Grand Theft Auto V: Story Overview

By Shamus Posted Thursday Sep 6, 2018

Filed under: Retrospectives 68 comments

When I write a big series like this one, I usually imagine I’m talking to other people that have played through the game. On the other hand, I know anecdotally that a non-trivial portion of you will be reading this without being familiar with Grand Theft Auto V. So before I start in on the analysis, let’s go over the story in broad strokes.

Normally I do this sort of thing a little bit at a time as we step through the plot, but the structure of GTA V makes this difficult. There are numerous side-plots. Some of these rejoin the main plot much later, while others conclude in isolation and still others peter out or hit a dead end. Some are isolated stories that don’t connect to the main missions at either end. Some of it can be tackled in any order, while other parts form choke points that require you to have completed all of the dangling plot threads before you can proceed.

To give you an idea of how convoluted it can get, here is the chart Campster made of the “plot” in his Errant Signal video on GTA V:

That chart leaves out a lot of plot threads: Trevor’s feuds with the Lost MC and the O’Neil brothers. Trevor’s short-term relationship with Mrs. Madrazo. Michael’s becoming a Vinewood producer. Tonya’s towing jobs. The bail bond missions. The Paparazzi missions. Franklin’s run-ins with the adrenaline junkie. Michael’s dealings with the Epsilon Program. The jobs for the weed advocate. The Civil Border Patrol. The stuff with Cletus. The efforts of Lester and Franklin to manipulate the stock market via assassination. Some of those things are irrelevant side-plots but some of them are connected to the main plot in unexpected ways. (Like, the first assassination job is required to progress the main plot, but the subsequent jobs are not.)

Hopefully you get the basic idea. This game doesn’t have a proper story arc that builds over time. It actually feels like someone took about four seasons worth of some Sopranos-style crime show and shuffled all the scripts together without regard for pacing, theme, tone, or continuity.

My point is that doing a chronological analysis of this story would result in this series being just as random and aimless as the plot of the game. GTA can sort of get away with being aimless on account of being an open world game, but aimless analysis is not a lot of fun to try to follow. (And it’s confusing to write.)

So here’s the plot of the game, with as many extraneous elements removed as possible:

The Introduction

Half the crew is dead, our getaway car is destroyed, we're on foot in the snow, and the police are closing in. Yeah, this heist is going just great.
Half the crew is dead, our getaway car is destroyed, we're on foot in the snow, and the police are closing in. Yeah, this heist is going just great.

The game opens with what seems to be a heist gone wrong. Michael, Trevor, and Brad are cornered by the cops. Brad and Michael get shot and Trevor barely escapes. Then afterward we see that Michael has faked his own death. He didn’t really die when he got shot, and in fact he doesn’t even look injured. He observes his own funeral at a distance, in secret.

Hold up. I know I’m supposed to be summarizing the plot, but I need to stop and ask a question of the other folks who played the game: Am I the only one who was confused during the funeral scene?

At this point in the game we don’t know the characters yet. The characters were wearing ski masks and calling each other by first initials during the tutorial heist. They do eventually take the masks off, but this is a third-person game so we spend most of our time staring at the back of everyone’s heads. All the characters are white guys of medium build, so none of them really stand out under these conditions.

Here is Michael - a character we've barely seen from the front - wearing a hat and dark glasses. Are we supposed to recognize this as the guy from the previous scene?
Here is Michael - a character we've barely seen from the front - wearing a hat and dark glasses. Are we supposed to recognize this as the guy from the previous scene?

So when we get to the funeral it’s not completely clear that we’re seeing Michael attending his own funeral. He has no lines, nobody speaks to him or says his name, and he’s wearing dark sunglasses. We can’t see his entire face or hear his voice, so there aren’t a lot of cues to help us recognize that this is one of the guys from the heist we just saw. I wasn’t sure if this was one of the robbers, or one of the government agents, or the introduction of a new character. It all falls into place later when we meet Trevor again, but that’s hours away and I feel like this intro could do a better job of making this situation clear, since it drives so much of the later drama.

I dunno. Maybe I’m just thick or bad at recognizing videogame faces, but this scene seemed a little too disjoined to me. I’m curious how everyone else responded.

I have an idea, let's copy the therapy sessions from the Sopranos, except instead of using them to let the audience see our protagonist in a different light and show their vulnerable side, we'll use it to show therapists are dumb and pointless. SATIRE!
I have an idea, let's copy the therapy sessions from the Sopranos, except instead of using them to let the audience see our protagonist in a different light and show their vulnerable side, we'll use it to show therapists are dumb and pointless. SATIRE!

We cut to 9 years later. Michael is in therapy. He’s wealthy, retired, and completely unhappy with his life. He’s living near Vinewood (Hollywood) with his family. From there we cut to Franklin, another one of our main playable characters. Franklin is a young man from the ‘hood, looking for a way to escape his current life. He’s looking to go big time as a way out of this dead-end life of two-bit crime and poverty. Not because he’s greedy, but because he can see there’s no future in it.

At this point the player can switch between these two main characters at any time. If you jump back to one character after playing as the other, you’ll find them in the middle of their normal daily activities.

Michael and Franklin have one of the best-developed relationships in the game.
Michael and Franklin have one of the best-developed relationships in the game.

Over the course of a few missions, Franklin and Michael meet and bond. Michael is restless and just looking for an excuse to get back into his former life of crime, and Franklin is an eager and capable protégé. While all of this is going on, there are side-stories revealing that Michael has a lot of conflict with his family and Franklin has friends in the ‘hood that keep dragging him into idiotic schemes that end up being stupidly dangerous and which never seem to pay out.

