Part 1 – The Legacy Of Rockstar Games
Grand Theft Auto, what springs to mind when you hear this unique term? People who are not that aware of video games as a medium might think of it as a fancy legal way of describing the theft of a car. However, to us gamers, we simply know it as Grand Theft Auto, the franchise created by Rockstar Games.
When the average person picks up and plays a game they don’t pay attention to the studios behind it, just like the average cinema-goer pays no attention to whom wrote or directed the film.
However, there are some companies that have become infamous and recognised for the games they produce. Either because they produced a sleeper hit like how Devolver Digital and Dennaton Games produced Hotline Miami. Or because they are AAA legends who are responsible for the best games to walk the earth such as Valve with TF2, Half-Life, Portal, and Left 4 Dead. Rockstar Games are definitely in the Valve category.
When you see Rockstar Games on your cover you know you are in for a great gaming experience. And luckily for us, playing GTA V is definitely an experience worth having.
This article going forward contains plenty of spoilers, you have been warned
Part 2 – The Dynamics Of The Story
GTA V is a very bombastic-in-your-face kind of game. Wherever it is the nihilistic satire on the radio or the grand shootouts; GTA V is a game that never lifts its foot off the gear. And the best way to introduce the rapid and the violent nature of the game is by discussing the brilliant prologue. Aside from teaching you the basic mechanics of the game in a way that doesn’t pause the player’s fun experience with the game; the prologue mission does a great job of introducing the main conflict of the game.
This conflict is the turbulent bromance that Trevor and Michael share.
The prologue portrays a bank heist that is being pulled off by Trevor, Michael, and Brad in North Yankton 9 years before the main events of the game. Aside from slight slip-ups such as the police showing up during the escape and their driver getting his brains blown out by a cop in another car; the heist was going according to plan. However, one bullet from a corrupt FIB agent called Dave Norton will ruin everything for Trevor and Brad.
If you have played the game before you are aware that Michael set the heist up for Trevor to die and for Brad to end up in the can. This was all born of Michael’s desire to protect his new family. As Michael says during a mission called ‘Bury The Hatchet’ “Do you wanna die here where it’s always cold, or do you want to live where it’s always sunny.” however Michael’s master plan didn’t go the way he expected because Trevor ended up on his doorstep years later after hearing Michael’s stupid 80’s movie quote during the jewel store heist. Michael should have kept his mouth shut. Since Brad stepped in front of Trevor and bit the bullet and the fact that Trevor held off the police long enough to flee into the snow; the story’s main dilemma is put in place. Will Trevor kill Michael since heaven hath no rage like love to hatred turned nor hell a fury as a best friend scorned.
I am of the belief that this dynamic between Trevor and Michael mirrors Franklin’s relationship with Lamar. Franklin is lost in the gangbanger lifestyle, he spends his days boosting cars and smoking every drug under the sun. Franklin however is tired of this. He is tired of giving a cut of the money he makes banging to the OG gangsters because it is respectful. Franklin wants to go from 2-bit to 3-bit however there is one thing stopping him, Lamar Davis. Lamar is Franklin’s best friend but he doesn’t have the same aspirations as Franklin. Lamar is perfectly comfortable being static in life because that is where his friends are. This is where the pivotal hidden theme of GTA V lays; what is more important comradery or progress.
Will Franklin screw over everyone he knows just for a vapid empty house like Michael? Or will he stay loyal to his business and friends yet live in a trailer park like Trevor? This is the choice Franklin has to make, will he become Michael or Trevor? Whatever lesson Franklin learns is entirely in the player’s hands.
Part 3 – Three Different Characters with Three Modes Of Violence
Violence is one of the game’s major mechanics that GTA V holds within it. The three characters you play are all nihilistic mass murderers with body counts in the hundreds. When I looked at my crime stat page for Trevor it said I had killed a sadistic amount of cops, now I don’t know what that says about me, however, I know it says a lot about Trevor. Every person that calls themselves a games journalist has talked about ludonarrative dissonance before. But GTA V is the perfect case study for ludonarrative harmony. This is because the games’ more violent missions all display a distinct kind of violence each of these characters displays.
Michael’s missions are probably the most clinical. Since Michael is involved with a bloody and vain secret war between the FIB and the IAA over funding; his missions are way more covert and act like spec ops missions in a spy or war game.
