2013 Game of the Year: Grand Theft Auto V
At the start of 2013, my “Most Anticipated” list of games was lengthy. Actually, lengthy is an understatement. It spanned over genres, crossed multiple platforms and I actually wasn’t sure if some of those games were even coming out that year. Ni no Kuni, Tomb Raider, Bioshock Infinite, Pokemon X, Injustice, Animal Crossing, XCOM…the list was impressive. Grand Theft Auto V, however, was conspicuously absent.
To put it plainly, I didn’t care. I’d read enough articles about the franchise’s excessive violence and rampant sexism to decide that the game wasn’t for me. In my mind, GTA was a game for teenage boys with too much pent-up aggression. But when September rolled around and the hype surrounding GTA V got too loud to ignore, I gave in. I bought the game on release day and the rest is history.
Welcome To Los Santos
I’ve spent entire days roaming the Capital Wasteland and explored miles of Tamriel, but none of that prepared me for the beauty and expansiveness of Los Santos. Inspired by the real city of Los Angeles and residing in the infamous and fictitious state of San Andreas, Los Santos is a sprawling metropolis containing all the glitzy gated communities and seedy back alleys of any real city. In the early hours of the day, you’ll see joggers on their morning runs and people waiting for the bus to get to work. Vinewood’s sidewalks are filled with tourists snapping pictures on their phones while people play catch with their dogs on Vespucci beach. Head up through countryside towards Blaine County and you’ll run into hikers, cyclists and even the occasional mountain lion. It’s the insane attention detail that makes GTA V’s world so convincing; it feels real on so many levels.
Random Events only enhanced the city’s believability. There’s a rush of adrenaline whenever those blinking blue dots appear on the map. Are you about to walk into a police shoot out or just help an old lady get her stolen purse back? The randomness and spontaneity of the city contribute to the idea that this city is living and breathing; like it will continue to function even when you’re not around. Possibility defines Los Santos.
When you’re not on a mission, there are still plenty of things to do -- jet skiing, yoga, hunting, skydiving, ATV racing, scuba diving, golfing, drag racing, tennis --it’s kind of ridiculous. Some of the best times I had in Los Santos weren’t even part of the main storyline. In fact, I didn’t truly appreciate how massively beautiful the city was until I saw it from the cockpit of a helicopter I’d just stolen from a hospital’s rooftop helipad. Oops.
Meet Your New Best Friends
I think what surprised me the most about GTA V, was how much I grew to love the game’s three main protagonists: Michael, Trevor, and Franklin. As a 22-year old white girl from suburban Virginia, I can’t say I expected to relate. Michael De Santa is a retired criminal who, up until the game begins, spends his days getting drunk by the pool of his Rockford Hills mansion. He has a family who hates him, an expensive therapist and a love for old Vinewood movies. It’s clear that Michael is bored with his life as a retiree and misses his days as a high profile criminal.
Then there’s Franklin, a young guy from South Los Santos, trying to make a living as a repo man. Franklin has plenty of his own baggage including his trouble-prone friend Lamar and a life of petty crime he’d like to leave behind. Through a series of interesting circumstances, Franklin meets Michael and the two decide to work together in pursuit of one last big heist. Michael becomes somewhat of a mentor to Franklin and the two form a touching father-son relationship you wouldn’t expect to see in a game so heavily centered around the idea of masculinity.
Finally there’s Trevor. Oh, Trevor. A friend from Michael’s old bank robbing days, Trevor is the epitome of all things violent in the Grand Theft Auto universe. He’s an immoral, psychopathic, crystal-meth-cooking, lunatic and yet he quickly became my favorite character in the game. Trevor serves as the game’s main source of comic relief and is armed to the teeth with great dialog and biting one-liners. His missions are by far the most outrageous (blowing up a trailer park, sabotaging a border control operation) and usually the most fun.
Instead of just getting to know each character through the eyes of one character, the game allows you to switch between all three. Tired of playing as Michael? Hit the D-Pad and the camera will fly over San Andreas, dropping you right in the middle of Trevor’s life. Depending on what he was up to while you were gone, you might find him passed out and surrounded by dead bodies or just standing at the top of a mountain wearing nothing but a women’s nightie. Depends. These short cinematic clips are completely random and offer you insight into each character’s life. Of the 50+ hours I logged in the game, I never once saw one of these situations repeated.
By having the opportunity to literally walk in each character’s shoes, I learned to care more about Michael, Trevor and Franklin than I ever expected. It’s clear that the writers took care to fully develop each character and that the actors who played them truly took their roles to heart. Through missions and brilliant storytelling, I learned about the lengths Michael took to protect his family, Trevor’s deep-rooted Mommy issues and Franklin’s devotion to his friends. It’s certainly refreshing to meet characters with vulnerability and emotion in a series frequently written off as violent and insensitive.
Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangster
Grand Theft Auto has always been a series about becoming someone you’re not and GTA V is no exception. The game is immersive in every sense. Missions involving all three characters easily become the most fun and engaging of the bunch by allowing you to participate in every part of the action. Michael might be sneaking his way into a heavily guarded area while Trevor snipes enemies and Franklin waits nearby with a getaway car; you, however, are doing all three.
Heists are extravagant and over-the-top in the absolute best way. A lot of planning goes into them, including choosing a crew and a method of attack, but the excitement comes during the actual execution. Swarms of police cars, helicopters and sometimes even tanks show up no matter what tactic you choose but let’s be honest - getting away is the fun part.
Despite how completely crazy I am about this game, I recognize that it’s not perfect. The franchise as a whole has a long way to go in terms of the way it represents women and racial minorities, and I agree that the infamous torture scene was completely unnecessary. Despite these issues, Grand Theft Auto V is my Game of the Year. Not only because it’s a masterpiece of a game, but because it single handedly changed my opinion about a franchise I once looked down upon. Despite what many people will have you believe, the game is so much more than robbing banks and going to strip clubs. It’s grandiose and impossible and insane but mostly it’s a hell of a lot of fun.