GTA V: Why Go On?

Grand Theft Auto was a series that blew my mind back in middle school. It was so edgy and violent. It felt almost wrong to be fantasizing about the game, but I wanted to pull back the curtains and look inside at the scandalous nature of the game.

It also felt like something that needed to be played. This was mostly peer pressure rearing its ugly head, but when I was 13, I couldn’t be caught dead having not played Grand Theft Auto III. This was helped by the fact that the game was highly original in its approach to building a game world.

Gamers had never really seen a game set up a city that mimicked real life. You could forget the actual mission structure of the campaign and just go for a walk. Taking a slow, leisurely drive through the streets of Liberty City was a distinct possibility. Tackling objectives in whatever manner you saw fit was unprecedented.

Skip ahead to 2013, 12 years after Rockstar Games revolutionized the games industry, and I’m left feeling hollow. Having played Grand Theft Auto V to 100% completion, I have no idea why I was even really excited for the game. I was overcome with a sense of peer pressure from peers I don’t even possess.

Worse still, I’ve been tackling therapy to get a better grip on my own mental state and GTA V revels in the idea of, “Once a criminal, always a criminal.” There is no conceivable way to change the fates of the protagonists in GTA V. They have committed unspeakable acts against their fellow man and have to just continue the process. It makes me feel hopeless.

Other than a few mean spirited advertisements, nothing about GTA V is comical. The script is angry and unwilling to view things from a new angle. Missions appear steadily, but lack any variety. Some of the tasks are simply, “Steal this car.” There is nothing else to the mission and you can even kill the person whom the car belongs to with no consequence from the police.

There is no real challenge other than battling the awkward controls. The driving is markedly improved over its predecessor, Grand Theft Auto IV, but the cover system and gunplay feel clunky and outdated. Adopting a Call of Duty style lock-on system doesn’t mitigate the fact that I can’t aim at the guy to the left if I’m presently stuck on the person to the right.

Even the open world feels devoid of pieces. Random events are a neat way to provide pseudo-procedurally generated missions, but even these fail to mix up their objectives. GTA V does nothing that television and film hasn’t tackled better.

One should not compare this game to other mediums, but when hit TV show “Breaking Bad” has characters growing from their actions and even coming up with new situations to throw their leads into every week, why has Rockstar failed to provide new set pieces for their flagship series?

The overlooked Max Payne 3 took the titular hero to new horizons. It swapped the dark, dreary and slick streets of New York for settings in bustling Sao Paulo and drug cartel offices. Max was out of his league and skimming by the skin of his teeth. His anguish felt intense, visceral and utterly hopeless. Conquering a challenge made the player feel like a god.

In GTA V, all one needs to do is simply sit behind cover for a few seconds and wait for the AI to kill itself. Police have a terrible habit of flying their helicopters into wind turbines or driving their squad cars straight into explosive gas stations. You can even mask yourself from them in bushes, dismantling the otherwise clever mechanic of staying in the dark to escape police.

Worse, though, is that no character grows for their troubles. Franklin is the only character that begins the game in a classic GTA style. He is a gangbanger from the hood who is going nowhere and doesn’t have much to his name.

By the end, apart from the $70 million dollars, Franklin still has no one. He’s learned nothing from his adventure and will probably fall into obscurity for the rest of his life. His game stats barely even improve, though that feature of the game does virtually nothing.

Michael’s story has him bickering with old friend, Trevor, until the two are told to “Shut the fuck up,” by Franklin. After that, the plot kind of drops the setup to the game and tasks the player with just finishing their last heist. The “best” ending of the three possible even wraps everything up like the three characters are all best buddies, despite nearly killing each other a few times.

All of this and I haven’t even mentioned how polished the game is and how many extra side missions there are. For something so vapid and shallow, Rockstar definitely included a tremendous amount of meaningless bonus content.

Finding barrels of nuclear waste serves no purpose other than to give you a trophy/achievement. The extra guns and cars that used to come from finding hidden packages are just gone. Now if you collect all of the “letter scraps” and “UFO parts,” you get a pathetically simple side mission and a trophy/achievement.

Stunt jumps don’t even boost your stats or give you a shiny new car. They don’t even follow the physics of the game. My car often did backflips while attempting a few jumps or would kill me upon impact with the ground. Rockstar seems to have simply filled the game world with so much extra nonsense to make people believe their $60 wasn’t wasted.

Couple this with a soundtrack that evokes no sense of presence or indicates the quality of its era and you’re left with a rather peculiar triple A title. It’s highly polished, runs smoothly and features a vast amount of “things” to do, but feels empty.

It makes me realize that I’m probably not a true gamer. I’ve been playing all manner of games since I was 4 years old, yet now I feel like an old man screaming about the “good old days” and wishing for something new.

