[Editor’s note: I am very much wanting to write about my first few hours with GTA V right now, but I’m also in the middle of a work-related anxiety attack. I apologize in advance if whatever follows is gibberish.]
My weirdness about GTA V continues. This weekend I was having GTA dreams; then, on Sunday night – the night before the game got reviewed – I got no sleep, and instead was having some sort of weird anxiety attack, part of which might very well have been triggered by review anticipation. A wide assortment of badness happened on Monday morning and so I ended up staying home from work, and so I juggled taking care of the baby while also power-reading through the reviews from all the major sites (while being very careful to avoid the comment sections).
The reviews were more or less what I expected them to be – perfect or near-perfect scores, though not without some caveats, cautions and concerns. And while I did manage to avoid the comment sections, it was the gaming press themselves on Twitter who reposted the commentariat’s vitriolic, frothing rage over point deductions. Only on the internet does a 9/10 score get almost 20,000 comments simply because the reviewer dared to point out that the game engages in some misogynistic and racist behavior – behavior which is not unusual for the series but which, in this case, is especially troubling because it doesn’t necessarily seem to be as satirically designed as the rest of the game’s social commentaries.
Anyway, my copy of the game arrived on Tuesday, and I played it for 3-4 hours or so. And now I’m all sorts of fucked up about it.
On the plus side: it’s technologically impressive as all hell, and by far the best looking game Rockstar’s ever made. This is the first disc-based AAA game I’ve played on my 360 in months, I think, and I’m kinda blown away as to how good it looks. I played Red Dead over the weekend and that game still looks terrific, but GTA V really takes it to the next level. The city is colorful and crisp, the art direction is impeccable, and the animation is among the most convincing I’ve ever seen – especially the ragdoll physics, which are borderline creepy.
And as for the stuff on my wishlist, they pretty much nailed everything I wanted:
- Failing a mission is much less punishing, and merely results in a mid-mission checkpoint restart. YES.
- Ambient events – I haven’t seen these for myself yet, but I watched some gameplay video yesterday and so I know they’re in there. YES.
- Miscellaneous challenges – GTA is a different sort of beast than RDR; I don’t know if there’s a treasure hunt yet. Surely there are hidden collectibles, as there are in all GTA games, but I’ve never been good at finding them. That said, the tennis mini-game isn’t terrible (though the camera is a bit low), and the golf isn’t terrible (though it’s not great, either) – I’m not sure I’ll play them again, but it was nice to see that there was at least some effort into putting those things together. Still, I’ve only played for a few hours; there’s a million things I haven’t done or seen yet, and so the JURY IS STILL OUT.
- The combat system is very much improved. Takes everything that worked from RDR and MP3 and further refines it. Cover system works the way it’s supposed to; targeting works the way it’s supposed to; the radial menu works just fine. YES.
- I threw in that bit about navigation almost as an afterthought, and yet that was addressed as well. The new GPS system has a subtle 3D tilt to it, which makes navigation a lot easier (even if I find myself looking in the lower corner more than I’d like). Still, I wasn’t expecting that, and they addressed it anyway. YES.
- Last but certainly not least, there is now a much-needed quick-save option. This was the very first thing I tried once I had the opportunity. YES YES YES.
On the negative side: the short version is that I’m very, very glad that I was wearing headphones. In the first few hours alone, the script uses more “n-words” than Quentin Tarantino writing a Sam Jackson monologue on 6 cups of coffee. And I’m using Tarantino as an example because the Houser brothers, as far as I know, are just as white as Quentin is, and so it’s a little weird. All the dialogue in the game has a stilted quality to it – I suppose it’s meant to sound very naturalistic, but it’s also a little over-eloquent and in love with itself.
And the characters themselves are not what you’d call “nice guys”. It would be hard to expect them to be, and I’m not necessarily sure I’d want them to be – it’s weird enough playing Uncharted and pretending I’m the charming rogue Nathan Drake while killing 700+ people. But these characters are ugly, and from what I hear they don’t necessarily get any more endearing, and if this game is as large as it appears to be, well, that’s a lot of hours I’m going to be spending while feeling rather uncomfortable.
I think my larger issue is that the GTA franchise – arguably the most important and influential gaming franchise around, and certainly my personal favorite – has the unique opportunity to do bold and interesting things. (In fact, Rockstar does do bold and interesting things – in their non-GTA games, like Red Dead and Bully and even The Warriors (and, lest we forget, Table Tennis)). The rest of the gaming world gets the hell out of the way whenever a GTA game comes out – it’s a special event, it’s something that everyone pays attention to. These are important games. And so I guess what I’m saying is that it would be nice if the narrative could rise to the occasion, and not just the technology.