#2. Characters & Storytelling
The three main characters in GTA V are brilliantly performed and fully realized personalities. The cut scenes are written well enough that if you chained them together without the video game or bad jokes, it could make a slow and schizophrenic, yet almost watchable movie. The following might be the highest praise I've given to a video game story, but I could see Steven Seagal's manager adding this script to a "maybe" pile.
Aside from the acted scenes, GTA V squeezes in a lot of storytelling when you switch between characters. Sometimes you catch Michael bored in front of his TV or take over Franklin right as he's making a cab smell like a bitch by sending one home in it. Or maybe you wake up in your underwear as Trevor, unsurprised to find himself among a dozen corpses. These moments rarely have anything to do with the main plot, but they are a great source of character development.
Obviously, it's hard to tell me what my character is like when I'm the one who's been controlling him. Is Franklin a gangbanger who dreams of more? Because I just watched him ditch a luxury yacht and throw himself into a shark mouth for a five-point achievement. I was there when he tried to land a helicopter on a bridge strut for three hours to get a chunk of UFO. I saw him crash fatally into oncoming traffic over and over because it's our secret shortcut to the hospital. I was there when he helped a woman get her purse back and then murdered her with a motorcycle. Maybe it's completely my fault, but this character is all over the place.
Speaking of Franklin, this game was written by a bunch of white people in the UK. Should he really be saying the N-word this much? I swear he once said it six times in two sentences. In my life, the only time I ever heard six N-words in two sentences was when my grandparents helped each other remember Sammy Sosa's name. Was there an outside consultant brought in to write this character? If not, that's fucked up. If so, that's more fucked up. Does the black community even have a term for a person who goes into an office and gives white people permission to say the N-word? And is it expensive? Because there are some really terrific rap songs I've always wanted to sing.
A recreation of the GTA V creative process based on actual GTA V dialogue.
#1. Technical Achievements
Everyone who says this is the greatest game ever made is right. The design, the detail, the animation, the draw distance -- there's no technical aspect in which GTA V isn't absurdly better than anyone thought a game could ever be. With the right time machine, I could go back and tell myself to only travel by taxi and ignore anything having to do with side missions, mini-games, vehicles, clothing stores, or haircuts, GTA would be an outrageously fun and perfect experience.
Video games are a medium where you're given options. When you're playing a wrestling game, you don't have to watch the Limp Bizkit music video. When you're playing a Batman game you can ignore all the trophies trapped behind Connect Four or Simon games. When you're playing a tactical RPG, you can skip the cartoons of centaur boys tonguing each other's buttholes. These things are all optional and not meant to be held up to scrutiny. In fact, it'd be kind of weird if they were good. I don't think GTA V did this on purpose, but nearly 90 percent of it falls under this umbrella of "optional." Even if a reviewer finished all 400 hours of towing cars and navigating strategy guide maps, it wouldn't be appropriate for them to say this game's less fun than the second half of a painkiller overdose. When judging a game, soporific vortexes of joy are stricken from the record if they were "optional."
A recreation of the GTA V creative process based on actual GTA V gameplay.
I'm not saying anyone is wrong in giving this game 100 out of 100. By any standard review process, I'd give GTA V 100 out of 100, too, and it made me about as bored as my XBOX has ever seen me. How can this be? Well, if you told 50 people to pick their favorite movie, you'd get about 50 different answers. If you instead asked those 50 people to write an essay on why a particular movie is the best, suddenly everyone's picking the same movie. That's not because they're all lying or showing off -- it's because the metrics we use to judge things as good are different from the good feelings we get from rad things. To be more clear, let's say there are four things that make a great lover*. Most people might prefer dating a beautiful woman even after finding out her chicken is objectively better at all of them. So I'm not saying you're wrong if you disagree with my thoughts on GTA V; I'm only saying you're a chicken fucker.
*All four of them are inches, ladies.