Grand Theft Auto was a series that blew my mind back in middle school. It was so edgy and violent. It felt almost wrong to be fantasizing about the game, but I wanted to pull back the curtains and look inside at the scandalous nature of the game.
It also felt like something that needed to be played. This was mostly peer pressure rearing its ugly head, but when I was 13, I couldn’t be caught dead having not played Grand Theft Auto III. This was helped by the fact that the game was highly original in its approach to building a game world.
Gamers had never really seen a game set up a city that mimicked real life. You could forget the actual mission structure of the campaign and just go for a walk. Taking a slow, leisurely drive through the streets of Liberty City was a distinct possibility. Tackling objectives in whatever manner you saw fit was unprecedented.
Skip ahead to 2013, 12 years after Rockstar Games revolutionized the games industry, and I’m left feeling hollow. Having played Grand Theft Auto V to 100% completion, I have no idea why I was even really excited for the game. I was overcome with a sense of peer pressure from peers I don’t even possess.
Worse still, I’ve been tackling therapy to get a better grip on my own mental state and GTA V revels in the idea of, “Once a criminal, always a criminal.” There is no conceivable way to change the fates of the protagonists in GTA V. They have committed unspeakable acts against their fellow man and have to just continue the process. It makes me feel hopeless.
Other than a few mean spirited advertisements, nothing about GTA V is comical. The script is angry and unwilling to view things from a new angle. Missions appear steadily, but lack any variety. Some of the tasks are simply, “Steal this car.” There is nothing else to the mission and you can even kill the person whom the car belongs to with no consequence from the police.
There is no real challenge other than battling the awkward controls. The driving is markedly improved over its predecessor, Grand Theft Auto IV, but the cover system and gunplay feel clunky and outdated. Adopting a Call of Duty style lock-on system doesn’t mitigate the fact that I can’t aim at the guy to the left if I’m presently stuck on the person to the right.
Even the open world feels devoid of pieces. Random events are a neat way to provide pseudo-procedurally generated missions, but even these fail to mix up their objectives. GTA V does nothing that television and film hasn’t tackled better.
One should not compare this game to other mediums, but when hit TV show “Breaking Bad” has characters growing from their actions and even coming up with new situations to throw their leads into every week, why has Rockstar failed to provide new set pieces for their flagship series?
The overlooked Max Payne 3 took the titular hero to new horizons. It swapped the dark, dreary and slick streets of New York for settings in bustling Sao Paulo and drug cartel offices. Max was out of his league and skimming by the skin of his teeth. His anguish felt intense, visceral and utterly hopeless. Conquering a challenge made the player feel like a god.
In GTA V, all one needs to do is simply sit behind cover for a few seconds and wait for the AI to kill itself. Police have a terrible habit of flying their helicopters into wind turbines or driving their squad cars straight into explosive gas stations. You can even mask yourself from them in bushes, dismantling the otherwise clever mechanic of staying in the dark to escape police.
Worse, though, is that no character grows for their troubles. Franklin is the only character that begins the game in a classic GTA style. He is a gangbanger from the hood who is going nowhere and doesn’t have much to his name.
By the end, apart from the $70 million dollars, Franklin still has no one. He’s learned nothing from his adventure and will probably fall into obscurity for the rest of his life. His game stats barely even improve, though that feature of the game does virtually nothing.
Michael’s story has him bickering with old friend, Trevor, until the two are told to “Shut the fuck up” by Franklin. After that, the plot kind of drops the setup to the game and tasks the player with just finishing their last heist. The “best” ending of the three possible even wraps everything up like the three characters are all best buddies, despite nearly killing each other a few times.
All of this and I haven’t even mentioned how polished the game is and how many extra side missions there are. For something so vapid and shallow, Rockstar definitely included a tremendous amount of meaningless bonus content.
Finding barrels of nuclear waste serves no purpose other than to give you a trophy/achievement. The extra guns and cars that used to come from finding hidden packages are just gone. Now if you collect all of the “letter scraps” and “UFO parts,” you get a pathetically simple side mission and a trophy/achievement.
Stunt jumps don’t even boost your stats or give you a shiny new car. They don’t even follow the physics of the game. My car often did backflips while attempting a few jumps or would kill me upon impact with the ground. Rockstar seems to have simply filled the game world with so much extra nonsense to make people believe their $60 wasn’t wasted.
Couple this with a soundtrack that evokes no sense of presence or indicates the quality of its era and you’re left with a rather peculiar triple A title. It’s highly polished, runs smoothly and features a vast amount of “things” to do, but feels empty.
It makes me realize that I’m probably not a true gamer. I’ve been playing all manner of games since I was 4 years old, yet now I feel like an old man screaming about the “good old days” and wishing for something new.
If you’re down with everything this game has to offer, then I could easily recommend it to you. The game may not be the finest example of an open-world game, but one will not finish this within a single sitting (or even weekend). There’s even an online component that hasn’t launched yet, which may change my attitude towards the whole affair.
As my thoughts stand right now, I think I really am finished with mainstream gaming. Gaming has changed so dramatically from the old school era that it’s silly to sit here and expect newer gamers to have the same expectations from a game that I do.
It’s also utterly pointless and insensitive to assume that games should be purely about “challenge.” The controversial “skip scene” feature of GTA V makes sense to people who purely want to witness a story unfold. It also highlights how not every minute of gameplay is actually worth seeing.
I just don’t see what else gaming can do. We’re entering a new generation which features launch titles that are also releasing on current generation hardware. The next few months sees the release of more shooters than any other time period I can remember.
I just don’t know how else to enjoy this hobby. When Rockstar Games can’t even provide me with escapism, then I truly believe that no one will ever be able to again. At least I can save myself money in the future, I suppose; silver Linings and all that jazz.