A feature I wrote for the website www.square-go.com
2013 proved to be a big year for games, not least due to the new console generation landing in our shops very shortly.
But before that one of the biggest stories was the dealer of Grand Theft Auto V, a franchise that proved its worth by making $5m in the first few days of release.
Now that the release hype has died down its a good time to dig into GTAV and take a proper look at it. So, a crack team of SquareGo writers came together to talk through the game, it’s impact and everything else. Join Jospeh Blythe, Elspeth Ritchie, Dave Jewitt and Phil Doyle now on their GTAV post-mortem.
Phil Doyle Like the release itself, we’ll delay talking about the online stuff and hit up the single player. I’ll kick off my saying this: I’m pretty sure this is the first GTA game where I’ve actually bothered to complete the missions. This is, I think, down to the three characters thing. Will this be the biggest success to take from this game?
Joseph Blythe I think changing the narrative structure up in that way has been really refreshing. Gives players a chance to dip in and out depending on how they’re feeling.
Dave Jewitt Yeah, I agree. The three protagonists really added to the enjoyment of the single player, and they were all unique in their own way so I wasn’t just slumping around as some silent avatar in a leather jacket. “I’m tired of Franklin, lets see what Trevor is doing”.
Joseph Blythe I think the level of actual roleplaying people have gotten into with the characters as well has been fascinating. Like actually playing the game differently depending on who you are at that moment.
Phil Doyle That was a comment people made about GTA IV, the disconnect between how Niko was in the cut scenes and how you played as him mercilessly mowing down civilians. The three guys in this game felt like ‘proper’ GTA characters especially, and lets get him out of the way now, Trevor. He was just an excuse for people playing the game to go crazy wasn’t he? Though I do have some issues with Trevor. Well, issues with Shouting Trevor. When he was shouting he felt, to me at least, really generic. It was when he was quiet that he really shone as a character.
Dave Jewitt Yeah, I feel like Trevor SHOULDN’T work as a character, but somehow does. When he gets real close, you feel like he’s going to become unpredictable. You can read shouting. You know where he’s going with that
Phil Doyle Exactly. I really want to say as well how good the cut scenes were, at least the animation of the characters. Considering it was all in the game engine it didn’t let the side down at all.
Dave Jewitt The kind of thing that justifies waiting a millennia for the first loading screen.
Phil Doyle That install was a pain but it really works to justify that wait. End of cycle games always tend to be good but the scale of this game was phenomenal. I always felt that GTA was always a bit too much for each console, especially on the PS2. But this feels like the hardware is catching up with the Rockstar vision.
Dave Jewitt Oh yeah, the stuff they got out of decade old hardware…wow. Imagine what they’ll do with GTA VI.
Phil Doyle With Elspeth here I want to move off the tech of the game a little and touch on the impact of the game. You didn’t play it did you? So how did it feel that first week? When EVERYONE was playing it?
Elspeth Ritchie Lonely.
Phil Doyle Ha!
Elspeth Ritchie I was actually hearing a lot from various sources. But with how much time that needs to be invested, I was willing to wait for well formed opinions.
Phil Doyle Let’s get the controversy (one at least) out of the way then: The mission with the torturing. Rockstar is well known for pushing the limits (Manhunt being one example) but was this too far?
Elspeth Ritchie That’s one of the main reasons I’m glad I held off. I don’t think I would have been able to continue if that had come up and I wasn’t prepared.
Phil Doyle It’s a strange one.
Dave Jewitt I’m not sure if I have become desensitised by years of interneting. But I wasn’t THAT bothered. Or maybe I’m just a terrible person.
Elspeth Ritchie You’re a terrible person. I think that’s a scene more than a few people need to take some time out after.
Phil Doyle Here’s the thing: you get to the mission and the person doing the torturing is the character the game has gone out of the way to establish as a dyed in the wool psychopath. So it kinda felt like something he’d be doing anyway and that knocked the impact out of it.
Dave Jewitt Yeah, he cleared a house full of inbred hicks and burnt it to the ground prior to this. On the way to the mission, chances are you ran over half a family. If violence wasn’t everywhere in the game already I think the impact would be a heavier hitting one
Elspeth Ritchie Those hicks were also likely to take revenge, weren’t they? Not some innocent guy. It’s something Trevor would do, but it’s the player technically in control. Unfortunately, there’s no way to pass that scene without the torture. The character is also the type that would just as soon not to be contrary.
