I like Grand Theft Auto V. In fact, I like it a lot. That much is fairly obvious; you don’t pour 50+ hours into a game without really liking it. And I’m not the only one. Reviews—including my own—show that a lot of people like it for what it is, which is an impossibly large open world game with compelling action and fantastic writing.
Of course, it’s all in consideration of the game as a whole. Certain facets like the voice acting and sound design are flawless. Others are a little chipped, such as the hard-to-place satire within satire of certain scenes. And then there are some that have been left untouched from past games like the stale missions structure of talk, drive, shoot.
One of things I talked about as a positive was the shooting. It’s vastly improved over Grand Theft Auto IV (and infinitely better than the previous generation of games), but some people took it to mean that it falls under the inscrutable category. The truth is that it ends up somewhere between the other two.
It’s definitely not a spectacular-feeling shooter, but in the context of being contained within fantastically structured missions and interesting scenarios, the mechanics work. But the choice between a nigh invisible reticle and one that looks like someone dropped Wite-Out on your television is highly problematic.
The same can be said of the speed of the action, a holdover from GTA IV. Going from not shooting to shooting takes what feels like for-fucking-ever. The NaturalMotion Euphoria engine which makes characters procedurally interact with the world in a realistic way (navigating stairs and ladders and slopes and whatnot no longer look awkward or require specific scripting) also has the unfortunate side effect of adding a lot of momentum to every motion.
This includes going from running into a room to stopping to pulling out your gun. In a game where you can go down in just a few shots, the wait is excruciatingly painful, both figuratively and literally when bullets find their way into your virtual body. And then when you add in the time required to hop in and out of cover (which is basically required for staying alive), the simple action of locking on to an enemy and firing turns into a multi-step process of frustration.
It’s not terrible, though. It’s just relative since we know Rockstar Games can do better; Max Payne 3‘s shooting was actually quite good. He was still a bit lethargic compared to someone like Nathan Drake, but the feel of smoothly going from not aiming to aiming and the zooming that accompanies the transition was instrumental to making the game’s mechanics just superb.
A big part of that would be the reticle. It defaults to a similarly small and singular dot as well but it is persistent. Even when you aren’t holding down the left trigger to aim, it’s still there, so when you need it, you’re already familiar with where you’re aiming. In GTA V, the fact that it only appears when you pull up your weapon is dangerously irresponsible. First you have to gauge where you might be aiming when you pop out of cover and then you have to get your gun out.
And in the motion, you have to hurriedly scramble to find where the reticle is, and as an infinitely tiny dot that could additionally be obscured by a light background, it could take a while. It’s like playing “Where’s Waldo?” except your (digital) life is on the line.
The concession made by the game is that the shooting mode is defaulted to a traditional GTA scheme, which is to say it locks on hard to enemies. Hold the left trigger and the reticle snaps (after slide up into aiming mode at a snail’s pace) to a guy’s center mass where you can fine tune to a headshot with a flick of the right stick. However, the entire process kind of takes away from the narrative impetus toward chaos.
This is a story all about guys going on heists where everything goes wrong. So when they precisely eliminate trained soldiers with the cold efficiency of Marty McFly at a 7-Eleven, it doesn’t quite line up. And it almost makes the entire ordeal a trivial exercise in waiting for bad guys to die and for your health to regenerate.
There is a free aim option, but even with the aiming sensitivity at its maximum, trying to manually get your reticle over a dude’s body is a lot like watching pudding drip down a wall. And once it does get moving, the matched movement of the character’s body with the moving reticle feels too stilted to even get close to snappy or responsive.
But like I said, it’s still a massive improvement over Grand Theft Auto IV and actually can be quite fun when presented in the framework of Grand Theft Auto V‘s amazing combat scenario design. Swapping between three characters in the heat of the moment with holding off three separate gunfight fronts is incredibly exciting, so much so that it makes up for the fact that the shooting mechanics on their own is still rather lackluster.
So that’s what I mean when I say the shooting is fun in Grand Theft Auto V. Its serviceable mechanics utilized within great missions and heists. It’s the perfect example of what the game is as a whole: taken as a gestalt, every pillar supports every other and you end up with a thoroughly fantastic game. But my god you’d think they would have fixed the shooting by now.