Best of 2015: Great Times Ahead: Late to the GTA Party (Bearhugger70 Exploded You)

First Published: Mar 11, 2015
Voted For By: Tim, Ed
Reason(s) For Vote:
“Whether it was in Liberty City, Vice City or San Andreas, GTA has the power to engross you like few other games.  As with anything popular, from the outside looking in it might be hard to understand what the fuss is all about, but once you’re in, you’re in!  Hearing Mark’s story about finally being won over by Rockstar warms the cockles in my heart, and takes me back to my younger years (too young, to be honest) when the same thing happened to me.  Welcome to the club.” – Tim

“The first time a game really hooks you is a special moment no matter what. While you’d expect most people to have played through a GTA game at some point or other in their life, it wasn’t until GTAV that Markuz found that special hook to get him into the series. Reading the journey from discovery to falling for the world is an inspiring read that makes you wish you could fall like that for a game every single time.” ~ Ed

There are those who, in my experience, practically live and die by the release schedule of the Grand Theft Auto games. When a new teaser is made public, they will scrutinise every single pixel in the hopes of finding out something… anything… to tide them over until the street date comes around. I was never one of those people, and probably won’t ever be able to place myself in their blood-soaked shoes. It’s not necessarily that I avoided GTA, but there was just nothing that grabbed my interest enough to even borrow a copy from a friend to see what everyone else was raving about. In fact, when my special-edition-loving better half stumped up the cash for GTA IV with the safety deposit box and bag, I was more interested in the quality of the packaging than the contents.

My lack of interest may also come down to a severe dislike of the Rockstar control scheme where the left stick controls all movement, where I’m used to forward moving the character forward, backwards having the character step backwards, and using the right stick to control actual direction. The R* staple of having the backwards direction force the character to spin around and walk towards the player is just alien to me but, as I said already, I don’t normally play Rockstar games and so I’m always thrown by how inaccurate it can be for someone like me. Running away from a pesky varmint in Red Dead Redemption was nothing less than a chore when I couldn’t get my guy to climb the stairs to the left and he continued to fall into a less-than-graceful pirouette.

That said, as was mentioned in my previous article, watching the almost-daily video uploads from friends on Facebook got me more interested in playing GTA V than I had any other in the series. Call me shallow, but the vistas and skyboxes pumped the ‘nads of this self-confessed graphics whore and so, with my birthday fast approaching, I added it to my list. I must admit to a great deal of trepidation when I installed it to the PS4 that first night, convinced that I was going to regret my decision and fall back into the GTA Avoidance Camp – which is apparently in Idaho as it’s also the area favoured most by survivalists – but I immediately warmed to Franklin and his desperate plight to better himself and get out of the ghetto. By shooting folk, and running drugs, naturally.

Michael was a bit more of a grey area as he clearly had a lot more going on under the hood than those around him believed, but it was Trevor who surprised me most. I’d seen his dishevelled and filthy image more than anyone else’s in the run-up to release, but he looked like the type of guy who, under normal circumstances, should be avoided at all costs. You knew immediately that he lived in a trailer, and I don’t mean that as the typical ‘trailer trash’ insult – I mean that it was obvious that he would live in the shittiest trailer you’d ever seen, and would be surrounded by empty pizza boxes and beer bottles. The porn mags and tissues were a surprise, however. The thing is, he quickly became my favourite of all three characters, despite me thinking beforehand that I’d absolutely hate him.

Sure, he’s a mental fucktard and he’d probably take a knife to your throat if you dared to eat any of his Cheerios, but he’s also a very principled guy. Listening to him defend Michael’s daughter and threaten Lazlow with all types of hurt if he did anything to the little girl he’d promised to protect… well, it was more than Michael himself did. That struck a chord with me and made me realise just how deep those black waters run, even though they’re likely heavily diluted with blood. Regardless, he ultimately had more strength of character than the other two combined as he would do what it took to protect those he loved and that, to me, is the measure of any man or woman.

This used to be a Turismo R

The problem with the single-player story, however, is that I got distracted. Convinced that my comrade-in-arms from other co-op titles, Pete, would likely love to tear up Los Santos with me, I picked up a copy as part of his Christmas gift… and that would be the last time I ever set foot in the storyline. There were missions to be had, and we may also have taken part in two or three races, but most of all we just sort of hung out. Whether it was spending time robbing every single convenience store on the island via helicopter or using the same chopper to drive through the tunnel before the military base, there was a never-ending supply of great times. When he discovered the thrill of the stunt jump we’d drive from location to location so he could add another notch to his seat belt, even though my beat-up front-heavy Turismo R would invariably fail every single time unless it was still in showroom condition.

