experience. Missions on the lower levels will get you around 5k and I have played as high as a level 30 mission that got me 25k. The beauty of them is, you can replay them as many times as you want to and you will always get the same amount of money upon completion. A genius add in from Rockstar is that you don’t have to be at the level required for the mission as long as you have a friend that is there and they start the mission and invite you. The level 30 mission that I played was quite challenging and required an enormous amount of team work and planning. This is really where GTA Online became so fun and unique for me. I had never really played an online mode that was so fun to talk strategy and planning. I absolutely cannot wait until Rockstar starts releasing heists for us to play, as they will require even more teamwork and planning.

For those of us who were lucky enough to purchase Grand Theft Auto V on home consoles, you were granted access to GTA Online. Have you been playing with friends in the sprawling metropolis of Los Santos and Blaine County?  If not, you should be…even if some of the game is broken.

Some fan art showing some shenanigans in an apartment

Some fan art showing some shenanigans in an apartment

So we’ve all (for the most part) gotten away with murder, mayhem and money as the Los Santos 3 in the main storyline, but after you’ve done all that GTA V has to offer, what next? Why not grab an internet connection and play with some buds (or not) and hop into the world of GTA Online. This is, essentially, the same world as GTA V but with actually more stuff to do…for the most part. You start off as a random lowlife thug coming into Los Santos via airplane. You actually create said thug by choosing your grandparents and parents; this creates a lineage that shapes what you look like. You more or less look pretty stupid (the online game avatars look much worse than the offline game), but who looks at your online avatars face anyway? What they should have done was add some sliders for more accurate details, but whatever. Once you land, our old pal Lamar shows up (thank God!) and not only gives you a piece (see, I’m catching on to the lingo) but a job and some contacts for nefarious doings. Let’s rob some people!

Robbing stores in fun, if not super rewarding. Just be prepared: the more stores you rob, the higher your stars

Robbing stores in fun, if not super rewarding. Just be prepared: the more stores you rob, the higher your stars

Here is where you run into your first problem: doing things. It seems as if it takes forever to get into anything fun. Sure you can rob a convenience store, steal a car or beat someone up and take their cash, but you could do that anyway. There will be others in your world, but they will (for the most part) just try to kill you and take your money. This drags the game down significantly. I would suggest playing with your buddies and creating a private world. Also, here are some more tips: 1) When you get a car to put a tracker on (this prevents people from stealing your car), pick out the best: it’s free the first time and the costs for adding trackers and insurance for nicer cars will cost you big time.. 2) Deposit your money! Go to an ATM or, preferably, do it through your phone. If you have over $5,000 and you get killed by other online thugs you lose it all. 3) Do whatever it takes to get RP (reputation points). This will level you up and get you missions that will pay out in the thousands.

Another big problem is the setting up a gathering of your friends to play together. There is a strict 16 player limit on each server, so if one of your buddies is somewhere that is already full, good luck trying to get in. If you invite them to your world, make sure there is plenty of space…they get booted sometimes right before they land in your world. Once everyone is together, this version of GTA is an absolute blast! Robbing stores, evading police and getting into races are too fun…especially rally races! These are races that are two people per car; one person drives (and has no clue as to where the waypoints are) and the other shouts out directions (since they can actually see where to go). It’s hilarious. Also, if you see something called “Top Fun”…do it. Don’t hesitate, just click on it. You’ll Thank me.

Flying jets in crazy fun, especially the missions labeled "Top Fun", just be prepared to crash...a lot

Flying jets in crazy fun, especially the missions labeled “Top Fun”, just be prepared to crash…a lot

Once you have completed a race or deathmatch or what have you, the game brings up a series of cells that will have new missions (sort of…it’s really just Team Deathmatches), races or deathmatches. You can also refresh the cells if it’s something that you don’t want to play, replay the last mission or go into Free Mode (which places you back into the game world). This Free Mode is GTA Online’s biggest problem. Once enough people click on this, it is literally a flip of the coin to see if any of you wind up in the same world. I had a party of eight do this and four wound up playing together, two were in another world and two singles were on their own in another. WHAT?!? It then took us about thirty minutes to recoup even half of those people in the same world. This is inexcusable and needs to be addressed immediately!

Playing online is best when with some friends...unless you get split up

Playing online is best when with some friends…unless you get split up

GTA Online has just scratched the surface of what it can do. We are now two weeks in and Rockstar still hasn’t patched an update allowing organized online heists…but  they’re coming. Also, user-created content hasn’t been fully realized either which could open this game up to no end. Not to mention the fact that Rockstar could do sooooo much to add extra worlds and locales like Liberty City or even new venues that have never been introduced in a Grand Theft Auto game before. I mean, how cool would it be to get a mission from Niko Bellic…it’s a pretty neat thing to think about.

This guy look familiar? You'll receive jobs from other faces from the offline game

This guy look familiar? You’ll receive jobs from other faces from the offline game

Whether or not you’ve had the chance to play GTA on or offline, you owe it to yourself to play this mode. Even with some hiccups in the overall gameplay, it’s still worth your investment in both time and money.

I’m 12 or so hours in to GTA Online thus far, and I still can’t decide if it’s for me. You won’t hear me complain too much about the games technical short-comings the week of its launch. This isn’t because I give Rockstar a pass simply for being Rockstar, but because they had a massive and bold vision, and in implementing that vision ran into the same problems as the majority of other  game developers. That, and the fact that they were nice enough to provide us with sixty plus hours of single player content to enjoy while they get things working more smoothly.

Car dancing and someone getting punched in the background. Welcome to Los Santos!

Car dancing and someone getting punched in the background. Welcome to Los Santos!

