It felt like it was yesterday when I saw the GTA 5 teaser trailer. Calling my status at such a time “thrilled” would be a tremendous undermining. It was the point where I firmly believed that video games wouldn’t be able to advance past it. And I can’t say I was 100% false. GTA 5, since its release back in 2013, is still breaking numbers around the globe. Making its way to the top sales every month, beating recently released games every now and then. And being crowned as the second best-selling video game of all time! This rationally has to be explainable with a discernible reason and valid reasoning.
But the gaming community seems to have reached a certain threshold with GTA 5, which prevents them from looking back on how amazing it actually is. It’s not a lack of sense or unjustified distaste, but rather how the game affected Rockstar Games’ policies and how they treat other games in relation, like Red Dead Redemption 2, for example. While it is comprehensible and justifiable, it doesn’t deny the fact that people are starting to hate GTA 5 and strip it out of what it had to serve. And yes, I’m going to treat GTA 5 and its online mode as one package, as it should be, or at least what I believe to be true.
As it is one tame task to mention what GTA 5 excels at, it is much of a tumultuous quest to change one’s mind about it, especially when we get to the part that includes the infamous online mode. But I have some arguments backing me up, from memorable characters to an enjoyable experience. I’m ready to treat this as a court session judging what’s believed to be just for an eight-year-old video game. In a small trip to answer the question, What made GTA 5 so brilliant?
GTA 5 has an entertaining plot
Three playable characters that go on missions simultaneously and can hang out. Can you imagine my face back in 2013? And honestly, even if I were a new player, that would still amaze me while preserving the same energy it would’ve done years ago. It blew my mind to know that the character switching feature was initially planned to be included in GTA: San Andreas but was scrapped due to a shortage of required resources, so it had to be cut off. For this Grand Theft Auto, though, the main missions and side-missions made up a significantly amusing story mode.
Writing a rich main story for three protagonists that have to interact with each other most of the time and for which protagonists’ relationships intertwine in some weird way or another is a colossal effort, objectively speaking. Even though you might not like the style or the path they chose to tell the narrative, which is understandable, they undeniably did a great job at it. These characters’ traits and stories directly tie in with the gameplay in a certain way just to double the fun, it may not be the most realistic, but it is amusing to play around with their abilities. These abilities give the player more ways to experience and approach the linear missions and even the open world. For example, Michael’s bullet time ability and sharpshooting skills, more or less like Max Payne in some way, which was referenced by an obtainable shirt that appeared in Max Payne 3.
Franklin has the ability to precisely control cars in a stupidly unrealistic way, but it’s maintained in a form for the player to have fun. Another example is Trevor’s distinct ability to be so angry that he goes invincible. The reality is, I don’t remember humans having such a capacity, but it is entertaining. Also, each ability and skill level are linked to each characteristic. Trevor’s story has him being very passionate about flying in the navy but unqualified due to mental health issues. The game strives to find the middle ground between what can be accepted as somewhat realistic and fun because, after all, GTA 5 is not a simulation of Los Angeles. Although, some might argue the contrary. It is a fictional depiction of controlled havoc, a sandbox where everything is possible as long as it is comically fun to fantasize about. And that’s my approach to answering why jetpacks, aliens, UFOs, Bigfoot, and flying vehicles have a deeply rooted history in the game’s world. Aside from the money, of course.
Grand Theft Auto, in its substance, is a politically incorrect parody ingrained in an entertaining video game. I mean, there have been a lot of conspiracy theories surrounding each game since GTA 3, and I’m not even joking when I claim that I probably read about all of them and was immensely immersed. And if that begs the question, “do you have friends?” I can neither confirm nor deny this statement at the current circumstances. But come on, who cannot be entertained by the journeys to hunt bigfoot in GTA: San Andreas? Which we later knew didn’t even exist. And the best thing is that the writers are always aware of these stories that they incorporate more hidden backstories in the world of each game, and probably GTA 5 is the wildest among its predecessors to include every and each kind of conspiracy theory known to mankind. The plot and backstory are one hell of a cause that made GTA 5 so brilliant. And that would lead us to my next point, world and game design.
GTA 5 has a lively open world
I have a terrible memory; one moment, I hear the name of something, and the other, it is instantly trapped in the space of nothing and nowhere, a void, you may say, that is my memory. The Grand Theft Auto series is one among my tight list of video games that I can remember nearly everywhere in each game. I still remember the first 3d iteration of liberty city in GTA 3. I still vividly remember the streets of Vice City and how flashy they were at night, although the graphics weren’t that advanced. Remember San Andreas and its three cities; Los Santos, San Fierro, Las Venturas? I do remember it and how each one was distinct in its vibe, overall atmosphere, and even the looks of pedestrians. I know this is not supposed to be something generally theatrical, but this was 2004.
