Friday, December 24, 2010

Fear and loathing in San Andreas (or Liberty City for that matter)

After maintaining this blog for over a month with only positive messages, I think it's time to break the trend. Sure, I want this blog to be a place of relaxation and recommendation, but let's be honest, would reviewers like the nostalgia critic and zero punctuation be believed if they only wrote positive reviews? Probably not. So, without further ado in all caps: I HATE GTA!
I give you 3 guesses to which
game this logo belongs ;)

That said I don't think this will improve my popularity. Grand Theft Auto, or GTA for short, was started as a series in 1997 and, as you all know, was hailed for having a wide open world where you as a player could wreak havoc by stealing cars, racing around town, killing people and occasionally do some criminal missions. That is where the problem starts.

Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun playing the first GTA. It was colourful, it was fast and wreaking havoc with a tank never gets old. The missions were not that great, though. It mostly was along the lines of "go there, pick something up, kill something, done". "Go there" was easy. You'd steal a car and hit the gas. There were enough cars anyway. "Pick something up" was lame and just meant to advance some mission plot to go somewhere. "Kill something" was rubbish, since the weapons you got were mostly a pistol or rifle which were needlessly hard to aim. Usually I'd scare a guy with a gun and then run him over with a car. Needless to say, I didn't do the missions and used cheat-codes just to wreak havoc on the other two cities.

Then things went wrong. In development you should look to bad things in your last product and improve them in the next. Apparently colourfulness and fast cars are bad things, so GTA2 was dark and slow while the weapons were still hard to aim and the missions were still as dull. Man, did I not enjoy that one. There is occasional humour in those missions to give you a faint smile, but other than that there is no redeeming factor for anyone to play the missions.

Then came GTA3, or let's say GTA3D, since it was the first that was fully 3D rendered with a nice following camera that put you in the 'heat' of the 'action'. I wanted to give it a try when it came out. A friend of mine had it and showed there were even planes in it, yay!. Since 1 and 2 weren't that great on the game aspect, I was kind of hesitant. It took me eventually 9 years to finally buy it and fire it up first time last month. Before that I briefly tried San Andreas, but it has such a overly dramatic storyline that I was put off right after some kind of bicycle mission. Really, my mom died, so now I become a gangster? You need half an hour to tell me this in cutscenes? Taurus fecals!

So when I fired up GTA3, I initially liked it. The 3D gives nice immersion and there are no dramatic characters screaming down your ear. I played some like 15 missions before things went wrong. Let me tell my experiences in an ad hoc fashion:

Instead of having 3 cities as in the first part, you now have one city which is in lock down in 3 zones. Okay, I can live with that. The weapons still aim like your arm is in a bucket of dried out concrete. Pity. Then some guy from the 'Diablos' wanted me to kill some Chinese because they stole his car with his prized rare donkey collection. The racism! It burns so badly! Also do this with 1 given weapon in a limited amount of time when there are not enough Chinese around. NOT A GOOD GAME MECHANIC, PEOPLE! Let's try another mission. Hey, that guy has already given me a couple of missions and every time he is tinkering under his car... that's literally a flat personality. Right, let's do this bank job he gives me.

Then the unthinkable happened. I got a 4 seater car to get the bandits (they were very specific about the car). I pull over and honk to get them. A cut-scene follows and in this cut-scene one of the bandits walks into the nose of my car and dies. Mission failed. Urge to play more missions: non-existent. Cheats available to open the rest of town: nope.
Being foreign - is no reason - to grow your beard -
or misbehave - Burma Shave

That was the moment that I gave up on GTA. The idea of an open world where you can screw around is awesome. They were the first and they deserve the credit, but somehow the designers leave the bad stuff in and replace the good stuff with worse stuff. I don't want to play newer episodes, especially since the characters seem to be getting more angry and whiny every episode. Also: why are they sticking to the three cities they used in the very first GTA? It's always Liberty City, Vice City and San Andreas with GTA4 being Liberty City again. Those 3 cities were probably thought up in 5 minutes when they made the first and they are sticking to it for over 10 years! Has anyone there thought of something like novelty?

And now to kill all fanboy arguments: I understand that in real life you have to do not-fun work to get fun rewards. The argument goes that therefore I am not allowed to complain for not-fun missions, since they give me money and more places of the town with possibly airplanes. Let me counter this argument by telling you I play a game for fun and any reward system only increases the Skinner box factor. In short: the Skinner box factor makes you conditioned to play the game without it being fun making the player somesort of masochist. For more on the Skinner box in games, see this movie from 'Extra Credits' in Escapist magazine.

I refuse to play any more GTA. It is gray, it has controls that do not satisfy the game's target and the characters are stupid and generally discriminating. It is NOT fun and everyone that wants to make me or anyone else play more is either a torturer or in denial over wasted time. I was relieved to hear that the developers are making profit without GTA this year, which will probably mean they are trying to put effort in something else in the future. I doubt it, since their latest creation was Red dead redemption, a.k.a. GTA with horses.

I will not leave you, dear readers, without a recommendation this week. Recently I took up Saints Row 2, which I will probably write about pretty soon. I like to recommend it as "It's like GTA, but fun!". It is colourful, the controls are satisfying, the characters are awesome and the humour is quite witty. I enjoyed it and every time I completed a mission I thought to myself "This is what GTA should have been".

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