• Wednesday, September 18, 2013

    GTA V Review

    In the beginning of Grand Theft Auto 4, Niko Bellic was just trying to live a normal life. The first few missions were all about getting set up in America, maybe going on a date, and essentially laying low until everything blew up. It was boring as sin. Within a few minutes of booting up GTA 5 I had gone on a jetski chase and chased down a hijacked yacht on the highway. One supposes that’s just the basic difference between New York and LA.

    Grand Theft Auto 5 is out, and one 8 gb installation later, it’s just as huge as I imagined it could be. The scale of the world Rockstar has built is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a game before. Within a few hours of play I’ve walked through I don’t know how many unique environments that could have practically anchored another game, but just provided one more detail here. I’ve come across a full railyard that may have just been set dressing. I scaled a big fuel container for the hell of it and raced through tunnels that snaked beneath the whole city. Los Santos is gorgeously realized, from sunsets to smog. The developers have taken those staggering panoramas I remember from Red Dead Redemption and applied them to something as dense as an urban landscape, and it’s incredible. Visually, this is the sort of game that makes me wonder why we need next-gen at all.
    The three character system (two characters, right now — I haven’t met the third) works surprisingly well. Each character has their own set of missions, though they spend a fair amount of time together. You can switch between them at any time in the open-world section, where you find them doing whatever it is they do on a giving day — get drunk, eat tacos, etc. During missions, the game largely takes over which character you’re controlling at what time. Really, what this does is borrow a tactic that sprawling novels and movies have been doing for a very long time — the multiple points of view not only give the story scope, they give life to the setting by allowing us to see it through different sets of eyes.

    The dialog, in a basic way, is excellent — the characters sound like real people talking, albeit in absurd situations, and that’s a feat. The old notion of “satire” by relentless stream of contentless parody is getting a little worn. Yes, Rockstar’s vision of America is like our own but even more violent, cynical and ridiculous. It’s not as interesting as it once was. Rockstar proved some serious writing chops in Red Dead Redemption, and even Max Payne 3, but so far, it feels like they’re falling back on old tricks rather than pushing things forward.

    There’s an essential disconnect that GTA has struggled with in GTA 4 — the essentially reticent hero just didn’t stack up with the absurd psychopath the players actually controlled. It feels like we’re going to get to control genuine absurd psychopaths in this one, and that could wind up being terribly uncomfortable as well. With GTA 4, I thought . Saint’s Row dealt with some of this problem by making its world so cartoon-level ridiculous that the story was more fun that horrible. On the other end, Rockstar proved that you can make an open world crime game about something more than anarchy with Red Dead. GTA is committed to a certain kind of realism, for better and for worse.
    Luckily, driving down Sunset blvd is enough to make you forget about some of those contradictions and enjoy the obsessively, dangerously detailed world in GTA 5. This game is all about spectacle, and it does that better than I have almost ever seen. At this point, I’m still excited for GTA Online, which promises something closer to pure exploration in the necessarily weird world of online multiplayer.
    What does everyone else think?