Dave Jewitt If it was Michael… FORCED to do it, you could feel his reluctance, then it would have been a difficult scene.
Phil Doyle The writing of GTA is always something of an acquired taste and I think this bit could have done with a little less GTA-ness to get across the real horror of this kind of sequence. With a bit more thought about the writing then it could have been really interesting
Dave Jewitt Chances are that’s why they went with Trevor. To make it seem that bit more detached.
Elspeth Ritchie Perhaps it’s not so much Trevor’s actions but the lack of reaction from other characters? Michael was perfectly okay walking away.
Phil Doyle True. It’s all just ‘part of their day’. How about the GTA writing in general? The game got a deserved kicking for it’s treatment of women characters.
Elspeth Ritchie I’m not sure how I feel. They didn’t really seem that much more stereotyped than the males characters. But as they are in a lower percentage, I guess it makes it seem as bit worse.
Phil Doyle GTA has always been enamoured with Goodfellas and male dominated crime films That’s their thing, but even with the three characters I think people are ready for a bit more. GTAV felt more like a TV series rather than them trying to stretch a film over 15-20 hours so more varied characters wouldn’t hurt the game. Oh God. Am I saying I want GTA to grow up?
Elspeth Ritchie How dare.
Phil Doyle I know right?!
Elspeth Ritchie How dare you, sir. One of the things I’m interested in characterwise is the development of Franklin. Do any of them undergo real character development?
Phil Doyle Kinda sorta
Dave Jewitt I don’t feel like Trevor went through any: started nutty, ended nutty. He’s nutty.
Phil Doyle Michael? Sort of.
Dave Jewitt Sort of.
Phil Doyle In my head, GTA thinks that it’s Drive. It thinks its that cool, slick, grown up mature crime story. But really it’s Crank, it’s all about the running around and shooting things and doing that with character development is inherently tricky. I think they really tried that with GTAIV, but people didn’t go with it because as soon as the cut scene finishes you’re off shooting people with sniper rifles and blowing up car parks full of cars. But then all I’m describing there is Saints Row.
Dave Jewitt As long as GTA VI doesn’t feature aliens…
Elspeth Ritchie Saints Row knows exactly what it’s trying to do, I think.
Phil Doyle Yeah, it’s trying to be daft. GTA feels like it’s always trying to be important. Basically, its that thing of the daft nature of the game butting against the story that Rockstar tries to tell. But then when you step away from the story, there is nothing else like GTA. And V gives you so many shiny things to play with…
Dave Jewitt There were moments that I felt the story was progressing well, I’d finish one mission and head straight to another in excitement, but other times I just thought “meh, I’ll go faff around for a bit”.
Joseph Blythe I think that’s something the 3 character arc had a big effect on. I read a review, perhaps Edge, which made the point that the 3 characters fell into the GTA narrative like so: Michael, the story Rockstar have always wanted to tell, Franklin: the story they’ve been telling with the last few GTAs, and Trevor: the story that the player has always made for themselves.
Phil Doyle Trevor is the player, he’s Rockstar giving people the excuse to mess around
Joseph Blythe Yeah, and through him it’s the chance for Rockstar to also explore some of the darker facets of the player’s psyche. Such as the torture scene, crazy stunts and aimless violence.
Elspeth Ritchie In guess that interpretation puts the torture scene a different light. It’s them giving the players exactly what most newspapers think players want. Neat little step at how the rest of the world sees the GTA/Saints Row style violence.
Phil Doyle GTA always feels like a few slightly ropey bits (the shooting, the driving etc) but when they come together it somehow makes magic. So what do we think then is the high point of this game? Is it just the fact that it’s GTA with shinier graphics? Or the character switching?
Dave Jewitt The sense of scale was something I really enjoyed about the game.
Phil Doyle The scale!
Dave Jewitt All the tiniest details coming together, things you notice days and days after playing just makes you think “holy crap a lot of detail went into this”.
Phil Doyle Stealing a 747 and skydiving out of it is a highlight. It’s still the best ‘guess what happened to me last night’ game. All the best stories come from GTA.
