Review

Grand Theft Auto V

A Long Drive With Nothing To Think About

Grand Theft Auto V’s world is a masterwork of craftsmanship that struggles to mean anything.

By Anthony John Agnello • September 23, 2013

Los Angeles is an ugly city. Not just downtown, with its scabbed-over theaters and the chain-restaurant misery of L.A. Live, but the whole sprawl. The cramped beach houses, the studio-and-Starbucks spread of Santa Monica, and the godforsaken Valley—ugliness abounds. That makes Grand Theft Auto V all the more miraculous. Los Santos, L.A.’s digital twin, is breathtaking. Cruising from downtown up the coast into the mountains at dusk, with a stolen muscle car blasting FlyLo FM, is an emotional rush. Rockstar North has bottled the evanescent thrill of a nighttime drive when you have no destination. Like the worst stereotype about L.A.’s citizens, though, Los Santos and its surrounding countryside is just a pretty face. Grand Theft Auto V is a masterpiece of craftsmanship but a disappointment all the same.

Every entry in the series since Grand Theft Auto III falls short as a story for the same reason: the profound disconnect between the player and the character. Grand Theft Auto IV’s Niko Bellic was the worst of the lot. In the game’s scripted dialogues, Niko was a haunted soldier desperate for a new life. During the main story missions, he was a vicious mercenary who would do anything for a buck. In the player’s hands, just another citizen of Liberty City, he was a compassionate, psychotic, entrepreneurial performance-artist property owner with needy friends.

The various aspects of the player’s identity didn’t bind together, so everything you did ultimately felt fun but meaningless. With not one but three characters under your purview in GTA5, you’d think the problem of feeling connected with the world where you’re wreaking havoc would be even more intense. It’s not, although the problem still stands. GTA5 is often frustrating because the player’s role feels insignificant. It doesn’t matter how many custom car shops you buy or which arbitrary character stat (driving skill, stamina, etc.) you build up—nothing you do changes the world or the protagonists, Franklin, Michael, and Trevor. When the next mission starts, they and the city are back in their fitted roles, even if you just crashed a stolen jet into a golf course. The feeling of disconnect is tangibly eased in Grand Theft Auto V, though, since all three leads are explicitly cast as monsters from the very start.

Grand Theft Auto V

Its gorgeous, intricate world may be the game’s premier achievement, but Trevor Phillips is a close second. Franklin, an ambitious but economically trapped repo man, is a mildly interesting bastard, as is Michael, the retired master thief and Tony Soprano proxy. But those two have nothing on Trevor. This meth-dealing, gun-running lunatic feels like the physical embodiment of the average GTA player’s in-game behavior. In five minutes, he’ll go from sexually violating a teddy bear to conning his way into a private military corporation’s storage facility to having a heart-to-heart with his best friend. Then he’ll murder an entire biker gang. Trevor’s an evil scumbag who’s as terrifying and funny as a five-star GTA rampage, exploding as many police helicopters and crashing as many cars as it takes to survive. He’s enthralling from the first second he comes on screen.

Trevor and his surrounding world aren’t just flashy marvels, they also feel just right. The characters move like butter. The cars drive with the fantasy speed and grace of an arcade classic like Ridge Racer. Even the golf and yoga have their own carefully crafted flow, and the game never hiccups transitioning between these activities.

Grand Theft Auto V

No game world feels as vast, intricate, and intentional as Los Santos, and no character in a game of this sort feels as reflective of the player as Trevor does. With these tools, Rockstar could finally tell the bold story that the studio has always threatened to tell. Not this time. Rockstar fumbles the ball across the board. The story missions—those tasks you have to complete to earn cash and open new activities in the world—are the same old busywork they’ve always been. Franklin follows foolhardy buddy Lamar on yet another ill-advised con, and by the end you have to shoot 50 gang members to move on. Likewise, when Michael plots a sweet jewel heist, you still have to spend half an hour boosting a van, ditching the cops, and driving it back to base.

Even the heist jobs, GTA5’s big variation on the old themes, feel overly familiar. You select a crew of muscle, drivers, and hackers, and you even can craft a significantly different plan for each theft, but the changes feel cosmetic. There are scattered moments when the missions heat up. One the three amigos’ early collaborations has you kidnapping a CIA witness in mid-air from a skyscraper. It’s exhilarating to bounce between Trevor piloting, Michael grabbing the target, and Franklin sniping agents from an adjacent building, but these moments—moments where the plan comes together—take up a small portion of play.

Grand Theft Auto V

The aftermath of that particular mission demonstrates the fattest worm in GTA5’s core. The crew delivers the poor witness from the CIA’s hands into the FBI’s. The crooked agents want him to ID a suspected terrorist. Michael is drafted into assassinating the suspect while Trevor tries to get the witness to talk, so play bounces between you sniping possible targets and torturing this poor sap. GTA5 gives you a choice, of course. You can waterboard him, electrocute him, even wrench out his teeth with pliers, all while monitoring his heart rate, keeping an adrenaline shot in reserve to bring him back for more abuse if need be.

The torture itself isn’t the problem. Everything you do in GTA’s missions is sadistic in one way or another. The problem is that Grand Theft Auto V drops the torture bomb for no reason whatsoever. At the end of this episode, Trevor actually frees the witness, driving him to the airport while delivering a sarcastic monologue about the benefits of torture. Trevor argues that the U.S. government doesn’t use torture to get vital information for national security. “Torture is just for the torturer,” he says. Rockstar tries to force its story to serve every purpose here. The torturing is supposed to be a fun game activity, but Trevor’s dialogue is supposed to both deliver a social message and heighten the drama. Then he turns around five minutes later and forces some guy to look at his dick. This thematic whiplash occurs throughout the game.

Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto V has missions with anti-smoking, anti-government, anti-PC, anti-social media, and anti-pharmaceutical messages, and all of them shift wildly in tone, opting to glorify anarchic self-indulgence and half-cocked moral superiority at the same time. One second it wants to be satire, the next simple parody. Pure pornography one second, high drama the next. These storytelling techniques can live side-by-side—just look at the Quentin Tarantino movies that Rockstar honcho Dan Houser so clearly adores—but just like the character identity divide, GTA5 lacks the courage to commit to anything and feels weightless as a result. It’s a waste of its astounding digital landscape.

Rockstar’s game could have been a grand story as well as an amazing toy. Had it committed to one of its myriad story ideas and simply advanced it beyond the first round of superficial commentary, GTA5 could have been something great. With all of its ambitions pulling in opposite directions, though, it ends up as more toy than tale.

Grand Theft Auto V
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Price: $60
Rating: M

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  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    Oh, man.  I love reading grade-less reviews.  Even if I don’t always agree with the reviewer, there’s a liberating Network-style “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” catharsis. 
       And is that Michael’s patio he’s relaxing on in that screenshot?
       All his ill-gotten riches and he squanders it on a diagonal herringbone brick patio?  That was my grandpa’s postwar bungalow’s patio.  He deserves whatever terrible fate he gets.

    • Fluka

      It’s good to see that Anthony John Agnello is continuing in the John Teti / Assassin’s Creed 3 “Ain’t give a damn” reviewing tradition.  Last week’s run of Perfect 10/10 reviews for this game (justified or not, I have no clue) was some of the more boring criticism I’ve read recently.  

      I’m still interested in that hot dog stand from Friday, and the night driving, but I’m not sure I want to wade through the torture and misogyny and boring, safe satire to get there.  Besides which, [INSERT ANGRY TROLLISH COMMENT ABOUT ROCKSTAR'S ANTI-PC GAMING STANCE HERE.]

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I’m not much for review scores, to be honest, but I don’t see high scores that way. They’re not, “OMG best game evar!!!!!” I see them as, “Hey, I really, really enjoyed this game and got a lot out of it.”

        There were a couple of less-than-laudatory reviews out there. Greg Tito’s for The Escapist is worth a read: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/reviews/10598-Grand-Theft-Auto-5-Review-People-Suck

        But I’m totally with you on Rockstar’s lack of PC love, especially since you just know this was developed on PC hardware and then scaled down to work on the 360/PS3.

        • HobbesMkii

           Tito’s editorial on the story is more or less how I feel about it: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/10604-Grand-Theft-Auto-5-Made-Me-Sad

        • Fluka

          I think that’s fair enough.  I just find there to be a slightly depressing sense of inevitability with reviews for a game like this.  I mean, was it ever in doubt that GTA V was going to be praised to the high heavens?  GTA IV got a similar level of praise, if I remember correctly, but much of that praise has become more muted and qualified with time.  Either way, I find that the conversation about games always gets more interesting once the initial shine has worn off, and once the huge, million-dollar clouds of hype and expectation have started to burn off.

          • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

            I feel no particular glee at seeing a highly hyped release getting mediocre or negative reviews. What I will say, though, is that the pre-release review process, compressed as it is, tends to favour games that display a high level of polish, but the post-release conversation tends to favour games that can be analyzed on a deeper level or that have interesting, unique aspects to discuss. It’s why Call of Duty games tend to get high review scores but fizzle out of the conversation, while people are still talking about Spec Ops: The Line.

        • Fluka

          @Merve2:disqus Yes, I think that’s it.  It’s not about wanting to see big games get torn down.  It’s about wanting the conversation about games to be about something more than “Well, they obviously put a lot of money into it, and it’s technically proficient, and it didn’t break.”  Which is why I love Gameological.  Like @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus says above, I may not always agree with their opinions, and they certainly don’t strive for “objectivity.”  But with their reviews they tend to aim for and jump straight to that “post-release” level of critical inquiry.

        • Citric

          I think the problem with review scores is that they don’t feel connected with actual quality anymore. If you’re highly anticipated, you get a 10 because it keeps the writhing hordes at bay, no matter what the game is like. I mean, there have been so many things given perfect scores that I really didn’t enjoy very much that I’m actually getting nervous about putting money down on something that is regularly netting 10s from the various other sources. If you’re kind of obscure and nobody cares, hope you like middling or mixed review scores, even if you’re putting out Nier which was easily my favorite game this generation. The only real red flag is reviews that are universally low-scored, since that’s so rare now something has to be wrong.

          But maybe my tastes are unconventional, they probably are.

        • Simon Jones

          Tito’s review was actually one I had a bit of a problem with, since it feels like we’re applying a moral standard there we’d feel is kind of silly if it was applied to film or television. 

          @Merve By that same token, though, isn’t that a bit self-selecting  because the sort of people in the gaming media who don’t particuarly like, or at least stake themselves a position on not particuarly games like this or Call of Duty, are the same people who are inclined to talk about games six months later?

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          @HobbesMkii:disqus @Fluka:disqus 
          You guys might also enjoy Leigh Alexander’s great editorial piece on the game.
          (Amazingly, even Gama Sutra apparently has a bunch of men’s-right jagoffs who come out of the woodwork if you include a paragraph suggesting that, hey, a strong female character might have been a good idea to include.)

        • SamPlays

          I always enjoy these discussions about the meaning and nature of “criticism”. It demonstrates a level of media-savvy that is both impressive and necessary, especially when critics have historically been a signpost for “good” taste to the masses. That dynamic has naturally changed with the proliferation of websites dedicated to offering “critical” takes on new media, events, people, etc. Today, virtually everyone with some degree of affluence has resources at their disposal to become part of the critical landscape (this message board is one of many, many examples). On that note:

          *Forces everyone to look at his dick*

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @disqus_X4YE2qf8IB:disqus: I don’t think so. Call of Duty games get high review scores. Reviewers enjoy playing them. They’re well-crafted and highly polished. And yes, while quite a few people who participated in discussions on Spec Ops: The Line weren’t CoD fans, quite a few of them were.

        • JamesJournal

          The Escapist review basically blasts the game for the very reasons I feel people here will like it more than anything Rockstar has done in the last few years

        • Fluka

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus Yess, that Leigh Alexander piece really does sum it up, particularly the part about punching downwards instead of punching upwards.  Something about the satire and purported subversiveness of the series feels kind of out of date.  When we weren’t looking, gamers “won” and this stuff became mainstream.

          Also, it really irritates me that Gamasutra is one of the few websites whose comments are immune to my beloved Comment Blocker.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        What I like most about the reviews here is that they are a more thematically robust and coherent version of conversations I have with my friends about games.
           They’re honest, thoughtful and similar if one of my friend’s said they thought Dora Backpack Adventures played better on Xbox than PS3, or the PC port was crummy (despite the expectations of the rabid fanbase!) I’d be curious about the experience and not accuse them of being in $on¥’s or
        Mi€ro$oft’$ pocket.
           Unlike my friends, if I were to meet any one of them on the street and attempt one of my patented lousy white guy high-fives, or George W. Bush-style shoulder rubs, they’d be even more hostile than those who know, and therefore barely tolerate me.

        • NakedSnake

          Dora’s Backpack Adventure??? LOL that game is for babies.

        • Nikki

          Do you want to find a partner who will exceed your expectations? Try___billionairefish.com___the largest place for finding successful and attractive singles for serious relationships. Have a try and good luck! :)

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          While the idea of no longer being worried about my financial solvency is appealing, I’m not sure if giving my body over to marine life is a price I’m willing to pay.

        • Fluka

          @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus You can find a successful relationships with rich partners!  All it will cost you is…your voice.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          @Fluka:disqus  Since my voice sounds like a more nasal-pitched Kermit the Frog with a tone of sarcastic judgement in place of endearing delight, probably no great loss.
             But if I could possibly diverge any further from GTA V, my kid, who by virtue of being a young American female has been exposed like radiation to the whole Disney princess behemoth, has just recently seen Little Mermaid for the first time.
             It’s awesome watching her oversized reactions to everything. Even if it means fast-forwarding through the Ursula parts, which annoys me because I want to watch them.

        • Fluka

          @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus Is the fast-forwarding because of boredom or fear?  Because, like…Disney princess movies were are completely terrifying.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          Oh, most definitely fear.  She does not like vampy, drag-queen octopi one bit.
             And her garden of lost sea-cucumber souls is pretty damn creepy.

        • Fluka

          @Spacemonkey_Mafia:disqus Aaaaah I’d forgotten about that bad memories bad memories. 

        • Cliffy73

          I fast forward for no one! Especially my weeping, terrified daughter!

      • PPPfive

        10/10 doesn’t mean perfect

        • Fluka

          Yeah, I regret using the word perfect there, even in scare quotes.  From a purely numerical point of view, using the inherently flawed metric of Metacritic, however, this is apparently the best reviewed Xbox 360 game of “All Time”.  That unanimity is mostly what I’m reacting to.

        • Citric

          It kind of should though.

          I think that game scores might be the only things that are so willing to go for the highest score possible, rendering it meaningless. When a 10 is hard to achieve, then it means something, I still remember the whispers of awe on the playground when Ocarina of Time was given a perfects score by Famitsu, and it didn’t even seem odd that a bunch of 12 year olds in rural Saskatchewan knew what a Famitsu was. We knew that score was rare, so there must be something amazing coming down the pipe if it got a perfect rating. (And then the PS owners called it butts because we were 12 and both idiots and not blessed with the funds that would allow owning a PS and an N64).

          But if 10 is given out freely, seemingly to anything with a big budget, it doesn’t really mean anything anymore.

      • Professor_Cuntburglar

         I think this game is important, both because of what it does right and because of its flaws. It really is the apex of this current generation, for both good and bad.

      • Uthor

        I remember seeing an “11/10″ review for Half-Life 2 (I think in Maximum PC) that included several problems with the game.  Not *major*, but definite issues.  Still, it was better than perfect!

    • GaryX

      I kind of wish we had them, if only so we could get comments like this:

      “Oh man, this GIF sent me down a rabbit hole. I know metacritic is stupid but i was curious what was bringing down the average and there is one review by Greg Tito from the escapist that is a 7/10. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but he’s basing his dislike of the game on the fact that the main characters are morally bankrupt scumbags and the social commentary is childish and the writing offensive. I’ve come to expect and to enjoy this stuff from the GTA franchise so while i respect his opinion, i don’t see how that’s a worthy thing to hold against the game as a whole.”

      I’m not sure if that’s not not a parody.

  • Unexpected Dave

    I thought Vice City did a fine job of connecting the player and the character. Tommy Vercetti was a straight-up psycho, who treats his reality like his personal playground. He and the player share a sense of detached glee at all the carnage he inflicts.

    The story is still hollow, of course, because Tommy has no real character arc. But that wasn’t a huge problem in Vice City. 

    • NakedSnake

      Yea, I agree. That part actually worked well. And the story followed his arc well, too. He was Tony Montana, and ultimately he went too far, too crazy. It all fell around him. The problem was when GTA got all self-serious.

    • Critcho

      Yeah Vice City did the best job of combining player, character and overall tone in the whole series. Tommy is openly a murderous psychopath, and the whole game is a cheerfully OTT satirical black comedy, so it all gels just fine.

      It’s only when they tried making the main characters halfway nuanced and sympathetic that the players’ tendency to send them on mass murdering rampages started getting in the way.

