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On March 31st, the most controversial name in gaming will be receiving its fifth installment. Grand Theft Auto 5 will sell incredibly well, and gamers will be spending hours and hours delving into its contents that will probably never all be seen. Reviews for the game are expected to be higher than the last critically beloved GTA game, which at an impressive 9.5 average is an impressive, yet still believable expectation. Though I will be picking this game up and probably will enjoy a vast majority of it (in other words, you’ll see the review here), I doubt I will surprised by anything but the new story.
I have nothing against GTA. In fact, I own each console version that has come out since 2 on the Playstation One. I’ve robbed banks, been chased by SWAT and tanks, stolen sports cars and got my prostitute refunds the same way everyone else who can buy M-rated games: with a baseball bat. The root of my problem is the wrongly titled “sandbox” nature this game and the many others that tout “fully realized, open worlds.” As a concept, it makes sense, but in practice the results are notably less than spectacular. Join me as I point out just what keeps these kind of games from being great.
Manhattan… My kind of playground
For anyone who is unfamiliar, GTA and the others to be named in this article are not sandbox games. Sandbox is a subsect of the Open World game type in which the player is able to modify the environment and the things around them (think Minecraft). Open World games usually require two main components. These are nonlinearity and a large game world. The rest is based on type of game and the will of the developer. Games in this vein include The Elder Scrolls, Metroid, Fallout, Spiderman 2, The Legend of Zelda, Red Dead Redemption, etc. The examples go on and on, though GTA exemplifies the concept the best since 2001. I mean, when other games are called GTA clones, I think my point is made for me.
If You Don’t Have Something Nice to Say…
Tell me that isn’t gorgeous and I’ll know you’re lying
Without knowing what is good about these games, the pain of their failures isn’t as fully felt. Story is an amazing high point, especially for Rockstar Games’ entries. Epicly crafted with memorable characters, fresh plot points and a gritty dark aspect that most games don’t go for. In addition the worlds are absolutely beautiful to see. The White House in Fallout 3 may be in shambles, but the visual is gorgeous. Fallout New Vegas makes you feel like you’re in a desert. The Mercenaries series make you… well, want to bash your brains in with your controller, but that’s beside the point. And if you’ve played Skyrim you know your $60 American will go a long time, as I’ve racked at least two hours per dollar spent on just one character, and I have four. So now you can’t say I was a bully when I get to the complaints.
Nonlinearity is a Joke
I wonder how this chase will end
Grand Theft Auto has missions visible on the map, sometimes more than one at a time. How many ways can you get there? A whole bunch! But most of you will do what I did and set the GPS for the shortest route there. Taking another way would only take longer and we really just want to get to that mission. Sometimes there are two, even three choices for missions: Hot Dog! Does it make a difference what order you do them in? Not usually, and even when there is, the difference is usually negligible at best in its results on your game. You want to make your time between missions more interesting? Boy, would I! Well, most of the time it devolves into a simple formula: Do illegal act. Do illegal act again until police notice. Run from police, possibly commiting other illegal acts in the process. Get star rating up so helicopter joins cops. Get killed and magically come back to life, or hide long enough that the cops forget you ever killed 200 people and cost them millions in damages. There are hundreds of combinations of this, but the fact that you’re looking at this formula and realizing every one of your murder sprees falls in, sort of makes my point for me.
Big Empty Spaces
A sample of 80% of the Fallout world
Remember that whole bunch of ways you can get anywhere in GTA? It’s still true, but think about it. Aside from missions that bring you to certain areas, you tend to spend most of your time on the roads that take you where you’re going in the shortest time. Even games like Skyrim, which barely have roads in the massive countryside areas, see more players aiming their compass directly towards the location of their current quest and heading directly there, sidetracking a bit to avoid the occasional enemy or mountain range that may pop up. And it takes a long time to make it where you’re going, making that total time played stat seem a little funny. For more modern games, with bigger, more sprawling cities than Elder Scrolls games, another complaint is the fact that although you may be able to enter some buildings for food (health), paint jobs (repairing damage) or bowling (shameless time padding), the vast majority of the world is static, unchangable buildings. This would be understandable, except for the control you have over objects. Whether you’re popping off rockets like they’re bubble wrap, or just emulating Billy Joel, there’s no reason the building should be standing, let alone undamaged. And while we’re on the subject…
I wish I could do this and not get arrested, too
…why is it that realism gets the boot and still gets touted as a feature? Sure, the games have real things like gravity, realistic car details and the ability to hide an RPG, stocked shotgun, crowbar and samurai katana in a track suit without showing them (deep pockets, I suppose), but other details matter. There is no reason I should be able to do half the things I do in these games and not get the instant reaction from authorities I do in real life. I could hit three cars with a bus in front of a cop in GTA 3 and nothing would happen, but I tap that cop a little bit and suddenly shooting at me is an acceptable solution? Even if you make the argument that a game shouldn’t have to deal with that to make it more fun, then why not use it as a fun thing? Fallout radio stations comment on missions I complete and even if I was good or evil during it. Why not a news report on the massacre I just paid $50 to get bail on, or $100 to heal from getting blown up by a tank? At least throw in an HMO joke or a scene of breaking out of county.
Copycat Ain’t a River in Egypt
I will be happy as hell when they stop releasing these
With GTA making so much money and being the talk of forums, critics and even multiplayer in recent years, there will be others who try to cash in on the success. Starting with GTA 3, more copycat GTA clones began getting pumped out. Now even with my complaints about so called Open Worlds, most of the games that sell well have other things outweighing the bad aspects. Others don’t do as well, failing to capture the best parts of what they are poorly copying. The Simpsons Hit and Run, Driv3r, Saint’s Row and the recent game versions of The Godfather and Scarface are all examples that, although had their own charm, never came close to the greatness of a Grand Theft Auto. Or even being all that charming.
The Times are A’Changin’
That train is looking awfully profitable…
Although this article has taken a lot of shots at Grand Theft Auto, it still happens to be a great game despite all the complaints. But there is one that stands in my book as higher in the greatness scale, and that game is Red Dead Redemption. This is the game that acutally takes away the strength from my arguments. Sure you’re going from point A to point B, but you can get mugged, shot or cougar’ed along the way. Sure there are big expanses of nothing, but it’s the early 20th century in Frontier America, and you wouldn’t want to be exploring a desert anyway. And as for realism, you can still eat hits like a Kardashian eats fame, but the lack of consistent law enforcement of the time makes sense of the rest. The lack of copycatting, however, may not be the best thing, as this game has features worth copying. This game is the pinnacle of the genre and needs a little more credit for being so.
I am praying GTA 5 has corrected some, if not all, of these things. I am also praying that a cougar doesn’t kill me the next time I play RDR. March will be the true proving ground, and as unlikely as either prospect is, I will always keep an open enough mind to give the games a chance to prove me wrong.
I’m looking for disagreement on this article. Feel like you have a good counter-argument? Let’s see what you got in the comment section below! And remember to keep the language PG-13 for the kiddies!