Designers and developers at every branch of Rockstar that worked on the world design of this game knew what they were doing. There is not an inch of GTA 5‘s San Andreas that felt incomplete. Although two cities are “quite” missing, and I would love to see Las Venturas and San Fierro in future entries in the series, HD San Andreas felt full. It certainly didn’t feel busy, and it didn’t feel empty either; there’s an inch of detail at every acre. Rockstar understood that for an activity to be included, it has to be entertaining and not for the sake of having a robust list of activities that don’t have what it takes. For example, parachuting is enjoyable only if you have the exciting landscape to witness while parachuting. Scuba diving is only interesting if there are some natural monuments to visit underwater or exciting life forms -basically exotic fish and other sea creatures-.
Mountains, urban areas, seas, and oceans are to be discovered, with each part of the city having its distinct environment and unique mood. And even with different cars, more economically moderate areas have economic car models, and more prosperous areas have high-end and pricey car models. GTA 5 reached a point where it is fun to drive around its world without doing anything significant. Mountains to scale, seas to discover, with no real motive but your instinctive curiosity. It is the true definition of an actual open-world game.
Driving around has never been so fun. Bumping your favourite radio stations, great music taste, by the way. Turning the perspective to the first person. Traveling across San Andreas while you watch the sunset, the moon illuminating the dim landscapes, and the city lights blinding your eyes. It’s refreshing to feel like you’re participating in an immense overall experience. Even by today’s standards, HD San Andreas is huge. Grand Theft Auto is the kind of series of games that made me question if I could do the most ridiculous stuff, and for the most part, I actually could. Not for any reason, but the open world makes me believe that it really is limitless. Be it a gameplay feature or be it a mod. And speaking of gameplay, this brings me to my next point.
GTA 5 is absurdly fun to play
This is an easy argument. No Grand Theft Auto game has ever been boring, but If we were to put each game on a fun chart, GTA 5 would absolutely break it. Although many are not in favor of the direction Rockstar decided to head in with the scripted missions, a lot had enjoyed the mission variety in GTA 5. Breaking into a jewelry store, and there are two ways to do it? And I have a choice? Yes. I chose almost all the flashy ways for all the heists; I mean, If I personally had to break into a federal government building, I would most certainly go in with style. Jumping from a helicopter to the roof of the building would be the least interesting part in that regard.
Rockstar utilized the scripted mission direction to its fullest in GTA 5. It is probably the only game in the series with the least number of missions I’d die to skip, not because they aren’t fun enough, but because they’re incredibly dull. One of the missions mentioned above is “Scout the Port,” Ironically, it is a Trevor mission, the most entertaining character of the three. You go from simple races and chases to shooting down planes and following them across the map on a motorbike.
Did I mention the special abilities? These things are a totally new mechanism to the Grand Theft Auto series. And they add a whole bunch of pleasure. These abilities are like cheat codes, except they don’t turn off achievements, and you don’t have to enter a code to activate it. Switching between Michael and Trevor during a fight in a mission like, for example, “The Wrap Up” was highly entertaining. It is the one where Michael is involved in a showdown between the FIB, the IAA, and Merryweather. Aside from that specific mission being one of my favourites in any Grand Theft Auto game, the mission felt like the exact thing Michael and Trevor’s abilities were made for; enormous shootings.
Since 2017, the first time I played the game, I just can’t stop the strong urge to replay it. Although I know how the story goes, the dialogue, and what to do in each mission. As I’m in the process of writing this article, I’ve finished the game twice. That might indicate that the article took me so long or that I might have a whole lot of grass to touch, but also, it shows that I personally can’t stop being entertained. Considering how many times I replayed each game, GTA 5 is, by far, the most replayable Grand Theft Auto yet. And I don’t think it gets enough credit for that. Speaking of fun, have you tried mods?
GTA 5 has an active modding community
One safe bet is that most people who played any Grand Theft Auto game ran it with at least one mod at some point in their lives. Think of the most absurd thought that could exist in GTA 5, aside from unironically roleplaying as a cop in a video game called Grand Theft Auto. Let’s assume that it is Spider-Man riding on the back of a pony while being chased by police that mounts a Bikini Bottom boat. If I were to, hypothetically, want this dream come true, I can download a maximum of three independent mods, which will combine to make this surrealistic masterpiece of a mess.
For credibility purposes, I checked on the possibility of the existence of the SpongeBob mod aforementioned, and as it turns out, there’s a mod that can turn the entirety of Los Santos into Bikini Bottom. Someone dedicated his time to modeling and texturing Bikini Bottom buildings and placed it in the game files. Mythical, to say the least. Apart from lunacy to some degree, this shows the community’s dedication to the Grand Theft Auto games to keep them alive even after the official updates are discontinued -not talking about GTA 5 specifically here.- I used to create textures for GTA 3 when I was younger; texturing was the easiest thing to do with the iconic trilogy, and it was hella pleasurable. I also used to install and try different graphic enhancing mods on the previous games, but I never felt like I needed such mods on GTA 5 due to the never-aging game’s look.