      • Kevin Johnson

        The funniest part about this – and I even noticed this when GTA IV was just coming down from its hype-high, is that Rockstar made GTA more serious because people kept whining for a more serious game, and almost IMMEDIATELY we panned it for being so serious.

        The GTA franchise is actually, not that I think about it, the perfect case study in the changing philosophy of gaming in the past 10 years. We wanted “open world”, so we go GTA3. We wanted more options, so we got Vice City. We wanted full immersion, so we got San Andreas. We wanted full consequences, then we got GTA IV. And NOW we want silliness again, packaged in realism, so here’s GTA V. All this means is we don’t know what we want.

        • caspiancomic

           We want a realistic, down to earth GTA that’s completely off the wall and swarming with magic robots.

        • Krokamo

          Well I never complained about it being not serious enough. San Andreas and Vice City were excellent. I can’t even finish GTA IV because it bores me.

        • JamesJournal

          This exactly, when GTA4 came out I remember it feeling like a response to mild backlash against how silly GTASA was. People also complained that the map in GTASA was too big and they wanted a smaller, more focused world.

          I’ve personally enjoyed each game for what it was (with GTA4 as my personal favorite, especially when you throw Episodes From Liberty City in the package) but ultimately, you can never really please people.

          Also, you have to factor in the Saints Row games that take this in a whole other direction. Personally, I was completely put off by Saints Row 1-3

          (While Vice City is this brilliantly demented parody of the 80s, and GTA5 nails the feeling of being in a summer blockbuster … Saints Row is just fucking stupid and deranged.)

          Only in Saints Row 4 did the game somehow become demented enough with aliens and VR for me to “get” it.

        • Nacho_Matrimony

          And throughout all of this, we overlook the power and tacit meaning of game design and gameplay, writing all off as the “toy” aspect of the craft. We won’t know what we want until we recognize that games deliver meaning beyond traditional storytelling. I’m not saying that’s an excuse for dumb stories, but in all of this self-inflicted loathing by people who supposedly love games, we’re not digging enough into the promise they show and actually make good on.

          I mean, where’s gaming’s Bazin? Is anyone optimistic and savvy enough to take the reigns and shake the conversation up in regards to game theory?

    • dmikester

      I agree here, but I also think CJ from San Andreas was done well in terms of his arc making sense and therefore having you feel connected to him.  A lot of the missions in that game were pretty mundane at first and the truly insane stuff didn’t happen right for quite a long time, so there was a way to feel like CJ was just being pulled in to circumstances somewhat beyond his control, but that as a savvy criminal, he took full advantage of the opportunities that came to him.

      • Shain Eighmey

        The issue is, by the end of the game it’s completely plausible to picture CJ plummeting a 747 onto the town, bailing out, and then raining down rockets from roof tops for some sort of a goal, he’s never really the psychopathic killer that Tommy was in Vice City. 

        CJ needs a goal, which is why I always found myself setting goals for my destructive sprees with him. 

    • CrabNaga

      Also, in GTA3 your silent protagonist (Claude Speed, for those in the know) was a pretty good vessel for the player, since he didn’t talk and just did what he was told. However, I don’t think that could work again, what with the intricate stories Rockstar wants to tell now.

      I feel like the player-character disconnect is rampant in pretty much every one of these open-world do-what-you-will type games, unless the game actively penalizes you for going against the gain (such as the game threatening to kill you if you murder a civilian in an Assassin’s Creed game). Your guy in Sleeping Dogs is this honorable cop/Triad, so it’s especially weird when you either accidentally or overtly run over or gun down some pedestrian. John Marston is always portrayed as an honorable good guy (unless I’m missing some level of depth they included which altered scenes based on your “alignment”), but you’re perfectly able to go around town murdering everyone and escaping the law.

      Another thing about Red Dead Redemption, and this is a problem I see across the board with pretty much every single game that tries to present a semi-realistic narrative and game world: you tend to murder more faceless goons than can realistically even LIVE in a certain area, let alone operate in some criminal organization/PMC/law enforcement agency/etc. In the early shootouts of RDR, I felt like every dude I shot had his own story, and that it meant something when I put them down. By the midpoint of the game, I was just mowing down random Mexicans to recover some bauble. That’s not to say it’s bad game design, but it’s one of the biggest conflicts of game design vs. world building I’ve seen in recent years.

      • Unexpected Dave

        I’d like to see a future GTA (or GTA clone) take a few suggestions from open-world RPGs. Every character is placed thoughtfully. There’s little or no randomness. NPCs have homes; they don’t just fade away. Most of them have names. When they die, they don’t come back.

        Granted, this approach is prohibitively expensive for a modern urban setting.

        • JamesJournal

          Games like Bully and Shenmue can do this because you can’t kill people. Bethesda games make killing a fighting so fucking difficult you don’t try anyway

      • Shain Eighmey

        There’s a darkness to John in RDR, which if things turn out certain ways makes some sense, but it made more sense to do senseless violence as ***SPOILER*** his son.

      • Nacho_Matrimony

        That’s why I sort of appreciated GTA IV’s tonal shift. I don’t remember Niko being much beyond justifiably desperate or enraged throughout the game’s story missions, but that version of Liberty City while embodying that character made me think twice before I went on a killing spree (something I only really wound up doing online with friends). That new context made the series signature indulgence kind of taboo. There’s something to that, I think. I also think most critics overlooked as much. Quite a shame.

    • ThatCynicalAss

      And that’s just one reason why Vice City was the most fun GTA, and probably the best.

      • TheInternetSaid

        OMG yes.  The Miami Vice 80s genre was already highly stylized so it worked perfectly.  And mowing down scooters along the beach at sunset while blasting the Pointer Sisters’ “Automatic” was everything I didn’t know I needed.

        • TaumpyTearrs

          I just heard Flock of Seagulls on the radio today and immediately flashed back to endless Vice City memories. That soundtrack was amazing.

          And I raaaan, I ran so far awaaaay…. I couldn’t get away (from the police choppers).

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       That’s what I love about the Saints Row games – the story and the gameplay actually make sense together. GTA has never achieved that.

      • TaumpyTearrs

        SR4 also did a really good job of taking problematic elements from SR3 and making them part of the story. Steelport in SR3 never felt real because there wasn’t alot of depth to the city or the NPC scripts, so why not explain that all away as being part of a shitty simulation? Same with the game lamp-shading the player’s behavior and the ridiculous explanations for missions and tasks.

    • Ah_good_the_sea

      Vice City‘s setting, for me, makes it the most thematically and tonally satisfying game of the series.
      The coked up, neon tinged excess of 80′s Miami is the perfect fit for the gleeful sadism of GTA’s core gameplay.

      (See also Hotline Miami)

  • Fluka

    So, you’re saying it’s, *fumbles for notes, adjusts spectacles*, just Dorra the Explorer back pack adventures but with more torture?  

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      You’ve had an index card with that printed on it since Friday, haven’t you?

      • Fluka

        *Checks the index card again.*

        “I am over the age of 12, so this comment section is not made for me.”

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          Oh crap. We’re adults. That means we have to drink whiskey and talk about mortgages, right?

        • Fluka

          @Merve2:disqus Where are my games about commuting, scheduling doctors’ appointments, and trying to find a proper work-life balance?

        • Citric

          You know, as someone who has both whiskey and a mortgage, one of those two things is pretty great. 

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @Fluka:disqus: Woah there Hitler

          @Citric:disqus: As someone who doesn’t drink and lives in an apartment, I think I’m failing adulthood. *takes drink from sippy cup*

        • Enkidum

          Hmmm… that reminds me, I have some whiskey I could be drinking!

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          @Merve2:disqus I too rent, and don’t drink. But I DID finally get a driver’s license a month or so ago, so I’ve taken my first trepid steps toward genuine, morally compromised, adulthood! Woo!

        • Fluka

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus I spent all of college and grad school biking, walking, and using public transportation.  Then I moved to the US suburbs, got my license, and I apparently now own stocks.  I feel like I should feel guilty about all this, but I’m mostly grateful that I don’t have to bike my groceries home in the middle of a torrential downpour anymore.

      • JohnnyLongtorso

        @Merve2:disqus On a purely financial level, renting is almost always a better value than owning. So don’t feel bad.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          I’m a grad student in NYC. Owning is pretty much out of the question.

        • SamPlays

          On a purely financial level, renting is almost always a TERRIBLE VALUE compared to owning. It’s a complete waste of money in terms of investment. At least with a mortgage, you’re paying down the value of something you own at the end of the day. If you leave your apartment, you might get a couple hundred bucks for your deposit. If you leave your house, you’ll usually make decent profit provided you’ve lived there for at least a couple of years and assuming the housing market continues to climb. Unlike cars, houses almost always appreciate in value. But the challenge is actually getting into a house.

        • JohnnyLongtorso

          @SamPlays:disqus A couple years? Unless you buy something in a slump and sell in the middle of a boom, you’re not going to make money on a house in that period of time. The amount of principal that you pay for at least the first 5-10 years of a 30-year mortgage is miniscule, unless you have perfect credit and can get the low, low rates that mortgage companies love to advertise, and then make extra payments to pay down the balance faster. Closing costs alone account for a good $5-10k, depending on the state and the value of the house. Then there’s all of the extra costs you have to deal with: real estate taxes, utilities, maintenance, etc. etc.

          Buying a house as an investment is a terrible way of looking at home ownership, and it’s one of the reasons why the economy has been so fucked for the past five years.

        • SamPlays

          In Canada, our house market has consistently gone up with natural ebbs and flows. So has the rental market. The concept of slump and boom are not that distinguished – slight changes in rates occur regularly but not dramatically. But house prices have continued to creep upwards. What cost $250k ten years is literally nearly double (roughly $400-450k). Just living in the home on your normal budget for a few years will invariably get you more than you paid. (In my case, the house we bought three years ago has a market value 50k higher than we paid). While I’m not suggesting buying and selling homes as a way to make a living, I am suggesting that owning a home makes more sense in the long term than renting. If I rent for my entire life, I have nothing in terms of equity or property. If I pay off my mortgage, I have a home to live in that costs less than any decent rental ever would and if we ever decide to move (mind you, not for the sake of buying a new home but for legitimate reasons), I get the vast majority of my money back (closing costs vary and are usually a percentage of the sale value, not a set amount). As I said before, the challenge is saving enough money to get into a home but owning a home and viewing it as an investment are inseparable. It’s like owning a stock and NOT considering it an investment. I used to rent until I got my first real job nearly a decade ago and I can’t help but look at that as wasted money (it works for short-term periods but it amounts to zero in the long-term).

        • JohnnyLongtorso

          Canada’s housing market is obviously a lot different from the United States’. Here, housing prices skyrocketed up until 2007-2008, then they crashed, and haven’t recovered much at all yet. And before the big credit crunch, you could pretty much buy a house as long as you had a pulse. Millions of people took out 80/20 loans with terrible interest rates, adjustable-rate mortgages, and interest-only loans because they thought the sky was the limit. Sure, if you buy a house, get one mortgage and pay it off, you’ll do fine, but most people don’t do that here.

        • SamPlays

          Can you still buy Detroit real estate for $1?

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          @SamPlays:disqus: Keep in mind that some economists think Canada is headed for a housing bubble.

        • SamPlays

          @Merve2:disqus Based on @JohnnyLongtorso:disqus , pretty much anyone could qualify for a mortgage in the US, which is obviously a bad idea when rates need to eventually go up. Getting a mortgage these days in Canada is not quite so easy. Banks have all but eliminated super-long-term mortgages (30, 35, 40 yrs), and the amount you qualify for is largely dependent on your downpayment (ideal is 10-20% of the house value). The way we’re going, owning a house is fast becoming a luxury and a lot of other economists and city planners are looking to condos/skyrises as the future norm for home dwellings (urban sprawl is another issue affecting every city).

    • SamPlays

      People, you’re only demonstrating your ignorance when you make comments like this. ANYONE who has ever played the Dora games, which you clearly haven’t because it’s spelled with one “r” not two, would know that GTA V is Dora the Explorer but with LESS torture. Really, you’re all just embarrassing yourselves on this one.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Dora the Explorer has torture? I believe it.

      • Fluka

        *Panics, flips over to the other side of her notecard!*

        WTF is Dora the Explorer lol

  • HobbesMkii

    I’ve got to say that, without finishing, as is my God-given right as an American and I do find that it is particularly listless.

    Trevor represents a huge missed opportunity. Here’s the perfect player avatar–he’s psychotic yet intelligent, ruthless yet a little endearing (especially with Patricia), and even a little principled, unless there’s a dollar involved. A story that revolved entirely around him would have been great (and it would have been interesting to start in the sticks, then move into the city as the plot progressed). I don’t know what exactly changed between the plotting for Red Dead and this game (2/3 writers are the same! Although it also shared 3/3 writers with the terribly written Max Payne 3, so maybe Christian Cantemessa is the missing ingredient?), but that game’s story, while meandering, worked with its lead to suggest a world in which he’s both still a murderous bastard and a guy looking for redemption.

    Like Red Dead, though, despite the random encounters and the Strangers side quests, I think by having 3 characters, it feels few and far between. Certain missions appear only to certain characters, and when you switch, each character has a number under their portrait of missions waiting to be done. Usually it’s no more than 5. And that’s not 15 unique missions waiting, because some double or triple up. I’m afraid to end the game, on the fear that one of these guys is going to get popped and then I’ll miss out on content.

    Lastly I do think the torture scene kind of “works” within the context of the story. I don’t find it fun (I was disappointed to discover that the game does not allow you to just work the guy over with a wrench, so that you have to electrocute him, burn him, or pull his teeth as well), but I disagree with Carolyn Petit’s (and Anthony’s) stipulation that it’s somehow dissonant with Trevor’s character.

    *SPOILERS*

    The info that comes from the guy doesn’t actually do what the FIB guys are claiming. And you’re forced to torture even after the guy just spills his guts, because the FIB agent wants you to. Lastly, I think Trevor’s point that torture is for the torturer isn’t so much an admonition (although it is for torture in real life) as it’s a statement for Trevor: the torture is for him. He doesn’t object to it on the grounds that’s it’s torture. He doesn’t even really object to it. He just does it because he’s down to torture. But he’s not deluded about what the outcome will be like the FIB guys are.

    *END SPOILERS*

    • JamesJournal

      eeerrrrr Trevor …. he’s entertaining. But he’s a psychotic to the point where I barely take him more seriously than an NTSF character. When you switch to him he’s usually stuffing feat into toilets or waking up in women’s clothes surrounded by bodies.

      That shuts me down to honest investment, although *spoilers * his intro where he kills Johnny K was awesome * end spoilers* 

      I’m still kind of torn up about Cole Phelps and John Marston, but GTA5 wacky-ness buts me at a distance will all its leads

      • SamPlays

        “Waking up in women’s clothes surrounded by dead bodies”… *SPOILERS FOR PEOPLE WHO READ BOOKS* this line instantly reminds me of Lester Ballard from Cormac McCarthy’s “Child of God”. As such, I will go ahead and presume Trevor also fulfills his necrophiliac lusts with the dead female bodies. Seriously, folks, if you’re ever in the mood for a literary take on human degradation (with very light – VERY LIGHT – comic elements), you should pick up Child of God. 

    • Kyle O’Reilly

       Where’s the love for Franklin?  I was most endeared to him in the beginning and while I’m only about 40% through, I’m miffed at the squashed potential of an smart young man trying to make it above the pointless violence of urban street crime… so he goes to high class crime.  Also they really dropped the ball what with this being the only triple a video game where a main character actually has a family who is present during gameplay.

      I do love Trevor though I wish he wouldn’t switch away from the Doobie Bros when I’m jamming out.

      • Simon Jones

         I think Franklin’s problem, and this is actually a weakness in the three dude structure,  is that he’d probably get a pretty good story in a more realistic game that was mostly about him.  As it is, Michaels and Trevor’s big, loud stories tend to overshadow his more subtle one.

        Actually, something interesting that struck me is how genuinely nice Michael’s criminal associates are to Franklin. They give him advice and help him out and so on. It’s kinda sweet.

        The other about Franklin is that is kind of weird looking and I can’t precisely work out why. Is he meant to be stocky? Is he meant to have kind of a big head? It’s bugging the hell out of me.

        • Professor_Cuntburglar

           I noticed this too. I really don’t mean this to be racist, but he has a bit of a gorilla face.

          Though, the other characters are a little off, too. Michael’s eyes look like anime eyes sometimes, and Trevor’s head is too long.

        • JamesJournal

          Yeah, the basic concept of Franklin would probably work better if I just wasn’t having more fun playing Trevor and Michael. He’s not even really all that great of a straight man, and his arc doesn’t get further than.

          “It would be bad if Franklin ended up like Michael and Trevor, but he obviously doesn’t want to end up like his stupid gangster friends either” that isn’t a bad idea for a character arc, it just doesn’t get past that surface level … and it gets washed out by Michael and Trevor just being more entertaining.