Eventually Michael’s temper gets the best of him, and he ends up inadvertently pissing off a dangerous drug lord. He needs to pay this guy 2.5 million dollars, which means he needs to pull a major heist. Michael is oddly relaxed about the situation, since this is the first time in 9 years where he’s felt like he’s alive. He has a purpose and his skills are useful again.

Michael calls up his old criminal contacts and puts together a crew to rob a jewelry store. Franklin joins in, and the heist is a success.

The Middle Part

As soon as we're introduced to Trevor, he stomps some guy named Johnny to death. I didn't know it at the time, but this was Rockstar's send-off for Johnny Klebitz, the protagonist of GTA: Lost and the Damned.
As soon as we're introduced to Trevor, he stomps some guy named Johnny to death. I didn't know it at the time, but this was Rockstar's send-off for Johnny Klebitz, the protagonist of GTA: Lost and the Damned.

As Michael and Franklin celebrate, we cut to the desert and rejoin Trevor, who we haven’t seen since he ran off into the snowstorm at the start of the game. Trevor is watching the news, and from things said at the crime scene he realizes this jewelry store heist must have been the work of his old friend Michael, who he thought was dead.

Trevor is running his own criminal operation from his filthy trailer. He’s got a meth lab, a gun running operation, and some ongoing conflicts with the other criminal enterprises in the area. His operation is sort of sad and the only thing keeping it going is how personally dangerous Trevor is, but he talks about it all in terms of being a multinational empire. Instead of making a beeline for the city to find out what’s up with his dead friend showing up on the news, we spend a few missions on his quarrels with a biker gang, a gun-running operation, a rival drug lab, and his attempts to expand his business. During this point in the game you can’t switch back to Michael or Franklin, since they’re “laying low” after the heist. Eventually Trevor finishes tying up loose ends in the desert and heads for the city.

Dave Norton works for the Federal Investigation Bureau. The FIB. GEDDIT? Huh?
Dave Norton works for the Federal Investigation Bureau. The FIB. GEDDIT? Huh?

Michael is summoned by Norton, his contact at the FIB. We learn that Michael sold his friends out at the start of the game. To keep himself alive and out of prison, he set up that original “heist gone wrong” situation. Agent Norton got a bump in his career by bagging this famous stick-up artist, and also Michael has been sending him a monthly bribe for the last 9 years. In return, Norton set Michael up with a new identity and an off-the-books arrangement with “witness protection”. If all had gone according to plan, then Trevor would have died in the shootout 9 years ago and there would be no more loose ends. But both men are worried that Trevor is still alive somewhere. He’s violent, unstable, and incredibly focused. If he ever figured out what happened, then there’s no telling what he might do.

More importantly, right now there’s a lot of inter-agency drama going on. Different agencies are bickering, with each one trying to make the case that their operation needs more funding and their rivals need more oversight. Maybe this FIB program that’s been protecting Michael will be exposed. And since Michael is back in the game and pulling scores, Norton decides it’s only fair that Michael should help sort things out. So Michael gets dragged into doing dirty jobs for the FIB.

Meanwhile, Trevor scouts the docks, puts together a crew, plans a job, steals the required materials for the heist, and pulls it off. Sort of. It doesn’t totally work out, although it does bring Michael into the adventure and push him into planning another score. After that is a bit of story wrapping up some loose ends with this crew.

Additional Middle Part

I know I complain about this game, but I think Trevor's surprise appearance is a REALLY GOOD scene. The director was great at showing how scary he is to everyone who isn't Michael, and did a great job of stretching out the tension.
I know I complain about this game, but I think Trevor's surprise appearance is a REALLY GOOD scene. The director was great at showing how scary he is to everyone who isn't Michael, and did a great job of stretching out the tension.

Trevor shows up and Michael is vague about what what happened 9 years ago. They begin an uneasy working relationship, with Trevor asking lots of pointed questions.

The FIB decides to drag Trevor into the work Michael is doing, despite the fact that Trevor is impossible to control and having him this close only increases the odds of him finding out what really happened. Even more preposterously, Trevor decides to go along with it, despite the fact that they have no leverage over him and he hates the government in the abstract and these FIB agents in particular. (I guess the plot needs to happen somehow.) In fact, FIB agent Steve is one of the most relentlessly obnoxious and irritating people in the game and it really is amazing how many scenes there are where Trevor doesn’t casually murder Steve and dismember / defile / eat his corpse.

So we spend a stretch of the game working to help one crooked government agency fight another crooked agency. The FIB can’t even give them funding for the equipment they’ll need, so the crew has to pull heists just to get the money to buy the equipment to do the work the FIB is making them do.

Is This Still The Middle? Is All of This Going Anywhere?

We're going to kill the CEO of a greedy corporation? What did he do? Price-gouge his customers? Put pay-to-win microtransactions in his videogame? Fill his games with multiple layers of phone-home DRM and social media integration?
We're going to kill the CEO of a greedy corporation? What did he do? Price-gouge his customers? Put pay-to-win microtransactions in his videogame? Fill his games with multiple layers of phone-home DRM and social media integration?

Franklin hooks up with one of Michael’s old friends, who sends Franklin out to assassinate people in an attempt to manipulate the stock market and dish out some justice against the evil strawman “satirical” corporations that are part of this world.

While all of this is going on, Michael’s family leaves him and he starts to go a little crazy. Then after a while they come back and decide to try being a family again. It’s an uneasy truce, but Michael seems to recover some of his sanity.

Eventually the crew meets Devin Weston, a narcissistic billionaire douchebag. They begin doing jobs for him. He promises them that the jobs will pay well. That shouldn’t be much leverage over Michael, since he’s capable of scouting, planning, and pulling his own jobs and shouldn’t need the help of this dingbat. But The Plot Must Go On, so it does. Then Weston decides to not pay these three incredibly dangerous and self-sufficient career criminals he’s been mocking and provoking. Then he gets in a tiff with Michael and decides to attack Michael’s family. Michael saves them, and then for some reason he doesn’t immediately go and kill Devin, despite that fact that there’s nothing stopping Devin from attacking them again so Michael’s family can’t really be safe until Devin is dead.

