Why I'll never finish GTA 5

Just one more lap of the island, Mum

I still haven't met Trevor. Not since we all got shot in that village, anyway, but the prologue doesn't count. Trevor - the most interesting of GTA 5's main characters, a filthy, addled, sociopathic smear of trailer trash whose idea of an ice-breaker is exposing his genitals. Trevor, the personality on whom the bulk of the inevitable post-release controversy has swivelled, thanks in largest part to a seemingly unnecessary yet unskippable, fully interactive torture sequence.

Trevor, the guy most likely to be found doing something hilariously or un-hilariously untoward when you switch to him - Jonty's fondest memories include seguing straight into a punch-up with a fitness freak about what constitutes an appropriate quantity of body hair. Trevor, the guy who - if nothing else - begins his segment of the storyline in possession of a valuable plane hangar and helipad. Trevor.


Whither art thou Trevor? Well, according to forward intel you live over in Grapeseed, just round the U-bend of this here plot twist - maybe half-an-hour of playtime away. It's not that you're on the other side of a sky-high concrete wall. It's not that I'm madly and exclusively in love with Franklin or Michael, either. Franklin's the least damaged of the pair, a wet-behind-the-ears hoodlum with delusions of grandeur, but good grief is he preachy - forever banging on at Lamar about how much he hates being around Lamar, before accepting a mission in which he, Lamar and somebody he despises even more than Lamar team up to, in my case, get blown away while jumping into walls because I've forgotten which button is the cover button. And Michael? He's just depressing. A watered-down Gary Dove from Sexy Beast, father to a cheaper version of Jonah Hill (actually voiced by Danny Tamberelli).

Rather, what's keeping me away from GTA 5's plot is Los Santos itself. The first thing I did on firing up the game and completing the prologue was slip behind the wheel of a muscle car and embark on a lap of the island. First, the strangely serene chaos of the Del Perro Freeway, cars fanning out like stampeding oxen as we deepened the city's grooves by a few micrometers of oven-baked blacktop, impossibly radiant office-temples flashing past to either side. Then, an aching sunset over the Tataviam Mountains as the car moved up towards the Grand Senora Desert, and the tail-lights dotting the curves of those hill country roads. I've only been to Los Angeles once, but Rockstar's version feels immediately familiar, not because it approximates the layout, but because it captures the city's mood. You can practically smell the exhaust.

"Mood" is a useless, much-abused word, of course, so allow me to be specific. The lighting is spot-on, not so much illuminating as saturating the landscape, so that it feels like you're walking on the surface of a small, decayed sun. The tarmac is exquisite, crinkling and fissuring at the edges - it genuinely resembles a layer of solidified gloop, splatted onto the rock and left to cook. And then there are the beautifully observed props, like those distinctive arching traffic lights, the worn-out arrows at intersections, the broken brick "garden fixtures" by Franklin's driveway, or the absurd women in high-end jogging pants near Michael's mansion.


I could go on. I will. The other in-game night I stopped the car at some roadside dive near Paleto Bay and watched an episode of Jack Howitzer on my smartphone, the show's audio mingling with the bellows of squabbling bikers and the honk of a passing long-hauler. At sunrise I got out, wandered up to the front deck and bought myself a soda - the fact that I couldn't actually the enter the bar jostled my suspension of disbelief a tad, but only fleetingly. Then I tried to abscond with a stripped-down Daemon, and the entire clientele pulled a gun on me. Fortunately, there were AI niggles to prey upon - crossing the road, I was able to shelter behind an SUV while biker after biker galloped out into the path of a speeding truck.

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