Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Grand theft time

I play a lot of different game. This year looks like it will finish out at either 72 or 73, depending on if I platoon that last few weeks between GTA V and Lego Marvel. Still, I have some very specific, sometimes nonsensical, aversions. Sports games are always given a pass; the last football game I remember enjoying was NFL 2kSomething on my Dreamcast. I like racing games but I never play anything in the Need for Speed series and there is no good reason for it. My initial experience with Demon's Souls was so atrocious that I have sworn off anything new in the series.

I also never play Grand Theft Auto games. GTA 3 saw a few hours of play, culminated by the theft of a fire engine and moderately amusing chase. Vice City and San Andreas were skipped completely. GTA IV bored me to death. Since then my tolerance for open world games has increased out of necessity. Everything is open world now, even when they shouldn't be. Sleeping Dogs was awesome and that was little more than a GTA clone in a more interesting setting, right?

Wrong. It is time to tread carefully as I am going to be poking one of the sacred cows of gaming.

There can be no argument about the quality of GTA V's world. Los Santos is a place. It is not a map or level, it is a living, breathing city the likes which I have never seen in digital form. If I had not spent the last month with my shiny new hardware it would look amazing and its frame rate would be acceptable. Taken in context it is the apex of what is possible on the past generation's hardware. But is it any fun?

My personal measure for action games is this - am I having fun right now? Is what I am doing at this very moment fun? If not, wait five minutes and ask it again. Two no's in a row and the game is in trouble. GTA V has massive stretches of dead time spent driving from one mission to another. Dead time filled to the brim with real life frustrations like traffic, stop lights and oblivious pedestrians. Supposedly the driving itself has been improved from previous games but I find it severely lacking. I don't need Forza physics but at least give me Burnout.

Once I get to where I am going and the shooting kicks in things do not improve. Manual targeting is a fools errand thanks to a tiny aiming cursor and touchy controls. Snapping from one target to the next automatically works but feels very disconnected. There is no punch to the action. It feels rote, like is it there because it has to be. I am left with a gorgeous, detailed world that is not fun to explore. It is an outdoor sandbox in every sense of the world, right now to the cat shit mines you hit if you dig too deep beneath the surface.

I do not understand the allure of this series. My aversion to open style games is long gone but I still cannot get my hands around GTA V. Right now I am playing it just to hear Trevor talk. He is delightfully deranged and makes me uncomfortable but at least he is not a racial stereotype or  De Niro's character from Analyze This.

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