If you’re down with everything this game has to offer, then I could easily recommend it to you. The game may not be the finest example of an open-world game, but one will not finish this within a single sitting (or even weekend). There’s even an online component that hasn’t launched yet, which may change my attitude towards the whole affair.

As my thoughts stand right now, I think I really am finished with mainstream gaming. Gaming has changed so dramatically from the old school era that it’s silly to sit here and expect newer gamers to have the same expectations from a game that I do.

It’s also utterly pointless and insensitive to assume that games should be purely about “challenge.” The controversial “skip scene” feature of GTA V makes sense to people who purely want to witness a story unfold. It also highlights how not every minute of gameplay is actually worth seeing.

I just don’t see what else gaming can do. We’re entering a new generation which features launch titles that are also releasing on current generation hardware. The next few months sees the release of more shooters than any other time period I can remember.

I just don’t know how else to enjoy this hobby. When Rockstar Games can’t even provide me with escapism, then I truly believe that no one will ever be able to again. At least I can save myself money in the future, I suppose; silver Linings and all that jazz.

Cinematic Narratives

As gaming evolves and budgets become larger, there seems to be a trend going on: lavish cutscenes. You’d be hard pressed to find a modern, mainstream, triple A title that doesn’t feature cutscenes in some significant way. Be it “Metal Gear Solid” or “Alan Wake,” games just push their narratives onto us through the use of cinematic cuts.

I’ve seen this trend bemoaned as the death of gaming. I’ve heard critics lambaste titles that rely too much on scripted events and FMVs. I’ve read complaints from fans that most games are more movies now than they are game. Is this really a bad thing?

I just recently finished “Binary Domain.” The game was created by the producer of the Yakuza series by Sega. If anyone has played any entry in the Yakuza series, they will tell you that the cutscenes are long and plentiful. Still, the narrative set-up by those scenes is leaps and bounds ahead of most games in the modern climate.

Regardless, as gaming grows and matures as a medium, why is it so bad to include cutscenes in your game? Much like a musician who seeks to tell a story through the use of a concept album, can a video game not decide to display its narrative ideals through cutscene?

I suppose there is a point where enough is enough. The Atlus RPG Classic, “Persona 4” starts off with a 2 hour prologue that is text-based with limited interaction. Capcom’s brawler/adventure hybrid, “Asura’s Wrath,” is composed of 80% cutscenes. Hell, “Yakuza 4,” one of my favorites, includes over 5 hours of non-interactive FMVs. Isn’t that just too much?

I say no. Much like every movie isn’t about broken cops or drug lords and every book isn’t a fantasy novel in the vein of J.R.R. Tolkein, video games do not have a single mold with which they can convey their message. If a developer sees fit to include 6 hours of cinematics, why is anyone even complaining?

This is pretty damn close to “Lord of the Rings,” though…

Maybe the ability to skip said cinematics should be included in every title? Well, I just finished “Shadows of the Damned” three times for the Platinum trophy and I was able to deal with the cutscenes each and every time. They even took on new meanings during my third playthrough as I focused on other elements to the game design, namely Akira Yamaoka’s glorious soundtrack.

I suppose gaming just provides a radically dissimilar interaction than movies, which is why people are sick of seeing so many FMVs. Instead of having control ripped away, most gamers want to keep going. I like getting breaks from the action, though.

The Uncharted series, for as generic and unoriginal in gameplay as it may be, has some very well done cutscenes. Extraordinary motion capture and superb acting combine to make the cut aways something you seek out. While I enjoy popping soldiers in the head, I’m more eager to see Drake’s interactions with Sully and Elena. It gives me a nice chance to catch my breath.

“Max Payne 3” was an exceptional case for having more cutscenes in games. The transitions Rockstar employed to make game and cinematic blend are so ahead of the competition that I barely knew when to stop playing and hardly ever wanted to. I blitzed through the title because I was sucked in by fierce opposition and tight controls and compelled forward through wonderful acting and supreme direction.

After playing such a great game like that, I’m left pondering why I ever thought ridding games of cutscenes was a good idea. Still, I do understand that some people just cannot stomach their existence and want nothing to do with them. I appreciate that viewpoint.

But when did our medium ever conform to one idea? The amount of games I’ve played where there are no cinematics far outweighs the amount that do. You can fire up any number of indie games and get your old-school fix, but even titles like “Portal 2” and “Doom” do not feature any FMVs in sight.

So to any naysayers of cutscenes, all I have to say is just avoid the games that have them. I, on the other hand, am looking forward to the day where an entire game may just be one long cutscene (Hotel Dusk doesn’t count!). I’m all for a slightly interactive movie, as long as the plot isn’t as garbage as “Heavy Rain.”