The FIB jobs continue to escalate in terms of scope and devastation. All the work they’ve done to “quiet things down” has simply fanned the flames, to the point where the two rival agencies are now in an open shooting war with each other.

The Finale

Let's do the ultimate heist, which is possible now for some reason.
Let's do the ultimate heist, which is possible now for some reason.

Michael, Franklin, and Trevor gather in Trevor’s strip club. This is it. They’ve decided it’s time to do “the big one”. They’re going to rob the Union Depository downtown. Michael and Trevor have been dreaming of this since their old days. We do a series of missions to scout the job, plan the operation, and steal all the required equipment. Then they pull the job, which earns the team about $200 million.

This is a pretty good ending for the game, although I think it needed a little more buildup and it didn’t-

Oh, hang on. The game isn’t actually over.

Devin Weston casually stops by Franklin’s house and tells Franklin to kill Michael. Devin still hasn’t paid them at this point and now he’s asking Franklin to kill his mentor and father figure. Devin has no leverage over Franklin and he could easily afford to pay some other third party to kill Michael, so we can’t attribute this move to anything other than willful stupidity.

Furthermore, Franklin’s solo missions have featured him killing captains of industry to manipulate the stock market. He literally specializes in murdering famous rich guys, yet for some reason it never even occurs to him that he could just kill Devin Weston. The game never gives us a reason why Franklin feels obligated to obey this obnoxious dingbat who owes him money.

WHY DOESN'T FRANKLIN JUST SHOOT THIS IDIOT RIGHT NOW? THIS IS SUCH AN EASY PROBLEM TO SOLVE.
WHY DOESN'T FRANKLIN JUST SHOOT THIS IDIOT RIGHT NOW? THIS IS SUCH AN EASY PROBLEM TO SOLVE.

At this point the FIB has asked Franklin to kill Trevor and Devin has asked Franklin to kill Michael. The player is given a choice to kill Trevor, Kill Michael, or to take on both the FIB and Devin Weston.

The first two choices make no sense from a story or gameplay perspective. I think the third option is the intended / canonical choice, so let’s just look at that one and ignore the other two for now. We’ll come back to the branching end choice in a later entry.

The three characters get together and realize they need to take out their enemies. It’s not clear why this is possible now if it wasn’t possible in the past. Indeed, the player has probably spent a lot of the game asking, “Why don’t we just kill these assholes and be done with it?” Apparently our leads could have made this choice at any point and they’ve been uncharacteristically tolerating their foes for no reason.

The final mission is an odd one. Michael goes to the ‘hood and kills Franklin’s old lowlife nemesis. Franklin kills the Chinese Triad boss who’s been plotting against Trevor. Trevor kills Agent Steve from the FIB. So instead of them teaming up, and instead of each person facing off against their own nemesis, they all kill each other’s enemies.

It’s not strictly wrong, but it’s like having a version of Return of the Jedi where Han Solo settles things with Darth Vader while Luke Skywalker deals with Jabba the Hutt. This is not the most dramatically potent way of resolving these conflicts.

Then Trevor kidnaps Devin Weston and takes him to a cliff overlooking the ocean. All three characters meet up and murder him, throwing his car over the cliff and watching him die in the resulting explosion. They drive off into the sunset together. Roll credits.

The End?

Great. So that's Devin Weston taken care of. But why didn't we do this about 20 missions ago?
Great. So that's Devin Weston taken care of. But why didn't we do this about 20 missions ago?

So that’s the main(?) plot of the game, hacked down to the bones. I left out far more than I included, and it still feels like about four stories worth of events. Our big finale had us killing a dumbass billionaire that wasn’t even introduced until the third-ish act.

Like the previous GTA games, the introduction presents us with a problem, then we stumble around for a few dozen hours killing dudes for a series of bosses we don’t care about, then suddenly at the end the story swerves hard back to the original problem and wraps it up without producing anything that might feel like character arcs, raising stakes, or rising action. It’s like a version of Star Wars where Luke Skywalker spends twenty hours dicking around on Tatooine before he finally jumps aboard the Falcon and they fly off to blow up the Death Star.

Next week we’re going to talk about that ending choice.

 


From The Archives:
 

68 thoughts on “Grand Theft Auto V: Story Overview

  1. Sarfa says:

    “The final mission is an odd one. Michael goes to the ‘hood and kills Franklin’s old lowlife nemesis. Franklin kills the Chinese Triad boss who’s been plotting against Trevor. Trevor kills Agent Steve from the FIB. So instead of them teaming up, and instead of each person facing off against their own nemesis, they all kill each other’s enemies.”

    I think this is one of the things the game’s story does best. The game wants it’s primary conflict to be the one between the three protagonists- the fact you’ve barely mentioned this in the article is the best comment that could be made on how effectively this was done for most of the game. Having everyone run off and kill their own nemesis’ would have felt like the three all doing their own things still. By having each of the three solve someone else’s problem it reinforces that this mission is about the three of them deciding to work together- that is I think this odd structure reinforces what the player has chosen to do by rejecting the other choices. While it does resolve those secondary conflicts in not the most effective way, it does resolve the tensions between the protagonists much better than everyone killing their own nemeses.

    While they could have had the three of them work together more directly, this would have had all three of them in each scene of the mission, which meant two of them wouldn’t be playable and would essentially just be sidekicks for the climax. This way every protagonist gets a big moment in the climax- this is why in Return of the Jedi’s three pronged climax Luke, Lando and Han Solo (alongside Chewbacca and Leia) are all in separate locations dealing with separate conflicts- to give them all space to have their own big moments which they wouldn’t have had if this sequence didn’t separate them.

