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'.

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