18 October 2013

Grand Theft Auto V Review

Needlessly frustrating.

That's how I sum up my overall experience with this game. I felt 'Grand Theft Auto V' was an asshole when it didn't have to be and much like 'Red Dead Redemption', it seemed determined to punish you for having any sort of fun outside its established parameters within the story mode.

I know this game has already sold like a billion copies so what I have to say here will probably make little to no difference to Rockstar Games or its fans who have declared their unequivocal love for this series. And hey, I loved and still love to play older Rockstar titles like 'Grand Theft Auto: Vice City', 'The Warriors' and 'Bully'. But nowadays, I personally just don't understand the loyalty some people have for this company anymore. Ever since 'Grand Theft Auto IV', it seems to me more and more like Rockstar has forgotten how to make their games FUN.

Warning: Spoilers follow:

You've probably heard a few of the complaints people have had about 'Grand Theft Auto V'. The misogyny, an unskippable torture scene, animal cruelty, unlikable protagonists, etc. Personally, none of those were more offensive to me than the game's overall general attitude towards the player but let's briefly tackle those complaints one at a time.

Misogyny: This has been a staple of the Grand Theft Auto series for some time now. I sold my copy of 'Vice City Stories' after finishing it because I found it to be too vile and hateful towards women, despite enjoying the 80s setting. I've also never liked the idea of being able to kill a prostitute to get your money back after she healed your ungrateful ass in any of the GTA games, but ultimately the choice is given to you whether or not to kill the hooker after sex, so it's on the player.

As for the other women in this game, it's true they're almost all portrayed as either spoiled brats or total bitches and I can totally understand why people would be upset by this but IMHO, I felt the men in the game are almost all portrayed as spoiled brats and/or total assholes as well, so really, regardless of gender, I felt there wasn't one likeable person in the entire game.

Case in point: Fan favorite Lazlow, the only character whose been in every GTA game and whose twisted but still likable character has been slowly sinking into the muck with every new GTA game is now turned into a complete douchebag in order to justify a later unskippable scene where douchebag protagonist Michael De Santa forces the player to torture Lazlow with piercings and a tattoo needle in order to defend the honour of his douchebag daughter, Tracey. Make no mistake, I firmly believe this game hates EVERYBODY, especially the player.

Torture Scene: This scene IS mandatory in the story mode and can't be skipped. About the only good thing I can say about it is that you have the choice of items to torture with so you can at least attempt to pick the least damaging approach and repeat it until the scene is over. I seriously have to ask what was the point of it though? To parody real life events? Uh yeah, I play video games to ESCAPE real life, thanks. To make us feel bad and uncomfortable? This is a videoGAME, I don't want to feel bad and uncomfortable, I want to have FUN. Remember FUN, Rockstar?

Animal Cruelty: Again, this is a matter of player's choice but the animals in this game are all ink and paint, ones and zeroes and I really can't see this game encouraging people to go out into the desert and shoot up the local wildlife unless they live in an environment where that type of activity was already commonplace well before this game was released. I just feel any group that protests animal cruelty is better served focusing on ACTUAL animal cruelty than worrying about players running over virtual coyotes.

Unlikable Protagonists: It's hard for me to enjoy a game when you're not rooting for any of the protagonists and this game has THREE of them. Franklin Clinton was the least offensive character for me but at the same time, he's a soldier who basically shrugs off all the madness around him and doesn't really have much in the way of motivation or goals, just basically going where the plot tells him to go. He's a little bland and his character arc doesn't really go anywhere. He's like a more laid back C.J. Johnson from 'San Andreas' but with less backstory.

But at least Franklin isn't a hypocrite like Michael De Santa, who tries to come off as an older Tommy Vercetti but is far too much of a pussy for that. Michael is a retired bank robber who hates his life and is seeing a shrink, and ends up getting back into the criminal game through a misunderstanding with a local crime lord.

Oh, but now he has a family to worry about, although why the hell he would bother is a complete mystery to me as Michael’s family are completely and utterly unlikable and every mission involving them just made me want to kill the everlasting fuck out of them. Just because they're a parody of the spoiled rich dysfunctional family doesn't make having to spend time in their presence any less excruciating. Why the hell would I ever want to help and especially save any of these idiots? Oh right, because the game says I have to and refuses to continue until I do. Fuck you, Rockstar.

