I never originally planned to write this, but since I finally got around to finishing the game after overcoming a myriad of bugs and other hindrances, and the fact that I’ve nothing else planned for the night, here it is. Now, I did the vast majority of the game’s mission, which took me some thirty hours. This was due to numerous crashes and problems with control schemes (which I will get to later), but there’s your disclaimer.
I suppose I should also say that I make no conscious effort to be a contrarian, but due to the nature of what I’m about to say would be a stark contrast to many established opinions that I feel the need to put that out there. Also, I play this game on a PC, which is the best version, so that’s another log for the fire. Finally, I don’t play GTA online, and I never plan to.
First off, let’s start with the more technical aspects. By all means, GTA V, in its context as a giant, ambitious open world sandbox, is a respectable display of modern gaming. Even with my admittedly low 2GB VRAM on an EVGA GTX 770, I was able to play the game at almost-maxed detail at a stable ~50 fps, occasionally taking a dip, but I blame that on my VRAM, which is completely fine. There are a myriad of options available otherwise, and that’s a good thing. The PC version takes the longest to come out, and they sure show me why. Most of the menus are mouse controllable as well, which is all fine and good. One of the biggest problem I have with the menu, however, was the unresponsive menu and button prompts, often requiring multiple tries or combination of inputs.
This brings me to my next point. Though this game is on a PC, it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s made for the PC if the control scheme is of any indication. Arrow keys usage, insanely slow scrolling with the wheel, a hilarious need for an extra set of prompts just for other vehicles, and character’s turn rate akin to that of a wet sandpaper. This leads to an extremely frustrating, constant problem overall of imprecise inputs, and general ragdoll movements, which of course would be perfect were I to use a controller. I don’t just say this out of jest, because I actually used the controller for some 20% of the game. Granted, the game itself does do an excellent job of letting me seamlessly switch between those two inputs. I was forced to pick up my controller due to the fact that my keyboard didn’t have numpads (I’m a writer with an obsession, spare me), and found out promptly that the game plays far better with a controller, generally. Of course, the mouse and keyboard combination was what I used throughout the majority of the game, because I actually want to aim at things with decent accuracy.
Another praise I have to sing for GTA would be its world construction. The city of Los Santos, from oil rigs, to suburban downtown Los Angeles (an intentional slip, naturally), to the Nevada desert (just without the prisons), is a marvel to look at. I spent a great amount of time just walking around and taking in the view of the city’s wilderness, and not just because of my terrible driving resulting in my vehicle throwing itself ten metres into the air and I end up wherever. This is helped immensely by the general ambience as well as sound track, merging to create a semi-authentic atmosphere that believable enough that I can comfortably ride my flash red chroma silver motorcycle into the sunset, before promptly hitting a pole, losing control and plunging helplessly into the ocean. Granted, the radio stations leave much to be desired, but I hate radio music anyways so I don’t know what I’m complaining about. It’s great that it lets me do a custom radio station of my own, however, so I could do high-speed chase under the influence of Rik Schafer’s ‘The Last Round’ at will.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about narrative. It’s no myster that Rockstar’s bringing American’s favourite biting sarcasm and social commentary, to make fun of America itself. It’s honestly just a very fully committed way to take a piss on everything, and by that I do indeed mean everything. It’s nice that Rockstar doesn’t really feel the need to hold off on any of the sides, because that makes it more fun. Sure, their video games are free to deliver political messages however they like, but it takes a good deal of confidence to now sound like they’re picking sides, and I think they’ve done a great job in that department. Never throughout the game do I feel like there’s something the game’s trying to force down my throat, and that takes dedication.
However, when I first start examining the writing is when I start noticing the major flaw of the game. The game has this feel of us trying to take its problems seriously, but at the same time making fun of it. Now this is fine, and has been a decent plot device in the past. Everything about the story and the character feels very forced and safe. Now, this is serious subjective territory, so you take what you will. Furthermore, I understand if you find my assessment of GTA V as ‘safe’ somewhat delirious. The game features torture, mutilation, drugs, murder, and even a woman being ripped through shed by an airplane fan blade. Why would I find that to be ‘safe’, you ask? Well, I suppose it’s because I’ve seen it all on television series before. The killings and the drugs have been far too desensitised for decades that they barely register as consequential events anymore. The torture was unexpected, and I have to say it did catch me quite off guard. However, it was ruthless beating and execution, something done by games such as Gods will be watching before, at a much better level. It doesn’t nearly strike me as much as waterboarding, sound chambers or such similar levels of pain and suffering. Maybe I’m just a psychopath that’s used to seeing said things, but my point was that nothing Rockstar dared to show us really push the insane limits in anyways. I know you want to talk about Trevor, so I’ll cover him in a minute. Right now, I’m just talking about the narrative as a whole. Bank heists, treacherous friends and corrupt government officials, these are all things I’ve seen before, and it’s boring, sincerely. Now, the one liners and comic timing saves a lot of these faults, but most of the dialogue just makes me uncomfortable in an out-of-touch sort of way.
