GTA V - Worth the wait?
WARNING: GTA V is rated 18+ - The playing of this game shall inevitably and ultimately corrupt the innocence of the young and impressionable. Please note we hold no responsibility for the decay of morality that this game may or may not cause. Otherwise, enjoy this article.
Initially I wasn’t head over heels for Scottish developer Rockstar North’s latest virtual blockbuster.
I’ll probably get it when I am not wracked with guilt at the thought of dipping into my scanty savings account and giving my parents a seizure, I thought. I sighed at many posts on social media emblazoned with some variation of ‘goodbye social life, we had a good run’ attached to a picture with the iconic collage of psychopaths and narcissists in prominence. My apathetic millennial zeitgeist thought that anything remotely ‘mainstream’,from Justin Bieber to the Hunger Games, must be awful as many other people liked it as well.
To think that as a result of this I nearly grumbled back to my cave, The Smiths playing in my ears and an ironic t-shirt on my chest, and missed the gaming event of the century so far, makes me break out in a sweat and dash back to Los Santos to enjoy more time with the strangely amicable cast of misfits that form the core of the GTA V experience.
To start, GTA V bounds out of the screen and latches onto your eyeballs with its imagining of a vaguely dystopian Los Angeles, named Los Santos (‘The Saints’) to avoid a lengthy lawsuit. The city itself sprawls over an area larger than predecessor GTA IV’s Liberty City and it is spectacular in vision. Smoky‘hoods’ full of low rent criminals who utter phrases that baffle anyone not from America mingle with high rise skyscrapers which in turn blend into suburban mansions of starlets and drug barons, sometimes indistinguishable from each other.
The city feels alive too; with so many pedestrian models that I scarcely remember seeing the same ‘person’ twice, each of whom who chat intophones and each other, even to you, with typical Rockstar hilarity. And then you have Blaine County, a dustbowl chock-full of rusting industrial piles, memories of a time before silicon was king in the world capital of plastic, complete with inbred hillbillies who just love to assault those who ‘speak all fancy like’ and dead coyotes. Rising above all else is Mount Chiliad, a dusty behemoth of a hill that takes hours to scale on foot (but not long in an Aston Martin…). Wandering round the beautiful map is surely one of GTA V’s highlights, soaking up the sights of a vividly imagined metropolis and its environs, as well as the occasional bullet.
The gameplay itself is tweaked to (near) perfection. The driving, an integral part of any GTA game is relatively smooth, updated from the jerky hell of GTA IV, and it almost always feels satisfying to slide into a fresh car and gun the accelerator for the first time. The gunplay, a second vital feature, borrows elements of Rockstar’s earlier games Red Dead Redemption and L.A Noire to create more flawless gunfights that feel satisfying. This makes another change from GTA IV, where carefully planned gunfights normally dissolved into frantic peek-and-shoot from cover, all the while spamming the health cheat on your phone.
This is not the case on GTA V, where the intuitive cover (and partial health regeneration) system means you can now shoot safely out of cover without seeing an impending medical bill in your near future. Perhaps the range of modifications is a tad basic, but GTA is not Call of Duty. Guns aren’t an integral part of the story - they are just used to get what you want, as talking your problems through isn’t what real people do in Los Santos. The checkpoint feature in missions is a lovely addition, allowing you to skip past a section if you fail three times. Everyone has that one mission which they found horrendous, and Rockstar cannily anticipate this flaw.
Also, you can customise cars again! You can drive a perfectly decent car into a Los Santos Customs garage and leave with chrome rims, huge tyres, a personalised licence plate, and a horn that plays Für Elise.
Why? Because it’s America.
The storyline plays like a film; such is the quality of the writing. You are introduced to three very different characters; Michael, a forty-something ex-bank robber who has made some bad decisions in his past to ensure his position in the Bourgeoisie, as well as his accumulated millions. However his wife is cheating on him with half the city, his daughter parties with pimps and drug dealers, and his son is a lazy video game addict (Rockstar’s jibe at the stereotypical ‘gamer’).
Michael sprawls in his back garden in the grip of his midlife crisis, anaesthetizing himself with whisky and waiting for death or dinner, whichever comes first, until Franklin turns up. Frank is a twenty-something aspiring hood from the streets of south LS who wants to break out of a life of petty crime and into the big time but is held back by circumstance and moronic friends. Michael then adopts him as a kind of ‘son in crime’ and educates him in the ways of the great American past time (other than college football and invading other countries) bank robbery. This is all fine and dandy (well, ish) until Trevor turns up.
Ah, Trevor. A twitchy-eyed psychopathic, hipster-hating poster child with abandonment issues, who pops out of nowhere to make money and kill people, much to Michael’s chagrin. The three then team up in a series of heists which the player plans, but of course a whole lot of chaos involving mercenaries, nuclear weapons and Michael’s self-loathing gets in the way.
The chemistry between the three protagonists, as well as their interactions with other characters is fantastic and really immerses you in their world. You feel like you know them as people by the ending (of which there are three possible, one infinitely preferable to the rest).
The Switch system allows for a novel and quick way to switch between the three when not on a mission, and places you in the midst of one of their daily activities. Franklin may be kicking back and watching TV or cleaning one of his cars. Michael may be arguing with his family or riding a bike. And Trevor may be unconscious on a beach surrounded by numerous dead people, in a dress. He will then get up and stagger away without a single word of explanation.
Rockstar’s satirical take on the American way of life is a hilarious but thought-provoking experience. Hearing radio adverts calling for the legalisation of medical cocaine and the invasion of Great Britain (because Hollywood baddies are always
British) incite a chuckle, but it’s also sometimes sobering. Outsourcing, political corruption and vile media culture are taken to extremes in GTA, but they aren’t unfeasible to imagine in an age of ‘Made in China’, phone hacking and ritual humiliation a la the ‘X-factor’.
What the characters think about the state of the world, such as Trevor’s hate of racism and socio-political deception by governments and big business, are both still relevant to an appalling degree in today’s society, not just in America.
The game mocks relentlessly and has provoked scandal as a result (such as Lindsay Lohan’s recent lawsuit against Rockstar due to the purported likeness of her parodied in game), but points out the flaws in a dream that is dying in a hotel room with a needle in one arm and a plastic prostitute on the other, as well as deeper problems that gnaw away at the society we have built for ourselves on the backs on fragile technology and ideals that are growing bitter in our mouths.
By Edric Eastaugh - Year 13
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