    1. Kathryn says:

      >>The game wants it’s primary conflict to be the one between the three protagonists

      Interesting – so it’s going for Jaws, where the real conflict is these three guys who hate each other having to team up? That’s tricky to write well. Much easier to just throw in a big shark and some screaming.

      (off topic, Jaws is a great example of something people try to copy without understanding what made it successful. The formula isn’t 1. Monster, 2.???, 3. Box office profit. It was those scenes between Quint, Roy Scheider, and the marine biologist that made that movie. The mutual hatred and the way temporary two-on-one alliances would form but kept falling apart due to said hatred…very well done.)

      1. ElementalAlchemist says:

        Hooper and Brody don’t hate each other. Not even in the book where Hooper bangs Brody’s wife.

        1. Kathryn says:

          You don’t think so? I read mutual contempt between them. Both book and movie. But it has been a while since I saw/read it, so I may be misremembering.

          (incidentally, Jaws is that very rare case of the movie being better than the book)

          1. Guest says:

            Not really. Hooper is the only one who believes Brody and helps him to investigate, in the movie (Haven’t read the book). He’s almost like, overexcited at having a new friend in the dynamic. Once Hooper shows up, they basically buddy up until finally the town hires Quint. The bit that’s antagonistic is with Quint, because while Quint and Brody don’t get along easily, they do bond over a shared blue-collar background, and Brody bonds with both of the others learning boating. But Quint really hates Hooper because of his education and a massive blue-collar chip on his shoulder (Which is also why Quint is an incompetent alcoholic-he’s resentful and prideful, and despite that, is an unpleasant loner). That same chip on his shoulder also won’t let him accept any chance of Hooper’s ideas working (Which is almost fair, since thanks to the shark just being a goddamn monster, most of his ideas don’t work). Quint and Hooper do bond over sailsmanship, and fish stories, but they’re not really teaming up against Brody, they’re just making fun of him because he doesn’t know that stuff at all so it makes for an in-joke. And that’s mostly near the end, where they actually do almost come together as a team, except Quint is a crazy resentful loner, and trashes the radio.

            But yeah, the dynamic between the three men is absolutely the highlight of the film, no question. The acting there, and the development of the character dynamics, is why I rewatch the film. I feel like the second one is the better pure horror film, with the finale to match, but it’s not as good a film.

    2. Bubble181 says:

      I think there’s also supposed to be some strangers-on-a-train effect going where they kill each other’s nemeses to have alibis for the ones they benefit from.

      1. Kylroy says:

        That was my first reaction to reading about them killing each others’ nemeses – alibis, plausible deniability, and so forth.  But introducing that level of subtle legal concern into a plot as gonzo as this seems too little, too late.

        1. Roofstone says:

          ‘s not legal. It is more like “Hey! [Gang Boss] got killed by a random white dude in his fourties.” As opposed to “Hey! [Gang Boss] got killed by Franklin, whose aunt lives just down the street from my house!”

      2. Dan says:

        This is actually point-blank said- Michael and Franklin specifically pick their targets since they have no known connections and the groups won’t think of hitting them up afterwards for reprisal.

    3. syal says:

      Haven’t seen GTA V’s ending, but this was my initial thought*. The idea of solving everyone’s long-standing problems by using their new friends’ previously unavailable strengths is a solid “power of friendship” moment, it just needs to set up that the friend is best suited for the task. “This guy’s too crazy for me to handle, but not too crazy for Crazypants Craig.” “This guy has blackmail on everyone, but he won’t be able to blackmail Mr. Clean.”

      *(well, my actual first thought was “Luke Skywalker did deal with Jabba the Hutt”.)

      1. Viktor says:

        Nah, Leia dealt with Jabba the Hutt. Luke was actually pretty irrelevant to how the overall plot of that movie turned out.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          He did make c3p0 into a god.And without that,the heads of the rebellion would be boiling in a cauldron instead of blowing up the shield for the death star.Also,luke did occupy the two most powerful people in the enemy ranks and ultimately turned them on each other.So while he did not do many big things,he did do few crucial small ones.

          1. Matthew Collins says:

            More to the point, Luke is a Jedi now, he’s not a rebel soldier anymore, at least not as regards his outlooks and motives where they count. His battle is of a different sort, both more personal and more abstract.

            1. Jabberwok says:

              Luke’s confrontation with the Emperor was the point of the movie. All of the problems the rebel’s face in the story, even the ending battle and destruction of the new Death Star, were just scenery for Luke’s character arc.

        2. shoeboxjeddy says:

          Luke drew the attention of every armed solider in Jabba’s group, which is the only reason Jabba was undefended enough for Leia to choke him to death. If she had tried that at any random moment, she would have been shot about twenty times. And the Emperor’s focus on Luke prevented him from more directly interfering in the starship battle, allowing for huge battle mistakes like the SSD Executor crashing into the side of the Death Star II. The Emperor also allowed for the Rebels to find out about the Death Star II in the first place partially to draw Luke to the Dark Side. Without that in mind, he might have went with a less dangerous plan that would allow the Rebels to cause less damage when it failed.

        3. Joe Informatico says:

          Luke was both the mastermind and the anchor of the whole plan to free Han. There was a great interpretation of ROTJ on Tor.com a couple of years ago hinging on Luke’s line to Han: “I grew up around here.” Jabba was not some abstract obstacle standing between Luke and Han’s freedom. Jabba was the predatory crime lord who lorded it over the poor folks of Tatooine, so Luke destroying his whole operation from the ground up is basically the war hero coming home and cleaning up his crime-ridden old neighbourhood.