          My favorite “Franklin” missions are still the ones where Trevor and or Michael guest star.

          When Trevor shows up to randomly do a drug buy with Franklin and Lamar I was like “YES THIS CROSSOVER IS EXACTLY WHAT MICHAEL NEEDS” and it was

      • HobbesMkii

        I play as Franklin the most, actually. I find Michael’s neutered Tony Soprano character to be the least interesting to play (although I did give him a sweet full beard and grown out hair cut combo). F’s far and away the most sympathetic character and the one who stands to gain the most throughout the game (helped greatly by the assassination missions).

        Plus, his superpower is the most useful, frankly, given how much I drive and how often I need to make a sharper corner to avoid the cops.

        • Simon Jones

           I’m just going to say an aside that Michael’s superpower is almost dazzlingly useless. 

        • HobbesMkii

          @disqus_X4YE2qf8IB:disqus It’s Bullet Time. It’s not as cool as Bullet Time, because the bullets don’t make little circle trails and you’re not leaping awesomely through the air, but it’s still effectively bullet time.

        • Smilner

          Right? You gotta go for the late-period Mel Gibson.

        • TaumpyTearrs

          @HobbesMkii:disqus  It is amazing how just taking away the dive-shoot move makes Bullet Time boring instead of awesome. I’ve played endless hours of Max Payne and inferior imitators just because I love diving through the air between bullets while spraying pinpoint return fire, but its pretty much useless in GTA since it is a slower paced, cover based shooter.

          It is fun for slowing down cool explosions, though. And if you have a bunch of people grouped together I will use slo-mo to knock everyone down with the shotgun, then switch back to regular speed to finish them off, but its pretty pointless overall.

          Franklin’s ability is a godsend though, because I’ve always sucked at driving in videogames.

  • Thor

    Okay, hold on a second. Are games for the game play, or are they supposed to be superior narrative-driven story machines? I’m confused, Gameological. It’s okay if you just wanted to rag on GTA 5, but you need to get your story straight. 

    • The Guilty Party

      Actually, speaking of, how is the gameplay? Because I’ve found every GTA to be essentially terrible. They’re movie scenes that you star in, but the script is hidden from you, so you have to do take after take until you finally figure out that 45 seconds into the chase, this bus will come out and you have to dodge it, and you have to drive the car they say to drive or it’s start over from the beginning.

      I vastly preferred Saint’s Row/Sleeping Dogs implementations of the same basic game formula. They felt more like game and adventure than pointless trial-and-error.

      But I’m willing to give it another try if they’ve made positive changes.

      • Simon Jones

         I’m not entirely sure you can praise Saints Row series for this, since I recall a lot of ‘We’ll take my car’ in that.  Sometimes they covered it up with wacky sounds and some mugging to the camera, as is the way of Saints Row.

        That said, it’s mixed it up a bit more. There’s a certain amount of ‘Take my car’ but the actual scripting tends to be a bit less obvious, except for the bits that are meant to be obvious.

        • The Guilty Party

          There certainly is a certain amount of ‘do this, drive this car’, etc, in other open-world-crime-type games. But GTA always seemed more excessive in its scripting. I recall missions in SR where I was told ‘get on a bike, race to this other point’ and I was free to either shoot my competitors in the head and take my sweet time, or just leave them in the dust, or some combination thereof.

          GTA always felt like ‘you need to kill the first guy before the 30 second mark or he’ll crash into you and make you lose, but then the second guy is invincible and you have to just pass him and then…’.

          Maybe it’s just the shooting/driving control differences between the games that make me consider some to be more fussy/scripted than others, but there’s something.

      • JamesJournal

        Things are more varied, fluid, fast paced and less serious here, so it is certainly possible to detest GTA4 and enjoy GTA5. But if you are pathologically against this kind of game (GTA is never going to give you an alien invasion … or at least a canon alien invasion) I doubt it will change your mind

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I don’t know if “pathologically against” is the word, but the gameplay of all the GTA games to date has bored me to tears, and while the narrative of IV was strong enough to get me to put up with it for a few hours, it wasn’t good enough to get me to see it through. The knowledge that the story in this game is equally dire and marred by ludonarrative dissonance is helpful to me in this respect, as is the indication that the same “boring drive to a place where you get to do boring shooting” gameplay is intact.

      • Crimboween

        It’s a good point you mention about scripted movie scenes. Although the game is amazing in its scope, you are absolutely right that in this huge sandbox game, playing missions is still very much alike to acting out a pre-written script. In fact, it’s actually become a lot more so than in previous GTA’s, because within every mission there are now achievement markers, depending on you, the player, hitting the right triggers. Often, this means finishing a mission within a certain time, achieving a certain accuracy of aim, or killing enough targets as examples. Now, these achievements aren’t compulsory (although they do have consequences for getting a trophy), and you can finish a mission successfully while failing every set marker, but the fact that these markers are even there within each mission just really feels grating to me, because they are arbitrary at best. I feel forced into a straight-jacket, setting very strict boundaries about how to finish up a mission and indeed very much feeling like I need to play out a movie-scene to perfection, with little room for own interpretation.

        I feel that ever since GTA 3 and Vice City, what Rockstar has called ‘more interesting mission formats’ has actually meant missions have become more accommodating to the script, with much less room for the player’s own ideas about how to go about a accomplishing a mission. 

        • JamesJournal

          I personally hardly noticed and never cared about the mission scoring system. Only in heist missions (where screw ups cost money) does your exact performance really matter

        • Enkidum

          I platinumed Sleeping Dogs (first and so far only game I’ve done that for), but didn’t care about getting achievements during my initial mission playthroughs – I went back and redid any that I missed something on later. That seems the best way of both allowing the initial discovery to proceed unfettered by achievement-hoarding, but also to allow you to hoard those damn achievements.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          And I heard from the Besties that those achievements aren’t even told to you until afterward, meaning every feeling of success after a mission is tarnished by a list of the things you didn’t do that the game secretly wanted you to do…

        • huge_jacked_man

          Some missions have achievements for stuff like “get x headshots” and “don’t get spotted”. They encourage playing the missions with different approaches the player might not have thought of initially. 

        • CrabNaga

          I think the idea for mission completion is to encourage replay. The fact that the game doesn’t let you know about them until you’ve already completed the mission once is for YOUR benefit. Rockstar didn’t want you agonizing over your shot accuracy or how many headshots you got until you’ve experienced the game at your own pace and skill level, and for that I am grateful.

        • GaryX

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus Yeah, the Besties were spot on in that regard. Like Justin, I kind of feel like I’m being scolded a bit when it pops up and gives me vague parameters I didn’t meet.

        • Grimbus

          Wait the list comes after you’ve finished the GAME, or after you’ve finished each mission?

          The former I’d be closer to ok with.

        • zerocrates

          @Grimbus:disqus It’s after each mission. You see the names of all the things the game is “grading” you on and whether you passed or failed them, and you get a percentage and bronze/silver/gold medal for the mission.

          I do think I’d prefer to only see those things if and when I actually go to replay the mission. Or maybe the first time around it could only show you the overall grade and the things you did, but not the stuff you missed.

      • dmikester

        I haven’t gotten too far into the missions, but the scripting is definitely there (the worst so far being having to go to a very specific spot on a roof in one mission that was next to impossible to see, and therefore fumbling around for a minute while other characters yelled at me).  The checkpoint system really does make this the least annoying to play of any GTA for me though, and the actual mechanics, especially shooting, are vastly improved over any of the others.  So it’s kind of up to you.  It doesn’t feel markedly different from other GTAs from a design standpoint, but from a purely in the moment gameplay perspective, it’s the best GTA for my money.

      • Professor_Cuntburglar

         There’s definitely more choice in how you complete missions, but I have noticed a few “chase this guy, but you can’t actually catch him until he gets to a certain point” missions.

        The controls actually work and the checkpoints are forgiving, though, so it’s much less annoying.

        • Thor

          Not sure about that. I played a few missions where I was certain that was the case, so I retried them and found that if your car is fast enough and you are good enough, no chase lasts forever. 

      • HobbesMkii

        “Safe” is how I’d describe it. There’s very little to differentiate the firefights in GTA5 from the ones in 4 or Episodes from Liberty City, or Red Dead, or Max Payne 3. It’s pretty much classic Rockstar. 

        Those prescripted “spur of the moment” events are in there as well. There were constant moments of chasing someone where they’ll miss this bus just at this time or they’ll swerve over onto this part of the sidewalk, and it occurs the same way in each playthrough. You’re generally admonished for trying to do some creative problem solving. In one chase, I decided I would shoot out the tires of the car we were after, only to be told repeatedly that we needed the guy alive (the tires also turned out to be bulletproof). 

        So far, I think their main innovation has been to the random encounters, which are often thefts of wallets, or choosing whether to gun down cops or criminals in a shootout with each other, but can also be more interesting, like sneaking a starlet past paparazzi.

        • Thor

          I disagree. The gun play, while similar (because it’s a third person shooter, come on) is more refined than ever, the driving is finally right, and most importantly, the game finally feels realistic. No longer can your character take a nose dive through a wind shield and walk away. 

      • Thor

        It’s all GTA was ever trying to be, if you ask me. They finally got it right. It’s not as completely bonkers and stupid as San Andreas and it’s not as serious and hard to control as GTA IV. It is a third person shooter with a lot of driving (and flying and skydiving and tank driving and C-130 cruising and boating and biking and hiking) so if that was never your thing then you will be disappointed. It’s the first open world game I’ve ever played that didn’t have pop up, which is astounding. Gameological’s complaints about it not having a point are, at least to me, the point of the game. I won’t spoil anything, but it takes the “burned out Rockstar protagonist” to the next level. 

    • Citric

      I don’t think you can separate the story from the gameplay anymore, and I’m not sure you ever could. Even the most minimal game stories can be vital to the form – like the penguin lovers beset by spiders in Binary Land, a story told via gameplay – and it’s usually the way that importance is given to game progression. Since the GTA team generally puts in a great deal of effort into this stuff, it’s going to be an important part of any review.

      If it’s not important to you, you can ignore the story and make up your own mind, nobody’s saying everyone should be looking for the same experience or have the same priorities.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      There was recently a statement issued by The Chinese Room (Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, Dear Esther) that made the same mistake.  http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=683933

      You can have any mix of aesthetics, mechanics, and narrative you want, but they ideally play off of each other or reinforce each other.  Gone Home is not good, I think, but it isn’t bipolar or nonsensical.  As with every Grand Theft Auto game (2-d and portable included), Grand Theft Auto doesn’t make sense as an art object.  I guess some people find it fun, but Rockstar clearly thinks they’re smarter than they are.

      I think every The Gameological Society member has been consistent about his or her view.

      • Enkidum

        Why do you think their statement makes a mistake? Aren’t they kind of agreeing with you?

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          Grand Theft Auto uses them all but has them conflict; Dear Esther removes to avoid conflicts without heightening what’s there.

          In my opinion.

      • Thor

        Depending on the game, I tend to fall on either side of the “story/gameplay” debate. It clearly depends on the game. And GTA games are NEVER going to give us the kind of narrative Last of Us or Heavy Rain did. They simply won’t. But on gameplay, this is the best game I’ve ever played. 

    • NakedSnake

      I get what you mean, but I feel like Rockstar almost calls this kind of criticism on themselves for being so self-serious about the GTA games (ever since San Andreas). GTAIV was the worst offender, for sure, with its phony story about an immigrant making it America. As to your broader point, I’d say that just like a movie it has to be a combination of factors. If a movie has a great story but terrible direction, that’s a strike against it. Same if it has great direction and a terrible story. Not that either of those movies have no value. Some of my favorite movies are genre movies. But I wouldn’t recommend them as exemplars of the medium.

      • Thor

        I can see what you mean, but you should be careful about throwing “genre” movies under the bus like that. I’d call Godfather, Goodfellas, and Chinatown some of the best examples of the medium, and all are crime flicks. Not to mention movies like 2001 or Wall-E, which are SF and examples of the best film can do. 

        I agree with GTA IV being the most self serious (although it was not devoid of humor) but San Andreas was just plain stupid. Too dumb, too over the top, but a technical marvel for it’s time. And that’s what Rockstar does best: move games forward. All of the GTAs have broken new ground, and GTA V is no exception. I don’t come to GTA for the story. There won’t be a Best Picture-worthy one to find. But is it one of the most entertaining games I’ve ever played? Yes. 

        • NakedSnake

          Honestly my favorite movies are genre movies. Oscar movies are generally weak, and indie movies are super hit and miss (even then, I have to be in the mood). Typically I just don’t have the patience for high-minded stuff. But I appreciate it when people shoot for something bigger and I’m glad we have awards for them. Gamea don’t have awards the same way. They just have Game of the Year stuff, which mostly rehashes review scores. When GTAV gets universal 10/10s, it begs the question of what that says about the game. To me it should say it is perfect and is an exemplar of the genre.

    • Captain Internet

      Well, clearly it’s both- but if one is highly unpleasant then it may not be worth sticking around for the other.

      • Thor

        I don’t know. There are plenty of examples of games that don’t even have one part, like Minecraft that has no narrative, or Heavy Rain that (basically) has no game play. Doesn’t impede the enjoyment for people who like those games. 

        The point is, I don’t come to GTA V for the story. It won’t beat Last of Us on that front. I don’t expect it to. 

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      For a game like this, which intentionally borrows heavily from the visual language of narrative TV and film, and because Dan Houser himself describes games as a “combination of narrative and freeform experience”, and discusses how prominent narrative concerns are for him as a designer, using “narrative pull-through” and emphasizing the “narrative strength” of his design decisions, I think evaluating the quality of the narrative components and their interaction with the mechanics is a completely legitimate (if not necessary) critical strategy for this game.

      Pretending that there is some objective gameplay yardstick by which we can just as easily evaluate the likes of Tetris and GTAV, however, feels like a fairly illegitimate critical position to take, on your part.

      • huge_jacked_man

        Sorry but you don’t evaluate a game (or anything else) based solely on what its PR department says it is, and it should go without saying that a “game” should be evaluated on “gameplay” first and foremost. 

        It’s fine if you want to talk about the ludonarrative dissonance in your GTA V review or whatever but try to find at least a bit of space to review gameplay and how it compares to previous instalments.

        It bothers me that this reviewer seems to have played the game exactly like he would GTA IV and makes no mention of the vastly improved sandboxing elements like the overhauled police chase system, the driving physics, stealth elements, special abilities and so on. As a potential player that’s the stuff I want to hear about, not whether the reviewer liked the story in a game that’s always been about fucking around in a sandbox. 

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          Sorry, that’s preposterous.

          First of all, Dan Houser isn’t a PR person, he’s a head writer on the game and series, and co-founder of Rockstar so his comments on the narrative intent of the game cut a bit deeper than simple PR adspeak. Narrative was a significant priority in the development of this game, and makes of a significant part of the set-up for the gameplay, and interacts a great deal with the game play. GTA V isn’t Dwarf Fortress or Minecraft (or GTA1, for that matter).

          Second of all “it should go without saying that a ‘game’ should be evaluated on ‘gameplay’ first and foremost” is a completely baseless assertion. Would you also say that when reviewing film that narrative is largely irrelevant and that “it should go without saying that ‘cinema’ should be evaluated on ‘cinematography’ first and foremost”? There may be some legitimacy to such a hard-line formalist philosophy of criticism, but to pretend that it’s the only legitimate position to take is completely silly.

        • hubrisofsatan

          He mentioned the driving physics.

        • huge_jacked_man

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus Are you suggesting, with a straight face,  that when Dan Houser (or anyone else working on the game really) does press it’s not PR?

          Are you surprised that the head writer on the game says the writing in it is “a significant priority” and make the strange logical leap that it means the game should be criticized based on this aspect alone?

          “Narrative [...] makes of a significant part of the set-up for the gameplay, and interacts a great deal with the game play.”

          This makes no sense whatsoever, sorry. You could skip every cutscene and remove all in game dialogue and the gameplay would stay identical. You’re saying: “this gameplay has story on top of it and that means the story is essential to gameplay”. It’s not.

          And that cinema/cinematography analogy is a blatant false equivalence and you know it.

        • Pgoodso

          “This makes no sense whatsoever, sorry. You could skip every cutscene and
          remove all in game dialogue and the gameplay would stay identical.”

          Well, no actually. Sure, more “pure” games like Tetris, most fighting games, or even the Mario series have little interest in a strong story and have no need for one, and that’s totally fine.

          But in a game that DOES begin to develop its characters and story like this one, clearly the intent is for the narrative to help the player enjoy the gameplay. The development of the plot and the fate of the characters become two of the carrots put out by the developer to draw the player through the gameplay. Those developments are rewards to achieve. Thus, it’s worth noting when the narrative (which, again, while not essential for ALL games, was made essential by the developers of THIS one) is bad or at least poorly executed.