Joseph Blythe I think it’s the sheer ambition that’s always set GTA apart, and does so once again here. The sheer level of detail that Rockstar have been determined to cram in while avoiding traditional hampering factors like load time, or hardware limitations, is just staggering.
Phil Doyle Yeah, I think thats what sets it apart from a Saints Row. We’ve had, what, two Saints Rows in between GTAIV and GTAV haven’t we?
Dave Jewitt One and a half.
Elspeth Ritchie It’s a far cry from the older games, no?
Phil Doyle In a way, not really. Like, if you go back to GTAIII then the framework of the game isn’t too much different. It’s that with each iteration the scale of the game increases
Joseph Blythe Well compare this and GTAIV, running on the same hardware. You can make the same comparison between Oblivion and Skyrim though.
Phil Doyle Even if the shooting is STILL a bit rubs.
Elspeth Ritchie What did you think of the special abilities? It’s an awkward button press, I heard.
Joseph Blythe I tended to avoid them, myself.
Dave Jewitt I kind of forgot they were there.
Joseph Blythe Actually don’t think I’ve once used Michael or Trevor’s
Dave Jewitt And the only ones I did use was Franklin’s.
Phil Doyle Yeah, the only really properly useful one is Franklin’s as that slows down time when you’re driving. That pretty much covers up all the flaws in the driving controls.
Joseph Blythe And even then I tend to find it’s only handy for winning racing missions.
Phil Doyle It makes riding bikes down the wrong way of the freeway a hell of a lot easier.
Dave Jewitt 5 star police chases in a pimped out super car, that too.
Joseph Blythe Belter.
Phil Doyle How did we feel about the extra layer to this one with the app? Assuming yours worked of course
Dave Jewitt Had an android so no app for me which was disappointing…because I wanted to play with the pooch.
Phil Doyle My big problem with it was that you couldn’t access the stock market stuff from the app. Being able to manage that stuff from an app would be a really good game by itself.
Elspeth Ritchie But not using them didn’t negatively impact your experience?
Phil Doyle The app? Not at all.
Elspeth Ritchie One quick thing on the apps, I love Chop Chop.
Phil Doyle Everyone loves Chop.
Joseph Blythe Aww no I really didn’t get along with Chop!
Phil Doyle Oh, apparently not.
Joseph Blythe Felt like a glorified tamagochi.
Elspeth Ritchie Joseph is actually a robot.
Phil Doyle He has no heart.
Dave Jewitt If you throw a grenade he thinks its a ball…just putting that out there.
Joseph Blythe This is something I have heard…
Dave Jewitt That’s how I found out your dog is invincible
Joseph Blythe Och and his stupid bug eyed dopey look when he was in the app, just had no time for him! Actually I think that and the shooting touches on something, which is that GTA has always been a series that tried to include a great many genres, but never exceeded in any of them. Indeed you could argue that it’s a bad example of its component parts. Bad driving/racing, clunky third person shooting, shallow sports sections, a story that’s nowhere near as compelling as it wants to be. So what makes it all work?
Phil Doyle That special GTA magic
Joseph Blythe Sorry that’s a jump from what we were talking about!
Phil Doyle But it’s a really good point: the game is shambolic at times (the helicopters!) But as an overall experience few games can match it. I did feel that the missions were better in this game, there wasn’t that mission with a horrible difficulty spike that made me not want to play the game.
Dave Jewitt Looking at you CJ…you just had to catch the god damn train.
Joseph Blythe I agree with that, but when I boiled it down the missions still tended to follow a “go here, drop/pick/kill this thing, get into police chase, end” formula, but then that can be levelled at most games.
Dave Jewitt Heists…I wanted the heists to never end…
Phil Doyle Yep, the heists were the biggest new thing for the game.
Dave Jewitt It was a shame we had so few.
Joseph Blythe I heard there were so few that I’ve actually avoided doing them.
Phil Doyle The build up to the heists were brilliant, having to do little missions to prepare for the big one was a great change of pace. But again, a lot of it felt like the game was telling you what to do, it was always guiding you along. Despite that, as a single player experience are we agreed that GTAV is as good as the series has been?
Dave Jewitt Without a doubt. But Vice City still wins best soundtrack.
Phil Doyle I don’t know, flying around Los Santos with Baker Street blaring out is pretty special. I think i prefer the theme of Vice City but that’s just because the 80s was the best decade.
