Of all the games where your choices matter, Allen finds one in the unlikeliest of titles.
The Grand Theft Auto series, infamous for controversial subject matter and open-world activities such as running over pedestrians and beating up strippers, enticed me for entirely different reasons. Upon playing GTA IV, I found myself hooked on the strong narrative and interesting characters, but a few troubling gameplay mechanics (awkward shooting controls and clunky driving) kept me from seeking out older games in the series. The announcement of Grand Theft Auto V passed by me mostly unnoticed until I watched the characters trailer which revealed that players would control three characters instead of one. In that moment, I knew the game would be something special, and once the game released, my prediction came true. The genius character design of Grand Theft Auto V revitalized the series’ trademark gameplay and shaped one of the most compelling climaxes in video game history.
A quick prologue introduces playable characters Michael Townley and Trevor Philips, as well as a third character who dies during a failed robbery. Nine years later, Michael lives the good life in Los Santos (it's Los Angeles) under witness protection, but he struggles with boredom and a demanding family. Franklin Clinton, the third playable character, soon enters the story, befriends Michael, and the two become embroiled in drama involving a drug lord. Long story short, Michael returns to a life of crime to pay off a debt, executing several heists with the help of Franklin. These heists catch the attention of Trevor who recognizes his friend’s signature style. After Trevor joins the team, the trio become an unstoppable force that catches the attention of the FIB (FBI) who eventually coerce the group into working for them, leading to bigger heists with bigger stakes.
Players are able to switch between the three characters at any given time during main missions. This seamless transition allows for amazing combat scenarios where one character might offer support with a sniper rifle while the other two engage the enemy at close quarters. Additionally, each character possesses their own special ability which make them suited to particular tasks. Nowhere does this combat system prove more fun and rewarding than during heist missions. These missions require players to choose a strategy beforehand, tasking each character with a particular role. During a given heist, players will have to constantly switch between characters when the need arises, resulting in spectacular set pieces that feel like they’re ripped from some of the great heist movies.
Outside of main missions, players can only control one character at a time while the other two characters continue with their own lives independently of the player. This leads to some interesting moments, especially with Trevor, who is prone to random acts of violence (I once found Trevor on a beach inexplicably surrounded by dead bodies). Each character has their own story that unfolds over the course of optional side missions. Michael becomes an executive producer at a nearby film studio, Franklin struggles with keeping a close friend out of trouble, and Trevor does whatever the hell Trevor wants to do, which usually involves drugs, weapons, and lots of explosions. These side quests aren’t just additional content for the sake of additional content; they invite the player to form bonds with these characters which becomes extremely important for the climax of the game.
Rockstar has a habit of placing their characters in no-win scenarios (the world is still getting over the end of Red Dead Redemption). This time, the developers give the players (playing as Franklin) a choice: save yourself and betray one of your friends or take on the law knowing full well that you and your friends might all die. I have to admit that under normal circumstances, I might have peeked at an online game guide before making this decision (sorry The Witcher 3). Fortunately, I made my choice immediately without a second thought. I chose to stand by friends and face the consequences. As Willem Dafoe said in The Boondock Saints, “There was a firefight!” I won’t spoil all the details here in case you haven’t played the game, but let's say that I chose wisely.
Clever game design, excellent voice acting, and top-notch writing brought the characters of Michael, Trevor, and Franklin to life, but it was the little moments that made me love these characters. Once, during a leisurely drive with Michael and Trevor, the two began to banter as Michael accused Trevor of being a “proto-hipster.” Trevor vociferously denied the claim, and the ensuing dialogue endeared these characters to me. When the time came, the thought of betraying Michael or Trevor actually disgusted me because I had spent so much time seeing the world through their eyes. That final decision of the game is the icing on the delicious open-world cake that is Grand Theft Auto V, and stands as one of the most poignant gaming moments I've ever experienced.
Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Allen Brasch is an aspiring writer who loves good science fiction, fantasy, and horror. When Allen's not writing or gaming, he's talking about all things geeky on his podcast, Devil May Play.