5 Things Critics Love About 'GTA V' (That Actually Suck)
Since its release, Grand Theft Auto V has become one of the biggest critical and commercial successes in any media. It made more than a half-billion dollars in its first week, and its Metacritic rating of 97 means we agree as a people that it's perfect. Its online launch and iOS companion game were a disaster, but everything's online launch and iOS companion game are disasters. The whole point of the Internet is to destroy what you love, which is what I'm about to do, here. Here are the five best but also worst parts of GTA 5.
GTA is a relentless engine of unplanned comedy. Every pedestrian you sucker punch or intersection you cartwheel a truck through can set off a chain of ridiculous events, usually ending in death by tank. The citizens of Los Santos exist only to add screaming sounds to your explosions. Their lives are so pointless the only thing they have to discuss during their afterlife is the hilarious ways we killed them. I'm not much of a theologist, but Donkey Kong probably had to build an entire new wing of video game heaven after I found out driving on sidewalks was faster than weaving through traffic. I murder so often and stupidly in GTA that even the worst lawyer could convince a jury I was too retarded to execute.
On top of all the emergent funny, GTA V includes a massive amount of scripted material. As you probably know, it's set in a parody of Los Angeles with every detail dedicated to mocking it. But before LA starts crying, it should know the jokes are as clumsy as a photo caption in Maxim and as incomplete as a photo of tits in Maxim. Whatever wrote GTA V learned how to make jokes by devouring the brain of an Earth cosmonaut. Hour after hour, comedic premises are set up, and then no punchlines arrive. It's like this sentence was the Mayor of Farts, and he walks into his town's finest jar store.
GTA V criticizes American culture with all the elegance of a grumpy pastor watching his first reality show. Missions have you acting as a paparazzo to catch a wholesome actress with a dong up her ass, massacring hallucinations after too much marijuana, and terrorizing immigrants. Most media outlets praise the game for outrageously mocking every aspect of Los Angeles, but it mocks them without any understanding or tact. If you held a gun to the head of the most secluded Eskimo seal farmer and said, "List California stereotypes," you would not be able to distinguish his list from a GTA V Mission FAQ.
"Just six more missions and multiplayer mode, Inuckchuck."
GTA V has such a robotic sense of humor that Jenny McCarthy has linked it to PS3 vaccinations. If a forensic psychologist found a poem on a suicide victim called "WHY EVERYONE IN MY HIGH SCHOOL SUCKS," his summary of that poem would be identical to any gag in Grand Theft Auto V. Each one follows the same two-step structure: Clearly explain what it's mocking, then nothing else. It'd be almost sad if it wasn't so mean-spirited.
A recreation of the GTA V creative process based on actual GTA V scripts.
Satire and parody are more complicated than Scary Movie 11 would have you believe. You need to do more than point at social trends and call a dwarf casting agency. For instance, the GTA V writers explore fertile comedy ground with the idea of women being dumb whores. Any idiot will tell you that ridicule is a hilarious alternative to leering when you're dealing with giant-breasted sluts, but GTA attacks with no wit. And when you mock something without wit, you're just a cranky bully. Grand Theft Auto V's writers read the instructions on a rape kit and decided they knew everything they needed to know about women and comedy.
If a holocaust survivor was reunited with his captor and spent an afternoon explaining the jokes in LA Story, that elderly Nazi would write a funnier, more biting satire of Los Angeles culture than GTA V did.
Hating things brings people together more than liking them. It's why Republicans were able to shut down a government out of spite, yet can't cure gay out of love. It's also why the dickish bullying in GTA V really resonates with people. Because they hate caricatures of awful things, too! Ha ha, I hope they mention how dumb stupid people are next! I've read dozens of reviews praising its comedy, so maybe I'm a snob for thinking good jokes require more than a tired premise and a stumbling, predictable execution. Plus, now that I think about it, there are a few gags in the game that totally work. For example:
I was like, "SMELL LIKE A BITCH!?" Ha ha ha ha, nailed it.
GTA is enormous and detailed beyond reason. There are hundreds of activities and missions, and nearly some of them are fun.
As you might imagine, having a billion square miles stops being interesting long before you've seen them all. Since it's a video game, your first instinct will be to climb over and look behind everything to get little items. You'll stop doing this after 500 back alleys and mysterious structures are completely empty. You have a better chance of finding a crate of guns on a real roof than on a GTA V roof. It's possible scientists made this game in order to see exactly how little cheese you need before rats stop running a maze.