          Now, I totally agree, that doesn’t make gameplay subordinate to narrative, but I don’t think anyone here is really arguing that, not even Anthony. The sum of his review seems to be “The gameplay IS great, but the story attached to it is so meaningless and ill-executed that every action is strangely empty and I feel little reason to engage in it”, and I think that’s completely valid, as equally valid as something like “The game is fun, except the controls seem to pull to the left the whole time, and that poor execution pulls me out of it”. If a part of the game is broken enough to be noticeable and make it less fun, well, that affects gameplay.

          It’s also rather bizarre to claim that a lead developer has no idea what the game is about, but you, ostensibly not having played it yet, do.
          Arguments similar to yours always end up sounding like strange apologias for these sorts of games when the story sucks, at least to me: “Well, the developer didn’t REALLY care about the story, AND you’re too stupid to know that story doesn’t matter, so talk about what I want to talk about”. Well, really, then the proper argument should be that the developer shouldn’t have put a story in there in the first place, not that the critics should ignore it.

        • Raging Bear

          huge_jacked_man is the guy who dismissed all of Gone Home because the age difference between a 17 year old and an 18 year old who were in love violated the age of consent in Oregon, and therefore the game was a glorification of sexual abuse. But was only pointing it out to be a dick (his words).

          I’m just saying, no one should expect an earnest, well-intentioned debate here.

        • huge_jacked_man

          @Raging_Bear:disqus Funny to hear you talk about “earnest” debate when you blatantly misrepresent a post I made about Gone Home and fail to address any argument I made about GTA V. 

        • huge_jacked_man

          @Pgoodso:disqus  ”clearly the intent is for the narrative to help the player enjoy the gameplay”
          Nobody is saying that narrative doesn’t add to a game. I’m saying it shouldn’t be the main criteria by which you criticize one especially in the case of a series that’s all about sandboxing and emergent play. 

        • NakedSnake

          I think this is valid – if the game is much improved in the gameplay dimension, then that’s and important thing to mention. Especially when contrasting against IV. But ultimately, I feel like Gameological is not really interested in answering “should I play this game or not” in its reviews. They mostly seem interested in “what is the game about?” I sometimes think it would be nice if they posted a manifesto describing exactly what the goal of their reviews was. 

        • Raging Bear

          “Oh and *Spoilers* the age of consent in Oregon is 18 so when the game
          celebrates your 17-year-old sister’s eloping with an older student it is
          effectively celebrating the sexual abuse of a minor. How progressive.”

          Yeah, I blatantly misrepresented that. Given that this is the way you argue, I’m not really that interested in any arguments you might have about GTA V.

        • huge_jacked_man

          @Raging_Bear:disqus Care to quote the entire post so everyone can see how accurate your assertion that I “dismissed all of Gone Home” because of this specific point is? It’s almost as if you’re misrepresenting my post again.

          And if “the way [I] argue” – with reasoned arguments and no out-of-context quotes from unrelated comments – makes you uncomfortable then perhaps you’d feel more at home on IGN. 

        • Raging Bear

          You’re right. It was terrible of me to imply that that was your only ludicrous reason for being dismissive of Gone Home, when in fact it was just one of several ludicrous reasons.

        • huge_jacked_man

          @Raging_Bear:disqus there’s something very funny about a game like Gone Home having the same bizarrely vindictive fanboys you’d expect to find yelling about CoD on IGN.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000099034309 Mark Broesamle

    I’ve had more fun playing this game than any other game this year and that’s all that matters to me. However, it is nice to see a review that doesn’t act as if GTA V is some master class in storytelling. The way IGN drooled over the “important satire” in this game was borderline nauseating. Rockstar’s storytelling has always boiled down to throwing a bunch of caricatures at each other and seeing what sticks. There is some very entertaining writing (Michael telling Trevor he’s a hipster, Lamar talking about Franklin’s aunt, Michael’s drug trip, etc.) and I never skip the cutscenes, but it’s easy to see that Rockstar doesn’t have any idea what they want to say thematically. That’s fine by me as long as the gameplay is good.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      I’d love to read how Rockstar sustains the fun you have with this series, Mark.  I don’t like the Red Dead series, but I’m impressed by how varied the goals and situations are.  Grand Theft Auto, to me, has always been 1 thing done over and over.

      Like, they give you a jetpack and license to create nondescript havoc that means nothing, whereas Bangaio Spirits gives you a jetpack and brain-breaking puzzles and fun treats and twitch skill gameplay.  It’s the difference between watching a 4-year old knock over his blocks and Daffy Duck’s choreographed chaos in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery.

      What keeps things vibrant?

      • NakedSnake

        To be fair, I ask myself this question about a lot of the series I loves. How is it that I have beaten 6 Resident Evil games, but never played Ocarina of Time? Or why do I keep going back to Castlevania games, even though neither the original run, nor the post-SOTN, show that much variation in gameplay. What about Mega Man? With all sequels, there’s some boredom to rehashing the same formula, but there’s some comfort there, too. Sometimes you just want to get that “Mega Man Feeling” again, or whatever. I would argue that the main problem with GTA games is that they are so long that they kind of wear out their welcome over the course of the game. When I play through a GTA game, I sometimes feel like I’m playing a whole trilogy in one sitting, so to speak. It’s too much.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          I would phrase it that way but that’s the way I (and, you, apparently) play games.  However, remember that most people play through some of the story and then screw around.  They’re not getting the marathon experience.  That’s the game to most.

      • Enkidum

        Well… it’s not really true that there’s just one thing you can do – I mean, one thing that Rockstar prides itself on is giving you a LOT of things to do. I mean, driving around looking at the scenery (which you might easily do for half an hour at a stretch or more), is very different from a race, which is very different from a heist mission, which is very different from climbing the tallest object and sniping cops, which is very different from going to a legitimately funny standup show, which….

        Nobody plays GTA for traditional “gameplay” – as various people have pointed out, the driving is ok at best, the shooting is generally crap, the puzzles aren’t, and so forth. But you have this massive number of things to do, in a world that is kind of coherent, with a kind of coherent narrative and certainly a consistent style… It’s… uh… fun?

        I’m probably not the best person to advocate for it, though, since I’ve only played IV (and most of Chinatown Wars). Maybe I’ll get bored when I play through 5, but I doubt it, honestly.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          That’s what I’m thinking Mark may write and what people I know who like the series say.

          To me, it’s like Mario Party (which I like) or, more accurately, Sonic The Hedgehog And His Horrible Friends (which I don’t like).  The activities are superficially different.  In the real world, racing is different from listening to the radio and seeking cover in a firefight and carjacking someone.  In the Grand Theft Auto world, though, it’s basically “press the Action Button” to make the event occur.  Activate the event, travel to the event, Action, cutscene, repeat.  There are few mechanics, and, too often, the events themselves have the same emotional tone (glibly sinister, sort of like a Guy Ritchie movie).

          I think you made your point, though, and I myself am open to the same criticism.  I ADORE late-period Sly Cooper, which is arguably the same as above.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          “ the driving is ok at best, the shooting is generally crap, the puzzles aren’t, and so forth”
          This kind of hits the nail on the head, maybe. Rockstar tries to shoehorn so many little diversions, distractions, options, and side-routes into the GTA games that each individual design choice ends up feeling kind of half-formed.

          I’d rather play a shooter game with really good shooting, or a narrative game with a really good story, or a driving game with really good controls, than an “open world game” where I have the option to engage in shitty versions of all of those gameplay experiences.

        • Unspeakable Axe

           To be fair though, I think this GTA has the best iteration of all that stuff.  The driving is the best the series has had – fun and responsive, but also with a little real physics.  The shooting is fluid (though it still relies heavily on auto-aim if you want to survive the millions of bad guys) and the cover system is the best I’ve seen after some years now of cover shooters.  The minigames – traditionally a huge weakness, things you play once and forget about – are probably the best they’ve had too; tennis, at least, is something I keep going back to because it almost resembles a real, standalone sports game.

          In answer to the original question: why I play GTA (and particularly why I’m addicted to GTA V) is the feeling of a world in which anything can happen.  Yesterday I decided to find out if the jerry can will set a car on fire.  (It will, but only if you climb up on the car and pour into its interior.)  Then I decided to see if pedestrians will sit there and let you pour gas on them – nope, they take off running, and the game views it as an attack.  The police took an interest in me, and since I was playing as Trevor I thought it was only fair to return the interest.  Once I had three stars things got crazy, so I tried to lose them in a train tunnel – no luck; better-than-usual AI allowed them to follow me down there.  Just at that moment, a train came barreling by, doing hilarious things to two cops and their car.  I thought I’d see if it was possible to jump a moving train and amazingly, I didn’t end up dead, but crouched in an open car.  I thought I was home free, but a heli spotted me and this elaborate chase developed, with cop cars trailing the train and two or three helicopters buzzing around like gnats.  I remembered I had a grenade launcher and took down two helicopters with lucky shots, but the chase got more persistent so I jumped off the train.  I ran to a nearby road, which turned out to be a convincingly busy and fast freeway, and got hit by a car.  Fin.

          All this stuff individually isn’t that unique, but the way the craziness spirals in different directions and takes on a life of its own is so fun to me.  And in the middle of it, if I want to calm things down and buy a silly outfit, customize my car to the gills, or take an ATV over every last sand dune on a beautifully-rendered beach, I can.  It might be formless playing, but it’s the most fun iteration of that concept I can think of.

        • Kyle O’Reilly

           I really like the driving GTA V…  It gives you a great sense of speed on the highway, and off-roading is an absolute blast.  Not to mention for people who aren’t Gran Turismo 100%-ers it gives you a character who can basically cheat at driving for when you just want to have fun and weave in between cars.

        • GaryX

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus To iterate on what’s already been said, I’d agree with what Anthony said last week in that “everything works.” For the first time in a GTA series, pretty much all the mechanics actually feel fully fleshed out and responsive. I can’t fully comment on the narrative yet (which I’m initially much more favorable to than Anthony but it’s early going so it could implode) but just playing it feels the best its ever felt by a large margin.

        • NakedSnake

          @unspeakableaxe:disqus That’s awesome. I guess it’s worth pointing out at this point that for Rockstar to continue making good/great GTA game is an accomplishment in itself. For whatever criticisms people might level against them, they legitimately care about the quality of their games. It’s easy, I think, for studios to get lazy and/or lose sight of what the core experience of the game is. Kudos to Rockstar for producing something of quality, even if its not necessarily for everyone (haven’t played it yet, but I might if I can find time). 

        • GaryX

          @unspeakableaxe:disqus I think the cop AI has gotten so much better to the point that a lot of fun comes out of these emergent scenarios that the game could never dictate. Over the weekend, I was running from some cops and managed to shake them on the highway when I saw several more police cars where coming down the other lane. Using the giant bus beside me, I kept pace with the back half of it to see if it’d block my view from the cop cars.

          It worked.

          I drove along side it for a little bit longer until the bus slammed the brakes for no reason, I flew out in front of it, and a cop that was sitting alongside the highway got behind me. Another cop car came flying to join him, and I started driving in reverse down the highway as lights of a helicopter flew onto my car. I spun around, drove down the highway in reverse, and took a hard left into the desert.

          Those sort of scenarios aren’t a “mission” and aren’t structured, but I find them fun and–somehow–tense.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          @baneofpigs:disqus @paraclete_pizza:disqus @unspeakableaxe:disqus  @Kyle @garyx Cool! I probably will never like the series, but I like reading from the smart population that does.

      • Enkidum

        Hmmm… I think maybe part of what you’re not liking about it is the lack of gaming skill involved? Like, you don’t actually have to be good at anything to succeed at the game, and the challenging bits are often challenging because of poor design as much as anything else?

        I’d probably agree with that for the most part – although I’d say some of the races are legitimately well done. But, as you said above, most people aren’t playing through the missions all the way.

        Hmmm… how about putting it like this? GTA is more akin to “let’s pretend” kind of childhood play than it is to a board game. Except here it’s not even really the “hey, I’m a real crook!” kind of pretending, it’s more just immersing yourself in a fantasy world. In some sense I think it has more in common with Proteus or something like that than it does with Mario. At least it does for me (although I actually play through the missions, generally speaking).

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          That was basically Chris Plante’s take on the game’s popularity.

          But I’d have to think one has a pretty anemic imagination if GTA’s warmed-over action movie cliches are enough to fully scratch one’s itch for imaginative play.

        • NakedSnake

          Enkidum – that’s an interesting perspective, and a good one. Come to think of it, I think that Bethesda may be Rockstar’s only competition for plopping you down in a a realistic game setting and truly letting you screw around. But the Bethesda games are totally mission (and exploration) focused, whereas GTA gives you more diversions.

        • Enkidum

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus Well, I think you might be being a tad overly judgemental. I doubt that I, or many of the other millions of GTA enthusiasts, suffer from anemic imaginations. Or maybe the game doesn’t fully scratch our itches, but it does a good enough job that until someone does something better we’ll take it.

      • dreadguacamole

         Production Values. And I’m not saying this in a bad way; it’s just that they had the budget to put in a degree of detail and variety that is almost literally insane. If you go to some recondite corner of the map, you might see a unique structure; if you bump a car during a mission that belongs to one of the NPCs (as opposed to taking a random passerby’s car), he might complain in a line specifically written and recorded for that situation.
         There’s a fine-grained level of detail that makes constant discovery possible. It makes up for what I’d consider borderline average gameplay, and some of the bluntest, most smug “satire” I’ve seen since… well, GTA IV.

        • Thor

          This. 
          I love how I’ve been playing this game for about 35 hours now, and have yet to hear the same talk show twice. I don’t know if the game cycles through them as you play, but it’s like listening to the real radio. 

      • dmikester

        What I found interesting about Red Dead Redemption specifically is that the goals are certainly presented as “varied” but that the series and missions ultimately always came down to “shoot an absurd number of people” or “shoot something inanimate and then shoot an absurd number of people.”  I honestly find Redemption to be very monotonous in its mission gameplay. The trick though is that they’re always presented with such intelligence and such connection to the characters that it doesn’t really end up mattering.  Unlike in GTA, I came for the story, not so much the gameplay, in Redemption.  Though all the non-mission stuff in Redemption, especially riding around the world, is extremely varied and well realized, so it all evens out in the end. 

        • Pgoodso

          The reason Red Dead succeeds and GTA often doesn’t is historical distance, I think. Rockstar had the ability to commit to their story about a man (and a culture) coming to terms with the end of outlaw abandon because that was historically accurate: John Marston was a product of his time. As well, the varied nature of his activities were also a product of his time: hunting, scavenging, taming (or stealing) horses, and dealing with armed bandits or corrupt (or not-corrupt) lawmen? You, as an individual, had to deal with all of that as a part of daily survival back in the Old West (or, at least, in the western genre’s popular conception of it). Your (and John’s) ability to do these things belied training, a history of connection to the land, and a need to protect one’s self, and these things drew you into the game environment.

          With GTA, though, your activities in-game are presented, basically, as hobbies or get-rich-quick schemes. Golf, race, fire weapons, eat bad food, treat people poorly because you can. Your characters don’t HAVE to do any of these things to survive, for the most part. These characters, though doing activities similar to Marston’s, live in the present day, and are therefore rightfully seen as self-involved psychopaths with no motivation beyond self-aggrandizement. Everything that John Marston HAD to do to survive in the world of Red Dead is eliminated in the world of GTA simply by the advent of the modern urban economic system or reduced to a rather capricious choice to go do something ridiculous for its own sake.

          Almost everything John Marston could do, from stealing horses to killing bison to helping random people out, could be justified as him merely trying to live another day or get one step closer to getting his family back. Stealing a car in GTA, conversely, as fun as it can be, is just something random for a random psychopath to do. Which, to reiterate Anthony, may be why Trevor is the most satisfying character to play.

        • dmikester

          @Pgoodso:disqus What an awesome comment and observation!  I’d never thought about Marston’s actions being necessary for his survival as opposed to the more psychopathic tendencies of other Rockstar characters.  It’s a great point, and  a large part of why RDR is so excellent.  
          Also, I want to clarify something: I absolutely love RDR and think it’s by far the best thing that Rockstar has ever done.  When I say that I find the missions “monotonous,” that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a blast playing them.  It’s more that the stakes seem so much higher and more personal than in pretty much any other Rockstar game that the limitations of the mission design seem more pronounced than they do in something like GTA.  

    • Simon Jones

      I think out of the characters, as far as decent storytelling goes, Michael’s arc has actually worked the best. He does come off as genuinely depressing.

      Also, when you switch to him, he’s doing depressing things to the point I’m going to be kind of suprised if we don’t find he’s shot himself on the deck of his pool at some point.

      • JamesJournal

        Michael is also my favorite character, I guess I connect to his cynicism more than bland Franklin and too over the top to give a damn about Trevor.

        I wish they’d better developed his family though, his wife nearly becomes a person at the end. But his kids are terrible stereotypes.

