Grand Theft Auto V boxGrand Theft Auto V has only officially been a part of the public video game ecosystem for a few days now, and it has already completely sucked the air out of the room for the rest of the industry. Reports of a staggering $800-million take for day one sales of the newest member of the Rockstar Games franchise are almost otherworldly, and the attention the title has gotten this last week in both traditional and new media sources is unprecedented for a video game.

Well, unprecedented save for the response to the last Grand Theft Auto... That title received just as many accolades as GTA V is almost certain to pile up over the coming months and year. The plaudits will stack up next to the letters of outrage this edge-of-decency series has engendered.

F-bombs and N-bombs almost never cease to serve as verbal punctuation for a script that is among the best written in the digital genre, despite a Tarantino-esque deepness to its blue hue. A liberal sprinkling of T&A (strip clubs with strippers that, you know, take their clothes off), and drug and alcohol consumption complement a randomly violent world to mix a cocktail straight from Hollywood's well-worn recipe.

That Hollywood bit is critical, we think. This is a grown-up video game, meant entirely to be played by adults, not children; just as many of the movies in theaters across the world are better suited for one demographic or another. Take umbrage with a society that values this kind of imaginary world to the tune of billions of dollars, if you must, but don't foist kindergarten standards on a marketplace populated in the majority by grownups.

Now, give us a second to climb down off of this soapbox so we can talk about cars.
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grand theft auto v michaelgrand theft auto v trevor

Cars and driving still represent the center of gravity in Grand Theft Auto V.

As the title indicates and past players of the franchise will realize, despite the shooting, blowing stuff up, smoking and drinking and making it rain on occasion, cars and driving still represent the center of gravity in Grand Theft Auto V. So, while it's almost shameful to review what is arguably one of the top games of the last five years in partiality, we're going to stick to talking mostly about the cars and vehicles that populate the game.

Look at it this way: you can dial up a hundred or more full-game reviews of GTA with just microseconds of Google's time. Being that this is Autoblog (and not "VideogameBlog" as many of you cheerfully remind your author, given half a chance), we thought it would be worthwhile to see if the game stands up as a title for the racing-minded player. In other words: is GTA worth playing for the cars?

The most concise answer to that is a simple, "yes."

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grand theft auto vgrand theft auto v

Driving cars, trucks and motorcycles over, under and through the fictional state of San Andreas with Los Santos (a Los Angeles doppelgänger) as your starting point, is the lifeblood of this game. The open-world landscape is simply gargantuan in relative scale, and so finely detailed that exploring the whole of it feels like a one-percent-user activity. The confines of the driving landscape are defined in a static sense by roadways and geographical features (San Andreas has the advantage of just about every terrain type you could imagine), and dynamically by the near-constant traffic of civilian vehicles, law enforcement, biker gangs, pedestrians, the occasional coyote... you name it. "Racing" in GTA almost never involves a closed course; shucking and jiving your way to a personal land speed record inside a cityscape is more of the norm. Think C'était un rendez-vous, but with, you know, a bunch of meth in the trunk.

Think C'était un rendez-vous, but with, you know, a bunch of meth in the trunk.

Rockstar has overhauled the physics behind all of the vehicles in its game, with its goal being a higher level of reality and greater differentiation from one machine to the next. The results seem mixed on this update. On one hand, each vehicle-type we drove did have pretty pronounced characteristics to set it apart – more so than we remember from GTA IV, too. So, broadly, rear-wheel-drive sedans handled as you'd expect them too, with oversteer on tap and fairly fluid handling; mid-engined sports cars were some of the best balanced, though often ticklish at the limit; front-driver compacts feature nippy turn-in and easy-to-modulate understeer.

Of course, within one of those classes of vehicle – let's talk about rear-drivers, there are a lot of those – the handling experience is a lot less varied. Now, the modified Bravado Buffalo (re: Dodge Charger SRT8) that Franklin (one of our heroes) starts the game with is easily discernible from the Imponte Ruiner (re: Camaro IROC-Z); it has a lot more power and wider, grippier rubber. But the fundamentals of how that pair will handle are far less subtle than they'd need to be in a laboratory setting like Forza or Gran Turismo.

