Oh man. The wait is over. Believe the hype, is all I can really say.
I've been waiting all week to write about playing Grand Theft Auto V. While I have been playing a week full of Grand Theft Auto games, I've also been sneaking in GTA V whenever possible. Sure, all the older games were fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed my week, and while it was great to get the context I didn't already have for the series, they are all old games. Sure, the last game didn't look bad at all, and was actually quite enjoyable, but compared to the new hotness? Yeah, not even close.
Before I even jumped into the game myself, which I did get on release day, I watched my cousin play some. I sat there in awe, watching him play, which is quite odd considering that I usually don't like watching people play games. When I finally got to play the game myself, I realized that after a couple of hours, my experience was already drastically different than my cousin's.
Sure, the main story missions are the same, but the overall experience when you factor in the totally optional side missions and exploration of the massive world, it's mind blowing how different our games have developed.
When I say this map is massive, that is the understatement of the year. Taking place in the fictional city of Los Santos, which is modeled almost identically to Los Angeles, the city is breathtaking in both it's size and it's detail. As I watched the entire series develop over the course of the week, I saw the level of detail raise with each game, finally culminating in this masterpiece. When driving around, you can clearly see off into the distance of the city, or mountain range, or wherever it is you're looking, but instead of just being background details, what you see is actually ready for exploration. In the industry, they call this "draw distance," which effectively just defines how far in-game you can see of the environment that you are actually in. In GTA V, the draw distance is second to none.
There are details upon details in this game. Apartment buildings you think you would just drive past can actually be explored. They have no baring on the game at all, but Rockstar insisted on not keeping you from the open world experience as much as possible. You can find the Playboy mansion, which would be in cool in its own right, but they went a few steps further by totally recreating the actual mansion's grounds, from the famous grotto to the bunnies lounging by the pool and partying in the evening.
Another thing I have noticed is just how lively the city is. At any given time, you can encounter random acts and scenarios that sometimes lead to side missions, and sometimes are there for no other obvious reason than just because. When switching between your three characters, you will drop in on them as you take control, but rather than them just sitting around their house, they are actually living in the world. Sometimes they will be out driving, other times grabbing coffee, but always doing something. This keeps you engaged in the world you are playing in, as it begins to blur the lines between a video game you have control over and a booming digital metropolis that is its own entity entirely. Essentially, we are a couple steps away from The Matrix actually being a thing.
Unfortunately, my play through the story is a slow one. I'm taking my time, enjoying the sites and side missions and all the little things that this game offers. I've heard some people point out how the graphics aren't the best, and while they are good, they aren't anywhere close to games like The Last of Us. But that game is very linear and much smaller in scope, so when you take a look at the sheer size of GTA V, the graphics are pretty incredible, all things considered.
It's a fun game, and I don't know how I will ever be able to finish any games for a while with GTA V sitting there, waiting to be explored. Just like the rest of the games, it's clear that Rockstar knows what they are doing. There is a reason this game made over a billion dollars the first week. It's an experience like no other, and the perfect send off for this generation of consoles.
And My Week Long Grand Theft Auto Crime Spree...
Just when you think you know the Grand Theft Auto series and everything the developers have put into the universe they created, they go and switch up on you. Granted, if I had paid attention to any of the games that came out after the original Vice City game, I probably wouldn't be as surprised as I was when I dove into Grand Theft Auto IV. However, my lack of knowledge going into some of these titles has led to some fantastic first-time impressions, which I can't complain about at all.
Talk about reinventing the wheel, though. In GTA IV, players return to Liberty City, set in present day (2008), but this isn't the Liberty City you grew to know and love. The city before was designed from the ground up , and players spent so much time in it, it became almost a staple or calling card of the series. However, everything that fans thought they knew about Liberty City ended with the GTA III era, and the older consoles that those games were released on. GTA IV, however, was the first Grand Theft Auto game developed for the next generation of gaming consoles, the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Finally, Rockstar had the ability to make the kind of game they envisioned making since GTA III, and what they tried to do with every game since that one. Of course they were limited in scope of what they were capable of doing from the technology standpoint, but you could always tell they had grand ambitions for what they wanted to accomplish.
Well, in GTA IV, they seemed to finally understand what they were trying to accomplish. And by that, I mean redesign Liberty City into what they envisioned it to be. Now it bares a stark contrast to New York City, complete with individual boroughs, familiar neighborhoods and islands, and even the Statue of Happiness, which is creepy yet eerily similar to the Statue of Liberty. While Liberty City used to be it's own character, now it feels less like a video game and more like the real deal. And in doing so, what was once a character now is a living, breathing organism in the universe, full of life and personality unseen before in a GTA game. Liberty City is now a place to call home.
