Open world games have to be a nightmare for any strategy guide writer to even approach. The depth and breadth of these titles are daunting enough to the player, so lord help the poor souls that have to break down, analyze, and then write about each and every detail of the title’s universe. It probably goes without saying that this task that is certainly not for the faint of heart. With all of that in mind, recently Rockstar Games released the most recent installment in the Grand Theft Auto franchise and BradyGames won the lottery of being able to author and publish the official Grand Theft Auto V strategy guide. Are they up to the task of tackling the massive world of Los Santos or will this tome fall victim to the very variety that has been a staple of the series?
As alluded to previously, GTA V is gob-smackingly gigantic. There are so many experiences to take part in that it would seem nigh impossible to capture it all in a single, concise document. Like most guides of this type, it is best to start at the beginning, detailing the main playable characters. Instead of focusing on any sort of backstory, this section is instead focused on the raw stats of each person, along with their strengths and weaknesses. This is sadly devoid of anything to help place them in context to the rest of the game itself, but that’s why you play the campaign, right? Well that and causing mass mayhem, but more on that later. Following this less than personable introduction to the title, is a laundry list of weapons at the player’s disposal and their associated stats and upgrade costs.
A nice touch included in the introduction is a detailed breakdown of the franchise’s trademark “stars” wanted system. Everything from how to acquire notoriety to observations of what will be pursuing the character are broken down here explicitly. Even more helpful is a section that explains how to actually lower or straight up get rid of stars. Knowing these key strategies will be crucial to progressing in the main campaign. Before venturing into the meat of the title, the last step is to look over all of the vehicles available for use. As one might assume, a game that has vehicle theft in the title features plenty of motorized contraptions of land, sea and air. However it is worth noting that in this section (on pg. 48-49 to be exact) there is actually a typo the reverses the braking and acceleration label on all of the stats charts. Unfortunately it doesn’t swap the corresponding data as well, which could potentially lead to quite a bit of confusion. So take everything found in this section with a grain of salt.
Moving onto the actual campaign walkthrough, the guide goes to great lengths to spell out all of the beats of a mission before it actually begins. While this isn’t necessarily venturing into spoiler territory, there might come a time where some could find the objective breakdown a bit much in the foreshadowing department. Despite this minor hint as to what is coming, each step of the way is dissected in a manner that will adequately prepare the player for what is coming, as well as informing what is needed in order to clear the mission with a gold medal.
If there were a minor nit-pick to the breakdowns it might be that there are plenty of cases where providing any sort of guidance feels like an afterthought, especially if the objective was painfully straightforward. That said, there were plenty of times where minor things such as what not to do in order to insta-fail a mission are not spelled out clearly enough. Nothing is more deflating than failing an objective when a step-by-step walkthrough is splayed out in your lap. Despite mission objectives slightly over-sharing, it feels like the text itself goes out of its way to not give away any of the deep underlying story.
Accompanying the main path of Grand Theft Auto V, there is a bevy of optional missions that are at the player’s fingertips. In fact, some may argue that these diversions prove to be some of the most fun that the title has to offer. The “Strangers and Freaks” section is broken up by contact, and each of their available missions are laid out in chronological order, as they would become available in the campaign’s progression. Each mini-mission is led off with the character that can activate said objective, what needs to be completed in order to unlock it, and a map location signifying where the interaction begins. Though once again minor, it tends to be fairly difficult to discern where a specific point is on the map, due to how zoomed in certain pushpins appear in picture form. This is not the case for every mission, but there are certainly more than a few that will be easier to locate using the game’s mapping system than what is provided in the text. Plus, it once again remains true that the depth of the actual walkthrough itself could leave a little something to be desired. It is one thing to say what is going to happen, it is another thing entirely to explain why it should be done a certain way. Sadly there is far more of the former than the latter.
Alongside the contract missions are randomly generated events that occur organically, while the player is strolling the streets of Los Santos. Under most circumstances these tend to happen in general areas, not in a single specific location. The guide lists out all of these individual encounters and provides a very general level of assistance with how to address the situation. For example, someone is in the process of hijacking a bike. Plow into the person driving the bike with an SUV. Return the bike to its rightful owner. Sure that might be generalizing things a bit, but when objectives are this cut and dry there is no need to elaborate much further than what would be considered to be common sense. In that respect, the information provided proves to more than substantial enough.
The last batch of missions that are given their own sections are the “Hobbies and Pastimes.” Yes, there is actually MORE to GTA V than stealing cars and raising all hell. Why not spend time running drugs, assassinating public figures, collecting bail bond jumpers, skydiving, or even hunting? This is just a taste of the immense number of insanely varied experiences that the poor authors had to try and conceptualize for the reader. Somewhere in between trying to explain an in-game triathlon and a how to play an entire round of golf, it is hard not to feel sorry for the writer. Fortunately this is one of the areas where they do their best work informing the player of how to get the most out of the game. It is hard not to get a chuckle out of turning the page from detailed descriptions of how to past shooting range challenges, to the next page explaining in golf how to execute a proper punch shot from the fringe and the proper context in which it should be used. If there were ever a guide that kept things interesting, this would most certainly be it.
Everything doesn’t fit within the confines of these past for sections falls into a final miscellaneous collection, which wraps up the book. The finer points of picking up “ladies of ill repute,” getting the most out of private dances, and (totally not a joke) sexting, lead off this hodgepodge of ridiculousness that could only be featured within the confines of a Rockstar title. Add in countless collectables scattered throughout the map, special flight stunt missions, and purchasable properties, and this flushes out almost everything that Los Santos has to offer. One area of potential concern are the collectable maps. These call-outs have numbers that correspond to a more detailed image showing a more specific location and description. Though I was not able to find any specific cases of incorrect labeling, it would be very easy for this to occur and there have been a couple of reported cases of this online for this guide. So once again, proceed with caution when using these images and if something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.
As vastly comprehensive as this guide ends up being, it was disconcerting to see not even a mention of Grand Theft Auto V’s extremely ambitious online multiplayer. For obvious reasons, namely that this component of the game is STILL broken as of the date of this review, it probably was best left uncovered in the book. However, the lack of any mention whatsoever seems a bit disconcerting. This would be akin to requesting the history of a used vehicle and the dealership just throwing out the page that mentioned it was once washed away in a flood. This is a major component of a AAA release that as far as the reader is concerned doesn’t even exist.
If there was one thing that this work does amazing well, it is cramming an insane amount of content on one page. Every square inch of the parchment is loaded with either commentary or screenshots, both of which are laid out beautifully and uniformly. The flow reading from mission to mission is extremely logical and easy to follow, which is more than can be said for the guide of Rockstar’s previous release, Max Payne. Thankfully more thought seems to have been put into design this time around, and the result is a far more visually appealing experience.
Aside from the somewhat understandable absence of any sort of online coverage and a misprint or two, BradyGames’ glimpse into Los Santos is about as fully fleshed out as could be expected, given the game’s absurd scope. There are certainly areas where walkthroughs could have used a bit more meticulous, but when there are this many missions, it would be easy to start sounding overly repetitive and risk losing the reader’s interest. Fortunately there is more than enough covered within the guide’s stout 440 pages to help prolong many a criminal’s life and keep them far off of the straight and narrow. What else could an aspiring felon ever ask for?