        Then again, I’m one of those people who liked Niko’s dynamic with Kate and Roman etc 

        • GaryX

          Do they push Amanda more to the forefront in the story whatsoever? I’ve “hung out” with her a few times, and I thought their passing bickering has actually gone a long way to flesh out her character and explain her motivations. It’s a little frustrating they don’t make it more apparent, though.

        • Simon Jones

           There’s a bit later on

          *spoil*

          Where they kind of lay out her feelings on the matter and reveal, yeah, she does have kind of a valid point about reacting to Michael the way she does. It’s not the most subtle thing in the world and it’s overshadowed by something genuinely impressive, but they at least do something.

        • RJC

          Skipping over to Michael to find him leaning over his steering wheel, crying to 80′s Slow Jams was one of my favorite moments in the game so far.

        • JamesJournal

          @GaryX:disqus 

          I actually “hang out” with Amanda the most, but as far as Michael’s family goes, it seems that in the main story his son is the only one who really gets anything to do.

          Amanda has some moments where I though it was going to turn around with her when X happens, but then the game goes back to basically ignoring her.

          I guess she works as a tennis partner though

    • Raging Bear

      I’m finding their “satire” incredibly tiresome. If you want to expose hypocritical or absurd facets of American life and be funny about it, then you should really aim a little higher than simply stating the absurdity as flatly as possible, which is nearly their only technique.

      • Thor

        I’ve never considered it satire, and was actually surprised when people brought that term up. I always thought it was parody. 

        • Raging Bear

          I could be mistaken, but I think that social criticism is generally the (or ‘a’) defining element of satire. So there’s that, but there’s definitely parody as well. Still, whatever the device, I find a lot of the writing just plain lazy.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       Yeah, the writing in the GTA games always comes off as “what a 13 year old thinks is mature.” Though, to give GTAV some credit, it has progressed to what a 17 year old thinks is mature (I say this as someone who is enjoying it immensely).

    • Thor

      Does anyone else get the feeling that the listlessness of this story as mentioned above is kind of the point? All three characters (and most of Rockstar’s stable, to be honest) are stuck in some way in their life. Michael in hiding, Trevor in his own head, Franklin in the ghetto. Frankly, I think it’s brilliant that the missions, while thrilling, don’t seem to add up to something. That seems to be the point Rockstar is making. There is no pot of gold at the end of the American rainbow. Just more banging and getting shot. 

  • NakedSnake

    Here is the problem with Rockstar’s games: they started as an outsider studio, and they still basically think of themselves that way. I remember “rooting” for Rockstar back in the day, when the early GTA games and subsequent excursions (like Manhunt) served as a big ol’ FUCK YOU to the mainstream critics and media sources who didn’t understand games and just wanted to blame them for everything. Rockstar took this criticism, internalized it, and spat it back at the world like an embittered teenager (“Oh you think I’m the bad kid? I’ll show you how bad I can get!”) God it was glorious. Everyone in “the real world” hated these games but they sold anyways. As a gamer, it was cathartic that this bad boy of the video game industry could succeed in the face of utter contempt from broader society. But as time has gone on, they’ve metamorphed from the outsider to the popular kid. GTAV made $800 million on opening day for god’s sake. The movie industry can only look on in awe. They’re the fucking valedictorian of games now, or at least the prom king. The same kind of vitriol and misbehavior that we would praise from a rebel just seems curiously mean and off-kilter coming from a “winner”. Sometimes you just have to take a reality check and see how you have changed, even if your message (or “art”) has not.

    • Simon Jones

       By that same token, they’re making 800 million on opening day.  Why would you change the patten that let you ‘win?’ If anything, GTA V has kind of exposed how irrelevant gaming criticism kind of is. THis game was always going to sell all the copies and no amount of praise or navel gazing was going to have any effect on that, nor will it really have an effect on the whatever they release next.

      If they want to appear all arty, they can release something like LA Noire and make the critics all uncomfortable again because it kinda sucks but has all the features of something clever and arty. But in a way that also sucks.

      • NakedSnake

        Maybe you’re right. There’s no real reason for them to change. I guess what I’m saying is that it changes my perception of them. Their fuck-what-you-think attitude rubs me the wrong way, whereas once I gloried in it.

        • Simon Jones

           That’s fair enough. I think there is something to be said for it simply because so many game developers are going out of their way to show how socially responsible they are. Which is a good socially, I guess, in a Free to Be You and Me 70′s kind of way, but I’m not entirely certain is good for the medium as an art form.

        • NakedSnake

          @disqus_X4YE2qf8IB:disqus Good point. Even though Rockstar is on top of the world, they still make the games they want to play (and it so happens that everyone else wants to play them too). And go out of their way to piss people off. It would nice to see that attitude from television networks and major studios. But it would also be nice if their “attitude” was a little funnier or a little more biting than the angry, aggressive “satire” they pack into the GTA games.

      • JamesJournal

        LA Noire was great. And Rockstar could still lose clout with fans with actually bad games. See Capcom and Resident Evil.

        • huge_jacked_man

          LA Noire was the worst game I’ve played through this year. It ranks up there with the first Assassin’s Creed in being the most insanely boring game imaginable. 

        • Unspeakable Axe

           LA Noire wasn’t really made by Rockstar. 

        • GaryX

          I think LA Noire was half great. I don’t think the overall plot needed to be more cohesive necessarily, but I think it would have benefited by SPOILERS, I GUESS introducing Jack Kelso’s narrative way sooner. Maybe GTA V is them exploring some of that more fully, but if that game had really committed to a multi perspective narrative, I think it would have been much, much better. SPOILERS ENDED, I GUESS

        • Simon Jones

           I think LA Noire had all the pieces of the a good game but didn’t manage to bring it all together, so it ended up as kind of a mess.

        • JamesJournal

          @GaryX:disqus 

          I actually really enjoyed the massive gearshift of Jack Kelso taking over the story at the end.

          Throwing that in early may have distracted me from the opening cases, it was enough to just get the seeds of that last case throughout the episodic stuff so I could just focus on catching that damn serial killer

        • 2StoryOuthouse

          @GaryX:disqus Agreed that the Kelso stuff needed to be introduced earlier. I think Team Bondi wanted it to be both a case-by-case procedural and an overarching storyline, but the two felt so disjointed that, when it’s revealed that there is an actual plot, it’s already about 70% of the way through the game.

          The other problem was with the character of Cole Phelps. — SPOILERS BELOW — When the game was case-by-case focused, I felt like he was simply a player cipher. But once the plot started kicking in, I didn’t feel like I was in control of him anymore. I’ve never before felt such a disconnect from the character I was controlling, even when I’m playing as a mass murdering psychopath like Kratos or Niko Bellic. That’s not because I was really morally outraged when Cole cheats on his wife or anything like that, it’s just that I felt the game had been designed to be one thing and over halfway through it jarringly became something different. — END SPOILERS —

          LA Noire is a very interesting game to me. I’m not sure I really liked it all that much as a game, but I’m really fascinated by the things Team Bondi tried to do with it. I will be very curious to the example it creates for other games in the future.

        • GaryX

          @2StoryOuthouse:disqus Yeah, the cheating subplot came out of nowhere so fast. It’s evident certain parts of the game were stitched. I don’t think its entirely successful, but I’m very glad it exists.

          @jamesjournal:disqus Actually, I kind of agree with you. I don’t think I’d want Kelso to be at the beginning, but maybe if they had condensed everything pre-Homicide and made the latter, somehow, the cases that “make” Cole thus leading him into the larger plotline where Kelso becomes more prominent… I don’t know exactly, but I think that game was in need of some serious editing. Though, it sounds like that it got made at all was a minor miracle.

        • JamesJournal

          @2StoryOuthouse:disqus 

          I never saw Cole as a player cipher. You determine how good he is at solving mysteries. But he’s the by-the-cook college boy cop now matter what.

          MAYBE I would have better dealt with it in a movie though. But Cole cheating on his wife mostly doesn’t work because it is a surprise.

          The games episodic format didn’t really allow for any exploration of what Cole does when he isn’t solving cases

      • HobbesMkii

        And that logic, ladies and gentlemen, is how we end up with movies like The Green Lantern or RIPD.

        “Hey, superheroes and the Men in Black are successful properties! There’s 10 innovative scripts on the Hollywood Blacklist we could snatch up, but screw that. Lowest common denominator, folks! Lowest common denominator!”

        It’s also why the games industry experienced a glut of shooters after Halo and Call of Duty.

        • Thor

          To be fair, the gaming public has shown if you have a shooter they have a hole. 

      • SamPlays

        I would disagree that gaming criticism, or any kind of legitimate criticism, is irrelevant. The vast majority of “Top 10″ whatever (games, books, movies, music) at any given time demonstrate the fickle nature of the masses and their general propensity for liking dumb things. The role of a critic is not foremost to dictate consumer behavior – it is to educate their audience, to provide a particular perspective on some object of attention. This doesn’t mean that I necessarily adopt another person’s opinion wholesale, especially if I haven’t had my own opportunity to experience the same thing myself. Rather, the plethora of criticism that’s available constitutes a concourse of ideas that overlap and are at odds. These make up the ongoing discussion and the audience can only decide for themselves where their default critical opinions rests – it’s also up to the audience to challenge their own assumptions and opinions with the hope of emerging somewhat more enlightened about their cultural experience. I think gaming criticism has never been better and it’s sites like Gameological Society (even though I shit on it from time to time) that bring a necessary perspective that gets the short shrift from other mainstream review sites. Naturally, many consumers will look to reviews so they can make informed decisions about how to spend their money. Lots of mainstream sites have adapted to this need but they generally don’t trade in valid criticism; what they offer is more akin to a consumer report that reviews and grades the elements of the whole without necessarily exploring the context, process or impact of the experience. That said, there is no reason for game development to somehow be in-step with game criticism. Game developers might get valuable feedback about their product but that doesn’t make any critic qualified on the topic of game development. If you’re making nearly a billion dollars in sales based on pre-orders and first day sales, fuck the critics. If you’re dedicated to artistic craft and exploring difference experiences through games, fuck the critics. You’ll never please everyone.

        *Forces everyone to look at his dick*

      • Unexpected Dave

        Considering GTA V has a Metascore of 97, it’s hardly an example of a game succeeding despite negative reviews. Even publications that devoted half of their text to blasting the story (for all the reasons that AJA cites above) gave the game a 9/10.

        There’s an ongoing debate over the importance and relevance of scripted narrative in video games, both on a global and a game-by-game scale. However, in assessing the merits of GTA V, audiences and critics who give scores seem to be in agreement over how much weight should be given to its story: little or none.

        • GaryX

          I’ve found this to be a bit odd. There are some reviews, like the Gamespot review, that talk about the misogyny of the game in a (valid) way that makes it sound like the score should have been docked more. I often find with reviews of games like this that I wish critics were more harsh with their grading–despite the idiots who get riled up over a .5 or 1 point difference.

    • JamesJournal

      The amount of money a game makes has no affect on my opinion of said game. Although I will push good but under performing games on people. Or flawed games with redeeming qualities like Alpha Protocol

      • NakedSnake

        I definitely dismissed Alpha Protocol based on its bad reviews at the time. It’s gotten enough hype since then, though, that I feel I should check it out.

        • The Guilty Party

          Alpha Protocol is totally awesome. It’s also probably dirt cheap at this point, so there’s no excuse not to get it.

          I think it really suffered because it came out just a little bit after Mass Effect 2, which was very similar in game-shape and had much more polished gameplay.

          Also, it’s much more an RPG set in spy-world than a stealth/shooter with RPG elements. It’s much less Metal Gear Solid and more Mass Effect.

          • NakedSnake

            How does it compare to Deus Ex? I always figured that’s what it was going for.

          • The Guilty Party

            Same basic line, really. Gameplay-wise, DX:HR feels better designed. But AP has a better story, more memorable characters, and a surprisingly complex system of choice and consequence.

            Basically, if you are okay with a stealth shooter that takes a lot of RPG approximations (enemies can’t be dragged out of sight, but disappear after a bit; your skills feel more like magic than ‘augment my shooty powers’), it ranks up there with quality Bioware work as far as story & people go.

        • JamesJournal

          The good: Alpha Protocol gets the “choice v consequence” thing more right than any game ever! Seriously NOTHING else competes with this game.

          If you waste someone important, it doesn’t stop the game, but the world remembers. How you complete objectives, who you ally yourself with and why will branch shit out in countless ways without breaking the story.

          If you have a rep for killing people, that will change the way people see you and the actually missions you run. There was a part of the game where I noticed I’d drastically altered the story arc by only running stealth missions. The bad guys had no idea I was in THAT part of the game world.

          Something you learn in non-standard gameplay could come back and blow up the story. If you trust the wrong person, you can screw yourself. (As I nearly did with a character I won’t mention)

          How you treat people isn’t binary. Romancing someone will get you very different results, than being their friend or psychological torture (really this can happen the freedom is crazy)

          The game can end with you getting screwed over and outsmarting the bad guys, joining them, double crossing them etc etc … all depending on how clever you are and how you played other missions.

          And the Burn Notice-y globe trotting spy thriller story is actually pretty gripping.
          ——–

          The Bad

          Choppy broken, sub Mass Effect 1 shooter game play, that just doesn’t work very well

          As I’ve said before, if they pasted Splinter Cell Conviction’s gameplay on this game we’d be sick of Alpha Protocol sequels by now

        • TaumpyTearrs

          @jamesjournal:disqus 
          I think you’ve convinced me to buy Alpha Protocol, especially since I think its less than 10 Bucks used at Gamestop (seriously, its in there 3 games for $20 bin).

          I have no idea when I will be able to play the damn thing, since I haven’t had the time or energy to commit to an RPG for years, but you make it sound so enticing!

        • stepped_pyramids

          I’m late to the party, but I’d like to say that Alpha Protocol is a really fun game and the reviews it got were really baffling.

          The controls can feel a little bit janky, and the balance is off — playing a sneaky pistol-shooter is by far your best bet, because the stealth/takedown mechanics are better than the combat mechanics, and pistol training more or less turns you into a magic headshot wizard.

          At least one review I read (Giant Bomb’s, I think) scoffed about the flexible plot, saying that it was easy to figure out what the game “wanted” you to choose. This made it pretty obvious the reviewer had only played through once (or part of once), because you get gameplay rewards for pretty much any choice you make. Other reviewers (including our own Teti) said that the relationship mechanics make the game just feel like you’re pushing buttons to get positive responses — but negative relationships actually help you in the game, too.

          The conversation mechanic is absolutely superb, and the relationship/reputation stuff is much more subtle and complex than it seems at first. Gameplay and story influence each other but don’t force each other around, either.

          It definitely feels a lot like Mass Effect, but I like it a lot better. Unfortunately, there’s pretty much no chance at a sequel.

        • NakedSnake

          Echoing TaumpyTear here, but @The_Guilty_Party:disqus , @jamesjournal:disqus , @stepped_pyramids:disqus you all have definitely convinced me to check out alpha protocol. I’ve always been able to overlook a games flaws if it has flashes of brilliance. 

      • Smilner

         Mirror’s Edge!

    • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

      I’d like to take this opportunity to say that I just played Manhunt for the first time last year and it was a fucking great game, a great blend of stealth and survival horror that offered a very good challenge 

      why it’s no surprise that the graphic violence garnered the most attention, there’s a very good game beneath all the gore 

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Leigh Alexander touches on this (among other things) in her great opinion piece on why GTA V is so depressing.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        Leigh Alexander is so awesome. 

        Also, all the comments on this page and the review itself are great. It’s nice to have a reminder that sometimes people who play games aren’t totally fucking stupid.

    • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

      I’ve been saying for years that the best game to come out of Rockstar North/DMA Design is Uniracers (Unirally in PAL markets). That game was all about free-wheeling/one-wheeling rebellion with the sort of devil-may-care attitude that only an extreme sports game that declares “I HATE TRICKS!” on-screen can afford.

      • dmikester

        I’ve always been partial to Lemmings myself, but I’d totally forgotten about Uniracers!  

        • huge_jacked_man

          I love Lemmings. I wish more games would emulate it’s multiplayer where you’re digging through your opponent’s stuff and building ramps to try and steal his lemmings.

      • NakedSnake

        I’ve always been curious about that game (Uniracers), but it’s just so damn hard to emulate, for some reason. Maybe Rockstar will release it to the public some day, like they did with their other old stuff. 

        • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

          It was co-developed and published by Nintendo, so unlikely. I asked Rockstar about revisiting the franchise when they were promoting Chinatown Wars and everyone I spoke with had completely forgotten they had anything to do with it.

        • NakedSnake

          @dsanskrit:disqus Haha, I love it: “Uniracers? We make Grand Theft Auto! WTF is Uniracers?”

        • Citric

          I imagine bsnes can pull it off, but I can understand why it would be hard to emulate, it does kind of gleefully screw with the hardware, especially in the final set of courses, which had all of the madness effects.

          I owned it as a lad, it was pretty rad.

      • aklab

        I love Uniracers. The most ’90s game?

        • TaumpyTearrs

          Skitchin’ dude. Skitchin’.