In his missions, Michael takes the role of a cold-blooded operative for Norton and his boss Haines. Michael brings a new combat experience that is very different from most other GTA titles. Typically in a game like GTA IV you play the role of an urban criminal like Niko Belic or Carl Johnson doing hits on lesser foes. However playing as Michael feels like playing a more militant role, just like the characters in his favourite movies. Mr De Santa is a clinical agent of destruction like Max Payne; a rockstar character with his own franchise and deep history. Missions like Monkey Business definitely show the type of environment Michael operates best in.
Michael is a master in controlled violence, if there is a plan Michael will perform it flawlessly. However, this does not mean he can not be kill when under pressure. Missions like The Wrap Up where everything erupts into chaos in the typical GTA fashion, the mission shows Michael is able to get out of a very sticky situation, with the help of Trevor and his sniping abilities of course. This mission serves the story motif of mending their tattered and torn relationship before the climax with The Big Score.
Franklin has the most normal kind of violence, this is most likely due to the fact that his special ability isn’t combat orientated. But this jack of all trades style means Franklin can function in most firefight situations.
He can survive amongst the chaos in hood safari, and he can function as a sort of lone operative in The Long Stretch (that is if you play it the way I did where I stormed in front of Lamar and Stretch and take out all the ballas like a savage killing machine.) With most of the missions, franklin is involved in you use his smooth driving abilities to help Trevor and Michael achieve whatever goal they need to complete. The thing with Franklin is that he basically serves as a mediator between Trevor’s mania and Michael’s clinical killings.
The interesting thing is that this is the kind of role Franklin plays in the story. At many points in the game, Franklin has to play the role of level headed negotiator to make sure these two maniacs don’t kill each other. This aspect of game design is one of the best examples of ludonarrative harmony in GTA V.
There are two final things I want to discuss in this section of the review, Trevor’s maniacal slaughtering and the concept of team synergy between our protagonists. If you have ever played a GTA game before you know that due to the open-world aspect; the character you play outside of cut scenes isn’t the same character as the cutscenes display. In GTA IV Niko is a quiet, introspective, tortured soul who is forced to perform horrific acts of violence to make sure there is still blood in his veins. However, outside the cut scenes, everybody plays the role of a gun-toting killer who shoots innocent people because the gun goes bang. Trevor is basically the antidote for this case of narrative dissonance.
Trevor is only one bad day away from gunning down a horde of people with a minigun just because he can. Trevor is the deranged maniac every gamer becomes when you give them a sandbox filled with guns and people. Whenever Trevor makes an appearance in a mission you know everybody in that room is going to be dead except for him.
And this is the high octane fun we all expect from a GTA game, however, GTA V is probably the best game in the franchise when it comes to linking it all together in a neat plot. This team synergy these three poorly matched friends share is best displayed in the heists. The heists involve you moving all of the pieces of the GTA V combat puzzle together into one cohesive order of events. And if you pull it off just right, completing a heist with These characters is one of the most exhilarating experiences in gaming.
Part 4 – Rockstar’s Delightful Details
I have gone into great detail on how beautiful the underrated narrative of this game is, but it all came about due to one thing, Rockstar’s eye for detail. And an even better example of this detail aside from the magnificent story is the graphics. The city of Los Santos may be the most beautiful and large scale city location in gaming history. Now on a technical graphical level, Read Dead Redemption 2 is a game packed to the brim with more visual splendour than GTA V.
However, it is my belief that Rockstar had very different game design intentions when it came to what the map looked like. The thing is that Los Santos isn’t exactly the same kind of tranquil countryside that the map of Red Dead Redemption is. Whilst the grand spectacle of the city and bays/counties that surround it can be enjoyed from certain vantage points such as atop Mount Chiliad or on the Vinewood sign; the truth is Los Santos is a saturated landscape infested with fake advertisements and faker people behind them.
Whenever I decide to use the first-person perspective that this game provides I choose to do one of two things; re-enact the controversial scene from Call Of Duty Modern Warfare 2 or I stare blankly at the NPS’s. The NPC’s that populate the world Rockstar has created is probably one of the most interesting and understated aspects of the game. Now, these civilian / cops AI’s do have some surface-level qualities that do make them seem human. They run away from gunfire, attack when provoked, they do have an obvious survival instinct in their code.