  2. Dreadjaws says:

    I actually think that the three characters killing each other’s nemeses is a good idea, if it had been more properly set up. It’s a bit of a Hitchcock idea that fits the criminal setting (i.e. “I have the motive, so if I go kill this guy I’ll be the prime suspect. Instead you, who have no motive at all, go kill him for me while I establish myself an alibi, and then I go do the same for this other guy so then later he’ll do the same for you.”)

    Yes, the Star Wars example you give would have been silly, but the context is entirely different.

    But, of course, the real problem is, like I mentioned, that it’s not really properly set up, particularly considering that the three main characters are constantly being seen together by their opponents, which doesn’t really fit with the “establish an alibi” idea.

    In any case, this game’s story is more about the relationship between the three main characters than between their conflict with their respective nemeses. Trevor feels betrayed by Michael, while Michael serves as a mentor to Franklin. I think the game did a good job of establishing their relationships. The ending is not about “killing a guy that was introduced in the third act”, it was about the trio reconciling their differences and joining to get rid of a mutual problem.

    For some reason you’re not even mentioning the large conflict between the main characters, which is likely what drives them not to off those people you mention when they can. They’re being irritated by those characters, yes, but they also have no real personal issue against them until the very end. Their personal difficulties are with each other, and that’s where the focus lies.

    Yes, it’s true, the game could have handled things better, way better, but in this case I think you’re paying attention to the wrong things.

    1. Shamus says:

      “For some reason you’re not even mentioning the large conflict between the main characters, ”

      That reason is that I have a whole section on it next week. I know it feels strange to leave it out here, but that’s the downside of this weekly format.

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        Oh, yeah, I keep forgetting the series is supposed to be focused on this particular game instead of the entire franchise.

  3. I wonder if Michael at the funeral was a flashback scene that was moved or something?

    Also, as to the ending. I agree the two alternate choices seems kinda tacked on (to provide alternative endings) still it’s better than 3 color choices (*cough*Mass Effect 3*cough*) or three buttons (*cough*Deux Ex Human Revolution*cough*).

    In retrospect it’s “easy” to improve a game/story.

    In this case if I could re-edit the end of GTA V I’d remove the alternate ends and fold them into the canon ending. With Franklin finding out about Trevor and Michael being targeted. Thus Franklin heads out and save Michael (same set-piece, similar Michael “almost” falling scene). After that they both head out to save Trevor (same fire scene, but Trevor escapes a little singed obviously and very pissed). Then all three plot their revenge and as a trio go after the targets, planning the three or four hits similar to a heist, but with the player having a high profile, low profile and a “accidental” profile way to take them out. The “accidental” ones would be Hitman inspired if you know what I mean, natural but a tad weird in a dark twisted funny way.
    The very final hit (how they get him) would vary, but the last part of it (driving to the coast) would be identical as I really like the ending.

    One key difference is that in a lot places in this “new” ending the trio will be in the same car, allowing for a lot more banter and dialog between the three during the “hits” (or the driving to and setup of them). Maybe Trevor showing some gratefulness for being saved by Michael and Franklin etc.

    I kinda hope that GTA VI will be a tad more diverse, I really liked the sniping/hitman stuff in GTA IV and V the few times you had that, but they could easily have added more like causing accidents, poisoning, falling, electrocution. Using disguises.
    A GTA “world” is such a sandbox that you could do a ton more stuff. I’d love to see more heists as well, especially stealthy ones.

    But I’m getting sidetracked. Back to the end(ings), those surprised me. Luckily I was aware of them so I chose the “right” one the first time. But it was nice to see a huge “AAAA+?” title like this have “different” endings. If some player really disliked Michael or Trevor they’d finally be able to get rid of them. And killing off 1 of 3 protagonists is a pretty daring move when they easily could have played it safe and had a single ending.

    It kinda reminds be about Knights of The Old Republic which split the last chapter into a lightside and darkside path/ending; while they easily could have done it “safe” and done a heal-turn at like the very last scene instead and saved a lot of development time.

    That being said, GTA V (the entire franchise actually) does have odd use of development time which makes you wonder if the guys working on “this” shouldn’t have worked on helping the guys working on “that” instead.
    GTA VI will have a somewhat different lead team than GTA V, but it will most likely be most of the RDR2 team so the management and design of that might give an indicator of what GTA VI might be.

    1. Cubic says:

      Recall that GTA IV had a glum split ending as well.

      I think the multiple protags was a great idea. The plots of some of the previous GTAs would have made much more sense with multiple protags working against each other. The heists were also a big step forward on previous attempts.

      I of course played all three endings, starting with the two bad ones. After those, which indeed were unsatisfying, it felt good to do the semi-heroic one as the finale.

  4. Joshua says:

    Hmm, two Star Wars analogies. No way to slip in a car analogy instead?

  5. PPX14 says:

    Like the previous GTA games, the introduction presents us with a problem, then we stumble around for a few dozen hours killing dudes for a series of bosses we don’t care about, then suddenly at the end the story swerves hard back to the original problem and wraps it up without producing anything that might feel like character arcs, raising stakes, or rising action.

    Ah, so the Mass Effect trilogy.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Oh, I get it. No one could kill Devin Weston because no-one had the Crucible yet. They needed to do all those heists and all that faffing around in order to power up the magic device that would create the ending choice.

      Mandatory comparison to Saints Row: your friendly cast is split up between three parallel mission strands against seperate enemy gangs/lieutenants. These all lead towards a bottleneck which you can only pass after you’ve finished every strand – then the ending missions provide an overall climax to the story.

      Sure, it’s not complex and it’s not done perfectly; nor are the stories necessarily written well. But you do always know what you’re doing at any one time*, as well as why you’re doing it**.