And of course, despite murdering hundreds of people during the course of the game, you are never given the choice to simply leave or kill your annoying family without immediately ending the game because THAT WOULD BE WRONG. 9_9

Our third protagonist is Trevor Philips who's a straight up psychopath... no wait, he's a killer with a heart of gold... no no, he's a sadist who loves to torture... oh nope, wait, he's just a tortured soul with a soft spot for the tormented... hold on, he just massacred a group of people for insulting his Canadian heritage... yeah. Trevor's character is all over the place, every time he starts to lean towards likable, he does something that makes me want to play as Franklin again just to get away from him.

And while I admit Trevor is probably the most willing and able to engage in the type of mayhem and murder that's supposed to make these games fun to play in the first place, his personality was just too off-putting most of the time and he's still a slave to the albatross that is this game's story which has him kowtowing to people that you actually WANT him to straight up murder the moment they looked at him funny but he won't. Oh, and he's also a pilot, which means you get to fly planes and helicopters with him, and guess what? The flying controls are every bit as clunky and nausea-inducing as the last few GTA games! Yay!

Fortunately, and in fairness, there were a few improvements to gameplay. The cars are not quite as shit to drive as the previous game. You can now play the stock market and actually drive down prices by attacking certain company vehicles, enabling you to clean up with their rival's stocks, which is a cool idea. There are also now mid-mission checkpoints, which was much appreciated and LONG overdue. The bank heist missions were probably the high point of the game for me, but there were too few of them and to be honest, they kinda made me want to play 'Sly Cooper 2: Band of Thieves' instead. ;P

And finally, we come to the main reason this and the last few Rockstar games have thoroughly pissed me off. Overall, it just plain wasn't fun for me to play. I find myself comparing GTA to the 'Saints Row' series, considered to be nothing more than another GTA clone with its first game, actually managed to surpass GTA IV with 'Saints Row 2', IMHO, and the series hasn't looked back since. Not in terms of game sales, unfortunately, but 'Saints Row fucking understands how to make a fun game that you'll want to go back and explore for hours on end, with a story mode that celebrates chaos and respects the player while never taking itself too seriously.

'Grand Theft Auto V' was the complete opposite experience for me and gives off the impression of being free-spirited while being almost completely inflexible with its story and what you can actually do in the game. It wants to be taken seriously at the expense of its gameplay and DEMANDS that you follow its story and embrace its characters and if you don't like them, tough shit cause you're stuck with them.

Now I won't deny being able to design your own protagonist was a big plus in regards to the 'Saints Row' series but I honestly didn't mind playing as an established character like Eizo from 'Assassin's Creed II' because he was a likable protagonist with interesting characters and a story that kept me intrigued throughout. But when I find that the story, characters and protagonists are all shit to me, then what the hell reason do I have to play this game?

And don't let the multiple endings fool you either. IMHO, there is NO freedom of choice or direction in 'Grand Theft Auto V'. The game tells you how you should be reacting to its characters and basically tells you to go to hell if you feel any differently. Case in point: When I reached the end of the game, I killed Michael as Franklin because during the course of the game, I came to despise everything about Michael, his family and I wanted revenge for Lazlow and the character he was before this game ruined him.

All of a sudden, Franklin is guilt-ridden about killing Michael, even as he's chasing him down with a gun. Then afterwards, his family is tearfully calling me and trying to make me feel bad about the murder and Trevor's character flip flops YET AGAIN and refuses to speak to me anymore out of spite.

The game utterly refused to consider the possibility that I felt completely justified in killing Michael and endlessly berated me for doing it, despite Franklin not really ever showing any signs of having a close relationship with Michael in the first place. Hey game? How about letting ME decide how I feel about killing Michael instead of lecturing me like I'm eight years old!? -_-;

That's when I realized I'd had enough. I didn't want to free play. I didn't want to see the other two endings. I didn't want to finish up any last side missions. I uninstalled the game and sold it as quickly as possible on Kajiji. Good fucking riddance.