          It was a Road Rash rip-off, except you were on roller-blades and wore lots of flannel. You built up speed by hanging of the bumpers of moving cars and slingshotting to other cars (skitchin’!). This is of course stupid dangerous, so the game has to warn you every time you start it up not try this in real life. Imitatable acts are so 90s!

          I was delighted when Workaholics referenced Skitchin’ last season, since it is one of those things that no one else ever remembers when I bring it up. And Adam got injured before he could even start skitchin’ when the car backed into him.

        • aklab

          @TaumpyTearrs:disqus , oh man. I had never heard of Skitchin’, but after looking up its truly incredible box art, I’m comfortable giving Skitchin’ the most-90s-game crown. Thanks for the LOLs!

    • dmikester

      I also think it’s kind of hard to remember now, with the huge glut of open-world games, how absurdly revolutionary GTA 3 was when it came out.  DMA Design at the time was indeed a kind of outsider/small studio, but when GTA 3 came out, it pretty much catapulted them into superstardom overnight, and changed gaming forever, for better or worse.  I’m not really sure Rockstar thinks of themselves as an outside studio so much as I think they feel like they have a kind of pass to do what they want, critics and the media be damned, because of what they accomplished with GTA 3. Also, there’s a kind of pressure and clout behind the Grand Theft Auto series that doesn’t exist in the same way for any other open world game series, and so I don’t really blame them for not changing the formula too much.

      • NakedSnake

        It’s like America: we rose to the top on our “don’t give a fuck” attitude, and the Europeans were all fascinated with us. But a superpower who “doesn’t give a fuck” is a horse of different color entirely.

    • Unspeakable Axe

       But these are the games we made them rich on.  Why would they stop being themselves when every title is more successful than the last?

      Also, I do feel like they’ve grown up a bit.  GTA3 was pure id and little more – e.g. the mute psychopath main character who finishes the main storyline by spitefully putting a bullet in the last female standing for talking too much.  Starting with San Andreas, they’ve been trying to have characters with some manner of arc and story around them.  GTA IV gets dinged a lot now for being “self-serious” but the story idea is a good one, even if it means that the traditional GTA rampages feel bizarre coming from Niko.  Red Dead is the best story they ever told and Marston is a classic Western lead.  And now with GTA V they seem to be trying to figure out how to do both things at once – tell a real story with real characters, but also represent the player’s id (with Trevor, of course, who seems almost like satire of a gamer’s destructive urges, and therefore is perfect) and keep tongue firmly lodged in cheek.

      It may chafe somewhat that they’re still trying to represent themselves as outsiders now that they’ve taken over the school.  But I think we could do worse than Rockstar.  Look at the other mega game studios, like EA and the two-headed beast that makes Call of Duty.  They pump out joyless carbon copies year after year with barely a noticeable tweak; and their promotional cycle is a predictable joke, pumping up the one new feature like it’s going to blow your mind, then ignoring the pained cries of their audience when the game comes out and the new feature is crippled with bugs.  Then three months later a patch quietly slips out, and the game slowly withers on the vine because they’re already producing the next one.  The core of GTA may not vary that much but you at least get the sense that they’re constantly trying to top themselves, produce some ultimate iteration of the concept.

      • JamesJournal

        I felt a bigger psychological disconnect in GTA5 than I ever had with the series before. There is a large contingent of people who just want to let it rip in open world games. 

        But the GTA5 characters are more of a mess because with Red Dead/GTA4 the game’s story was at least fully set on your role as an anti-hero (I don’t see my stupid rampages as connected to that anyway) while GTA5 wants to have it both ways

        Even in just the context of the story you’ve got Trevor casually murdering innocent people and whatever the fuck is happening with him an Patricia … and the fact that the more stable Michael/Franklin don’t think this wacko might kill them in their sleep because they beat him at tennis

      • NakedSnake

        I should have made an exception for Red Dead Redemption. I felt that it was a legitimately “great” game. The story was interesting, sad, and powerful. And funnily enough, it did actually change the way I played the game. I didn’t have a problem killing anyone in that game – it was the west after all – but I sure didn’t feel comfortable going on rampages either. As @Pgoodso:disqus mentions above, it felt like I was an ordinary man trying to survive. The fact that I did bad things didn’t make me a bad person. By that same token, I certainly didn’t go out of my way to commit evil, either. It would have felt wrong.

        • Shain Eighmey

          Let’s just put it this way. I’m gravely wounded in the middle of the desert, night is falling with wildcats calling in the not-so-distance, I have two bullets left in my gun, and this man just rode up on me with his fancy suit and horse… 

          It’s nothing personal sir, but I’m taking both of those. 

          I think RDR was the first game that made me kill out of need. I hadn’t killed him and taken his horse, John would have died and his mission would have been incomplete. It’s far too important to let one hapless wander get in the way of!

    • Thor

      I don’t like going to this well-worn well, but you are seriously hipstering it up right now. So what if they’re successful? Isn’t that what you want? 

      • NakedSnake

        There may be some truth in that, but honestly it makes a difference. I’m willing to put up with a whole lot more imperfections from something that’s fringe than something that’s mainstream. I’m just more forgiving. But when everyone comes to me and says “you need to check this out… it’s amazing“, well then, it better be fucking good. What I’m saying is that as you get raised to mainstream success, you’re going to get held to a higher standard.

        • Thor

          That’s fair, but I still don’t see why people have to complain when something becomes successful, unless of course it changes the product for the worse. But GTA has only gotten better, and RDR and Max Payne 3 are some of Rockstar’s best games to date. They aren’t letting the fame get to them and poison the product. 

        • NakedSnake

          @disqus_oxL06A01Z9:disqus, I don’t mean to be too down on Rockstar. I definitely recognize your point about their continued commitment to quality. Most people lose the magic or just get lazy, and they certainly haven’t done either of those.

  • Enkidum

    Awww Disqus wasn’t loading and I figured the server had been crashed with millions of angry Redditors coming here to tell us how awful Gameological is for refusing to acknowledge the brilliance etc etc etc.

    And it’s just the boring old regular people like me. Ah well…

    As for the disconnect between the cutscenes and the gameplay, I dunno, I never felt that as a problem in GTA IV. And I wish I had a more articulate explanation as to why – it’s just I was able to compartmentalize Nico’s missions/cutscenes/my gameplay in a way where they didn’t interfere with each other.

    • Simon Jones

       I have a good way of explaining:

      Ludonarrative dissonace is a stupid concept.

      • Enkidum

        I’m not sure I agree (I’m also not sure I disagree), but liked for brevity and punchiness.

        • Simon Jones

           It’s going to come up in any game more than about an hour and a half long where the main character isn’t a sociopath with ocd, kleptomania and some form of mild autism.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        There’s been a lot of blowback against the term lately, which I just don’t get. It’s a legitimate criticism, and a significant design problem games today face. The way to resolve it isn’t to pretend it doesn’t exist – that’s not going to make narrative games any better.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          While I wouldn’t dismiss “ludonarrative dissonance” as a concept, I do think it’s something that’s often taken a little too literally in games criticism. It’s often reduced to “Hey you just shot a million bad guys but you’re supposed to be a hero,” which I don’t think is particularly insightful, and it isn’t really consistent with how the term is applied in say, Clint Hocking’s piece on BioShock (the piece that actually coined the term).

          Christopher Franklin has a pretty good take on it here, and while he somewhat mischaracterizes Bob Chipman’s and Jim Sterling’s positions, I think he’s right that a conversation about the definition and  applicability of the concept of “ludonarrative dissonance” in games criticism is needed.

        • duwease

          Perhaps it’s a learned response, from growing up in an era where even the best game stories featured characters who could shrug off a nuclear explosion in “game mode” with a healing potion, but who could then be fatally wounded by a single sword swipe in “story mode”, but I’ve always been able to compartmentalize what happens in a game’s story from what happens in the gameplay when necessary.  I rationalize by saying “Well, that’s an exaggeration of what *really* happened”, which explains away the excesses and contradictions necessary to make the gameplay exciting instead of logically sound.

          I do appreciate games that manage to figure out a way to have their narrative and their gameplay play by the same rules, but I just consider that a bonus.  Which is strange, because I’m a stickler for narrative consistency in movies.  I’m a stickler when it happens in game stories as well, but only when the story violates its own rules, not when there’s dissonance between the rules of the story and the gameplay.

        • NakedSnake

          @duwease:disqus I know the feeling. I definitely think of gameplay as somehow a metaphor for what’s “really” happening in the cutscenes. I’m playing Dead Rising 2 right now and the disconnect is so notable it’s laughable. You can shoot someone with a shotgun 20 times before they are “defeated”, at which point a cutscene plays and they actually get killed by something stupid, like something falling on their head.

        • Kevin Johnson

          I think that ludonarrative dissonance may be just part of the nature of action games. Like, sure, there may be some creative ways around it (Prince of Persia comes to mind), but in the end, you’re a hero who has to kill a lot of people (or bats or tigers or whatever) to win. Narratives can bullshit their way through it (the badguys are robots or clones), but clearly that can’t work for every game.

          I think we may have to accept it, among other game tropes that pervade games these days – like buildings with impenetrable doors and conveniently located debris that keeps you on a certain path. Sure, we might be able to establish new ways to get past this, but for now, it is what it is.

          Please note, I’m not giving up on the gaming progress here, but, like certain films (black and white, silent), they’re working with the constraints of their time, in relation to the narrative they’re trying to tell AND the game they’re trying to create.

        • JamesJournal

          As Jim Sterling put it, people who use the terms are usually being pretentious fuckwits

          And as I would tell you, games that made a greater effort to avoid the pitfall would just suffer different harsher critiques for not functioning the way we expect games to.

          Like, to reduce the dissonace in most action games you’d need to make killing REALLY difficult and less frequent.

          I know how that would go.

        • caspiancomic

           This is really sad, and I honestly, desperately hope I’m wrong with this one, but I honestly sort of think the term gets so much stick is because it sounds all book-learnin’ like. There are people, I think, who interpret any sort of academic stance taken during the discussion of a game as some kind of attack, and believe that only their own good ol’ home-brewed simpletonism is sufficient to defend the honour of their favourite games from effete over-educated PC college boys like, you know, us.

          In other words I think the people who throw roll their eyes when ludonarrative dissonance is introduced to a conversation are operating on the same level as people who throw tantrums whenever the word ‘patriarchy’ finds its way into a conversation.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          @jamesjournal:disqus And people who use terms like “pretentious fuckwits” are typically being anti-intellectual asshats, of the variety @caspiancomic is lamenting.

    • JamesJournal

      I don’t get this complaint either, GTA 4 tells a semi-serious story, and when you aren’t acting you your actions serve that story.

      There were times when I tried to see how long I could last at the max wanted level but that isn’t connected to say Niko’s disillusionment with American society anymore than all the times I shot Natalya in Goldeneye.

    • Kyle O’Reilly

      That’s what a  lot of people don’t want to discuss about ludo-narrative dissonance, if anyone were to make a game that didn’t have ludo-narrative dissonance andw as set in the real world it would either have to star an insane psychopath or be about picking up groceries and listening to NPR while you grill zucchini.  I play games for an escape from reality so even if my character in the game is doing things that don’t jibe with the real world I accept that it’s because this is a video game and even if it imitates the real world, it doesn’t have to do it tit for tat.

    • GaryX

      I never felt a huge problem with it in GTA IV because I thought the whole point of the game was that you can’t escape the past. Nico is a shitty guy who did far worse things back home than in Liberty City, and though he constantly parrots this idea of change and redemption, he can never achieve it because that’s not who he is. He’s a murderer; he’s a psychopath. Even in the end of the game, nothing is for the better, even more so depending on the ending. Nico can only still hope even though we all know he shouldn’t. It’s a tragedy, not a story of a guy trying to get out. 

      Though, Red Dead Redemption‘s narrative accomplishes those themes much more successfully than GTA IV does.

  • CNightwing

    What the GTA series games have always lacked is any player agency in the morals and attitudes of the characters played. Even with anonymous, non-speaking nobodies, as in GTA III, you follow a set path through a world of crime and destruction.

    Red Dead Redemption offered some ambiguity, primarily because the setting is not one in which modern day attitudes can be directly applied. The missions were very personal, and sometimes required immoral acts, but murdering was much more fight-to-survive, and when you saw someone stealing a horse or trying to rape a woman, it was up to you whether you intervened or not. They could have gone a step further and allowed you to do more than just kill these ne’er-do-wells, but limitations etc.

    LA Noire I enjoyed because finally you were a good guy, albeit the plot went off the rails at the end, but the side missions asked you to do something good, and still involved driving and shooting. I think Rockstar should take a leaf out of the standard RPG playbook and offer you more in whatever their next game ends up being. Let you decide whether or not to pursue a moral or immoral path, allow you to craft your own story. Yes, you can accuse Skyrim of leaving you feeling detached from your character (because you are a hollow shell to be filled with experience points), but as this review points out, crafted storylines aren’t up to much anyway.

    • JamesJournal

      For me, GTA4 and Red Dead Redemption where games were I was called onto play anti-heroes. And that was how I played the game. Absolutely nothing about Niko Bellic or John Marston implies “active shooter” so I didn’t play that way.

      There were apparently all these options to do criminal stuff, that I just didn’t consider, as I find the idea that Martson would hurt innocent people insane (and that game never calls on you to commit crimes).

      Skyrim lets you do whatever you want, but the presentation is hollow, my avatar in that game is not a person (in say the way Commander Shepard and Hawke are) and my actions good or bad carry no moral weight. And Bethesda games punish breaking the rules a bit to harshly to do it openly, and you follow story pathes.

      I’m not sure an RPG like thing would be their style. I maybe you could pull of an Alpha Protocol like game in an open world.

  • JamesJournal

    - I’m more a fan of the morally ambiguous anti-heroes in Rockstar games such like John Martson and Niko Bellic. I typically don’t use the game as a “chaos simulator” and when I do, I know that this is separate from the directed story, just like when Master Chief tea bags aliens or when my Sim City major wrecks his whole town … or like any game when I start fucking around and breaking the rules. I used to shoot my friends a lot it shooters. It was a tough urge to resist when I wasn’t currently playing to win.

    That said Trevor, Michael and Franklin can be entertaining, but they (Trevor especially) can be shallow sociopaths to the point where I just don’t care. I actually believed in that Niko was a human being with the capacity to have romantic interest in another. I have no idea what the fuck is going on with Michael’s family, and the Trevor/Patricia thing is just a dumb joke.
    - The torture mission is solidly anti-torture. “This is pointless” is being screamed at you even before Trevor spells it out that torture is only done for the sick gratification for the torturer and there are no moral or practical grounds for it- I will slam the game for sexism. It’s got that fake cartoon making fun of sexism, and the 50 Shades parody, but its depictions of women in general are terrible. Yes, this game isn’t supposed to be politically correct, so we will see some hookers and strippers, but there seems to only be one woman in the entire bank robbing community. And the less said about Michael’s daughter the better- I really love the switch mechanic. You are ALWAYS doing something new and different and interesting. But it does come at the cost of killing any sense of progression. They give you everything at the start, so by the end it doesn’t feel like you went anywhere.

  • JimTreacher

    In a video game about criminals, I’m not sure how preparing for, committing, and escaping from crimes is “busywork.”

    • JamesJournal

      It isn’t. The prep missions are well integrated into everything, and the game gives you options. If your heist plan involves presenting to be exterminators, you will have to steal an exterminator van and suits, or you can hit the place guns blazing.

      This isn’t Assassin’s Creed where you had to collect pointless intel before just running up and stabbing a dude

      Every prep mission, from casing the bank, to choosing your route, to building your team and collecting equipment feels like things you would logically do before risking your life on a bank heist.

      • JimTreacher

        Yeah, exactly. That’s the fun of heist stories. I think it’s handled far better here than in GTA 4.

        • JamesJournal

          In GTA4 I was a little surprised that I was suddenly in this epic heist mission. Although Niko was a small time freelance enforcer, he wasn’t pro-thief by trade. And would just be passive in any plotting anyway.

          He would literally be one of the extra gunmen characters Michael hires in the heist job. In fact, there is an in joke to that affect where Lester is like “hmmm I there is this Eastern European guy in Liberty City that’s real good. But he’s gone quiet.”

          • JimTreacher

            Yeah, I caught that. I think that was also a shot at the voice actor, whose name I don’t feel like Googling, who made a stink about money.

        • Simon Jones

          One thing this game has taught me is that I would apparently enjoy a game about planning and executing heists.

          Like a more actiony version of payday 2.

        • Destroy Him My Robots

          @disqus_X4YE2qf8IB:disqus I’ve been shouting “New They Stole a Million/The Clue! please” for years, but nobody’s listening. They’re certainly not action-y though, so that’s probably not what you have in mind.

        • Simon Jones

           Now I want to play ‘They Stole a Million’ again.

