Monday, October 28, 2013

My Month In Games: Sep./Oct. 2013

Grand Theft Auto V - Playstation 3

Well, here we are.  GTA V came out just over a month ago and I've played little else since.  So many people are playing this game and writing about it so I'll try keep my thoughts focused and brief.  I probably won't be able to, but I'll try.

In my review of Red Dead Redemption I wrote that I had grown weary of the GTA blueprint while playing GTA IV, but that the engaging characters and western setting of Red Dead had felt like a breath of fresh air and an enjoyable twist to the formula.  I had concerns that GTA V would simply be a return to... well... GTA, and I was right, for better and for worse.

I can't deny that I enjoyed Rockstar's decision to revisit the setting of Los Santos.  As a native of Los Angeles I got a kick out of once again seeing my city (sorta kinda) rendered in a video game.  The sights and the sounds are highly detailed and gorgeous to behold, and as a result the game feels more immersive to me than ever.

In my review of Red Dead Redemption I talked about how the character of John Marston was a welcome reprieve from the typical gangster/thug protagonists of your average GTA game.  Sure he was rough around the edges and had done some bad things in his past, but he was trying to turn his life around and go straight.  The problem that I have with all three of the main characters in GTA V is that they are all psychopaths with little to no regard for the chaos and destruction that they leave in their wake.  This is the problem that I have had with every GTA "good guy" since Vice City and it's the same problem here.  It's just hard for me to step into the shoes of (and root for) a remorseless killer.  At least in GTA III you had a nameless mute protagonist to whom you could assign your own story and motivations, but in GTA V each character talks openly about their selfish desire to profit from the misery of others.  Now, I don't want to give anyone the idea that I'm a prude here.  I don't mind violence or mature themes in my games, it's just that as I grow older I find that I don't get much joy in playing the bad guy.  It's just hard to get emotionally invested enough to want to see their story through to the end.  At least in a movie that follows the bad guy you're done in two hours, but with a game like this you have to stay invested for 30-40 hours.  Anyway, I want to make sure that I stop short of saying that the story and the characters suck.  They don't.  The game is entertaining enough from a story standpoint, and I enjoyed the antics of Michael, Franklin, and Trevor to a point,  but I had trouble staying connected to it and mustering up the motivation to care about what ultimately happens to the three main characters.  And YES, I get that this game supposed to be satire and more than a little over the top in its depiction of society, but my argument is that Rockstar creates dissonance by setting their game in a realistic world and then populating it with despicable assholes who kill indiscriminately and then wax on about wanting to find a way out.

Except for Trevor, he's quite happy as a killer, thank you!
From a gameplay standpoint, I think that we're really talking about more of the same old, same old.  I appreciate the tweaks that have been made to the driving mechanics (cars stick to the roads a bit better and driving is less "dangerous" overall than it was in GTA IV), and the game does generally control rather well, but it's all what you've come to expect from Rockstar and GTA.  The missions are repetitive, the gunplay uninspired, and...yeah, I mean it's fucking GTA.  Again, I'm not saying that I haven't enjoyed a good amount of my time with GTA V.  Everything works fine, and there are a few interesting new mission types, but the combat is still boring, and too many of the missions still consist of "go here, kill this guy, come back". And SERIOUSLY Rockstar, you can't come up with better combat mechanics than "lock on, fire...lock on, fire"?  I KNOW that you can TECHNICALLY free aim, but the aiming crosshair is WHITE and only a few PIXELS around.  Unless you're sitting dangerously close to your TV you're not going to have much chance of using the free aim option to liven up the combat.  You'll be shredded before you can even draw a bead on most of your enemies.  In fact, here's a link to an article on Kotaku that explains this in greater detail.

Before I conclude I should also say that I was very eager to try the online potion of this game.  My mind swirled at the possibilities and the potential of multiplayer GTA (and there are some people doing some amusingly INSANE stuff: see below) but in my experience it basically amounts to more of the same only with a bunch of human controlled assholes constantly trying to wipe you out.  I could maybe see myself enjoying a few rounds of golf or the occasional tennis match with another player (the golf and tennis play remarkably well considering their mini-game status in the overall scheme of things) but I'm not so interested in joining a crew of random people and banding together to pull off heists or rob convenience stores.  Maybe I'll spend a bit more time with it in the future, but the time I spent scratching the surface didn't make much of an impression on me.

To wrap up, I did kinda sorta mostly enjoy my time with GTA V.  The city of Los Santos is an incredibly detailed world with plenty of diversions but I just couldn't shake the feeling that I'd seen and done it all before.  This is easily the most refined GTA I've experienced yet, and for that Rockstar deserves praise, but I just wish they would tweak the formula to make the gameplay, and not the story, more of the focus for this series.  They know how to create a world and work a vibe (and I do love the driving and flying) but the gameplay is just feeling largely stale at this point.

This is some multiplayer action that I can get behind!

Gumshoe - NES

A little while back, when I wrote about the NES launch games, I was unable to play any of the games designed to work with the NES Zapper light gun.  The fact is, light guns designed to work with CRT television sets don't work on HDTVs. Then, about a week ago, the guy I co-host my podcast with expressed a desire to replay this unique classic and he was even able to round up an old CRT television. I'm sure glad he did because I had almost forgotten about what a great game Gumshoe is.

For those who may have missed it, Gumshoe is a forced side scrolling platformer that is played entirely with the Zapper light gun.  As the titular private eye makes his way from left to right through the stages, the player protects the character by shooting him to make him jump and by shooting the obstacles and enemies that threaten him.  It's a simple and fairly unique concept (I can't think of another game before or since that plays this way) and it's made all the better by solid gameplay, sharp 8-bit graphics, great music, and cool character designs.  My pal and I were able to make it through the first "quest" of four stages, but we quickly gave up when confronted with the exponentially harder second round.

In researching this game I came to find out that it was designed by Yoshio Sakamoto, a producer and director who as a member of Nintendo's famed R&D 1 division helped create Balloon Fight, Wrecking Crew, Kid Icarus, and Metroid.  Now, I don't know if I'd rate this game right alongside the likes of Kid Icarus and Metroid, but it's quite fun and definitely worthy of praise for its distinctive style and presentation.  If you have the ability to play this game I highly recommend it, especially if you're a fan of the classic NES "black box" games.


No comments:

Post a Comment