Joseph Blythe I remember getting more into Vice City, but I think that’s equal parts down to me being a teenager/cool setting/3D GTA still being a fascinating new thing.
Dave Jewitt But I didn’t want to listen to someone telling me how to spell GLAMOROUS all the time.
Elspeth Ritchie There were some interesting side characters/missions (and not so interesting – truck towing). Did they feel like busy work or actually contributed?
Phil Doyle Some of Trevor’s were good, there was a celebrity obsessed couple that brought the best out in him.
Elspeth Ritchie Did those missions work with the stock exchange and other stuff to feel like a full world?
Phil Doyle Yeah, but again the game properly signposted what you had to do, what stocks to buy etc.
Joseph Blythe I quite liked the touch of killing people to affect the stock exchange, but never clicked that I could actually buy/sell the shares ahead of them until last week. Doh!
Phil Doyle Yeah, the best thing is to leave those until you complete the game, then you can make MONEY
Dave Jewitt I never made that much money, it confused me. I’ll never own that golf club
Elspeth Ritchie Is it something that carries over into the online play?
Phil Doyle SEGUE. Online. This was pretty much ****ed from all directions when it was launched. have any of us been able to spend any time in it?
Dave Jewitt I’ve spent a good number of hours in there. 90% of the time I’m playing missions (races/survival/etc).
Phil Doyle Again, from all I’ve heard its a proper ‘you won’t believe when…’ story generator. I’ve not got too deep into at as it was always broken when I tried to get into it.
Joseph Blythe I’ve been on a handful of times and it’s been absolutely fantastic. There’s a palpable thrill to sharing the full world with other players, knowing they could round on you at any moment. I’ve had some amazing off-the-cuff chases just milling around because someone decided they wanted to just kill me.
Dave Jewitt Its the kind of thing that’s frustrating and hilarious at the same time.
Joseph Blythe I think getting a game with other people I know would make it extra special, but I haven’t got too many people I can get on with.
Dave Jewitt Like when people say “if you can’t take it, don’t give it”, Its hilarious to blow out all the wheels on someones car, awful when it happens to you. Which kind of perpetuates a never ending cycle of messing with each other with people in the server.
Phil Doyle Yep, its the perfect game for trolls.
Elspeth Ritchie Joseph, are you going in as a crew member or random?
Joseph Blythe Technically I’m a crew member, of the old Edge forum group, but I think most of them play on 360, whereas I’m on PS3. So yeah my times online have been as a random.
Dave Jewitt I only ever play when I have friends online, otherwise it’s just abuse from 13 year olds and GTA races.
Phil Doyle I setup a crew the social club as soon as I could then engaged in some pretty serious pre-online-launch flaming on twitter but that never really happened in the game thanks to the problems with it.
Elspeth Ritchie The crews seem like they should help develop communities beyond Friends List. Not sure if any other games do the same type of tiers.
Phil Doyle The Rockstar Social Club has really helped there, especially for posting my selfies from on top of cranes. I know people were upset when it didn’t work but when you think about the sheer volume of copies sold I don’t anyone, not even the deep pockets of Rockstar, would have been able to cope with it on day one.
Elspeth Ritchie Do you think holding back a little longer might have helped?
Joseph Blythe Rockstar’s stubborn resistance to carrying out open betas ahead of launch didn’t help though. Even ever-secretive Fromsoft have been doing that with Dark Souls II to make sure it works when it launches.
Phil Doyle I think it would have been borked whatever happened.
Dave Jewitt You can’t really plan for that volume of traffic. All the tests and simulations in the world aren’t going to prevent the server overload of a million sticky bombs blowing up and then….silence.
Phil Doyle It was, what, one in every 27 people in the UK who bought it? Even if a percentage of them try to log in that’s still a massive strain.
Joseph Blythe Sure sure, but I still think a bit of forward planning in that regard might have helped everything to calm down a lot sooner. As it stands, there were still issues weeks after launch.
Elspeth Ritchie But do you feel Rockstar handled the situation well?
Phil Doyle By literally throwing virtual money at the situation? So far.
Dave Jewitt About as well as they could.
Phil Doyle But then if it’s six months/a year down the road and it’s still broken then thats not good.
Elspeth Ritchie Was there enough communication from them?
