GTA V is the biggest, most activity filled GTA to date. It succeeds on 'giving fans what they want', so then why is it the first GTA I have ever played that didn't have that 'GTA magic'?
I think it is because Rockstar gave fans what they want.
Living in the shadow of 2004 San Andreas in 2013 San Andreas
One of the things with this game is, it feels like Rockstar went to the drawing board after the mass 'dislike' (or 'louder' dislike) of IV.
This is sound in principle but lame in execution. As a company, especially one the likes of Rockstar, they really need to push their own limit. Not only in technology (which they have done in V) but in design, and craft their own game.
But instead it feels like when they went back to the drawing board, they went to the one from 2004 San Andreas release and basically re-ticked everything they've done almost a decade ago.
This is not exciting for couple of key reasons:
1) We've already seen it all.
2) We are now 9 years older and want to play something more grown up.
Let me quickly note IV addressed these two key points in the following ways:
1) They crafted a brand new next-gen engine that was more physics focused. Which eliminated the arcadey/cartoonish feel of the mechanics, leading to a more 'hardcore' experience.
2) The story was original, mature in themes it touched on and despite keeping the humour, felt close to heart and down to earth, itching that scratch of the grown up fans.
V doesn't address these two key points and fails in both. They devolved the game back to 2004. Giving us less advanced physics and more arcadey everything, and gave us a story and characters that are very forgettable and more cliché.
They ticked the boxes from the 2004 in a heartless way and when you do it just for the sake of doing it, it lacks that spark.
Rockstar, if I want to play 2004 San Andreas, I will play 2004 San Andreas. I don't want to buy a 2013 GTA to play a 2004 one.
Let's aim for every goal, hit none
Another key flaw of V I felt, outside its lacking heart and originality is the extension of that, in that it tries too much. It tries to please every fan that ever had to say anything about GTA. Each character is basically a representation of one GTA crowd. Franklin being San Andreas, Michael the Mafia, stylish white male (GTA I/II/III/VC) vibe and worst of all, Trevor, who everyone who hasn't played GTA thinks what GTA is about; a maniac for the sake of being a maniac.
This is a huge cop out by Rockstar and is very cheap. To top it off, I feel Trevor is pretty much insulting to the GTA fans to say "yep, this is what this game is now lulz" along with the simple fact, playing a maniac who is a maniac is just not fun. Well, maybe it is if you are 10 years old, but is that the crowd Rockstar wants. You wouldn't think so since Michael has to deal with family issues and go to therapy sessions.
So really the game is all over the place, never having a focus and in that failing to draw someone who is looking for something satisfying and substantial out of the game's story. These three characters do not have enough weight to draw in you into all their lives. Maybe you will connect with one, maybe. But Rockstar basically threw (3) shits to the wall, hoping one would stick and hoping they would come together in the overall story arc. Again there wasn't enough heart and attention in the overall story for that to work, not to mention it felt pretty short and rushed in some aspects to be able to pull off that scale.
Does Rockstar still love GTA?
Now, let me end this by saying, I still thought V was a fun game. But as a 25 year old life long gamer, it just didn't satisfy me the same way IV did. With IV, GTA grew up, with V, Rockstar listened to fans who were stuck in 2004. That's not bad, I enjoyed the game, but didn't love it (as I have done with every GTA so far).
I overall felt V didn't push the boundaries (outside the amazing technology), which is highly disappointing for a GTA and a Rockstar game.
Now, the fact Rockstar is actually listening to us is worrying. They are a company who are quite, tight lipped and usually have great confidence in what they are doing and executing. So why then so much crowd chatter went into V. Did they think IV was "bad" too so their confidence was shattered to the point they felt they need to turn their ear to the crowd?
Or even worse, do they no longer care enough about GTA internally so they just went through the motions to create one that just ticked off whatever the crowds were shouting for?
Or maybe it is me. Maybe I have outgrown what GTA "should be" and I should stop being a grandpa and shut the hell up. Maybe so, but I hope in some GTA soon, Rockstar decides they want to grow up again.