Do you like playing video darts? Of course you don't. Who would? But you can! Plus yoga! And car towing. Dog training. Photography. Cargo crane operation. Underwater welding. It seems like GTA V stole its game design from a trade school commercial. There are so, so many boring activities you're required or at least encouraged to do, and they're separated by miles and miles of collectibles-free highway. GTA isn't really a fun story as much as it is an interactive encyclopedia on the totality of the human experience. There's a pretty decent adventure buried under all the dull garbage, but that's like saying there are a couple of interesting-looking vaginas in a heap of pig carcasses.
There's a mini-game where you use a thumbstick to pretend to stretch!? Nailed it.
So the game is a sprawling expanse of detailed nothing, but it's not all bad. Finding your way around is easy! You simply press pause and wait for a short loading screen to finish. This will bring up your map. Scroll along the map with your thumbstick for a moment before you remember this isn't actually the map. It's only the menu option for the map. Press A to go to the actual map and search for your destination. If your destination is too far away and you'd rather play the game instead of driving across it, exit out of the map and open your smart phone. Slowly scroll down your contact list since quickly isn't an option. Press A to call a taxi. Let it ring until a dispatcher picks up. If you are not playing the black character, a taxi will arrive 15 to 30 seconds later. It will be approximately one block from you, so look for it in the center of an exploding traffic jam it caused. It may start confusedly fleeing the crime scene, so tap the sprint button before it gets away. If you're not hit by emergency vehicles, you may be able to catch it! Now, simply scroll through the 75 possible locations until you find the one you want! While the taxi begins its long journey, it is the perfect time to ask your screaming spouse, parents, or children why you can't do just one god damn mission.
A recreation of the GTA V creative process based on actual GTA V gameplay.
Games are supposed to waste your time. That might even be their main goal. Roger Ebert already said they'll never be art, and according to psychologists, they don't even train you to kill better. But Grand Theft Auto might be the first game specifically designed to make you feel your time being wasted. When I first looked up from Skyrim to check the time, I was shocked to find I was off by 25 days. Grand Theft Auto V isn't like that. Like all GTA games, the constant arguments with the camera, cover system, and controls will remind you you're playing a game. And since so much of that game involves boring activities and travel, you'll feel like you're wasting your time within your time wasting. Maybe I'm spoiled from playing this game before only with a bat belt, bionic jumping power, parachute and grappling hook, or 300 playable LEGO superheroes, but so much of GTA V is a boring commute. If I wanted to run errands all day for a brief moment of amoral fun, I'd get a job as Jude Law's nanny.
When you're looking to blame something for the moral decline of society or just your own horrible child, it's hard to find a better scapegoat than Grand Theft Auto. Thousands of editorial columns and sensationalized news pieces have warned us that GTA lurks in the shadows, waiting for a lapse in our vigilance. I once even had a news crew in my own home interviewing me about the "controversial" Grand Theft Auto 3. Personally, I think the word "controversy" is just a warning that nearby idiots are about to turn their confusion into arguments. And sure enough, the producer spent an hour trying to bait me into squeeing about all gamers' need for hooker murder. But instead of offering my opinion on grenade launchering women (strongly against), I talked about how amazing GTA 3 was and how blessed we were as a nation to have it in our Playstations. My exact words were, "It's a masterpiece of video gaming." Later at the station, he took that clip and added a voiceover: "A MURDEROUS MASTERPIECE." For a stupid bitch, I think he saved a lot of lives that night.
My point is, only stupid bitches are afraid of video games. Also, I sort of love them for it. Besides the cheap laughs, whenever someone rallies against games it suggests my ability to distinguish between make-believe and reality puts me in some kind of intellectually elite group. It's the same feeling I get when I Google the active ingredients of herbal penis enhancements and then buy them cheaper at the grocery store. It seems so easy being this smart! Why isn't everyone?
I feel strongly that anyone calling for the censorship of anything is just lashing out because their herbal penis enhancements backfired. But holy fuck, Rockstar Games, consider a little cultural responsibility. You're not angsty teenagers poking fun at the establishment anymore. As one of the largest media properties, you're absolutely the establishment. Go ahead and mock culture, but "culture" is something you're kind of in charge of now. And when you have a mini-game about yanking teeth out of an innocent, shrieking prisoner, that's not cutely naughty. That's criminally insane. I'm fairly certain not one extra person will be tortured because GTA V exists, but with an audience in the tens of millions, that mission is arguably the biggest torture promotion in the history of mankind.