However, if you really study their behaviours, you realise that These people are very different from those that live in the real world. You could be playing as Trevor in a dock workers outfit just holding a minigun and if you walk up to a civilian and they have no reaction to your presence. It is only when you point the gun or move into them is when they react. Now you could just say that the ai aren’t programmed to react to every little thing, however, I believe you can go a little further with this on a more complex level. I believe that the civilians don’t react to the presence of an unwashed man holding a minigun because when you live in Los Santos; this isn’t the weirdest thing you have seen in an hour. Now, this may be far-fetched however it is my belief that this aspect of NPC behaviour (or the lack of behaviour), is actually an unintended hidden piece of satire on how people’s standards of what is normal have slipped… A thing GTA V and Rockstar isn’t a stranger to.
Part 5 – The Scalding Satire of Los Santos
GTA Online is a game that people have a lot of different feelings about. In my opinion, trying to critique GTA Online is like trying to critique Roblox, it is way too difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. There is way too much wheat and way too much chaff. However, there is one thing about GTA Online that I hate on a philosophical level; GTA Online is the kind of game Rockstar would be satirizing in GTA V if they weren’t the ones responsible for its creation. Cultural satire is one unifying trait that all Gta games share and if GTA Online is the most hypocritical, GTA V may have the best.
Aside from the more conventionally luxurious aspects of the map of Los Santos such as the angelic skyline; Los Santos is a city infested with satire. It is impossible to walk or drive around any street corner without seeing a vulgar piece of societal vandalism. And in my opinion, vandalism is a better word to use than satire when it comes to Gta because a piece of satire is something like Watchmen. Watchmen picks apart the superhero mythos yet it can still be greatly enjoyed as a piece of comic book media.
However, if you saw a social media website such as life invader, a game like Righteous Slaughter 7, or tv shows like Republican Space Rangers or Impotent Rage, you would be frankly disgusted. Just like a real piece of vandalism, looking at GTA V’s satire is sickening. And something that is infinitely more upsetting than the satire itself is how realistic it is. Lifeinvader is what Facebook is under the blue happy logo. Righteous Slaughter 7 is the wretched violence Call Of Duty hides under their patriotic stories. Republican Space Rangers is Star Trek if all the characters were replaced by those from Starship Troopers. And Impotent Rage is what happens when you put a drunk Nicholas Cage in a superman outfit.
It is my personal belief that Rockstar’s best piece of sardonic satire is actually the pieces of satire that people actually find somewhat entertaining, the radio ads. Between the obviously amazing songs that Rockstar has chosen to be our anthems whenever we run over civilians, Rockstar constantly bombards us with an only slightly unrealistic advert for a new product. If you slapped on a new code of paint to an advert condoning a slimy new mayor or an acidic beauty product, you would be convinced that it is real. If you wiped off a little bit of the vulgarity and the corruption away, you would get the average political campaign and the average advert for a company that uses sweatshops and foreign labour. It says a lot about the moral black hole that is the average media thing when if you took the average Weasel News reading and if you took it out of context, you could convince someone that it is authentic.
Part 6 – GTA V’s True Nature
It is hard to say the true nature of GTA V as a story, piece of satire, or gaming sensation. Even though I have gone into great detail explaining the complexities of this game’s character, it is difficult to draw anything conclusive. GTA has so many moving parts that it is difficult to say anything about this game without at least making one contradiction. And that is because this game definitely has aspects of hypocrisy to it. Wherever it be the nature of characters like Michael, or just the general Malaysia that is the existence of GTA Online has its hypocrisies. It clearly makes fun of the corruption of large scale companies and products that only exist for money-making purposes. However Rockstar is a massive gaming company only rivalled by titans like Nintendo, and nowadays GTA V and the Online mode is just a dying cow being milked for its milk and lifeblood.
GTA V is a game that reminds me of the adaptation of the superhero comic The Boys. The Boys is a terrific satire on the superhero myth, corporate activity, the mainstream media, and the military-industrial complex. It even points the finger at companies such as Disney with its less than subtle rebranding of the conglomerate as Vought. However, the slight hypocrisy of The Boys is the fact that the show is funded and produced by Amazon. One of the only companies in the world that rival Disney when it comes to owning everything. All it is missing is a news network like ABC (the American news network Disney owns) and a theme park.
However, in both the cases of GTA V and The Boys, the debaucheries in the actions of their producers have made doesn’t devalue the whole gaming experience and message. As a game, GTA V is a near satirical masterpiece that can be enjoyed on multiple levels. Some can play it because the ragdoll physics is funny, and others play it for its deep philosophical wonderings on nihilism and the psyche of bad men. In the end, the way you chose to enjoy this game is entirely in the player’s hands.
This was written by Rhys Hickmott – Freelance Writer
If you enjoy games and gaming and want more NEWS from the Gaming World Click Here