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Going off-road in a dune buggy or a pickup, you may break from the laws of Earth physics fairly often.

Overall, the handling experience for each vehicle is, it's fair to say, an order of magnitude less precise than in those top-level simulators, too. However, that isn't to say that the physics aren't well suited to the game world. Quite the opposite. Executing tail-out, handbrake turns is a lot less dramatic than it would be in a racing game – recovery from horrible maneuvers being relatively simple – but it works because that kind of driving has to be the norm, not the exception, when you're dodging downtown traffic at 90 or 100 miles per hour. Going off-road in a dune buggy or a pickup, you may break from the laws of Earth physics fairly often, but in the GTA world that environment still harshly penalizes game cars with no ground clearance or knobby tires.

To summarize: vehicles and the physics ruling them all work fluidly and rationally within the game world, even if they feel not much like a simulation of reality. That might turn off the driving simulator crowd, but it's the very formula that the entire genre of "arcade-style" racing games have worked successfully for decades.

The level of detail on the in-game vehicles is pretty high though, considering the sheer volume of them that exist and are playable. Developers lavished as many intricacies on the cars as they did on the rest of the seemingly unending Los Santos landscape, including crafty animations like convertible tops going up and down. See the video below for a demo.

Grand Theft Auto V Convertible Top Demo


What's amazing about GTA V, however, is that it offers a selection of vehicles that is more like what would be found in a sim driving game, and with the added flavor of a whole load of vehicles that aren't cars at all. We don't have an official tally of every conveyance in the game, but the numbers being compiled by players and gaming sites in the early going look something like this: 187 cars and trucks; 16 motorcycles; 7 bicycles; 23 helicopters, planes, jets and blimps (!); 11 watercraft including some kind of submersible; and just scads of things in the "other" category. ATVs, tractors, earthmovers of all stripes, tanks... you get the idea. All-in, 300+ might be a good guess for the total number of things your can ride or drive.

The automotive experience is enhanced by a really detailed customization and modification system, too.

And, to be frank, as of this writing we've only piloted a small fraction of the vehicles we've seen or know to exist in this epic game. Enough to be wildly impressed with the sticky handling and acceleration of the Tesla Roadster-aping Coil Votic (with unlimited range, as far as we've seen), and to be just a little disappointed by the twitchiness of the Obey 9F née Audi R8. In terms of cutting a graceful line through the cityscape, its safe to say the motorcycles offer the nippiest route, though they carry the downside of near-instant death if you hit something too hard and too fast. Which makes sense, obviously. Flying planes and helicopters is challenging and, frankly, a bit dull (we haven't gotten into the jets yet), while we found the watercraft to be universally giggle-inducing.

The automotive experience is enhanced by a really detailed customization and modification system, too. Steer your ride into any of the many hand Los Santos Customs shops, and you'll have the ability to fix damage, select any one of dozens of paint hues (just the thing for fooling the fuzz) as well as adding parts like more aggressive turbos, roll cages, transmissions and a whole lot more. Ride along to the custom shop in our quick video below.

Grand Theft Auto V Los Santos Customs Demo


After countless hours crammed into a few days with GTA V, we can honestly report that those millions of day one buyers had the right idea. The tried and true formula of extraordinarily varied gameplay, near-perfect dialog, rounded and interesting lead characters, stunning visual presentation and some of the best in-game music we've ever had the pleasure of not turning off, all make this simply one of the best games of this console generation.