A recreation of the GTA V creative process based on an actual GTA V mission.
To its credit, GTA V sort of built a disclaimer into its torture mission. When you're done interrogating your victim, you drive the remaining chunks of him to the airport and explain the very act of torture has no point other than to make torturers happy. That's how badly this game is written. You spend 15 minutes in a dull, interactive waterboarding sequence that probably took more man hours to produce than every NES cartridge combined, and when it's over, the goddamn game apologizes to you for it. Like all great art, it stops what it's doing to explain itself, and the moral of the scene is ... well, I guess it's "Aside from the boners, torture is pointless!" Rockstar, on behalf of the public, apology accepted.
Characters & Storytelling
The three main characters in GTA V are brilliantly performed and fully realized personalities. The cut scenes are written well enough that if you chained them together without the video game or bad jokes, it could make a slow and schizophrenic, yet almost watchable movie. The following might be the highest praise I've given to a video game story, but I could see Steven Seagal's manager adding this script to a "maybe" pile.
Aside from the acted scenes, GTA V squeezes in a lot of storytelling when you switch between characters. Sometimes you catch Michael bored in front of his TV or take over Franklin right as he's making a cab smell like a bitch by sending one home in it. Or maybe you wake up in your underwear as Trevor, unsurprised to find himself among a dozen corpses. These moments rarely have anything to do with the main plot, but they are a great source of character development.
Obviously, it's hard to tell me what my character is like when I'm the one who's been controlling him. Is Franklin a gangbanger who dreams of more? Because I just watched him ditch a luxury yacht and throw himself into a shark mouth for a five-point achievement. I was there when he tried to land a helicopter on a bridge strut for three hours to get a chunk of UFO. I saw him crash fatally into oncoming traffic over and over because it's our secret shortcut to the hospital. I was there when he helped a woman get her purse back and then murdered her with a motorcycle. Maybe it's completely my fault, but this character is all over the place.
Speaking of Franklin, this game was written by a bunch of white people in the UK. Should he really be saying the N-word this much? I swear he once said it six times in two sentences. In my life, the only time I ever heard six N-words in two sentences was when my grandparents helped each other remember Sammy Sosa's name. Was there an outside consultant brought in to write this character? If not, that's fucked up. If so, that's more fucked up. Does the black community even have a term for a person who goes into an office and gives white people permission to say the N-word? And is it expensive? Because there are some really terrific rap songs I've always wanted to sing.
A recreation of the GTA V creative process based on actual GTA V dialogue.
Everyone who says this is the greatest game ever made is right. The design, the detail, the animation, the draw distance -- there's no technical aspect in which GTA V isn't absurdly better than anyone thought a game could ever be. With the right time machine, I could go back and tell myself to only travel by taxi and ignore anything having to do with side missions, mini-games, vehicles, clothing stores, or haircuts, GTA would be an outrageously fun and perfect experience.
Video games are a medium where you're given options. When you're playing a wrestling game, you don't have to watch the Limp Bizkit music video. When you're playing a Batman game you can ignore all the trophies trapped behind Connect Four or Simon games. When you're playing a tactical RPG, you can skip the cartoons of centaur boys tonguing each other's buttholes. These things are all optional and not meant to be held up to scrutiny. In fact, it'd be kind of weird if they were good. I don't think GTA V did this on purpose, but nearly 90 percent of it falls under this umbrella of "optional." Even if a reviewer finished all 400 hours of towing cars and navigating strategy guide maps, it wouldn't be appropriate for them to say this game's less fun than the second half of a painkiller overdose. When judging a game, soporific vortexes of joy are stricken from the record if they were "optional."
A recreation of the GTA V creative process based on actual GTA V gameplay.
I'm not saying anyone is wrong in giving this game 100 out of 100. By any standard review process, I'd give GTA V 100 out of 100, too, and it made me about as bored as my XBOX has ever seen me. How can this be? Well, if you told 50 people to pick their favorite movie, you'd get about 50 different answers. If you instead asked those 50 people to write an essay on why a particular movie is the best, suddenly everyone's picking the same movie. That's not because they're all lying or showing off -- it's because the metrics we use to judge things as good are different from the good feelings we get from rad things. To be more clear, let's say there are four things that make a great lover*. Most people might prefer dating a beautiful woman even after finding out her chicken is objectively better at all of them. So I'm not saying you're wrong if you disagree with my thoughts on GTA V; I'm only saying you're a chicken fucker.
*All four of them are inches, ladies.