      *Killing everyone who looks at you funny
      **Because the Boss is a psychopath

      1. Viktor says:

        Yeah, I’m replaying SR2 now, and it’s nice how clear the plot lines are. You’re the one actively deciding to make moves and the progression from one mission to the next is very obvious. Bottlenecks would be an improvement(SR3 did this) since then you can guarantee “Okay, these chars are only unavailable for act 2, these gangs will be angry at you here” etc for the parallel plotlines, but overall the confusion level is pretty low and it’s not like it’s harder to write 3 mostly-unconnected stories instead of this sprawling mess.

      2. PPX14 says:

        Weston was a hero, a bloody icon – he was too badass and famous in the citadel mall to be killed, clearly. Actually it sounds like Devin Weston fits as TIM in this instance.

        I meant

        the introduction presents us with a problem

        = Mass Effect 1

        then we stumble around for a few dozen hours killing dudes for a series of bosses we don’t care about

        = Mass Effect 2

        then suddenly at the end the story swerves hard back to the original problem and wraps it up without producing anything that might feel like character arcs, raising stakes, or rising action

        = Mass Effect 3

  6. Vinsomer says:

    I don’t think the story of GTA5 is bad, but I definitely think it struggles from poor sequencing. Because the gang is working for the FIB, Devin and the Triads at the same time it stretches the motivations of characters and forces them to digress. It’d have been better if they’d taken the bioware approach: here’s 3 things you have to do (work with and kill Devin, work with and escape the clutches of the FIB, grow TP Industries , you can do them in any order but once you start one, you have to finish it before moving on. That way, each antagonist could have their own self-contained narrative (perhaps with small changes depending on the sequence) and it wouldn’t feel like characters drop things they’re supposed to care about to go do something else because reasons. Then just have Devin be the final bad guy.

    Because I can buy Trevor working for the FIB, simply out of loyalty to his friend Michael. And if Devin knows about the FIB stuff, that gives him leverage over Michael. The motivations can work, they just need to be given space to.

    I’d have also further changed Devin by having him act mostly through his assistant. Have him be less Tony Stark and more Howard Hughes, so that killing this guy is less ‘making up for not killing him when we had so many chances’ and more ‘this guy is so well protected even getting face to face with him is a challenge’. And remove that ending choice: it’s dumb. Why add a choice if you expect players to only take one option? When I first finished GTA, I chose to kill Trevor because I thought that it couldn’t literally be as simple as ‘Trevor dies, Michael dies or everyone lives and you get the best designed mission’. I’ve never felt as cheated by a happy ending.

  7. BlueHorus says:

    May not be the best place for this – but on the Escapist Bob Chipman just did a video about the TV show Rick and Morty. Shame about the click-baity title, but it’s interesting enough nonetheless and has some good points to consider. Though the main thing that occured to me was:
    ‘I’d really, really love to see Shamus Young’s take on this show.’

    (Also, to have a discussion about it here. The Escapist’s comments section has the same frustration for me as most large websites: there always are insightful & worthwhile comments to be found, but you have to dig them out from amongst the trolls, idiots, arguements about politics and people who’ve apparently never heard of puntuation and seem to be typing with their face.)

    1. BlueHorus says:

      *arguments.
      *punctuation.

      Dammit. Of all the places for typos.

      Though I think a way of structuring sentences using puns could be fun…

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      You are free to talk about the show in the forums.At least two people would respond.

      Also,could you provide a link?Because that site is a mess and I cant find the video you are talking about.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Team hollywood?No wonder I was unable to find it.Thanks.

  8. Jabrwock says:

    It’s not strictly wrong, but it’s like having a version of Return of the Jedi where Han Solo settles things with Darth Vader while Luke Skywalker deals with Jabba the Hutt. This is not the most dramatically potent way of resolving these conflicts.

    Well, Luke did deal with Jabba, in the general sense it was all his plan (granted his plan hinged on getting everyone in place together and Jabba being so pissed he’d leave his palace to make a big flashy execution, but it was A plan). Han just blindly fumbled around and accidentally offed a cool support character.

    1. Viktor says:

      Less of a “plan”, more of a “Batman” situation. From what I can tell, they sent Lando in to scout/recon. Leia went in for an actual rescue, probably planning on grabbing Chewie and Lando on her way out. When that failed, send the droids as an emergency armory, then Luke came in. Luke’s initial rescue(mind trick) failed, but now you have Lando as a guard, Leia next to Jabba, weapons stashed in R2, and Luke in the building. Luke waits until everyone is in the same place and makes a move. Not really a plan, just preparation and skill.

      (Also, I don’t think it overall holds up, but it’s not like SW has ever been a bastion of great writing.)

      1. Jabrwock says:

        The droids appear to have gone in after Lando arrived. I’m honestly not sure what Leia’s outcome was expected to be, other than just getting Han out of the carbonite to make it easier to get Jabba to bring him along for the execution. It’s possible Luke clearly expected the mind trick to work, but he also had enough pieces in places should they need plan B.

        1. Blackbird71 says:

          I always saw the droids as plan A, Leia as plan B, Luke as plan C, and “kill everyone at the Sarlacc” as plan D (with Lando as recon/backup throughout the operation. I just figured Luke liked to have multiple contingencies in place; any of the earlier plans might have worked, but if all else failed, plan D was there as a last resort.

  9. MilesDryden says:

    “I dunno. Maybe I’m just thick or bad at recognizing videogame faces, but this scene seemed a little too disjoined to me. I’m curious how everyone else responded.”

    I didn’t physically recognize Michael at this point, but I still felt like the “guy attending his own funeral” trope was implied. I just wasn’t certain which guy it was. When we see Michael dealing with money and family issues immediately after, I then made the connection. So, ya, it could have been clearer but for me I think they got the main point across.