        • JamesJournal

          It’s a shame, it’s Niko Bellic is one of my favorite game characters period. I would love to play an “Episodes from Liberty City” style game with Niko in Los Santos

          At least ***spoilers**** Packie comes back in a minor role. I was a little saddened by his assumption that Niko, along with his whole family, was probably dead

      • Professor_Cuntburglar

        This is why I’m disappointed they didn’t include Las Venturas – a casino heist would be awesome.

  • Loretta_West

    “The characters move like butter.”
    Do you mean that they don’t move at all, or that you have some kind of freakish ambulant butter in your kitchen? 

    • Unexpected Dave

      Wait. You mean butter isn’t supposed to ambulant? Then what have I been putting on my toast for all these years?

  • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

    dude, it’s GTA, expecting it to be “deep” is a fool’s errand, GTA has always been about borderline nihilistic anarchy, GTA4 tried for a “deeper” story and it just felt mostly boring and out of place

    not every game needs a deep story that makes you ponder life, the universe and everything to be great and I think GTA has always at least provided interesting enough stories and characters to give you the motivation to finish the missions, sometimes that’s all you need 

    all I can say is holy shit, I wish it was already on the PC, it’s gonna be a loooooong wait (but well worth it, nevertheless) 

    • CrabNaga

      I think GTAV is one of the prettiest games I’ve ever played, so I’m still a little butthurt that it didn’t launch on PC simultaneously. I cringe every time my 360 drops the framerate or every time jaggies prevent me from distinguishing one sedan from another at a distance.

      • GaryX

        The framerate has been pretty incredible on my PS3, actually, but there’s definitely some pop-in that’s distracting.

  • huge_jacked_man

    “The torturing is supposed to be a fun game activity”

    That’s missing the point a bit. It’s more of a Spec Ops: The Line moment, or when you shoot up the airport in MW2. There’s this conscious disconnect between the “gamey” interface (with ironic, useless tooth icon shaking around while you extract the tooth with pliers) and the reprehensible acts depicted. The game is trying to tell you something and it’s definitely not that “torture is fun”. 

    I don’t get why so many people are unable to understand the narrative trick of forcing the player to participate in something plain evil to make a point. Player agency does not constitute endorsement. 

    • Simon Jones

       I’ve come to suspect there is occasionally a certain amount of deliberate degree of obtuseness in gamings critical community if there’s an opportunity for some metaphorical beard stroking.

      • huge_jacked_man

        Sandbox Videogame Ruined By Mediocre Story

        • HobbesMkii

          AJA hardly implies it’s ruined. He actually says that the game’s world and Trevor are both impressive achievements, but that the game’s perfection is marred by a story that lacks the final bit of any effective story: impact. Meaning.

          Is this an exceptionally original complaint about any videogame? No, not really. Pretty much every AAA release suffers from this same failing, as the critical community has been quick to point out, which prompts a lot of hand wringing about when games will grow up or if they’ll ever be art, etc. That can get tiresome, I agree.

          But what I don’t agree with (and what I think is foolish and self-damaging) is the pushback to this idea that story might also contribute to a game, or that by criticizing story, pushing developers to get better in their writing and probe deeper, this is somehow in opposition to the game itself. 

          There are very few perfect things in the world. There are, I’m willing to say, no perfect works of art. So why the hell do gamers pretend like every new release they love (I love GTA5 too, by the by) is somehow the final word in perfect gaming experiences and that anyone who dares to do their job as a critic and point out the flaws is an apostate who must be burned at the stake?

          If you want to take that tack, there’s plenty of mobs over at Gamespot or The Escapist calling for critics’ blood you can blend into seamlessly. This is the Gameological Society. We prefer insight rather than tantrums.

        • huge_jacked_man

          @HobbesMkii:disqus My complaint here is that the review says very little about the gameplay and that’s a trend on this site (and many others).

          There’s many significant changes addressing common complaints about previous installments that go completely without mention.

          Check out the Last of Us review on this site and try and find the 2 lines that mention what kind of game it even is.

          Also I’m not sure what disagreeing with the reviewer here and supporting my position with arguments has to do with the fanboys crying about their game not getting perfect 10s everywhere.

        • mizerock

          As a sandbox, it’s pretty glorious. GTA V lets you do so many things, none as well as games dedicated to that one particular activity (driving, shooting, golf), but all of them are far better than in previous iterations of sandboxes. Are there other open-world games I should play around in?

          The previous versions of GTA were, in some ways, more fun / successful – better story? Better match of actions to the character? Both sound plausible to me. But their look and functionality are so primitive compared to this game, I’m just not sure I could ever go back. GTAIV was in HD but somehow just no fun for me.

          Interesting article, the analysis helps explain why I am already resorting to screwing around randomly rather than continuing to take on missions. Normally it takes weeks before I get stuck in the story and resort to random mayhem. Other explanations: it’s just so satifying to do those regular open-world activities (driving around, finding hidden details, causing minor mayhem and escaping the cops before things get too crazy) and it’s been so long since I’ve gotten to immerse myself in that experience. I missed it.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          If you want to know more about the gameplay check out pretty much any other games website. 

          Agnello’s review here was largely positive, especially concerning gameplay. The story doesn’t work so he talked about that. I don’t really understand why you’re whining about this.

        • GaryX

          @HobbesMkii:disqus I agree but I also get what @huge_jacked_man:disqus is saying. If anything, I often feel like the ambition’s of Gameological reviews actually require a higher word count or a way of substantially looking at a “game” from both its mechanics and its narrative. While AJA does acknowledge the game is crafted better, I think games are a medium where a discussion of craft is something that can and should be discussed as extensively as the narrative. Teti’s AC3 review, I think, manages to at least touch on both and how they inform one another. 
          I love Gameological reviews because they tend to attempt to dig in to the narrative and thematic meat of a game that other sites often gloss over, but this can result in a glossing over of elements that other reviews tend to cover only with superlatives. Maybe I’m just greedy, though.

          That said, I’ve yet to finish the game, so I’m curious to see how my (still very much undecided) feeling of the narrative compares to AJA’s over the remainder of the game.

        • huge_jacked_man

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus That was a joke about the “critical community” refered to by the guy I was replying to not this review in particular. If all you have to bring to the debate is calling people who argue their points without insulting anyone “whiners” then maybe you should consider taking your white noise back to IGN.

        • ShrikeTheAvatar

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus That’s not a fair thing to say, and I hardly think Teti or anyone else here would agree with that sentiment. 

          I like Agnello’s review, and I like almost all the reviews here.  But it’s totally fair to want more information about the gameplay, especially with a sandbox game. 

          Telling someone to go to any one of the other major gaming sites misses the point – we’re here because we like it, and we’re asking for something completely legitimate.  I’m not whining because there’s no rating, I’m not upset because Agnello doesn’t appear to “love” the game.  I just think he could’ve spent more time talking about gameplay.

          I don’t think I’m the only one who heard the story isn’t all that great and then basically shrugged – the stories have never been that great, if you ask me.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          I’m not saying y’all should leave Gameological or anything, just that that information is easily available elsewhere. I vastly prefer the reviews here that talk more about the theme and feel of a game rather than the purely mechanical aspects. 

          This review seems totally in line with what I’ve come to expect from this site and I really enjoy it. Thanks for the suggestion to check out IGN though, dude. I love finding new sites to read!

        • Raging Bear

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus Hey, this guy told me to go to IGN for calling him on his crap too! Wanna go together?

      • Unspeakable Axe

         Likewise.  They either deliberately leave out all the details that contradict their core message, or they didn’t pay close enough attention to the game to notice it gave them those options.  I’m not sure which is worse.

      • CrabNaga

        I agree. I don’t think that GTAV or any huge ’10/10′ game is beyond criticism, but it seems like a lot of people focus exclusively on the negatives. This may be because so much has already been said/is already known about the positives, or things that remain ‘as good as they always were’, but I feel like those good things need to be pointed out as well, or else the entire piece reads like the reviewer is trying to tear apart the game.

        • Unspeakable Axe

           That’s unfortunately owed to the nature of this kind of journalism.  They either go into it with a predetermined narrative (e.g. “Everyone loves this game, but it’s secretly empty and bad”), or play just enough of it to confirm a bias they already had and create the same narrative.  Then they write a sort of hit piece where every part of the writing is formed to fit into the whole argument they’re making.  No aspect of the game can be acknowledged as that good or fun, because it detracts from the point; even if they acknowledge something good (such as the world being beautifully realized) it will be immediately followed up with a mitigating negative sentiment (such as, it’s beautiful but it’s shallow – or whatever makes beauty seem less appealing).

          Very few critics will just experience something and write about what they liked and what they didn’t like.  In a way, I think this kind of review suffers from what is technically BETTER writing.  The piece is more interesting to read; it’s certainly better-shaped than just a list of positives and negatives arranged arbitrarily into paragraphs.  But the latter tells me more about the game; otherwise I feel like I’m being preached to by someone who just hates this kind of game on general principle.  And that ends up only being an enjoyable read if you already agree with them, or are sufficiently neutral on the subject that you can be easily persuaded.

    • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

      Stealth was introduced in GTA: San Andreas, and the whole stealth concept was first used by Rockstar in the quasi GTA spin-off Manhunt.

  • lemuel852

    nice

    my dads buddy got a nice 12 month old Volkswagen Touareg
    Recommended Site w­w­w.J­A­M­20.ℂ­o­m

    • Unexpected Dave

      Why pay money for a car, when I can just tame one that runs wild in the street?

      • Simon Jones

         Because you are too weak to tame the mighty car. To tame the car, as jam20.com does, requires you to persuade the mighty men of the mountains to come down and sing their soft car taming songs to get close enough in order to get close enough to beat them with their mighty mountain man fists until the car knows that to challenge man is to have their will broken.

        That, sir, is why you must pay for a yearling Volkswagen.

        • http://thewickerscale.blogspot.com/ Charlotte Grote

           As a god amongst men once said:

          “nice”

        • Electric Dragon

          Keanu Reeves is the Car Whisperer.

  • dmikester

    GTA V has been an interesting experience for me given that I was born and raised in LA, and that I intimately know all of the areas and stereotypes they’re depicting.  And all I can say is that as an open world and as a representation of a real city, GTA V’s Los Santos is the most extraordinary of any game I’ve ever played.  That doesn’t mean I love the gameplay (though I’m enjoying it quite a lot, much more than say GTA IV), and it doesn’t mean the story is that great, though I do think the satirical writing is sharper here than it’s ever been in GTA, maybe because of the ridiculous level of detail throughout the game.  But it does mean that, pretty much unlike any open-world game before it, just driving around the world is, as Agnello says, an emotional rush.  

    There’s a unique feeling when you live and therefore drive in LA, and I think Agnello hits on it pretty well, of being in a city that is situated in basically a perfect place to live (beautiful weather, right along the water, in one of the most diverse states in the country) but that feels so huge, and where everyone wants to mind their own business and be in their own cars and be kind of separated from everything around them, that there’s an emptiness.  I’ve never quite felt it in other cities, though of course every major urban area has its own thing (NYC, for instance, gives you the feeling of being constantly overwhelmed and everything and everyone always being on top of you, which is sort of the opposite problem).  But here’s the point of all this: I feel that unique emptiness driving around Los Santos.  I can drive into a neighborhood in the game and completely recognize it and feel the disconnect between the other neighborhoods.  I can switch between Franklin and Michael, who live in areas of the city that couldn’t be more un-related to each other, and know that in real life, it’s likely that these two people would never meet thanks to where they live.  

    In essence, yes, as a story, it certainly falls flat a lot of the time, as many Rockstar games tend to do.  And as a game, it’s very fun and insanely diverse in its activities and areas to explore, and I would think worth your time unless you’re just not a fan of open-world games.  But I think there’s a greater accomplishment here, of recreating not just a real-life city, but capturing the specific energy and attitude of a real life place despite the caricatures and silly characters and story.

    • Crimboween

      In my life, I’ve only ever spent three days in L.A. during my honeymoon in the South-West, but we did spend quite a bit of time driving around the city, so I too recognize the more obvious sites and the lay-out of the city. 
      I guess the mosty bizar thing that stood out for me was seeing Carney’s Restaurant on Sunset in West-Hollywood: not seeing just the recreation of the traincars, but actually being able to walk up to the picknick-table my wife and I sat at, eating hot dogs. 
      My wife and I are actually revisiting L.A. in October, and I’m not kidding when I tell you the game was actually useful to us by giving us a general idea of the area around the hotel we’ll be staying at (in West-Hollywood, coincidentally, and the area looks pretty good!). 

    • Kyle O’Reilly

      Having never been to L.A. but having consumed countless books, movies, and tv shows set there, I can say that after playing GTA V, I honestly have an inkling of a feeling of what it might be like to walk down a crowded beach where smelly street buskers play, drive up the pacific coast highway and best of all, get struck in LA traffic is like.  An inkling at least.

    • Professor_Cuntburglar

       I just moved out to LA, and I agree that it totally captures the feeling of the city. Also the colors of the sunsets are like, exactly perfect.

      • GaryX

        I’m honestly fucking surprised they didn’t just put a bullet point on the back that reads “The best fucking in game sunsets you will ever see” because they are incredible.

    • JamesJournal

      As someone with a lot of family in NYC, GTA 4 was kind of like that for me. My cousin would swear I was driving through the old stopping grounds when he saw me play

      • dmikester

        That’s really cool with your experience of GTA 4.  I’ve lived in NYC for the past decade, and I was very impressed with GTA 4 in terms of its accuracy, especially in depicting Queens/The Bronx.  The moments when you’re flying above the city in a helicopter at night are some of the most spectacular and beautiful moments I’ve had in gaming, and they did an incredible job of depicting the skyline.  

        I think GTA 4 suffered in this regard from not sophisticated enough technology, because NYC was just not populated enough to capture that overcrowded and fast paced feeling that only NYC has.  They also put in a really lame version of the subway that there was basically no reason to ride, which is certainly not indicative of normal life in NYC.  I’m not really knocking GTA 4 here, because one of the most important aspects of GTA, driving, isn’t necessarily the norm in NYC, and therefore there’s already a cultural disconnect in the gameplay that doesn’t exist in 5. 

        • JamesJournal

          Even if it could be done, I’m obviously couldn’t practically depict the heavy vehicle and foot traffic of NYC in a GTA style game

  • The_Wereodile

    I disagree with Anthony’s point about the missions. I never felt like I was doing the same thing twice, or that any of it was “busywork.” The heist setup missions felt like I was actually preparing a heist, so maybe that’s why they didn’t bother me.

    As for the story, eh, it was a fun and well-written crime story which allowed for some great missions, which is all I really needed from it. The voice acting is also top-notch. That said, I wish Dan Houser knew how to write women who are not either shrill and annoying or damsels in distress. Some well-drawn female side characters would have rounded out the cast really well.

    I also don’t really see the issue with the world not acknowledging what I do off-mission because I’ve always considered that stuff non-canon, for lack of a better term.

    Overall, I love this game, and most of my problems with it are nitpicks. The wilderness areas are great, but I wish that there was more forest further up in the mountains, as opposed to just flat barren dirt. I also miss the epic car crashes from GTA IV that would turn your car and others into a mangled mess of metal. I was disappointed they toned that down so much.

    • Unspeakable Axe

       You can still mangle your cars pretty well – if anything I think the damage system is a little more refined than before.  However, they made all cars about twice as hard to destroy as in IV, probably because they realized that GTA isn’t a car crash simulator, and when players are constantly driving in the wrong lane at 120 MPH, having every accident result in the car becoming undriveable and the character launched through the windshield kind of dampens down the fun.  You want the cars to get you from place to place across a very massive map, with lots of other cars to run into, so they need to be a little hardier.

      Still, I’ve done some excellent damage to my rides eventually.  Last night I used one to do two long street races back to back, and by the end it was scraped and scratched all over one side, the front end was badly deformed, a bumper was missing, and half the windows were busted out.  At other times I’ve popped a tire, driven on it a while, only to eventually see the rubber tear away and have to painfully skid around on the rim; and I’ve beat up the engine compartment so badly that the car sputtered and smoked, and eventually just wouldn’t start.

    • JamesJournal

      - I seriously don’t get the “busy work” complaint either. Everything you do is fun and has a purpose. This isn’t the first Saints Row/Assassin’s Creed game. You complete legit tasks related to pulling off the big heist missions.

      - The game’s portrayal of women is terrible. Somethings (hookers/strippers etc) can be excused from context. But while I won’t decry the three leads being dudes, why was the wider criminal world such a cockfest? We could have had some female corrupt FIB agents and heist crew members. Michael’s wife isn’t SOOO bad, but his daughter …sheesshhh …

      GTA4 gave us a couple actual women in Niko’s wheelhouse, even if the majority of them (Michelle and Katie) were romantically attached to him

  • Raging Bear

    Poor Mr. Raspberry Jam. Not OK, Rockstar. Not ok.

    • Simon Jones

      Spoilers.

      Spoilers about Mr Raspberry Jam.

      For some reason.

