On Monday, I said that I wouldn’t write any more about GTA V until I finished it.
On Monday night, I finished it. I pushed through the last 5 or 6 missions in one go, including the setting-up and execution of the last heist, and then finished the final tying up of loose ends. The Social Club says I’m around 70% complete; I know I’ve still got Franklin’s assassination missions to do (and I’m glad I waited; it’ll be much more lucrative to mess with the stock market when I’ve got $20M in my account as opposed to $50K) and there’s a few strangers and freaks missions left – Trevor got a new one upon the game’s conclusion that, well… I’m curious to see where it goes, let’s put it that way.
Anyway, my original intention was to write about it yesterday – and I did get about 500 words into it – but a situation arose; it would not be prudent to say much more in a public forum, as I’m still not 100% sure who reads this, but the short version is that I was not in the mood to write.
I had to leave work early yesterday, as it happens, and I got to spend some much-needed time with my kid. I was still in a highly agitated state when I left work, and I’d taken some prescription medication in an effort to calm down, but my kid managed to calm me down better than any pill ever has before.
That being said, even after this quality father/son time, I found myself still feeling a bit anxious and edgy, and so when I put him down to sleep I fired up GTA V again, purely because I needed to blow off some steam. And so, finally freed from the constraint of narrative, I switched over to Trevor and did some of his Rampage missions. Picked a fight with some soldiers outside an army base, grabbed a grenade launcher out of the back of their truck, and then just proceeded to blow the shit out of the ensuing jeeps, cargo trucks, and tanks. I didn’t care if I died; I didn’t care about strategy; I didn’t even necessarily care about passing the mission. I just needed to blow some shit up.
Of course, I needed to spend a few minutes driving there; and then, once I’d finally passed the mission, I needed to drive somewhere else, being that there wasn’t anything in the immediate vicinity to do. I found myself missing Saints Row 4 just a little bit; what I wouldn’t have given to be able to zoom along at top speed and then jump a thousand feet into the air, gliding down from the desert back into the city.
Speaking of which, I was listening to Monday’s alternate Bombcast (the one with Klepek and Navarro) and Patrick offered the insight (and I’m paraphrasing here – the moment comes at around 6:30 or so) that GTA V is at odds with itself; that the story and the main missions are so laser-focused that the game fails to take full advantage of, hands down, the greatest open world ever created. And it occurred to me that this is the exact opposite problem that I had with Saints Row 4 – that SR4 takes incredible, mind-bending liberties with the sandbox but fails to make the sandbox itself all that interesting.
It’s funny – I’ve probably written close to 5000 words now about my experiences with GTA V and not once did I bring up Saints Row until just now, at the end, and I suppose it’s a little bit unfair, being that I couldn’t get through 2 sentences about anything Saints Row without comparing it to GTA. To be fair, Saints Row 4 goes out of its way to compare itself to GTA before deciding to fly off the rails, whereas GTA has been willfully stubborn in acknowledging that other video games even exist (which is ironic, given that if you’re going to skewer and satirize American pop culture, you sorta have to acknowledge video games; and this is doubly ironic because GTA itself is seen as being largely responsible for all of the terribleness of today’s youth, if you ask Jack Thompson or Senator Leland Yee.) Now, GTA V does include a few scenes of Michael’s asshole son playing video games; I seem to recall them being first-person-shooters, and indeed Jimmy does attempt to teabag a downed enemy in one of the last missions, so it’s not like Rockstar is totally in a bubble. But it still is a bit weird.
END QUICK TANGENT, BEGIN NEW TANGENT
As long as we’re making comparisons, my perceived competitive relationship between GTA and Saints Row reminds me very much of my perceived competitive relationship between Gran Turismo (the gold standard) and Forza (the young up-and-comer). Both Gran Turismo and GTA took several years between installments, and in that downtime both Saints Row and Forza went from hopeful clones to fully-qualified AAA titles in and of themselves. I have no other insight into this comparison, other than to say that it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while, for no apparent reason.
END SECOND TANGENT
I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about GTA V. I’ve played it almost every night since it came out, but I haven’t really thought about it all that much aside from the time I’ve spent writing these posts. The world is, again, absolutely incredible; but the game itself can be tedious – when it’s not being in love with itself. (The late-game heist mission that sees Michael mopping the floor was particularly egregious in this regard; on the one hand, I admire the balls they have for having you do something that ridiculous at that stage of the game. But on the other hand, give me a fucking break.)