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about our resident murderers here. Micheal, your typical (truly typical) 90s sitcom American male going through a mid-life crisis. The only twist is, of course, that every cliché is played up to insane levels, as to make the players capable of poking fun at practically everything he does. The consequence of this is it leaves pretty much nothing for the imagination. Due to the in-your-face parody style of narrative the game has chosen for itself, there is no longer room for any ounce of subtlety. It’s funny sometimes, but mostly it’s just damn tiring. Hearing the characters repeat thirty different versions of the phrase mid-life crisis does that to me. Is watching Michael pin a C-list celebrity to a chair, cut off his hair, pierce his face, and tattoo a penis on his chest hilarious? Yes it is, but that doesn’t change the old ‘men being violated is hilarious’ thing. Now I’m not picking a side here. ‘All women are sluts’ is perfectly present too, and it’s not like Rockstar’s picking a side, as I previously mentioned. The problem is, everything here is cliché, and that’s it. It’s a cute combination of a variety of facets and topic, but it offers nothing new to the table. IGN’s review says the game ‘takes aim at the modern American reality’. That’s correct, but that’s the same thing TV shows have been doing for the last three decades, and no, the world being amazing doesn’t make the satire feels anymore biting. You might say that it’s quite a bit ahead of a lot video games on this aspect, and you’re right. However, as a firm believer that video game as an art form is capable of far greater and better things, I found myself unable to lower my standards on this issue.
It’s time to get to Trevor. He’s a maniac, or just your typical speed freak. Whatever it is, our guy here with serious parental issues and the inability to not take excess amount of drugs up his rectum at all times make his antics equally hilarious. He’s apparently made to over-the-top and utterly off-the-wall, and that is exactly the kind of vibe he gives out. The problem is, since everything he does is so comical, it also loses the weight regarding the consequences of his action completely. I don’t care whose face he’s going to eat next, because as I said before, the parody is so blatant that the game’s plot has escaped the realms of reality long ago. No longer does any shocking or grotesque sequence it tries to put in my face holds any semblance of agency, because it’s too fake to have immersion. That’s the problem with Trevor, more specifically his general attitude. He’s too much of a clown, and that aspect overwhelms him as a character.
Franklin, however, is a real piece of work. Now I’m not black, nor am I an American, so I can’t even begin to attest as to how authentic the game’s representation of what life in the hood is, but it’s fascinating to me. I understand that if you’re one who’s familiar with such an environment, it becomes a lot less effective. However, Franklin is the one whose problem feels the most real and sympathetic to me. He’s a struggling young man who’s trying to get out of a struggling past. Yes, this is also a cliché, goes my general criticism, but it’s not as over-the-top as the other two. He’s by far the most human character in the entire game, and though that’s not a particularly high bar, it’s good enough. That said, the mission involving him and Lamar, as well as how they always devolve into giant shooting galleries, are just as ridiculous as any other. ‘Not that high a bar’, said I.
Lastly, let’s talk the missions. Missions are a combination of driving, finding, killing, more driving, more killing, contextual button prompts, and mini-games. It isn’t exactly inspired, and the idea of pacing is completely lost on a sandbox game. Which is why I think here is where the game falls even lower. There’s very little variety in the missions involved, it’s mostly the context and length that truly makes everything unique. The problem is, it really isn’t unique, going back to the combination of all the previous criticisms. At the end of the day, I’m someone who cares about narrative a lot more in a single player video game, and I can’t really say any of this appeal to me greatly.
Let’s loop back for the conclusion. Within the confines of GTA V’s mechanics, there are a lot of mini-games, and they are all terrible, bar none. They are fully contextual and serves as nothing but gates. The reason they exists is because the global mechanics of the game itself is extremely simple. You drive around, you shoot people. You don’t expect more than that (not that the shooting is anything but mediocre) from a GTA game, and that’s what most of the focus on. Everything else, from underwater bar-melting, darts throwing, to yoga, are all barebones and bad. They’re necessary, as in adding flavour to the world, but they’re bad, as in could be vastly improved. GTA V as a game truly is something greater than the sum of its parts. In my view, however, the real problem is that as the mechanics are all typical and mediocre, while the narrative is cliché and nothing but quips, what exactly does hold this game together, and make it a masterpiece? Well firstly, I would never regard it anywhere near one of my favourite games, and it’s not my masterpiece. Different strokes for different folks, as always, so take that as you will. However, what does actually make the game good is how much content all of these things appear to give. I don’t find it all that special, as the game isn’t even on my ‘might play again’ list. However, it’s a pretty nice sink if you feel like driving around Los Santos is worth your time.
So I suppose that’s it. GTA V is undeniably a fine game, but I can’t help but disagree with all the 10/10s. It really does just seem like a majorly hyped games surrounded by rave reviews that turned out not living up to them, and subsequently disappointing. It’s hard to say where I’d take it from here, but I certainly won’t be awaiting the sequel with bated breath.
Pictured is official art