First and foremost: Understand this -- I am a HUGE fan of pretty much everything Rockstar Games has made prior to this. I'm about to lay down the list of grievances I have with this game. And understand this, I'm doing so with the mentality of "This is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you." Here we go:
Rockstar Games has always excelled at creating excellent stories with interesting characters. In Grand Theft Auto V, they flat-out failed to do that.
I applaud their decision to split the story between three different characters, I think that had a lot of potential, but unfortunately all of the characters are appalling in their own unique way.
First, Michael. He complains about his life of luxury and how he has sabotaged what could have been an idyllic life. He talks about how he wants to retire from a life of crime, but the only time he seems even remotely happy is when he's pulling off heists and robberies, so it seems disingenuous for him to say otherwise. So at best, he's a massive hypocrite. Perhaps this was intentional, but it still doesn't make him any more likeable, to say nothing of his anger issues, which are never a pleasant thing to explore.
Next is Franklin. He's arguably the character that players are supposed to sympathize with the most. He's trying to escape a life that he recognizes as being a dead-end. Yet all he seems to do as a character is just do what he's told. He just doesn't ever seem capable of saying "NO" to anyone or anything. It's kind of frustrating not to see any growth as a character. Ironically, this seems like a huge waste of potential.
Lastly, Trevor. Ah, what to say about Trevor? He's certainly the most openly revolting of any character ever created by Rockstar Games. He's an absolute monster. I believe that he was created to represent how most players will play a Grand Theft Auto game, and it's just horrifying to see that embodied in a person.
So on to the story. What kind of story can be created with three profoundly unlikeable/unrelatable characters? It turns out, not much of a story at all. None of these characters ever seem to take any kind of responsibility for their actions, nor do they seem to even recognize that they are the source of their own problems. What passes for a story seems to arise from these situations of their own creation, and their inability to deal with it. It's wholly unsatisfying to witness. I mean, the whole sordid affair does end up being neatly wrapped up with an ending, but it certainly doesn't address the fact that none of these characters possessed anything resembling an arc. I've never felt quite so much that the description of a story as being "just people doing stuff" has fit quite so well as it has with the story of Grand Theft Auto V. I mean, if you ask what the story of Grand Theft Auto V is about, I feel like the only answer that you can decisively give is, Stuff.
The next big thing that was hyped up was the focus on heists, and the notion of choice. Granted, I'll say this, the heists were fun to pull off, but they were absolutely scripted events. You just picked option 1 or option 2, and from there on out, you were locked into that choice, with no way to deviate from the scripted path before you. It was like being locked onto a railroad track that splits for a short while before coming back to the same, single track. It was really disappointing. If you think I'm wrong, go play a heist, and try to do something, anything, really, that the game isn't telling you to do. You can't. Choice has been taken away from you. Once upon a time, Rockstar Games were about sweet, sweet, glorious freedom. Even on missions, you always had the freedom to tackle them however you pleased, improvising your own solutions to your hearts delight. Not anymore. It's quite disappointing.
Speaking of freedom, this game was touted as having an incredibly free, open world to explore and engage in all manner of interesting activities. It turns out that those options are primarily confined to sports. And by sports I mean, Golf, Tennis, and Triathalons. I don't know ANYONE who picks up a GTA game and thinks "Gee, I REALLY hope they included golf and tennis in this one!" Several other activities do eventually unlock, but honestly, they're just equally boring. Example: Eventually, you can tow cars for chump change! Wheeeee! [sarcasm intended].
Grand Theft Auto Online was also highly touted. I can't really give this mode of play a rousing endorsement either, as it mainly boils down to deathmatches and races. These game modes aren't anything spectacular that you haven't already played better versions of in different games. There are missions, but they're really just not particularly interesting. Also, there are still PLENTY of glitches and kinks to work out. Understand this, I started GTA Online AFTER they claimed to have fixed the glitches with losing your progress, and it STILL happened to me. They've offered a "stimulus" of in-game cash by way of apology, but what use is that when it just might vanish anyway?
Okay. I've got pretty much all of the negatives out of my system. And even with all of that, I'm not saying it's a BAD game, it's just awfully disappointing, considering Rockstar Games prior track-record of excellence.
The graphics in-game are wonderful, and have been optimized very well. There's almost no texture pop-in that I noticed, and that is all the more impressive considering the rather impressive draw distance.
The soundtrack is still amazing, as is par for the course with Rockstar Games, and despite the horrible characters and lackluster story, the voice acting is still top-notch.
Outside of the main heist missions, I did manage to enjoy the Strangers & Freaks side missions that cropped up from time to time, and they are the thing that I have the greatest fondness for in this game. They are easily the most memorable thing about Grand Theft Auto V. ESPECIALLY the Strangers & Freaks you encounter while playing as Trevor. Horrible monster or not, his side-missions were oftentimes QUITE hilarious.
I'll also add that I do enjoy the revamped police. Now having the police on your tail is an actual threat, not just a mild annoyance. The cops in GTA V are absolutely ruthless in their pursuit. I find the change to be refreshing.
I still enjoy how Rockstar Games absolutely skewers popular culture in Grand Theft Auto. That proud tradition continues, undiminished in the slightest.
I think there are plenty of other discussions out there being had about GTA V's depiction of torture, and blatant misogyny, so I won't harp on those topics quite so much. I'll just say that they're both horrible and wrong, but at the same time, I'm not shocked or surprised in the least that Rockstar has both of those elements. Rockstar is not shy at all about controversy, whatever the topic, so I'm not surprised to find a controversial topic like torture being brought up in a Grand Theft Auto game. Also, while misogyny is disgusting, again, I'm not surprised that Grand Theft Auto is being accused of it. It's like your grandma at Thanksgiving saying something offensive and racist. It's wrong, but are you really all that surprised when she's been doing it for YEARS? I don't think any Grand Theft Auto game has ever had a really strong female role. And I don't expect Rockstar Games to change in that regard anymore than I expect Grandma to change, no matter how much I wish they might.
So, I'm not saying that this is a BAD game, I'm just terribly let down and disappointed. I expected better than this Rockstar.