With its scathingly humorous satire and chaotic disarray, publisher Rockstar Games’s most rewarding video game franchise, “Grand Theft Auto V,” broke over $800 million retail sales when it launched this past Tuesday. It clobbered Activision’s previous $500 million record for “Call of Duty: Black Ops II.” Taking into consideration that these numbers only account for opening day sales, Rockstar and Take-Two Games are en-route to some remarkably profitable cash-cow earnings that are much deserved.
Set in Rockstar’s cherished state of San Andreas, the city of Los Santos, and its surrounding regions, the game marks a familiar homecoming to 2004’s PlayStation 2 title, “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” For the first time in “GTA” history, the user takes control of three interchangeable lead characters instead of one. The introductory character, Franklin, is a young gangbanger and repo man of the urban district of Los Santos. Then there is Michael, a 40 year old retired con artist (reminiscent of Tony Soprano), living in the Hollywood hillside undergoing his midlife crisis. Finally, there is Trevor, a psychopathic dirtball who distributes methamphetamine across the San Andreas backwoods.
“Grand Theft Auto V’s” world brilliantly offers the player a fully-realized, thriving metropolis. Exploring the world offers an immersive experience filled with multiple, compelling narratives and content to explore. Outside of the main storyline, there is no shortage of things to do; the player can easily be kept occupied for hours. Whether the player is investing in stock, flying planes and military aircrafts, customizing vehicles, hunting wildlife, or participating in triathlons, “Grand Theft Auto V” never limits activities.
As the narrative is set into motion, the player is hurled into commissions of bank robberies and major heists. I often found myself reminded of Michael Mann’s 1995 crime film “Heat.” These sizable, large-scaled operations are a main focal point of the gameplay, allowing players to choose how they want to undertake the burglary. Everything from hiring crew members to planning the course of action is totally left up to the user. Heists can also go wrong, leaving the player to ad-lib, or forge instinctive decisions that can make or break the procedure, and even lead to death.
The comically scorching commentary on our contemporary culture is practically an afterthought. Tearing into the right and left wings with an equitable aim, the game frequently enjoys making a mockery of our overly-PC, spoiled, entitled generation. Xenophobia, racial injustice, and homosexual panic are all harshly parodied in hope to divert our attention to real world bigotry. Even the game’s razor-sharp meta-critique turns the gun on itself when it comes to the character of Jimmy, Michael’s son. Contradictory to his bratty and celebrity obsessed sister who spends her time obsessing over reality television and hanging with sleazy movie producers, Jimmy sits in his room all day, playing violent video games and yelling obscenities to other players on his headset.
It is hard to get on the “Grand Theft Auto” hype train without acknowledging its glaring moral vacuum. There is a much talked about torture scene the player is required to take part in order to advance the story. White-knighted media crusaders (who, in all likelihood, have not touched a controller since playing pong on the classic Atari) are bent on eradicating the game to protect the impressionable children.
While I completely endorse their concern, not only do protestors fail to recognize how far video games have come as a storytelling medium that is just as artistically valid as any other form of entertainment, but they dismiss the fact that titles are no longer exclusively tailored and watered down to cater to parental regulations. Nor should the games be pigeon-holed, given the wide fan base that is not underage. The bottom line remains: kids are not the only demographic in the video game market. The game’s MA rating indicates that the product is an adult experience best avoided by kids.
Having said that, I am still aware of the hoops children will put themselves through in order to obtain a copy. I should know, as I distinctly remember scheming devious strategies to attain my own copy of Rockstar’s “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” (2002) during my pre-adolescent years. So are kids going to find ways to maneuver around the rating system? More than likely, yes. Do I think the game has potential to leave a tainted and negative impression on the wrong vulnerable youngsters? You bet. In spite of this, I would never go to great lengths to protest or boycott its release. As someone who grew up with excessively violent material, including the “GTA” franchise, I like to think I turned out alright. In retrospect, the “Grand Theft Auto” franchise never nearly scared my fragile mind as the traumatic, real-world nightly news did.
Putting the heavy stuff out of the way, my final thought on “Grand Theft Auto V” is that it is a technological achievement that pushes the boundaries to their fullest potentials. The sprawling, star-lit portrait of our City of Angels is a testament to how far video game design has come as an art form. Peering over the canyons and Hollywood hills after nightfall, the city’s luminous glimmer becomes a breathtaking sight to behold. The storytelling and characters contribute to a rich tale of crime-laden madness that combines sardonically caustic humor with poignant drama.
It offers a superb, diverse soundtrack from gangsta rap artists like N.W.A and Snoop Dogg, to feverish 80s performers such as Kenny Loggins and Hall & Oates. Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash provide easy listening when cruising the San Andreas back roads, and punk-charged tunes from Black Flag and T.S.O.L supply aggressively piercing music to cause destruction. The gameplay has been refined to its maximum potential, fulfilling all expectations and then some. “Grand Theft Auto V” truly is the game of the year.
Robert Gabe is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RG770214@wcupa.edu.