Masterpiece 'Grand Theft Auto 5' gives society what it's asking for

Review: 'Grand Theft Auto 5' has been criticized for its level of violence, but the game uses that violence to create a social commentary. Narratively and technically, the latest game in the franchise is a masterpiece.

There are so many video games out now that it takes a little extra to stand out above the rest. Standard shooters, action-adventure, puzzle, even dance, they all need to be at the forefront of innovation to elevate themselves above the competition. Grand Theft Auto 5 does this through social commentary and by being extraordinary on multiple types of gameplay.

GTA5 is a complex game that is remarkable for what it does technically as well as narratively. It may not have the expansive open world of Skyrim or the narrative hook of The Last of Us, but it does have a balance of each that makes it stand above such games.

The city of Los Santos and the surrounding desert town are open for you to explore at your leisure, along with the mountains or ocean (with plenty of Easter eggs to discover as a reward). More remarkable is the living and constantly changing elements that transform your console and TV into a window to a real place.

As you drive through the city, your screen may flash and a blue dot will appear on your mini-map. This is your chance to spontaneously affect the world around you outside of the narrative, whether it’s by robbing an armored truck, retrieving a stolen purse after a mugging or driving drunken newlyweds back to their motel.

You can also take part in a variety of activities that evoke reality. You can get a haircut, shop for clothes, trade stocks or even sit in your house and watch pointless television. They’re all small things but work together to craft a convincing world full of options.

This is the first in the series to have three playable characters, who can be cycled through on a whim by the player. Michael is a retired criminal who’s brought back into the game due to his anger issues and bad choices. Franklin is a small-time crook looking to break into the big leagues and is taken under Michael’s wing.

Then there’s Trevor. Ex-best friend to Michael and former criminal associate, he comes back after Michael pulls a jewel heist.

The soul of the Grand Theft Auto franchise is embodied in this one psychotic and deranged character with a penchant for violence and philosophical lectures. He’s absolutely brilliant and, in many ways, the highlight of any playtime. When switching to Michael or Franklin, they are found doing mundane tasks -– in their car listening to the radio, watching TV or even bumming at the beach. Not so with Trevor. Trevor can be found stranded and drunk on a roof, or chasing a scooter-riding stranger on the freeway and shouting, “We are scooter brothers, Scooooter Brother,” or hefting someone in the air and tossing him over a bridge, always without context or explanation.

More than any other character in the franchise, Trevor is the unrestricted license and avatar of vented frustration and shootouts that the game is known for. The cheat code-fueled rampages against cops and civilians that every player does at least once is the domain of this one crazed madman.

With a game as hyper-violent as GTA, it’s natural for there to be some backlash for it’s content. Like the airport massacre scene in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the public has been up in arms against a narrative scene in which the player is given no option but to torture someone for information: waterboarding, teeth pulling, and live jumper cables on the victim’s nipples -- it’s all there.

The mission was more uncomfortable than fun to play, yet in the context of the narrative it was justified. As Trevor, our established psychopath, drives the victim to the airport, we discover even he has a moral compass for torture. “Torture’s for the torturer, or the guy giving the orders to the torturer. You torture for the good times -– we should all admit that. It’s useless as a means of getting information.” Commentary like this, along with the musings of the radio and idle chitchat of those on the street, is the hidden message of the game.

Crooked cops, violent citizens, drug operations, and violence; people in the real world have reached a point that they crave this sort of media. The ratings of shows like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad prove this. Grand Theft Auto 5 is only adding its voice to the mix, and it’s doing so by forcing the audience to no longer sit on the couch and absorb the dirt and grime of violence, but to pick up a controller and become a part of that violence which we all love so much. For that, this game should be considered a masterpiece.

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