If you haven't bought 'Grand Theft Auto V' yet for whatever reason, I highly recommend you just get something else. Like 'Saints Row IV', which may not have sold as many copies but was unquestionably the more fun experience for me. But that's just my opinion and I force it on no one.

Unlike 'Grand Theft Auto V'.

15 October 2013

#2LR Too Late Review: The Cat Returns

  There are times, in those early hours of the morning or when I'm relaxing, that my mind ends up wandering.  Sometimes it goes far afield, and sometimes it stays right where I am, kind of playing around my feet like a kitten with a ball of string.  When watching today's #2LR movie, The Cat Returns, the best comparison that I can make is to one of those half-aware dreams.

  To get the real-life details of the movie down on paper, this is a Studio Ghibli movie, though it's not a Miyazaki film.  It's actually a pseudo-sequel to the one of the few non-Miyazaki Ghibli theatrical films, Whisper of the Heart... which, despite owning (and enjoying) the movie, I have not done a Too Late Review of.  At any rate, both movies share a specific character... a cat figurine that comes to life, either through stories of the protagonist (in Whisper of the Heart) or by itself, to help the main protagonist in this movie.

  Consider the below Spoiler Space...

  The movie presents Haru, a high-school girl who is reluctant to get up, occasionally late to school (and laughed at by her troubles), and crushing on a boy who's already taken.  While she and her friend Hiromi are in town after school, she sees a cat carrying a curious wrapped package.  The cat attempts to cross the street, but is set upon by a large truck.  Haru gives her best efforts to save the cat with the device in her hand... a lacrosse stick, which she uses to scoop up the cat as she dashes across the road.

  The cat is safe, and oddly enough talks to her afterward to thank Haru for her actions.  Haru is confused, especially since no one else heard the cat on the busy street.  She thinks nothing of it, though her lacrosse stick is broken.  That evening, she goes to bed but hears a yowling out by the road.  There's a procession of cats, but these cats all walk on their hind legs.  At the tail end (HA!) of the procession is the King of Cat Kingdom, who thanks Haru for her actions... she saved the Crown Prince from death, and the King wants to reward Haru for what she's done.

  The next morning, Haru's yard is overgrown with catnip, which she is unfortunately allergic to.  She dashes off to school, but finds that her shoe locker is filled to the brim with mice.  Later on, her friend calls her to tell her that there's a couple gross of lacrosse sticks all over the hallway, and to ask Haru what to do with them.  In the afternoon of this very strange day, another cat comes up to Haru on its hind legs and tells Haru that the Cat King wants Haru to become his daughter-in-law, to marry the prince that she saved.

  Haru is taken aback, but thinks very long and hard about the offer.  The messenger cat takes her silence as consent and tells her to expect the Cat King to come around to collect her in the evening.  After the messenger cat leaves, Haru realizes that she may not want to do this... and she hears a voice telling her to find the Cat Bureau via a cat that is waiting for her at one of the cross-streets.  Haru seeks out this cat, an exceedingly chunky cat named Muta, and he leads her through quite a few paths to the Cat Bureau.  There she meets both the cat figurine mentioned above, Baron, as well as a stone crow that comes to life, Toto.

  While Haru is trying to process all of this, a massive group of cats comes to the Cat Bureau and pulls her away from her conversation with Baron.  Muta is pulled along with the cats, while the Baron and Toto try to follow along as best as possible.  The cats prove too quick... Haru and Muta are deposited in the Cat Kingdom while the Baron and Toto are on the outside looking in.

  Haru enjoys the Cat Kingdom at first... it's always noon, and the grass is perfect for catnaps.  Shortly after though, she's taken to the palace to be fitted into a dress... and finds herself starting to turn into a cat.  It's explained that she'll turn fully into a cat in order to facilitate the marriage between herself and the Prince, and Haru wants none of it.  A banquet is held for her later on, and the whole time she's despondent.  The Baron shows up and finally perks her spirits up, and manages to get her away from the Cat King.

