Friday, January 10, 2014

Game of the Year 2013

I seem to have lost a week there. Sorry about that. Things may be changing a bit here, and I lost sight of the blog in the middle of all that.

So before it get way past too late, My game of 2013. Now those who paid attention will have noticed that there was one big game of last year I failed to mention in my run up, so the winner is obvious. Grand Theft Auto 5.

I mean, how could it not. Rockstar absolutely nailed the feeling with this version. As weird as that sounds, GTAIV wasn't all that. Niko Bellic wasn't the most relatable of leads and the story seemed at odds with what the rest of the game was doing. The DLCs for that game were better, but I'll address that a little bit more later. As far it matters GTA IV was a bit dour, a bit too brown, and the insertion of so much personal life stuff (“Hello Cousin”) was quite the distraction to the main game. GTA V fixes all of that.

GTA V might be a little male centric – and I'd love them to actually do female protagonist – but what it does with its three males leads is actually some fantastic character work for me. Michael the struggling family man out of touch with reality, Franklin the gang banger who dreams of bigger things, and Trevor the insane meth addict with an axe to grind. These three form the weirdest friendship ever. The mentor/pupil relationship Michael and Franklin form due to one lacking that connection with his own son, the other in desperate need of a father figure, despite how terrible an example his chosen one is. Trevor, the old friend you wish you could be rid of, whose presence is toxic, but somehow you're better off for it. It's bromance done amazingly. And far deeper character relationships then most games bother with.

Trevor himself is a stroke of genius. I mean, obviously they're riffing on Breaking Bad for the start of him – A meth dealer in a desert? I actually rolled my eyes at that – but once you get past that he's perfect. He's a little bundle of anarchic joy that is so suited to the game. I read an article shortly after it came out that Trevor is the perfect GTA protagonist. The series has always been half grim crime story, half ridiculous joy of explosions and randomly laying siege to a city. But those two halves sit uncomfortably next to each other on the bench. During CJ's strive for a better life in the San Andreas of old, it never quite made sense that he'd suddenly bust out a rocket launcher and cause a scene of destruction on a highway that would make Michael Bay jealous. With Trevor it finally makes sense. When I want to be random and cause mayhem I always switch to Trevor. Michael and Franklin are too normal for that.

And it's strange to say that, because Trevor's first scene made me hate him. GTA IV's The Lost and The Damned was my favourite GTA experience until this one. To see Johnny not only having fallen off the wagon and become a wacked out meth head, but then get curb stomped to death made me despise this new character. Yet it didn't take long for his anarchic comedy ways to get underneath my skin and love the crazy bastard.

The game itself is classic GTA, the few things that were wrong with IV are gone, and this is much more a hark back to the original San Andreas more than anything. I bemoaned the previous game's map a bit too. Here, it's even bigger. But it works because the terrain is so different. Liberty City was just three islands of buildings, with a bit of variation. San Andreas manages the city, a desert and a forest community. You fancy a different surroundings it's only five minutes up the road.

There is one addition though that really sets it apart from its predecessors. The heists. They were a fantastic addition to the series with some epic gameplay moments and the feeling that you're far more in the driver's seat then the game usually gives you. You can choose your approach, you spend a few missions building up the crew and getting the pieces into place, then have a epic multi-part job that would make Danny Ocean proud. Or cringe. Depending on your choice.

Though they're not without their problems. As brilliant as the heists are there are barely any of them in it. For what was touted as one of the game's selling points, only having six felt like I was short changed. The idea of recruiting and reusing the same crew to train them for a smaller cut was almost null and void due to the fact there were so few jobs. You pick a shit one, he's still shit at the end, you have to go with a decent one to make sure the job goes down right. Hopefully DLC adds more and fixes it. That casino looks pretty damn tempting to me.

Then there's the multiplayer, even ignoring the absolute shambles launch week was, there's not a lot to it. Once again the problem seems to be heists, with the multiplayer versions still no where in sight two months later, but there's a lack of content throughout, with only the basic stuff available. Those game modes we do have are pretty bare bones, though things have started to improve now that the community has the content creator.

It's still damn fun and I still play it, but the best moments seem to be generated purely by you messing around in the open world rather than anything Rockstar have given us. With exception to Top Fun. Top Fun is amazing.

It's also severely hamstrung by how much they've tried to get GTA Online work as a microtransaction entity too. Everything costs money. Not just guns and new cars, but dying, starting missions, bullets, even owning a house not only costs you the initial down payment but an upkeep charge for every day in game. It hurts the ability to just mess around and enjoy things, like GTA IV's online mode allowed. It feels like you're hitting up against a paywall just to try and have fun. Rockstar have shifted things about a bit to alleviate the problem, but it's still there messing it up.

But I'm not talking about the multiplayer, that's a bonus to a fantastic game, even if it's a heavily tarnished bonus. GTA V was some of the best gaming I had last year, and for the two weeks I slowly made my way through the single player I lived in Los Santos and felt a part of that incredibly dysfunctional group of mates. I can't wait to go back with the DLC. It just better add a lot more heists to it.
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