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Review: Grand Theft Auto V

10 October on Blogs, Reviews  
Roubar veículos ainda é a alma do jogo

Stealing vehicles is the name of the game (literally)

Grand Theft Auto V is more than a game - the series has been booming in such a way that it went beyond its iconic status and into the territory of a cultural phenomenon. The very fact it is referred to as the acronym GTA instead of its full name is a sign of such transmigration: it's almost like there were two Grand Theft Autos: one is the game itself, something concrete and playable, and the other an abstract concept. The latter is the same one so criticized by the conservative press, an essence of a transgression simulator that exists in a vacuum of playability, as if the whole game was only running cars over recently-serviced prostitutes to get money back. All the broken sales records, in my opinion, confirm my theory - these crowds aren't buying the game, but the concept of the game.

GTA has quite the long pedigree - even before DMA (the Scottish studio responsible for Lemmings that eventually became Rockstar North) created the first top-down view title in the series, they had already toyed with the concept in Body Harvest, a 3D title for the Nintendo 64 with similar mechanics, but using aliens and foregoing the politically incorrect themes. When Race and Chase was rechristened Grand Theft Auto and arrived on store shelves, the game was the target of much criticism by the press due to its violence and controversial themes. However, what many people ignore is that a lot of that furor was the fruit of a publicist seeking to get attention for the game. And once the ball started rolling, inertia just kept it going. Perhaps the most important cornerstone for the series was the launch of GTA III: the series was not only remade from scratch in 3D, but it also defined almost every element that characterizes it nowadays: from plots diving into different underworlds and subcultures of organized crime all the way to the famous radio stations.

A mecânica de golpes é a melhor adição do jogo

The new heist mechanics are the heart of the sequel

GTA III was released merely 4 years after the original. Yet, 12 years after GTA III, we get GTA V... and very little has changed. Yes, the Los Santos players get is stupidly ginormous and even includes underwater areas. Yes, the mechanics of heists and multiple protagonists with different skills add a very interesting layer of possibilities. Yes, the game cherry-picks some of the best elements of past games while tossing some less popular ones. But where is GTA's soul?

In my opinion the most crucial and interesting element of the series was its transgressive spirit: several politically incorrect jokes, ignoring the moral limits others games used to respect in order to not displease anyone. But as I read writer Dan Houser's interviews, a large sense of envy of fellow scriptwriters of movies like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels comes across, in trying to give a distinguished mature feel with intellectual pretensions to the game, but still getting stuck with sophomoric humor, filled to the brim with gratuitous sexual jokes - as illustrated by the game's yoga minigame. GTA feels like a middle-aged man past his prime, buying a Harley-Davidson or trying to fit in with his son's friends to fight the depression of growing up, leaving his prime behind. And I can't help but feel slightly awkward by this bizarre attempt to be provocative and edgy while drowning in penis jokes and obvious pop-culture jabs.

O mundo de GTA ganha nova dimensão embaixo d'água

GTA gains a new dimension underwater

This also affects playability, due to the very maturing of the industry. With each passing year, games become more specialized and intuitive - look at Uncharted 2, "cheating" by helping the player feel like the hero in a Hollywood blockbuster. We shy away from classics like the original Prince of Persia or Tomb Raider, which demanded tight precision in every jump, to go into Assassin's Creed, which empowers the player with the thrill of amazing acrobatics without frustrating the player with the minutiae of literal execution. Grand Theft Auto goes the opposite way due to its jack-of-all-trades attitude: controls are complex and confusing, giving players a Swiss Army knife to deal with. How many times did I dive forehead-first into a wall, writhing on the ground in pain while attempting to climb a 6-foot wall? They were not few, and this kind of behavior is frowned upon like an error by current standards. Not that I against good challenges - but those need to be married to highly specialized precise controls, like we see in fighting games. And while I agree this is a small price to pay for the sheer variety that GTA offers - and if GTA specialized in something, it was exactly its amazing versatility - I still wish it was balanced in the same way that its clones and competitors in the sandbox space have tackled it, like Assassin's Creed, Crackdown, Sleeping Dogs and Saints Row, to name a few: filling the map with micro-missions that offer bite-sized past times that can become an interrupted flow of gameplay between the main plot - a dream for the obsessive-compulsive. Instead, GTA seems to think itself superior to that, putting regular kind of bland character-specific missions, that can be way too long to reproduce this flow, almost as criticism to its copiers - while adding a completely inconsequential mobile app with gratuitous minigames and limiting the view of pictures taken in-game to its social community outside of the game.

São muitos mini-games, mas a qualidade varia bastante

There are many minigames, but their quality varies a lot

That does not mean that GTA doesn't have some truly ingenious moments. Despite rehashing the mostly-unnecessary fake in-game Internet from GTA IV, the addition of two stock markets - an offline and an online persistent one, show the company's brilliance in emplying social mechanics: the community is already gaming the latter, manipulating arbitrary inflation and deflation to make easy money. This is both clever and extremely connected to the very concept of the franchise. This is only one example. Despite a very rough start due to everyone and their mafia-wannabe cousin wanting in, causing severe server instability, the new GTA Online shows enormous potential. Also, fans will find a generous amount of politically incorrect criminal possibilities, as well as other... quite curious activities... from tennis to visiting strip clubs.

GTA V is not an elegant game, but it's biggest sin is losing its transgressive spirit that originally caused the meteoric rise that guaranteed its success. This doesn't keep it from being the best GTA ever released - the nuances of heist are enough to justify its acquisition, at least in my book. But it saddens me to see so much wasted potential in delivering to the expectations of the crowds instead of innovating and provoking as it used to do. The insistence in repeating the same tricks and jokes after 10 years stops being funny and starts getting depressing, and I believe Rockstar has more than enough talent (not to mention money) to take a risk again.

Tech sheet
Grand Theft Auto V
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

Author, freelance videogame journalist, cinematography major and a little insane.