  10. Pax says:

    The killing of Johnny from Lost and the Damned was so annoying. L&D wasn’t exactly optimistic, but I sure wasn’t expecting the main characters to move to the San Andreas desert to become meth-heads. I understand the thinking here, having Trevor kill an established character like this; it’s like having the newest X-Men villain beat up Juggernaut to prove just how tough he is. But in the end, I sure liked Johnny and that expansion a lot more than I liked anybody from GTAV.

    1. Cubic says:

      There was also the Grove Street mission, the one where you go back to the Grove and basically end up shooting everyone there. Didn’t exactly look like Sweet or CJ were still around.

    2. Guest says:

      Yeah, that was a bummer. And the casual way it was done, it’s like an easter egg, but the people who’d get it best are people who finished TL&TD, and they’re gonna feel cheated that Johnny completed changed and fucked up, and also just gets quickly beaten to death.

  11. Joshua says:

    Question, since I haven’t played the games. If both Michael and Trevor are living in (not LA) during the game completely separately from each other, is it reasonable to assume that the intro scene where Michael “dies” was also in Not LA as well? Because that seems like an awfully odd place to have a snow storm big enough for someone to escape from the police in.

    1. eldomtom2 says:

      No, it’s in the state of North Yankton, which is presumably meant to be not-North Dakota. It’s returned to later in the plot by means of a plane.

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Sooo….We have two guys who are basically serious gta4 protagonists and one who is an obvious gta3 protagonist,and those three are somehow involved in a same story?That does not quite gel together.

    1. Roofstone says:

      Not really, I am sure Shamus will go deeper into it. But none of these people are by any means Niko-esque.

      Michael -arguably the main protagonist- is old (by bank robber standards anyway), he is bored, and he just wants to go back to sticking up banks. But he also wants to have the dream; his house, his wife, his children, etcetera. He is stuck between those two sides of his life.

      Franklin is probably the most serious of the protagonists, he is young and aspiring. He wants to get out of the hood and go for big scores, instead of selling dime bags on the corner and earning peanuts stealing cars. He is the most professional one out of the bunch, leaving his garbage at the door when it comes to the jobs.

      And Trevor is.. he is something else. He is chaos personified. He rejects everything for the sake of his lifestyle. He is a murerin’ rapin’ cannibalistic necrophiliac drug selling gun smuggling crazy guy. He is also the most vulnerable of the bunch strangely enough, he has serious abandonment issues and in the end just wants his best friend(Michael) back.

      In a way they represent the typical GTA players; Frankling is new to the game and wants to get to the big stuff and out of the small time. Trevor is on the height of his game, his life is chaos and an ever upwards battle to establish himself and earn money. And Michael is out of the game, he succeeded, he made it, he has it all. But in the end he just wants to go back to doing what he does best.

      1. Cubic says:

        Trevor is furthermore Canadian. Say no more.

      2. Redrock says:

        He is also the most vulnerable of the bunch strangely enough, he has serious abandonment issues and in the end just wants his best friend(Michael) back.

        Which is why I find Trevor the most interesting protagonist in the game. Not the most likeable or even the best written, god forbid, but the most interesting. His mood swings and hints of something else behind the facade make him at least a bit engaging to watch. It’s also, as Shamus noted, extremely interesting to watch other people react to Trevor. And he kinda sorta works as a meta-commentary on the mindset of a rampaging GTA character? All in all, probably most memorable, yet still extremely unlikable. Well, there’s more than one way to be memorable.

        1. Cubic says:

          The creepiest part of the game was not the torture mission but how his friend’s apartment evolved over time after Trevor came to visit.

  13. SKD says:

    Oh gods, GTA V is both the first and only GTA title I have played to this point. I loved Michael’s and Franklin’s arcs but my god Trevor pissed me off. There were times where I would start sympathizing with Trevor and excusing his poor attitude to life because of his past. But then he would turn around and do something so batshit crazy and off the rails that I was just waiting for the game to have Franklin and Michael decide that enough is enough and put him in a shallow grave out in the desert. Trevor was one of the most singularly unlikeable protagonists I have ever played.

  14. Hector says:

    I recently picked up a Rockstar game, only to be told I couldn’t play my single-player game (with tacked-on, expensive multiplayer DLC for a game mode that was dead on arrival) unless I signed up for their Rockstar Social Club, presumably so they could spam me for the next decade.

    I found the strength to pass. And immediately request a refund.

    1. Redrock says:

      Which game was that? Sounds like Max Payne 3.

      1. Hector says:

        Unhappily, yes.

        Turns out it would have been the same for GTA5, even if I never stepped a toe online.

  15. Redrock says:

    I personally never had a problem with recognizing Michael in the funeral scene, but that may partly be because I was dimly aware of who Michael is supposed to be from the promo materials, so him watching his own funeral and faking his death was the logical conclusion. What I always did have a problem with was Franklin’s arc, which made the least sense. His lack of any and all qualms about becoming an assassin to, of all purposes, game the stock market, never made sense to me. That’s something a sociopath would do, yet Franklin is consistently portrayed as being the most “normal” of the three protagonists. He’s just very very okay with absolutely any kind of crime, violence and mayhem. So odd.

  16. nirutha says:

    I wonder why they choose to emulate a 3 act movie structure. Serial television would be a way better fit.

  17. James says:

    I’ve only finished GTA SA and GTA-VC. I played some of GTA IV and GTA V, and found the characters to be unlikable enough to dissuade me from continuing on with the game. The “story” as it were didn’t grab me to make up for unlikable characters, and the attempts at “humor” were actively unfunny to the point of being embarassing.

    I haven’t played Red Dead, but for those that have, how does the RDD story arc compare to these more recent GTA story arc? I presume since they are referencing Western stories, that the story and characters is better developed, as opposed to GTA just being a send up of modern macho criminals?