So after giving it about four-day to iron out the kinks, I created my ponytail-rockin’ character in GTA Online and proceeded into Los Santos once again. And I was annoyed. Why? That’s a tricky question. I am notoriously not an online gamer. I despise Call of Duty and amazingly the online games I’ve played extensively online in this entire generation are Gears of War 2 and Mass Effect 3 — both cooperative games. It is mostly just that I love the story elements of a video game, and that I feel like online multiplayer looses a lot of that element of gaming. But GTA Online looked so huge and full of potential I couldn’t just ignore it. As we jumped into it on the first couple of nights though, the game became increasingly frustrating. We formed out Free For All crew, got seven or eight of us all into a game together, and then inevitably someone would die, finish a race, or some other mundane activity and be booted into a game with a bunch of strangers.

Now I know that playing online is about sometimes dealing with the anonymity of the internet and the people who reside within it, but when Rockstar promote crews and gives you the ability to play in these invite nay sessions, and then constantly boots you out of them, it can be less than ideal. This coupled with more minor technically issues like frame rate jumps at the beginning of races, character loss, and save data corruption made for a moment about three nights in to us playing that I really had to consider whether I wanted to play GTA Online again.

Luckily for me, I decided that I would. We finally got better organized within out crew and started commentating better. Deciding what we wanted to do after each mission and voting accordingly, or all voting to head back into Freemode together. The times when one of us would get kicked out of our private session because rare, and I started really enjoying myself. It turned out I was a master of the parachute jump, and sat at the opposite end of the spectrum when it came to races. We had some amazing moments in the open world that happened by complete accident. A particularly hilarious story involving Evan holding up a convenience store and Chuck and I not being attentive to car selection can be heard on the third installment of our SpoilerCast.

All in all I have had a great time with the online component of GTA. Sure it doesn’t have the same story hooks as the single player mode, and maybe you see a few more technical hiccups, but I can verify that not once in the single played have a laughed anywhere near as hard as I have while shooting, driving, and just sending some virtual time with many of my friends. And there is certainly something to be said for that.

Evan Swafford

Overall, this game is quite simply a masterpiece. While, Online had it’s initial bugs and glitches, they have been or are being fixed. The good FAR outweighs the bad. It is simply the most fun you can have online with a group of friends. The world is so massive with so many different things to do, I’m not sure I will ever grow bored of playing it. With future plans to keep adding heists and to eventually expand the in-game world, the sky is the limit for GTA Online. Couple that with the story mode of this game and you have one of the greatest video games ever made. It is my favorite of the year by far, and one of my favorites of all time.

Score: 10.0

Josh Barnett

Grand Theft Auto is a fantastic open-world experience with surprisingly minimal hiccups for such a large game. The quality and care that went into it are clear from the first time it loads, and the story ranks as one of the best in the series. The massive scale of the world becomes more impressive when you see just how detailed every street is, and as a single player game it excels as one of the best of the year. While personally, the online lacks appeal due mainly to a small sampling of actual friends that have the game, it’s easy to see the extra lifespan on the game through this mode.

Score: 9.0

Trey Elliott

Grand Theft Auto V is a massive feat. It takes an open world that can rival any in existence today, combines it with three well-written and memorable protagonists, and then adds an online multiplayer component that may very well know no bounds. Rockstar has really out done itself this time out, and while some minor annoyances and bumps in the road (pun intended) hold it back from being perfect for me, it sure is close.

Score: 9.5

Chuck Nalley (Extended Cut)

There has not been a GTA game that I ever fully got behind… until now. GTA V is a feast for any gamer who has a lot of free time (be prepared to spend anywhere between 25-80+ hours on this game). The storyline is compelling and has several interesting twists and turns that won’t necessarily keep you guessing… But will keep you coming back. The decision by Rockstar to hold the online portion of GTA, either intentional or not, was a saving grace of sorts. It allowed the gamers enough time to not only complete the story, but to also become vested in the game itself. Los Santos and Blaine county was not only memorized by most, it became it’s own entity; alive with personality and teeming with life. Michael, Trevor and Franklin became part of our own extended, if not dysfunctional, family. Their trials and tribulations, although sometimes outlandish, were fun and engaging. The single player experience was excellent.

On October 1, Rockstar unleashed GTA Online onto the world… To a mixed bag at best. The game was severely broken to most and took several days to restore any semblance of “fixed”. However, when you do get on its hella fun! Get into races (via air, land or water), deathmatches and even some pretty clever missions some of which include characters from the single-player game like Ron, Lamar and even Trevor. Pretty cool. The best way to play online is with friends; getting chased by cops is not nearly as fun by yourself or with random people as it is with a few buds.

Even though the game, overall, is fun that doesn’t prevent it from having it’s flaws. Glitches abounded in both the single and multiplayer aspects. Multiplying cars? Check. Falling through the world? Check. I even had a huge problem where my cars, that were supposed to be saved in my personal garage or at my house, disappeared for no reason. I would drop a few thousand on a car, park it in my parking garage and then…poof! The online portion was riddled with errors from the start. The most egregious of these was getting booted from a server with your buddies/crew members and placed into a new world with strangers just because you either backed out of a job or chose to go into “Free Mode”. Then it takes anywhere from 10 to 45mins to get everyone back together. It’s stupid. I will say that Rockstar has been hard at work to correct these issues, but they do need to be mentioned.

To end, I will say that I do love this game. It’s not a perfect “10” but it’s a ton of fun on and offline. I would suggest that you go out and but it… But you probably already have at this point. If not, give it a shot… You’ll be happy you did.

Score: 9.0

About Trey Elliott

Trey Elliott
Trey is a video game enthusiast, movie junkie, and cultivator of one fantastic beard. He loves to write original Gregorian chants, play the spoon harp, and speak of whatever comes to mind on the Free For All podcast.