The main character is Niko, a European immigrant with a mission, who quickly falls victim to the corruption and seedy lifestyle that Liberty City seems to inject onto everyone in sight. I remember when the game first came out, there seemed to be some backlash or resistance over having a European as a main character. Maybe I am remembering wrong, but I seem to recall that being a thing. After playing the game, I can't understand why there would have been a problem with it. Niko is a great character, someone you can connect to in ways that are really hard to explain.
Overall, this game feels groundbreaking, and a real step forward in the gaming industry, looking back at when it was released. It was the first exceptional showcase of what the new consoles were capable of, and well deserving of the critical acclaim. In fact, for the longest time it was the highest rated game on Metacritic (fluctuates up and down a spot or two as random reviews happen). In other words, it has been the gold standard for video games for a generation.
But now, a new generation is about to start.
Evolution. The key to growth and expansion, and what keeps anything from becoming bland, uninspired and complacent with the "norm." In the world of Grand Theft Auto, it would be easy for Rockstar to become complacent with their games being critically acclaimed and continue to roll them out, one after another, splicing in new new storylines to the same old gameplay mechanics. But that's not how they roll, not at all. They strive to evolve, thrive on the growth of their games, never content with the east route to success.
That's what makes them so great, and why their games continue to revolutionize the industry standards. Just when you think you've seen their best stuff, they come out and show you something you didn't even think of.
And just when people thought the 80's were dead and that Vice City was going to be a one-and-done game, they came out and released Grant Theft Auto: Vice City Stories.They put this game out on the PSP first as well, in the same vein as Liberty City Stories, which they later ported to the PS2 and eventually the PS3 via the PlayStation Network. Again, they went the prequel route for this game, further proving that their storylines they bring to their games are never just individual experiences, but rather fully evolved, before and after whichever games they are presented in.
In Rockstar's eyes, their universe spans infinitely, and their games only capture specific moments in time of the universe they have created. Their universe doesn't start and stop with each game. Their world continues as it would even without games to showcase it. That's how they present their philosophy in each experience they create, at least.
For being a prequel and a smaller game than the full console experiences, they still decided to evolve the game and gameplay mechanics. There is "empire-building" in the game now, where you can open and operate businesses out of confiscated properties. How deep you go into this mini-game within the game is entirely up to you, but it's nice to see them continuously adding new elements to the tried and true format. In addition to that, when you get arrested or killed, you can now bribe police officers or hospital staff to lower your wanted level and keep guns that normally would have been lost.
Despite initially being reported to be a direct port when they brought it over to the PS2 the following year, Rockstar actually improved graphics and other little performance details, as well as adding a few more side missions and rampages. Again, just when people thought Rockstar would be content with the basic concept of a port, they evolved the idea of what a port can and should be.
Just when the gaming industry thought they had all the answers, Rockstar changed the questions being asked.
It's all in the details.
One staple of the Grand Theft Auto franchise has always been the amount of detail they put into their games, not just in graphics, but their characters, stories and environments as well. Sure, you can have a great game, rich in vibrant textures and graphical engineering, but if you only execute those details on the surface, core designs, it will still be flat and lacking depth. When it comes to depth of details and attention to the little things that most games wouldn't even think about much less try to recreate, nobody can hold a torch to Rockstar.
For some reason, I think the mighty developer felt challenged after the release of San Andreas however. Maybe they felt like people just thought they were pushing out individual experiences with each game they made, and relying on the mayhem and sandbox gameplay to carry their titles each time. I can only assume they wanted to come out and let the world know that their games were not one-and-done experiences, and when they developed each game, they had every intention on expanding the world as much as possible.
They also wanted to prove that their games were not strictly home console experiences, and they could make a game that felt like a Grand Theft Auto game into a portable gaming experience. Not because they had to, or felt like they needed to, but simply because they could.
I present to you, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories.
Originally developed for the PSP, it was eventually ported to the PS2 and then brought to the PS3 via the PSN. In other words, it has been around the block and seen its fair share of platforms. But that's really besides the point. The cool thing about thing about this game, which I didn't know going in since I had never played it before, was that it is actually a prequel to GTA III. Of course, it takes place in Liberty City again, which was a significantly smaller map than San Andreas, but perfect for the handheld console experience they were trying to create.
True to Rockstar form, however, no details were overlooked, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. There is a bride in the game that is still under construction that is up and operational in GTA III. There are other little changes in the city that would be overlooked completely had you not played both games. But in playing both, you realize how much care went in to making the two games flow into one another. Like motorcycles being in the game now, as it is explained that by the time the events of GTA III happened, motorcycles had been banned in the city by a city ordnance.