      What made me laugh about that,  because I am a terrible human being, is that he apparently gave the bear an anatomically appropriate…..friendship nook and then has sex with the eye hole anyway.

    • dmikester

      I JUST got to that scene, and oh man.  It also happened to be the mission I did right after the torture mission, so thinking about Trevor’s life over the period from the torture mission to the discovery of Mr. Raspberry Jam is…..not pleasant.

  • JokersNuts

    Tried to get into it but just ended up playing Wind Waker HD all weekend. No regrets.

  • Officer Serpico

    I dunno about this review. I mean, I would think a huge part of a game like this is the quality/quantity of the missions and/or the stuff that there is to do in the game. And there is a ton of shit to do in GTA V. Glossing over that huge aspect of the game to gripe about the connectedness one has with the main characters seems…well, it’s not something I place more value on than having cool shit to do for hours on end. Multiplayer is going to kick all kinds of ass.

  • Max

    This game is a masterpiece. I don’t see how anyone could be disappointed by it.

  • duwease

    “Grand Theft Auto V has missions with anti-smoking, anti-government, anti-PC, anti-social media, and anti-pharmaceutical messages, and all of them shift wildly in tone, opting to glorify anarchic self-indulgence and half-cocked moral superiority at the same time. One second it wants to be satire, the next simple parody. Pure pornography one second, high drama the next.”

    Sounds like South Park: The Stick of Truth just got scooped…

  • Eric Lingenfelter

    The main reason I can’t get into the GTA series as a whole is that the so-called satire that the games are inexplicably celebrated for is so ham-fisted that it makes me feel like my brain’s anus (brainus?) is literally being fisted with ham-covered fists.

    Prime example from this game: LifeInvader. Because Facebook invades your life! Get it?

    If the fastest way to kill a joke is to explain it, GTA’s jokes commit mass suicide by explaining themselves. Dan Houser might as well just post a Vine where he does a wanking motion and says, “America? Whatever.” It’d save him and us a lot of time and money

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      YES. Same problem I have with South Park. It might be mind blowing for a 14 year old who just figured out how to be disillusioned or whatever, but for me it plays like a 14 year old writing about how much like, politics sucks and popular movies are trash and pop music is no good or whatever. 

      • ocelotfox

         And like South Park, some of it can be funny.  But most of it just comes off as crass and boorish, while not adding anything original or truly inspired.  It all just seems really juvenile (not an insult, simply a categorization), which is probably why it appeals to the teenage audience so well.

    • SaviourMachine

      I also don’t consider GTA satire to be the primal reason for praising it as something beyond delievering fun and entertainment game. It is made in that  “in your face” way and simply does not suggest anything except this straight criticism. It’s become a tradition, surely, and helps to establish the absurdic sense of the world, so to reassure players that the game does not take itself seriously. So, if the world is comical, so there’s no reason to create serious drama or conflicts in it. It’s a welltrodden but a safe way for Rockstar, which obviates all risk

    • Knarf Black

      I’ve made peace with the fact that the ‘satire’ and ‘story telling’ are actually ‘world building’ and ‘excuses for cool chase set-pieces’.

      The ‘jokes’ have alway been too pervasive and scattershot to work as proper satire, and the storytelling merely exists in service to the illusion of a living, breathing world. It’s quite the magic trick, though.

      Still, if you want to play a Rockstar game with a legitimately good story, you’re stuck with Red Dead Redemption for now.

    • Unexpected Dave

      I always thought of GTA as being filled with anti-humour. They don’t have jokes; they have parodies of jokes.

    • JamesJournal

      A lot of the parody is too on the nose. But when it sticks, I often find myself face down beating the floor, or at least getting a pleasant smirk like GTA5′s obvious parody of 50 Shades of Gray

      Sometimes what is playing on the radio is too distracting not to stop and listen to. And there is stuff that serves as world building.

      You can literally turn on the TV and watch an MSNBC style documentary on the game’s fictional gangs

    • Thor

      I see it more as parody than satire. No sane person would ever call this satire. 

  • Kyle O’Reilly

    Hey Jay- Pretty valid points about the story really not living up to it’s potential, especially if, like me, you obsessed over all the trailers before release and thought that the snips of dialogue you heard were parts of larger emotional cutscenes but in fact they were pretty much showing you the entire cutscene…

    the Michale crawling out of the pool while his wife yells “You are sad and alone, you psychopath!” seems like it could’ve been the perfect crescendo to a scene about his crumbling home life but instead it was the weird punchline to a joke about his wife having sex with her yoga teacher.  WTF Houser?

    At the end of the day, it’s an awe inspiring world Rockstar has made and one that I have a blast dicking around in.  And what do we have to say to all these people ripping on it as more of the same Jay Rock?

    • Passe_Partout

       I fell for the same smart editing trick as well. The only real gravity I’ve gotten from the story so far is:

      SPOILER
      The lead up to Trevor finding out Micheal sold them out and how he would react, which helped build some tension, but I reached the climax and stopped playing last night so I haven’t seen how it has played out
      END SPOILER

      The problem with most of the scenes is it’s just the characters talking at each other and it all just sounds like sound bites and pithy writing that doesn’t really say anything.

  • MrTusks

    I recently finished Red Dead Redemption, and it seems like the polar opposite of this game. In fact it was so good I may retire from Rockstar games on that high note.

    • TimeTravelParadox

      GTA V surpasses Red Dead Redemption, but just barely. 

      • JamesJournal

        You can make the case that GTA5 has a more developed open world and some really cool missions … but context … sorry I just won’t be thinking about the GTA5 universe years from now. But the moment when I stuck it to Edgar Ross remains fresh in my mind.

    • GaryX

      That’s my favorite game of this generation, easily, so I understand your conflict. 

    • JamesJournal

      Red Dead Redemption is really great. But at least place the zombie expansion or LA Noire

    • Thor

      Nah. GTA V is better. If only because the missions are actually varied, rather than Red Dead Redemption’s “Have John scream what we’re about to do as loud as he can and then go shoot people” missions. Also, this is the first open world game that feels lived in. 

  • TimeTravelParadox

    I dunno, the best, most polished pure video game of the last five years disappointing? I don’t think so. Even if you’re only playing for pure dumb fun, the game delivers on every level. And the GTA series is about something; it’s about how unmitigated capitalism makes nihilists of everyone, and how the United States has essentially become a become an empty shell because whatever ideals it had have been largely stripped away in the pursuit of wealth and status, that liberal democracy has been compromised and left to rot. People ask what it’s about as if other video games are actually about something. Is Skyrim or Mass Effect really about anything other than say, look how epic and pretty that is or look at the power of friendship in saving the world? GTA V says more about our time and place than those Elder Scrolls and Mass Effect combined. Let’s face it. The theme of most video games is: save the world while getting to know an idiosyncratic cast of characters. One can disagree with the nihilism and bleakness and nastiness of the GTA series, but thematically it’s richer than most games.

    • TimeTravelParadox

      It’s also worth noting that the GTA games are basically cartoons, somewhere between reality and a Adult Swim show. So despite saying some really gross and terrible things about our culture, they’re not meant to be realist exactly. The ridiculousness and the jumping between the serious and the surreal are at least in part a stylistic choice. 

      • JamesJournal

        Yeah, I’ve seen plenty of semi-serious Adult Swim/Anime shows that operate on GTA’s wavelength.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

    I love Grand Theft Auto V. I also have problems with it, but I can overlook them because I am having a genuinely fun time playing the game. I get that same vibe from this review, although I think you are a bit more harsh on it than I would be. It’s a AAA title, and you don’t really like it as much as everyone else does, no surprises there.

  • NickHanover

    I hate the need for Rockstar fanboys to defend every single critique of GTA, no matter how valid or off-base, but this review seems more like a review of the sandbox genre in general rather than this game in particular (and I know you mentioned before that you’re not really into sandbox games, Anthony, unless I’m misremembering). Reading it, I felt like every single criticism applied equally to Skyrim, Far Cry 3 and more or less any other major sandbox release from the past year or two. Is it actually possible for a sandbox game to deliver a satisfying story? Are there any sandbox games that really, truly have consequences for your actions and deep conundrums that alter your experience depending on how you interact with them? I don’t think you’re wrong for feeling this way, but I do think there’s a larger conversation to be had about the importance of story and character in a genre that is built around the necessity of providing mostly blank slates.

    Just as an example that bothered me a lot in Skyrim that is similar to the torture criticism, I typically like playing as elf characters. So you would think, as an elf, Skyrim would give me unique options to deal with the rampant anti-elf hysteria that goes on in the setting. Yet both of the civil war factions are basically anti-elf, though one side less so than the other. I could neglect the civil war altogether, but that would be a less than full gaming experience, and choosing one or the other comes across as a “lesser of two evils” situation. There is some token acknowledgement of the anti-elf sentiments when you play as an elf through the occasional remark by an NPC about your elfness. But there is no real choice, it seems to run counter to the story you’re supposed to be crafting for yourself, and the choices that are available are extremely linear. So you just wind up mindlessly pillaging caves and forts anyway and forget about the story for a while. 

    I’m not sure that sandbox games can ever really have a satisfying story experience because they’re about a certain kind of freedom, and the storylines usually exist to fill in the background details more than anything else. In a different comment thread, someone brought up an interesting idea, which was to make a sandbox game where there are no set missions or story points and the story builds itself based on what you do while you play, and that might be the only kind of sandbox game that could accurately deliver what you’re looking for, Anthony. 

  • Phillip Collector

    I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played so far but I’m already really tired of how EVERY CHARACTER IS ALWAYS SCREAMING ALL THE EFFING TIME ALWAYS!!!!!!!!!!!

  • TheMostPopularCommenter

    Ok, this is subjective as it gets, but this is the first video game that speaks to me as an adult. It is telling me that video games are dumb and that I am literally wasting my life playing them. I will still pour 60 hours into it, but I am very aware that the game is dumb and a literal waste of my life, and that the simple act of buying it in a store at a shopping mall at 1 am was just the start of the whole horrifying process.
    The game keeps giving me stuff to do and I won’t feel remotely guilty about skipping most of it. Hopefully the list won’t eventually just freak me the fuck out like Skyrim’s list did. I re-loaded the game after I ran (SPOILER) over Johnny’s girlfriend, and almost did the same after a bunch of other similarly mindless acts. At first this was out of revulsion, but it didn’t take long for me to accept that actually it’s because it something a 15 year old would do. 

    9/10

    • DarkVegas

      Skyrim was so huge and ambitious it freaked me out too

  • http://utau-inu.com/ Brain Stew

    I get a little tired of the illusion, honestly. There’s actually less places to wreak havoc than in GTAIV. I can’t even find an open fast food joint when I want one. I had no reason to expect it but I was hoping that if there was a building, like a gas station or a jewelry store I could go in and roll the place, story mission or not. Maybe next gen will solve this issue. 

  • The_Primordial_Dr_Zoidberg

    LA really isn’t ugly. There are amazing views and sunsets over mountains and over the ocean to see every day.  It just doesn’t have any charm (except maybe up in the Hollywood hills and little bungalows in Venice).

    I’ve lived in LA and NY and I’m much nearer to actual natural beauty in LA than in NY.

    • The_Primordial_Dr_Zoidberg

       In the end (Option “C”), the best point the story makes is in using the character switching to show what’s going in in the lives of the characters after they are *SPOILERS*, but *DUH*:

      filthy fucking rich.

      Frank, who the game kind of forces the most materialism on (West Coast Customs, only guy with 2 personal vehicles, only guy that moves into a new place) seems to spend his days sleeping (next to a picture of his ex that just married a doctor), waxing his cars and buying lots of new stuff for his mansion in The Hills.  And nothing else.  Franklin did it all for the money, and now his life is empty.

      Michael actually seems to be going out and spending time playing tennis with his wife (also, having implied sex with her) instead of sitting in front of the TV drinking and smoking himself to death and cruising hookers.  Michael needed to come back around to the life and come to grips with his past and now it seems like he’s moving on.  He did it for the glory, and now he can walk away knowing he was the best there ever was.

      Trevor-  well he is still waking up drunk on top of mountains and in dumpsters with sun-dresses on and getting hand jobs in parks and living at a strip club- stopping briefly to yell scream political talking points at people .  Trevor did it because he’s a psychopath.  It’s all he can do.

      Interesting that the guy who gained the most from this is the one who seems to be living the emptiest life.  Very subtle commentary from one of the most unsubtle storytellers around!

    • https://profiles.google.com/104936769097499211246 Jonathan Badger

      And not just natural beauty. I love to take the train up from San Diego and wander around (yes, on foot, you *can* walk in LA despite the song) Downtown/Chinatown/Little Toyko/K-Town — because it is older than most of San Diego, there is this real feeling of a city. Maybe it doesn’t compare with East Coast cities, but I like it.

  • NakedSnake

    I feel like I made a huge oversight in not mentioning Bully earlier. That game is completely devoid of ludo-narrative dissonance. You’re Jimmy Hopkins every second of the game. There are so many things that worked well in that game that I’m surprised it is not copied more. At the end of the day, it’s a sandbox game in which you don’t kill people that’s a whole lot of fun to play.

    Also, the element of structured time in it was particularly good at making exploring fun. I’m playing Dead Rising 2 right now, which similarly increases the fun you have in an open environment by defining limits on what you can do when.

    • dmikester

      I love Bully; it’s probably in my top three Rockstar games after Red Dead Redemption and San Andreas or maybe GTA V, which I haven’t finished yet (although The Warriors might knock it down to fourth place).  I completely agree with you abut the surprise that it hasn’t been copied more; there was a wonderful element of time management and social navigation that I think is still pretty much unique in open-world games, and the story and characterization ended up being almost sweet.  Also, I distinctly remember the thrill when you get to first go off the grounds of Bullworth and discover that the town was just as well designed and fun to explore as the academy was.  

    • ocelotfox

       Bully is far and away my favorite Rockstar game for the very reason that it didn’t have the ability to kill anyone.  You played a 15 year old prep school troublemaker, and everything felt like a logical outgrowth from there.  It was also the first time Rockstar started exploring the idea of NPCs that actually lived in the areas, instead of just appearing when the story demanded it.

  • NakedSnake

    Oh man, The Warriors. I forgot about that game and its definitely one of my favorites. They seriously need to think about making a sequel to that game that is a true open world. That would be amazing. At the end of the day, it must be said that Rockstar sure knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

  • M North

    GTA is a game most enjoy because of blowing things up. American TV series’ (bar a couple) are usually enjoyed because of their high-dramatisation and over-the-top social action which tends to shun realism in favour of commercial pull. Combine the two. What could go wrong? It was always going to be a fun game that meant very little, but it’s very distressing to hear so few people talk about it like that. Anyway great review. Good to see things put in perspective.

  • http://www.production24fps.com/ Philippe Gosselin

    This review and the numerous links provided in the comments below, has greatly alleviated my need to purchase this game when it comes out on PC, most likely on the cheap through a Steam sale. Sad though, I had high hopes for this one

  • Phillip Collector

    Granted I haven’t finished the game but I’ve got to agree that GTA V feels more like a toy than a narrative. Lot’s of fun stuff to do but why am I doing it?

    What the hell IS the narrative? I’ve gotten so caught up in running errands I’ve completely lost track of what the story arc is supposed to be. Michael gets back in the game, recruits Franklin, reluctantly gets thrown back together with Trevor and the three of them have to…ah… I guess steal some shit and drive cars? It doesn’t feel like the game has an overarching story arc. It’s just a collection of mini-quests.

    Maybe I’m still so early in the game the narrative hasn’t kicked in yet?

    I know some people feel like that’s the problem with every GTA game, but for me the previous iterations did a better job at letting me know what the main characters motivation was. In GTA V I have know idea what their motivations are. Money I guess? That seems like a pretty lousy motivator when money is almost never a problem and the player already has the ability to essentially own any vehicle they want, including helicopters, subs, motorcycles, jet skies etc…

    • JamesJournal

      Well, Michael is also in to deep with the FIB dudes, who want some terrorism related mcguffins but it is kind of vague.

      Money, was also your goal in GTA4, but that game actually made you feel poor and desperate, and Niko had a clear antagonist, and the overarching goal of getting revenge on his army buddies in LC

  • VictimlessMime

    If anyone at Rockstar games is reading this thread – GTA: Albuquerque.
    A Breaking Bad-esque homage to the Duke City. Art heists in Santa Fe. Biker meth lab raids in Taos. Rio Grande plane maneuvers. Reservation missions with Pueblo communities. Casino robberies. Roswell missions down south. Seedy hotel rendezvous in Tucumcari. 
    YEAH!

  • Mubashir Chapra

    i liked the game and it’s story

  • Sean Cheema

    After the initial shock wore off from the brilliant world Rockstar created, I soon found myself bored with the overall story. I couldn’t put my finger on why I’ve been reluctant to pick up the controller for the last few weeks but this review pinpoints my lack of interest in GTA5.

    Eye-candy is superficial, story and game play ultimately keep the gamer motivated.

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