GTA V: Isn't Perfect & I Don't Know How Anyone Could Think It Is
Playing Grand Theft Auto V was fun. So fun that I decided to play a bit of GTA IV to see how far the series has come in the intervening years. Much to my surprise though, GTA IV was fun too. More fun than I remembered. More fun, even, than GTA V.
I didn't want to admit it at first. San Andreas is such a nice place to be, compared to GTA IV's drab and desaturated Liberty City. GTA V's characters, while still falling into the wearily-sighing straightman cliche that helms every Rockstar game since San Andreas, were also so much more lively than the worn down immigrants and losers that permeated the GTA IV trilogy. GTA V's story, without going into too much detail, provides a solid arc and a satisfying conclusion, and is a vast improvement over GTA IV's rags to slightly-bloodier-rags story.
So what exactly was better about GTA IV?
The gameplay. More specifically, the combat mechanics. GTA IV took a lot of flak for its car handling physics, and I understand the complaint. I'm going to be that guy who actually liked them; they were unrealistic and sloppy, but it was something you could get good at with time. GTA V doesn't so much fix the car handling as make it a non-issue; driving is so easy it stops becoming something you think about.
You can play without even looking at the screen, just hold down two buttons and periodically flick the right analog stick. With zero effort your character becomes an absolute death machine.
No, what you notice is the combat.
Taking a page from Red Dead Redemption, GTA V puts all eggs in one basket, the flick targeting basket. GTA IV had flick targeting as well, but it was part of a more complicated targeting system. When locked on to an enemy you could adjust your aim, while still remaining locked on. Flick targeting was mostly used when you needed to suppress large groups of enemies. In GTA V is it way too forgiving. You can play without even looking at the screen, just hold down two buttons and periodically flick the right analog stick. With zero effort your character becomes an absolute death machine.
Why not play with auto-aim off?
Because the game was clearly not designed to be played that way, and the difficulty swings to the opposite end of the spectrum. Just like in Red Dead Redemption, playing with auto-aim off makes it very hard to hit moving enemies. Since bad guys are more given to banzai charges in GTA V, that's a real issue. The guns are too weak, and too accurate. If you play with auto-aim on, they work fine. The low damage doesn't matter because the accuracy of the guns and the forgiving targeting means most of your bullets hit. But when playing with auto-aim off, you can't hit with enough bullets to take out enemies fast enough. It's difficult to hit a fast moving enemy with an accurate gun, because you can't rely on the natural spread of bullets to get a hit.
It probably sounds like I'm complaining about trivial minutia, and I am. What it boils down to is that the combat in GTA V is a bit uninvolved. That doesn't sound so bad, right? It sure wouldn't, except that GTA V is still packed end to end with gratuitous shootouts!
Another of GTA V's biggest faults is the heist system.
GTA V offers the illusion of choice, but every path you take ends with the same result. A failed objective results in a forced restart, and a successful objective results in things going horribly wrong.
The heist system lets you choose between two approaches: one approach is always more subtle, and the other is always more "direct" (where "direct" means a lot of people are going to end up shot). The way they're structured though means that even if you choose the subtle approach, and it goes flawlessly, you'll still end up in a pitched fight mowing down several dozen cops with your superhuman flick-targeting skills.
In one of the biggest heists of the game (which I won't spoil for you), the subtle approach has you basically walk off with a huge pile of cash. There is no police response, and you drive smoothly and calmly to the dropoff point, without being detected by the authorities. Nice! And then a huge gunfight happens, seemingly in direct contradiction of your stealthy getaway. GTA V offers the illusion of choice, but every path you take ends with the same result. A failed objective results in a forced restart, and a successful objective results in things going horribly wrong.
There is no consequence for failure, there is just a consequence for playing. And with combat mechanics as dull and lacking in player involvement as this, a lot of GTA V is not fun to play. So much of GTA V is a marked improvement over GTA IV, I just wish I had more involvement in the game.
I still really like GTA V. It's great, it's just not perfect, and I don't know how anyone could think it is.