Just one little detail that makes a world of difference when combined with all of the other little details.
When Grand Theft Auto III was released, it sent the nation into a frenzy, as I already wrote about. Not only did gamers go crazy for this groundbreaking game, but it was prominently featured in news headlines across the country for featuring all of the adult-themes it did. It turned into a scapegoat whenever there was violence in the country, and pundits activists pointed fingers at the game for corrupting the youth of society.
Aside from all the violence and illegal activities that people hated about GTA III (and really, every game in the series since), there was the sexual content in the game that ruffled as many feathers, if not more. The act of picking up prostitutes, enjoying conversations revolving around sex, and engaging in sexual activities scared people to death, it seemed. Never mind someone getting shot in the face with a shotgun. The mere mention of sex was enough to send people into a fit of rage.
Well, Rockstar didn't really care what people thought about their choice to include sex so prominently in their GTA games. They kept including it in the series, despite the public outcry. They games were rated appropriately to communicate what they included, so they never balked at the stigma that sex carries with it when designing the Grand Theft Auto games. So when San Andreas came out, it was no surprise (or shouldn't have been at least) that it was filled with sex as well.
Actually, it included more sex than people even realized at the time, which caused the gaming industry to face a major crisis.
You see, after the game was released, there was a software patch released by someone on the internet, which unlocked and added a sex scene in the game. The original version of the game depicted the sex scene from behind closed doors, but with the mod, it showed the sex in all its glory. This was the now infamous "Hot Coffee Mod," which took this game to all new levels. High ranking politicians made calls to action to bring this game to it's death, and that's essentially what happened. The game faced a recall and a re-release with that scene in the game being taken out and a "cold coffee patch" being put out to fix the problem.. Before the re-release, the game's rating was changed from "M" for mature to "AO" for adults only. Not many games have the distinction of having that label, if only because it essentially destroys any chances of it being a commercial success.
If any company was going to climb out of a hole like that, of course it would be Rockstar.
Going back and playing San Andreas was fun for me, as I never played it before. In fact, up until I started GTA V recently, I haven't played a single GTA game since Vice City. In San Andreas, they added a bunch of things that I could tell weren't in Vice City of GTA III, but thankfully, it still felt familiar and I knew what I was doing. But the whole time I was playing, I was thinking about how unique our society is sometimes. As a culture, we turn a blind eye on violence and illegal activities for the most part, and highlight them in movies and TV shows. But when it comes to sex, we are deathly afraid of the topic and in turn, make it taboo. No other society in the world shares are same belief. And unfortuatey, as long as we are naive and close-minded about sex as a culture, there will always be unnecessary uproar about topics an
In video games, especially in reference to the industry itself, people often toss around the label "system seller." This tag is usually applied to specific games that reviewers and others in the gaming media deem to be good enough, big enough or important enough to drive the sales of the console it's released for, especially when that console is struggling to move units on the store shelves.
For the most part, the term is over-used, or even worse, used incorrectly. Sure, reviewing games is subjective, and one person's opinion can be drastically different than another opinion, but more often then not, games are dubbed to be "system sellers" that clearly won't do wonders when it comes to actual unity being sold. Maybe they are just optimistic, hopeful projections of video games, as reviewers are fans too, and desperately want to see all systems succeed, as competition in the industry is healthy without question. In reality, there have been a lot less actual "system sellers" then there have been games with that label attached.
I don't recall the hype or buzz about Grand Theft Auto Vice City back in the day when it was released, mainly because I lived in a bubble and wasn't even aware that there were gaming news websites out there, to be honest. I, like many people, relied on TV commercials, in-store displays and print magazines to get my information, and at that time, I wasn't even getting magazine delivered. So when I did eventually hear about Vice City, I had no predetermined hype to sway me one way or the other. I knew I loved GTA III, and now, a new game, set in the 80's with all of the "style" that went along with that generation, with better looking graphics and a story that felt ripped right from the movies, and my mind was made up.
I needed to buy a Playstation 2.
I didn't have one at the time, as my only game time with GTA III was at my friend's house. I had an original Xbox and a GameCube, and that was it. At that time, I guess I had no reason to need or want a PS2. My Xbox was my main gaming console, with my GameCube being my Nintendo game machine. I suppose the concept of multi-console gaming was foreign, as I just assumed most games on the PS2 were on the Xbox as well. Oh how naive I was.