    1. Roofstone says:

      Red Dead Redemption takes more of a Saints Row 2 approach. With the main character and those in his immediate vicinity being more or less straight men that has to deal with an increasingly wackier and more corrupt world as they interact with it.

    2. Cubic says:

      RDR is more of a straight western story. It’s a while since I last played it, but from what I recall there was no satirical or parody element. Also a great game, btw. You may or may not like the finale.

  18. Y’know, I do get Trevor sticking on through the FIB nonsense. I mean, yeah the surface explanation has always been that he’s the avatar of chaos, but that really doesn’t hold water when you look at what he does and what he says. If there’s one thing they make clear in the game, it’s that Trev is one emotionally clingy muhfugga and it makes sense for his character to want to keep latched on to Michael no matter the circumstances. He says he needs to get his affairs in order before he finds Michael, but it’s not because he’s being rational, but because he wants to make sure he can show Michael that he’s every bit the mogul of a vast criminal empire that he says he is (or at the very least, a competent criminal). His rampage missions are setup as somebody slighting him in some innocuous way leading to his ‘comical’ overreaction. When he finds out Michael’s back in the heist game, he immediately tries to pull one off on his own. He’s clearly motivated by emotions and a…deep rooted inferiority complex rather than personal material gain.

    The point I’m making is the rationale for Trevor working for the FIB is non existent because it’s not a rational decision. It’s an emotionally motivated choice and those emotions have been firmly established by that point the game. Or look at it this way: are you aware of any FIB mission Trevor is involved in that doesn’t also involve Michael? I can’t think of one. Just saiyan…

  19. GHz in DC says:

    Hmm hmm

  20. Jabberwok says:

    When you remove all of the bad writing (I do not like Rockstar’s dialogue in recent years) and pacing issues, the first half of the plot actually sounds pretty okay. Sort of annoying that they went with the ‘government makes me do bad things’ story again, though. I was already sick of that in Red Dead. Oh, John Marston’s just a nice, wholesome mass murderer who only has to be bad because the government is forcing him.

  21. Soylent Dave says:

    I really thought (and still think) that killing Trevor should have been the canonical ending.

    He gets crazier, scarier and more impossible to control as the game goes on – and from the very beginning he’s more of a “bad guy” in terms of body count and threat potential than anyone else in GTAV.

    Always felt to me like the developers had a great opportunity there that they missed.

    1. Guest says:

      I thought that Trevor would kill Franklin by the end of the game, and the final confrontation would be between Michael and Trevor. Sort of a kick-the-dog moment, since Franklin is probably the most decent of the protagonists, and Trevor is just such a natural antagonist.

  22. RFS-81 says:

    What would be the best way to do plot in an open world game?

    The Elder Scrolls style is a bunch of different quest lines that each kind of exist in their own world*, with the nominal main plot being just one of many. I don’t think that’s necessarily superior to GTA’s convoluted subplots. (I didn’t play GTA though.)

    * and if they do interact, like in Morrowind, it’s mostly blocking you from completing other quest lines.

  23. Wow. I’m glad I never played this game. The whole thing seems to be so dude-centric that I feel as if I’m overdosing on testosterone just reading the synopsis!

    Also… what happened to Brad?

    1. Shamus says:

      He died.

      There’s a big reveal in the game that I don’t cover in this series. It goes like this: In the heist gone wrong, Brad died, Michael faked his death, and Trevor escaped. It was actually Brad that was buried in Michael’s grave. Trevor saw that Michael got a funeral and Brad didn’t, so he assumed that Michael is dead and Brad is alive, which is the opposite of how things turned out.

      The big moment between Trevor and Michael is when Trevor goes to North Yankton and digs up Michael’s fake grave to find Brad. He figures out that all of this was a scheme of Michael’s and not just a “heist gone wrong”. It does set things up so that it feels like one of these two guys needs to kill the other. But then the story spins its wheels on B-plots for a couple of hours and when we come back the animosity seems to have cooled back down to tolerable levels and they’re able to team up for the finale.

      1. Thank you for this response!

        Poor Brad. We hardly knew him…

        PS – I liked the menu bar on the left side of the page as it seemed more natural to me. But I’ll read your blog no matter how you do the layout. Maybe turn it into a random pop-up window that also asks the viewer to accept cookies and sign up for your newsletter? *grin*

      2. Cubic says:

        Wasn’t it actually that “Brad” was writing Trevor from prison? Then turned out to be dead.

        I’m a bit hazy on the details and short on research time, I’m afraid, but I seem to recall something like that.

        1. Shamus says:

          Correct. Dave began writing Trevor, pretending to be Brad in prison. But I think this was in response to Trevor trying to get in contact with Brad. I’m a bit hazy on how the letter-writing got started.

          1. Everything was an off-the-books setup by Dave and Michael, not the FIB. Dave illegally used FIB money to setup Michael’s situation in the game in exchange for which he took credit for stopping the heist and gets a promotion and Michael pays him a monthly bribe. Dave was the sniper that shot Brad and had Trevor stuck to the plan like Michael was shouting for him to do in that moment, he would’ve killed Trevor as well. Instead, Trevor went off script and escaped. Since Dave couldn’t bring in Trevor without implicating himself, he tried to keep him placated by sending him fake letters. The idea is that Trevor is such a loose canon, that any noise he brings to Michael’s life will risk exposing the whole affair…which it does. The game doesn’t really go into detail how, but I’m honestly not going to knock it. It sufficiently sets up for the audience the cause and effect, and frankly, that’s enough for a GTA story. I’m not going to require all of its logistical ducks be in order.

            Anyway, Dave’s boss finds out and uses that as leverage to get Michael and Trevor doing off-the-books missions for him, while Franklin tags along because…reasons.

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