I spend quite a lot of my evenings not playing GTA V at the moment. (There is something with the controls for Rockstar games that I have never quite overcome – I get sufficiently frustrated to give up on their games.) Since the rest of the family play I get to watch a lot of the game, though.
GTA V seems to be a really good game. The gameplay is both strategic and tactic and possible to adapt to your skill level. The world design is exquisite with a lot of detail. The storyline is what I like the best as a spectator: It is ironic and often rather funny, and the main characters are strangely likeable despite their machismo. There is some British humour at play in the TV ads and the imaginary companies (if Facebook was called Lifeinvader for real, I would apply for a job there). There is rampant sexism throughout the game that is difficult to forgive, but that is not what I want to rant about.
My problem is the description of GTA V as a sandbox game. Granted, there is a large mapped area to explore, with a lot of exquisite detail. There are random event quests (57 total according to the GTA V Wiki) outside the main event storyline and if you play the game long enough there are some neat tricks to uncover. But there basically no permanent effects you can create in the world. You travel around to explore the landscape in all its exquisite detail; knock over lamp posts that will be back next time you run by them and kill people who will be there again the next time you pass. And while the map is large, it is patchy: most houses are back drops, impossible to enter. A sandbox is a box full of building material. It is an opportunity for creation and destruction. Gary’s mod and Minecraft are sandbox games, GTA V is very far from one. Wikipedia describes the GTA series as ‘open world’ games, which is more accurate.
I have a hunch that sandbox games support storymaking better than games that are just open-world. While it is easy to find plenty of imaginative stories diaries about Minecraft and the Sims, the stories you experience in GTA are primarily the one programmed into the game through the quests. And given that I don’t particularly like the gameplay and the stories are linear with few alternatives, I might just as well continue to just watch.