Leigh Alexander at Gamesutra has poured a bit of cold criticism on the game, piquing my attention. I think, wanting for 'monsters', she has done little else but demonstrate that she doesn't like the lack of imagination that *is* the gangster genre. Where GTA5 allows you to do a ridiculous amount of stuff that have nothing to do with mayhem, mayhem is really what video game drama offers the player, outside of plot. If you don't like having the protagonist of a gangster film deliver mayhem for its own sake, you're in dangerous territory.
I have gone on for some length about how morally degrading it is to invited to care about a real 3D character who keeps committing evil actions. It is the signature of Hollywood's best creations since the startling invention of Tony Soprano whom I call a scumbag protagonist. The skewering question nobody bothers to ask is why doesn't [Walter White] just quit doing evil? Why doesn't he just walk away? But they don't, and this is the manipulation and plot device that keeps the gangster genre ticking - that and the fact that the protagonist preternaturally avoids death long enough for the audience to experience repetitive thrills, chills and spills.
GTA5's integration of its open world with its 'rails' is very nicely done, as a bit of technical kit. No load screens is a big deal. But I think the reason that GTA5 fails to engage you in its open world is precisely because Los Santos is boring. It's LA and LA in a very stereotypical way. The Westside is the 'Westside' and South Central is 'South Central'. LA was more well done, quite frankly in Midnight Club. But on the other hand, everybody gushed about just riding a horse through Red Dead Redemption - because the Old West it presented was interesting and mysterious in its own right. So was Skyrim. So was Fallout3's Wastes. I think that criticism of GTA5 on all literary levels is happening because the gaming world understands what Bungie has teased us into understand. The shooter genre needs heroism, and heroism requires the right environment. Nobody knows how to be a hero in gritty LA. Dramtically speaking, I don't think that problem has ever been solved, not even by Bill Cosby in the remake of Neil Simon's California Suite.
GTA5 gives us what LA gives us, what is so far, an excellent big bada boom slapstick platformer with characters who are interesting enough, but not too interesting that you actually care that they might have souls. In American fiction, nobody in LA has a soul outside of Phillip Marlowe, and you're not too sure about him. These days, you have to go to New Mexico for soul, meaning Breaking Bad. Watching Walter White's family being destroyed is poison because they have souls. That is where the damage is done to the audience. I have not yet peeked at what level of monstrous acts Breaking Bad has delivered this season but I remain interested in pursuing the wacky hijinks and dirty jokes of GTA5 inured as I am. Sooner or later all of this ends up being Saint's Row. It is inevitable.
I have played Saint's Row 4 by the way, and I'm about to send it back to Gamefly. It's far too clunky for me to enjoy in the context of GTA5, and the degree of outrageousness has set me up to enjoy the Rockstar's brand of 'subtle' humor a bit more. Still, found myself in Los Santos / San Andreas wanting my character to be able to climb walls and plant explosive charges as I have been doing the past few weeks with Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell Blacklist. But I've got to do what my GTA characters actually can do, which is drive around this cartoon LA and fall into plots. So the dramatic tension has just begun as I have started the arc of engaging in crime again as Michael. I'm already a good driver as Franklin and I haven't yet met my third personality. Thar be adventures a'waitin me hearties, but I'll not be spendin' 'em with human beings. Yo ho ho it's the cartoon violence for me.