The Grand Theft Auto series is the modern epic, encompassing American culture in all its decadence and corrupted glory. The humour is crass, the violence is shocking, and the game's allure keeps us going mission after a mission as we follow a cast of conflicted criminals.
The latest in the series, Grand Theft Auto V, mashes up all the greatest movies, books, and games into an exhilarating bullet ride that wreaks havoc in its excesses. That's also a big part of the reason why GTA V is the fastest selling entertainment product in history.
Last year I wrote about how I actually liked the story of GTA IV better than GTA V. I'm back this year to point out that as much as I liked the story of GTA IV, the gameplay in V is better as embodied in these five incredible missions.
Fly a plane into another plane, kill everyone aboard, hijack the cargo plane, and land it safely. Sounds easy enough, right? This mission is like Living Daylights combined with Temple of Doom, only with the Joker at the helm. It's blood pumping action at high altitude that is as brazen as it is bold which is why it's Trevor who pulls it off, only to get shot down by the U.S. Air Force. "Minor turbulence" is an understatement as Trevor drives out the back of the plane, parachutes his way to safety, and watches the plane crash in the Alamo Sea. But rather than simply being a pastiche of past action flicks, it's Trevor's running commentary that keeps things so distinctive. "You spoiled it for everyone!" he yells at the Air Force, indifferent to the destruction he's caused, or perhaps reveling in it.
This is one of my favourite missions in the game because it involves all three characters and is also the first time Trevor meets Franklin (Trevor's version of psychoanalysis is way more insightful than the one given by the shrink Michael pays to see). They have to retrieve a man named Ferdinand Kerimov from the IAA building which is the CIA of the GTA world. They do this in a three pronged effort. Trevor flies the helicopter from which Michael rappels down a skyscraper to snatch Ferdinand. In a nod to GTA IV, Karen Daniels is one of the interrogators, smashing both of Ferdinand's hands with a flashlight. The satire and irreverent humour is on fully display as Karen warns him, "You think we can't do that? We can. It's in our guidelines."
Michael crashes through the window and grabs Ferdinand. Franklin provides sniper support to the 36th floor, taking out the IAA agents. Michael mops up at Trevor's insistence. Then it's Franklin's turn to take on a big chopper. It's not a Hind-D, but as Franklin says, "Oh shit! Hey Michael, they're firing rockets at me, dog. What the fuck is this?" After Franklin takes down his chopper, it's Michael's turn, and a helicopter dogfight ensues. Once you're victorious, Trevor sums it up perfectly. "New city, new set of problems, but the idiots, ahh, they stay the same."
By the Book
Trevor is violent, moody, and pretty much a monster with a very unusual code of honour. Which might explain why I was riveted every time I played as him. Whenever the camera cuts to him, he's doing something bizarre or repulsive like taking a dump or being chased by strangers. As Dan House describes him, Trevor is "driven purely by desire, resentment, no thought for tomorrow whatsoever, completely id rather than ego-driven." So it's one of the most controversial missions in the game that stayed with me. In By the Book, you torture Ferdinand (who you just rescued) for information. You can use several different methods including electrocution, beating with a wrench, and waterboarding.
I admit, while I didn't have many reservations carrying out sniper shots in the earlier missions, the torture scene caused me to get squeamish. This mission is extremely disturbing. But it's Trevor's ultimate condemnation of torture that provides some subversive subtext as he cuts through the hypocrisy. At the end of the mission, when ordered to dispose of Ferdinand, Trevor refuses, instead, helping him to escape. As Trevor puts it: "You torture for the good times. It's useless as a means of getting information." By the Book is one of those missions that reminds players that torture isn't just a guideline in some instruction manual, but takes a human toll on everyone involved.
A friend pointed out how in the original Godfather, almost everyone dies a unique death. In the Caida Libre mission, you're asked to kill Madrazo's cousin, Javier. But it isn't just simply a matter of shooting him in the face. You also have to bring down the plane he's flying in on. Michael is given a Remote Sniper and you drive up to the Galileo Observatory to shoot the jet. That in itself would have made for a great mission, but as with most of the game, that's just the initial foray.
Once the jet's engines are damaged, it's Trevor time. Using the Sanchez dirtbike, you race down the hills, following the jet and its smoke trail. The music here fits the frenetic pace as you're literally chasing down a crashing plane. The pursuit ends when the jet collides into the ground. Trevor kills Javier, take the necessary files, cruises back to Madrazo's house where he kidnaps his wife, wanting to make Madrazo an offer he can't refuse.
The Paleto Score
GTA IV had a lot of great missions and characters. But the Paleto Score was the penultimate experience, making even the remainder of GTAV feel like a letdown. It all begins with a humorous moment of bonding between the main characters over the amount of money everyone made on their first score. When Franklin confesses a mishap with a dye pack resulting in total loss, Trevor laughs at him and gives him shit, even as they know that they're very well walking into death's door. The group pulls of the bank heist and the police arrive as expected. Donning body armour and military weapons, the three launch a small war against the local forces.
Trevor's minigun is especially lethal, annihilating the cars in his path. It's almost like you've become a superhero for the duration of the mission and your objective is to unleash as much destruction as you can. Franklin arrives with a dozer and the getaway on some trains is satisfying, if a little convenient. But it's the sheer scope of the action that makes this feel like every heist movie I've seen combined and taken to the umpteenth level.
While I did find Niko's arc from GTA IV the more compelling story, the missions and the gameplay from GTA V caused my jaw to drop, fall off, them pump adrenaline in volatile spikes through every vein in me. Ultimately, the two games are not in a competition with each other, but complement each other. Both games are masterpieces that excel in showcasing the American nightmare, full of crime, automobiles, and grand dreams that go nowhere, all too often shattered by a spray of bullets.