The cars and driving experience add mightily to the totality of the brutally raunchy world too, and should be enough of a lure to bring the autos-interested gamer into the hypnotic Grand Theft Auto V world. Just make sure you boot it up after the kids are in bed.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 58 Comments
      RobG
      • 1 Year Ago
      I only have maybe two hours a day to play this thing, and so I've only done one mission. The rest of the time I've spent driving cars really fast around town, exploring and learning the city. And doing a fair amount of off-roading and physics-defying. :) This game absolutely rocks!
        jtav2002
        • 1 Year Ago
        @RobG
        Same here. I think I have 2 missions done so far. So tempting just to mess around in the game.
        andrew jackson
        • 1 Year Ago
        @RobG
        All I have done is a few missions and a **** ton of driving and going off jumps. It takes forever to get places here, just like in LA.
      Bernard
      • 1 Year Ago
      I just got this game yesterday. My productivity has dropped to 0 and my fiance now hates me... Now back to this bank heist. :-D
        superchan7
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Bernard
        My wife wanted to see what the fuss about Trevor was all about. She was mildly impressed with the game in general, especially after I educated her on the Hollywood-busting budget and first day sales records.
      bK
      • 1 Year Ago
      GTA has come a long way from the 2d game
      RGT881
      • 1 Year Ago
      Trevor is by far my favorite character.
        Lachmund
        • 1 Year Ago
        @RGT881
        Trevor is just epic. Whoever wrote this character deserves an Oscar.
          superchan7
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Lachmund
          Or a court order to check into a mental institution.
        Justin Campanale
        • 1 Year Ago
        @RGT881
        I personally find the guy hilarious, although my favorite overall character would probably be Franklin (possibly the best-ever GTA character, other than Niko.).
        Bernard
        • 1 Year Ago
        @RGT881
        Trevor and Franklin are cool, Michael is boring as ever. His family is more interesting than him.
      Lachmund
      • 1 Year Ago
      This game actually improves our intelligence!
      Lachmund
      • 1 Year Ago
      The game is nothing more than spectacular. The psysicas are dumbed down a bit, yeah. But I can't wait for the modded PC Version! OMG
      Feurig
      • 1 Year Ago
      Car enthusiasts may disagree with me and that makes total sense, but I REALLY like some of the designs for the cars. The Coquette (Corvette knock-off) looks menacing and almost accomplishes the Corvette's main design elements even better than the Corvette.
        Scooter
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Feurig
        I like that the mock Vette, incorporates the new Camaros rear light design, its a bit too "sleek" for a Vette though. Either way, I agree, I love my Coquette too much.
      Duk3ofN3rd5
      • 1 Year Ago
      Now, just get this thing to PC on 1080p+ and 60fps and I will very happy and pay for it again. BTW, anybody notice how much sharper the TV commercials are comparison to when playing the game -- looks like those were the PC renders? I am on PS3.
        Jeremy Pennini
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Duk3ofN3rd5
        The PC Version will come in due time. The PC version of GTA 4 was released 7 months after the console versions.
        mikemaj82
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Duk3ofN3rd5
        60fps? The human eye can only process 30fps. And all footage that was used in previews, commercials, and trailers were from the PS3 version. Rockstar themselves confirmed that.
          NissanGTR
          • 1 Year Ago
          @mikemaj82
          Tell that to the pc gamers that use 120hz monitors. They wont touch a 60hz monitor again and will laugh at how stupid you are.
          superchan7
          • 1 Year Ago
          @mikemaj82
          Somewhere above 30 fps I can no longer tell the frame rate. But 50-60 fps definitely looks much more real than 30.
          Serenespeed
          • 1 Year Ago
          @mikemaj82
          1: Wrong. 2: The human eye doesn't process, the brain does. In this case for visual info transmitted by the optic nerve (CNII), the occipital lobe. I think you may have a processing error.
      ShutoSteve
      • 1 Year Ago
      I'm currently 65% of the way into the game, and there's nothing for me, more smile inducing, then taking a very quick and apex carving drive through the "mulholland" style road just ahead of the Vinewood sign. That alone, in a nice Voltic, was worth waiting in a line of about 100 people for.
        Justin Campanale
        • 1 Year Ago
        @ShutoSteve
        I love going down the same road, but I'd gladly replace the Voltic with a Pfister Comet. I also find it amusing playing as the redneck and wreaking havoc on the highway with a Docktug semi truck.
      • 1 Year Ago
      [blocked]
      jrmosery86
      • 1 Year Ago
      I love the paint!! The chrome looks fantastic in the game.
      MattW
      • 1 Year Ago
      I have a few gripes with the cars - I wish the front camera either center hood or further back toward the cabin. As it is I don't get a good sense of where the right front corner of the car is when I enable that particular camera. Also I wish there was a speedometer. Other than that the driving is way better than GTA IV.
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