I’m aware that it would be hypocrisy not to mention Take-Two’s recent slanders of the modding community. DMCA Takedowns, Supposed “Copyright Infringements,” legal actions, etc. This was not only sent to the modders but the primary and most crucial modding software too, OpenIV. In 2017, Take-Two Interactive issued a cease and desist to OpenIV’s creator, Good-NTS. As far as we know, Rockstar pushed back Take-Two from following up with taking legal actions against OpenIV, and since then, the software has been online. I’m not a modder myself, but I can simply articulate how unbearable this is for them.
I don’t believe taking down the modding community will bring any good to Rockstar or the sales of its games. GTA 5, with its modding community, is the second best-selling video game of all time. And as long as the modding community lives, they remain a reason as to what made GTA 5 so brilliant, and the rest of the series, what’s been and what’s to come. I have no doubts that if Rockstar stopped updating GTA 5 and GTA: Online, the modding community would keep the game fresh for years to come. In all that mess, I overlooked mentioning that the modding community also partakes in the availability of a second online mode…
It has two addictive online modes
Multiplayer has been revolutionized multiple times since the early 2000s, but it seems Rockstar didn’t have much of the resources or plans to include multiplayer in the Grand Theft Auto series. The modders don’t usually oblige to the limitations of the developers’ plans. I remember installing a multiplayer mod for GTA: Vice City and GTA: San Andreas, and it was incredibly amusing, to say the least. I believe it was called Multi Theft Auto, and to this day, It is still active with over one thousand servers. The most popular servers, I suppose, are the ones that are built around roleplaying. And I can see where that’s coming from.
GTA 4‘s multiplayer was entertaining; it’s like a friends’ hangout but digitally, with fewer legal limitations and gun control laws. But when it comes to GTA 5! Rockstar outdid itself. I remember the hype around GTA: Online with the first trailer. Getting to do heists with friends, free roam, and do the most foolish, exorbitant activities imaginable with no limitations? Now, this is a sandbox. Over time people realized that the game was too much of a sandbox that it created the literal state of anarchy. I consider GTA: Online to be the notion of a lawless society, where the wealthy griefs the needy, eventually resulting in a sudden rage quit. I apologize; that was rather poetically shady. But you get my point.
Tired of getting smashed, obliterated, or destroyed by the typical 12-year-old-on-a-flying-motorbike? You haven’t met FiveM, then. Now you can buy your GTA 5 server and add mods and add-ons to the game to spice things up. You can even fill your server with mods that change the game’s entire purpose. Roleplay as a realistic criminal in a video game that has you play as a fictional criminal. Either that or roleplay as a good citizen, get a normal job and pay taxes regularly. Do you like races or cars in general? Join drifting servers and enjoy some modded vehicle handles and perform the craziest stunts you can do.
FiveM is undeniably one major reason GTA 5 is one of the most watched content on video streaming services and has kept selling copies on PC since its 2015 release. While one might have their preference in which online mode to play, It’s apparent that both compel each other. I still play GTA: Online. Hell, even enjoy every second of it (excluding the loading screens) with my friends with all of its paywalls and confusing economic systems that I can’t wrap my head around. Unfortunately, If you’re on the game console versions (PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One), FiveM isn’t an option. At least not yet.
While I believe GTA 5‘s immense success negatively affected Rockstar’s approach to online and their focus on developing titles for other franchises, I don’t think the blame should come with an irrational hatred of the game. I don’t consider the extremely long developing phases because Rockstar just found their jackpot in GTA: Online. Red Dead Redemption 2 took over 8 years of development, and it turned out to be one of the best critically acclaimed games in the last decade and easily my all-time favourite video game. However, I acknowledge that It’s been nearly nine years since the initial release; people are not used to such long gaps between each Grand Theft Auto sequel. And definitely won’t tolerate a remaster of a remaster. The GTA 5 Expanded & Enhanced for the next generation’s PS5 and Xbox Series X is the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Since the forsaken announcement, loving GTA 5 and GTA: Online has become a godly sin. It’s not entirely irrational, though; Rockstar’s recent actions, Dan Houser and Lazlow Jones’s departure from Rockstar Games, and the unimaginably hard paywalls in GTA: Online. It didn’t help GTA 5‘s case that Rockstar recently stated that they would stop releasing new content to Red Dead Online to shift their focus on GTA 6 and GTA: Online. And in specific ways, I can understand where this is coming from and even agree with it. But I can’t deny the brilliance of GTA 5 just because I’m not in awe of Rockstar’s recent actions. I don’t believe it should work this way, at least until we see the GTA 6 gameplay trailer. Given time, I don’t doubt we’ll witness the best GTA game in the series, and probably the best open world in the gaming industry.