  We find out that Haru has a chance to go back to the human world, that there's a portal at the top of a tower that's surrounded by a maze.  If she makes it back by morning, she'll be human again.  At first the Cat King is content to watch her get lost, but she and the Baron figure out the secret to the maze and get through to the tower.  The Cat King gets mad and ends up blowing the tower before she can reach the very tip-top to go through the portal.  At this point, it's revealed that Muta was a fearsome criminal (he ate all the fish in the pond) who was booted out of the Cat Kingdom, and he tries his level best to send Haru on her way out.  Thanks to timely intervention from the Prince and the cat that the Prince really would like to marry, the Cat King is thwarted and Haru manages to make it back to the human world.

  She bids a tearful goodbye to her new-found friends and ends up at the school for another school day.  During the epilogue of the story, we find out that Haru's pulled herself together far more, her adventures have helped her to realize who she is and what she needs to do in life... she gets up to go to school early, doesn't moon over her crush, and generally acts like an adult.

Spoiler space over.

  If you managed to make it through the plot, you'll see why I introduced the movie the way I did.  To me, this is almost the perfect vision of one of those lazy dreams put up on a movie screen.  The plot starts pretty conventionally, but progresses to weirder, and weirder, and weirder... little by little, so that you don't quite wake up from your dream, but it's far stranger to end with than it was to begin with.  Next thing you know, the day's crept up on you and you have to move around again in the "real world".  Heck, one of the plot points has to do with the time-limit set by the rising sun... if that's not a metaphor for the dreamy part of the plot to "wake up", I don't know what is.

  I suppose though that one of the depressing parts of this movie is the whole "growing up" thing.  The protagonist is shown as far more adult, far more put-together, far less impulsive, far more responsible... it almost feels like that equals "no imagination" to me.  There's times that I've had little to no imagination when I've been an adult, and I realize looking back on those times that I was also pretty glum and bored with life at times, especially those times when I was by myself.  Writing has been my primary outlet for getting through the imagination-less solitary glum parts of my life, and I hope that Haru has her lacrosse to get her through those parts of her life.

  In Whisper of the Heart, the message is to follow your dream, to become good at what you enjoy doing and seeing where life takes you.  In this movie, I feel that the message is to not get caught up in someone else's dream (e.g. the Cat King's), and to make sure that you're comfortable with your own self before trying to work towards a dream of your own.  It does make a lot of sense, in that at the end of the movie Haru has learned more about herself and is comfortable being who she is rather than defined by either her previous actions (such as saving the Prince, or helping those in need) nor is she willing to play someone else's role in life.  She's now in the position to dream for herself, to create her own world rather than borrow the Cat Kingdom's world to just laze around in.  So, in some odd way, the message of this movie is the prequel to Whisper of the Heart despite the characters making a reappearance for a sequel.

Final grade for this movie: 2.9 
It's especially good for a lazy afternoon, where your dreams and the movie's vision end up glomming together...

13 October 2013

New avenues for posting:

So, just bought myself a new Acer 8.1" tablet with my just-received tax refund money... evidently, the US government is open enough to still process tax returns, especially since they've had mine since April 15. It's actually not a bad setup, the tablet is large enough to type on and view, but small enough to be rather nice and portable, and only $250 to boot. At the least, this means that I can take this to places to blog or write that I would not have taken my laptop.

Things have been looking up more a bit lately, not the least of which is obtaining the new tech. A couple of major issues at work resolved rather peaceably, and I will be in high demand at work through the next couple days with the computer skills that I've been able to use lately. Today, I had the opportunity to see one of my favorite instrumental groups in person, and not even in concert. It turned out that they were in town, and wanted to visit church on a Sunday, and it just happened to be the one that I attend. It was interesting to hear them speak about their challenges.

On the MSTing front, Megane and I have been working almost at double pace lately, getting another MSTing written to be published. It's not always a smooth process, but we're trying our best. I truly apologize for not posting in the better part of a month or so... there's still challenges to overcome, including a bicycle used for commuting that I've not been able to keep on the road lately, but I'll make more of an effort to do some reviews. I do have another Studio Ghibli review coming up soon, and I am still looking to do a post or three on the history of spoof movies too. Thanks again for your patience, and thank you for your support.

(Managed to scratch this out in about fifteen minutes on the tablet... hopefully, as I get better getting these out, this will become more and more of an option.)