Phil Doyle They were quite good a dropping in updates on the load screen when you started up the game, even before you’re in the single/online game.
Elspeth Ritchie Aw, I like when games have relevant load screens.
Dave Jewitt I’ve not experienced any issues since the first week, but that’s just one persons experiences.
Joseph Blythe They weren’t in a situation where they could really just take it offline until it worked without facing a massive PR hit, so they’ve handled it as well as they could considering.
Phil Doyle So then, GTAV. From someone who wasn’t that enamoured with GTAIV I’ve properly enjoyed this game. It’s bookended this generation (near enough), where do we think it goes from here?
Joseph Blythe Watch Dogs!
Dave Jewitt ahem Next Red Dead game cough
Phil Doyle I’d be happy for them to drop in a few more stories Ballad of Gay Tony style.
Joseph Blythe I await the almost inevitable GTAV zombies DLC
Phil Doyle There’s been all this talk of a PS4/Xbone version of GTAV, would we want that? Or just skip that and go straight for the proper next gen version?
Dave Jewitt As far as more GTA goes, I’m happy to let rockstar take their time.
Elspeth Ritchie I will say, the water in GTAV looks fantastic. They’re really showing off what these consoles can do if you aren’t squeezing out a sequel each year and focus on improvement.
Dave Jewitt If a GTAV comes out on the next consoles, I wont buy it again. A PC version however, with the ability to mod. That….that could be interesting
Phil Doyle PC MASTER RACE
Joseph Blythe That’ll go down a storm.
Phil Doyle I’ll be happy to put this in my top games of the year.
Elspeth Ritchie I’d be really interested if PS3/PS4 and XBox360/XBoxOne same servers can exist. To help bridge the gap.
Dave Jewitt I think they should take a leaf from Bethesda. Release the mod tools they use themselves. I have no doubt in my mind that is one of the main reasons why its still such a massively played game but they’ll do that as sales start to slow not at release
Phil Doyle The Game of The Year version for PC?
Joseph Blythe Games of the year, sure. Games of the generation, which is in many ways another conversation we should all be having soon, not so sure.
Phil Doyle It’s strange because it’s probably is a game of the generation but then isn’t it always? even with all it’s flaws there is nothing else like GTA.
Elspeth Ritchie As it features submarines and helicopters, it’s got two of my main boxes ticked.
Joseph Blythe Haha.
Phil Doyle Oh god, the helicopters. Just…the helicopters
Dave Jewitt They handle REAL GOOD! Said no one ever.
Elspeth Ritchie God bless that Yellow Submarine. Oh, who’s been eaten by a cougar so far?
Phil Doyle Yes. Trevor, rest in peace, just couldn’t get his automatic shotgun out quick enough.
Dave Jewitt Shark, yes. Cougar, no. Punk-ass cougars.
Elspeth Ritchie You obviously need Bat Shark Repellant.
Joseph Blythe Cougar got me just once, as I drove some unfortunate soul up to the cult and after the cutscene my car had vanished, so I had to walk down the mountain. Bloody GTA bugs.
Elspeth Ritchie Joe, it’s obvious a cougar stole the car to set up the scenario.
Phil Doyle Right then to finish up I want you to sum up GTAV in one word. GO
Joseph Blythe That would have had so much more impact if we’d been sitting here in person.
Phil Doyle THATS MORE THAN ONE WORD.
Joseph Blythe Heh.
Phil Doyle Is that your one word?
Joseph Blythe Heh is not a word!
Elspeth Ritchie Dinger!
Joseph Blythe I’m going to go with ambitious. Rockstar set out to do more here than anyone has ever tried to in a single game, in terms of content, scale, detail, and so on. And they succeeded.
Phil Doyle So, thats Dinger and Ambitious. I’ll go with…Scale.
Dave Jewitt Money Both as it’s worth your money, and it has deserved the staggering amount it’s made.
Joseph Blythe My backup word was tasteless, which would touch on the controversy its brought up with the torture, sex and misogyny, but I won’t bring all that up!
Elspeth Ritchie So we’re all going to go watch PS4 unboxings now?
So there we go, GTAV is one of the biggest games of this generation and might just be the exclamation mark on this cycle of consoles. It’s well worth your time and money, warts and all.
Now all we have to do is wait for GTAVI…