The point is that it was an amazing time. It still is. Every night, when I should be doing other things, I gravitate towards the PS4 and find myself once again in those heavily populated streets of Los Santos, wondering what we’re going to end up doing. It may be a dozen attempts at Death From Above using varied techniques which, coupled with the stupid amount of fucking around that we do, typically means that we fail every single time. But it doesn’t matter, as it’s always a great laugh. Or, when either of us needs a little boost in RP to take us to the next few levels we’ll grind away at Blow Up II, knowing that we can easily net $11,000 and 3000RP in less than five minutes, or $25k and 8000RP if we use a wall breach and go postal on the LSPD for another five minutes.

And as great as all that is, it’s not why I’ve found a new love for Rockstar. This love comes from the passion that they’ve afforded their world. It may have taken me eighteen years to realise and fully appreciate what was on offer within the GTA stable, but it has literally blown me away as it goes above and beyond any in-game experience that I’ve ever had in my thirty-five years of being a gamer. In ONE single game I can drive cars, quads, motorbikes, bicycles, buses, and even tanks. I can pilot planes, helicopters, fighter jets, Chinooks, and even free-fall skydive before parachuting to (mostly) safety. I can ride jet skis, jet bikes, speed boats, yachts, and even submarines. I can even ride rollercoasters… on a motorbike. There’s probably more, but I don’t want to rely on Wiki to lead me down the wrong path, so I’ll leave it at that.

If I get bored doing any of that, I can play golf, darts, tennis, SCUBA dive, take some time out at the cinema, chill out at a strip joint, or get a little paid-for action from those nice ladies who tend to come out at night. I can even run a triathlon or spend hours in the shooting range honing my accuracy across all weapon types. In ONE game. Bearing in mind that there are developers out there who spend years creating games which include only one of those above activities, yet Rockstar are somehow capable of including them all in a single experience, it’s positively mind-blowing. And we’re not talking about some half-arsed attempt with a poorly constructed mini-game either, as I have likely spent a good thirty minutes playing what I would say is a pretty solid game of tennis, and the same again with golf. Their cinematic offerings may be a little on the bizarre side, but it’s still more than most devs would do for their in-game worlds.

Then there’s the TV shows… those crazy TV shows. As a newcomer to the GTA universe, I half expected to flick through the channels and find something like ten or twenty second clips from each show before it looped – much like you’d find in any of the Sims games – but these were complete shows. Not only that, but they were funny and well-written considering that they exist only as background filler. The first time I went beyond banking or buying cars on the internet was a real surprise too, as I was struck by how much time they must have spent creating all the individual websites and their multiple pages – not to mention yet another full TV show in Fame or Shame.

But beyond all this, there are some incredible nuances which make Los Santos more believable than anywhere else I’ve ever ventured in-game – I haven’t yet heard any of the myriad passers by repeat a conversation on their phone and, considering the number of hours I’ve put into GTA V Online thus far, that’s an amazing amount of effort for something which is undoubtedly overlooked by a good 90% of those playing. There are towels hanging out to dry on some balconies, hanging baskets on others, people commenting on your car as you drive by, those who will get a little annoyed if you push past them and decide that they need to pop a cap in yo’ ass, and even folk hanging out in front of office buildings like you’d tend to find anywhere. They may seem unnecessary and a waste of development time, but if you were to remove them you’d be left with the same dull and lifeless world you’d expect from most other games.

But it was the animation mapping that really caught my eye – like if I were to walk up to someone and hit the right trigger it would swing a punch at them. That makes sense, and you’d find that in any other game. But if you walk up to a motorbike and do the same you’ll find that your character will lift his leg and kick the bike over. Walk up to a car and they’ll kick out at the door, and if you walk a little towards the back or front they’ll focus their attention lower down on the tyres. Climb on to the hood of the car and he’ll immediately turn on the windscreen and kick it in, and if you move to the roof he’ll start to kick downwards to do as much damage as possible. This is all from the right trigger and it’s the most context-sensitive animation mapping I’ve seen. It goes beyond any other melee system, as far as I’m concerned, and it shows how much of a shit Rockstar give about their games and making them as immersive as possible.

All that aside, however, the eye candy is always overtaken entirely by how enjoyable any given evening can be, and how varied the possibilities are. I see notifications pop up from my friends all night, that they’ve broken this race record, or are about to embark on this particular race, and wonder how much they’re missing by tearing around at high speeds. Have they watched all the TV shows, or all of the movies? Will they ever kick the shit out of their car for ten minutes just to enjoy the countless animation variations on offer? Have they spent half an hour atop the Vinewood sign to see just how far they can actually snipe and take someone out from? Do they ever just go swimming with hammerhead sharks or go on the hunt for sunken treasure? In a world as vast as this, I want to enjoy as many different things as I can… even though most of them tend to end up with Bearhugger70 sniping me from afar or flying into the side of a mountain for reasons known only to him.

Rockstar, you have impressed and seduced me when I thought it wasn’t possible. Well done. You should still have an option to switch to a different control scheme, however, as that left stick thing… ugh. Enjoy ten minutes of tomfoolery in Los Santos…

Last five articles by Mark R


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