Maybe not totally naive, but I was a college student and really couldn't justify owning another console. At the time of the release of Vice City, however, a used PS2 was relatively cheap (all things considered), so I decided to jump back in to the world of Sony (I did own a PS1 for a while) and get a console to play GTA Vice City.
I had no other PS2 games on my radar at that time, as the only thing I was focused on was Vice City. Finally, I was going to have the freedom to play the game how I wanted, when I wanted, and experience everything in it on my own schedule, not dependent on a friend. When I got into the game, it was glorious. I couldn't decide if I wanted to play the story or just explore the world. It was everything I hoped it would be, and it totally justified my purchase of the PS2.
Going back and playing it again, I realize that the graphics weren't that much better than GTA III, but the vibrant colors and lively city just made the game feel more aesthetically pleasing. GTA III felt dirty and grimy, but Vice City was full of fun colors, colorful characters and an amazing soundtrack. Being a child from the 80's, I don't remember much of the styles except from later in the decade, but I can recall the feeling of the generation. The story was a mixture of all the drug kingpin movies from that era as well, and it is chalked full of pop culture references and nods.
I completely understood why I liked the game so much back in the day, as it is still as fun as I remember. It's hard to feel like a horrible person doing horrible things when the world around you is so fun, bright and energetic. Of course, that could be the cocaine also. It's definitely a game that defines a generation, but more imortantly, it is a true "system seller," even if it only applied to my circumstance.
So recently, there was a pretty big game that came out. "Big" is a description for the game in many different ways, from the amount of content within the game play experience, the size of the map that the game utilizes as it's world, the insane level of hype the game got before it's release (and even afterwards), or the sales numbers and bank account number that Rockstar Games is enjoying currently. Yes, Grand Theft Auto V is the biggest thing in the video game industry right now, knocking the new consoles off their throne for the time being. Trust me, any game that can make consumers and fans alike forget about the upcoming PS4 and Xbox One, even momentarily, is doing something right.
Because of this, I figured that the entire franchise of Grand Theft Auto was worthy of a little spotlight (as if they don't get enough already), which here on TheNoyse.com can only mean one thing: Another "My Week Of..." series! For September, I am going to attempt a week long GTA experience, aptly titled "My Week Long Grand Theft Auto Crime Spree," as you can see from the top banner. Remember, I'm not going to complete each game, as that's not what this blog is about, but rather just play the games and get something out of each one.
I have no real objective for this week, other than to pay homage to one of the most successful and controversial franchises of all time, focusing on the evolution of the series and maybe trying to figure out just how they got to this point, the top of the mountain.
I wanted to start at the first Grand Theft Auto, the game that started it all. Unfortunately, when I purchased that game (along with GTA 2) in a package deal on Steam, I didn't realize that these first two games weren't compatible with Windows 8, naturally. Apparently Steam and Rockstar are "looking into the issue," but of course, that doesn't help me at all for this week. I wasn't completely bummed out, thought, as the first two games are mere shells of the franchise as it stands today, and it wasn't until GTA III that the franchise took off in mainstream appeal, and created the look and feel of the games that we all know and love. Besides, this way I can fit in a couple of other games I originally wasn't going to have room for. Win-win for everyone, I hope.
So Grand Theft Auto III. The games that mom's love to hate, and one of a handful of games to be put in front of the pubic's eye and attention as both an overwhelming and critical success, but also as one of those games that politicians, activists and finger-pointers turned to as a scapegoat for all things wrong in society, especially when it came to the youth in America. It was mentioned in every news story that involved violence or mischief, especially when juveniles were involved, regardless if those involved even played the game. Despite the hate and backlash that it received, it was still well loved and cherished by gamers old and young.
I remember when I first played it, over at a friend's house. I was out of high school by then, and was close to my now infamous gaming hiatus. I didn't own a PS2 at the time, so the only chances I had to play it was over at his house. And after the first time playing it, I was hooked. Sure, the missions and stories were cool, but we (like most people I'm sure) spent more time than not just driving around, wrecking havoc on Liberty City and living vicariously through the digital thug we were controlling. And it was glorious.
Playing this game again brought back all those memories I had mostly forgotten. I forgot how awesome the Chatterbox radio station was. I forgot how we thought the graphics were amazing back then, but now, they look like a polygon disaster, yet somehow, still manages to look good, all things considered. I forgot how bad most of the mechanics were (driving, shooting, camera, etc.), yet somehow they were groundbreaking and we did't care.
Essentially, I forgot how fun GTA III was, and despite it's flaws and stigma surrounding it, we owe a lot of what we see in video games today to Rockstar and this generation-defining game.
Speaking of defining generations...
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Games played for project : 365