Honestly? I think I prefer IV. Ideally, I’d like to see the gameplay improvements in V placed back into IV – the combat, the regenerating health, the any-time quick-save option, the lessened penalties for mission failure/death. IV’s narrative was dark, yes, but I also found it quite resonant and powerful, and I found Niko Bellic to be one of the most engaging player characters I’d ever seen. V’s narrative is all over the place, and the characters are repugnant and repellant, and I found almost nothing to like about any of the people I was playing as or interacting with; there was no humanity to be found anywhere. Perhaps they evaded “ludonarrative dissonance” by making these characters more likely to engage in the sorts of things they did, but that didn’t make them any more fun to be around.
And I also must admit to finding a lot of the game a bit tedious. The first time you have a long drive to a mission, it’s legitimately interesting, because you’re experiencing the city and you’re engaged in the conversation along the way. But towards the end of the game, it just dragged; if I started a mission and saw my GPS read anything over 3 or 4 miles, my heart sank a little bit.
That said, for the most part the missions themselves were pretty fun. Driving to and from the missions could be annoying, but once I got to where I was going the action was satisfying and some of the grander set pieces were pretty spectacular. I think they could’ve done a bit more with the heists – though I have a sneaking suspicion that more heists will arrive as paid DLC.
I haven’t mentioned the online portion of the game; to be honest, I haven’t played much of it. I suppose I can admit now that I was part of the beta test, which was only up for around a week before the online part officially launched; if you thought the official launch was a technical disaster, well, the beta was even worse. Connection problems, severe graphical glitches, all sorts of scripting problems; I was shocked to see that they were still going forward with the announced launch date, because I didn’t see how they’d be able to fix what was wrong in such a short amount of time.
When I have gotten online, I’ve found the experience lacking. Griefing is rampant and annoying; I got killed twice just trying to enter “passive” mode. I haven’t played it with friends yet; I would hope that would be a lot more pleasant. Doing co-op missions in Red Dead was some of the most fun I had online this generation; I think there are co-op missions in V, but I haven’t been motivated to look for them.
But I also kinda feel like I’ve had my fill, which is not something I ever thought I’d say this soon after any GTA’s release. I may continue to poke and prod in the single-player game, trying to tidy up the side quests and maybe find a few more hidden collectibles, but I don’t feel myself drawn to it the way I have with past GTA games. Maybe that’ll change now that the story’s over and I don’t need to hear these guys talk any more, and I can be free to see the world without all that nonsense.
* * *
What comes next?
That used to be my favorite game to play, trying to figure out how Rockstar would top the last title. Being that we’ve all seen the enormous, unprecedented success of GTA V, it’s very safe to assume that there’ll be a GTA VI appearing on the new consoles, probably in at least 4-5 years; it’s also probably not a stretch to imagine that Rockstar will have already cut its teeth on the PS4 and the XBONE with the long-rumored sequel to Red Dead Redemption, given that the two franchises share a great deal of tech and DNA.
But as for GTA VI itself? I really have no idea. I’ve been wrong every time I’ve tried to guess the city and the era. (Though I still long to see them do mid-late 90s London, which – if nothing else – would have the best soundtrack of all time.) They reinterpreted GTA3’s Liberty City in GTA IV, and they reinterpreted San Andreas in GTA V. But I don’t think they’d revisit Vice City, because they seem to have moved away from period pieces; both IV and V are very much set in the present, and I’d be very surprised to seem them repeat themselves so obviously by going back to the 80s.
Regardless, I find that guessing the city and era isn’t nearly as interesting to me anymore as it used to be. Don’t get me wrong – I have no doubt that the world they’ll create will be astounding to behold, and that the graphical horsepower of the new consoles will allow them to do some truly remarkable things. I am sure that the world of VI will make V seem as small and seemingly uninteresting as V has now made IV, and I do look forward to seeing it.
But my experience playing V has left me wanting. The juvenile humor, the excessive vulgarity and profanity, the rampant misogyny and racism, the “satire” – I’m not prudish by any means, but these do not shock or titillate me anymore, nor do I find the satire all that amusing. Indeed, the Daily Show packs more satirical insight about American culture in a single 30 minute show than in the entire 40+ hours I’ve already spent with V. If we presume that VI would come out 5 years from now… well, I’ll be 43 by then. I’m already feeling like I’m maybe a little bit too old for this franchise; I shudder to think how ancient I’ll feel if they’re still telling the same stupid dick jokes in 5 years.