GTA V. Great game? Probably. Great review? Definitely.

18 Sep

Want to read a great game review (great review, I mean – I have no opinion about the game yet)? Try this:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/17/arts/video-games/grand-theft-auto-v-is-a-return-to-the-comedy-of-violence.html?pagewanted=all

Nice, right?

QUIBBLES
My only real quibble with Chris Suellentrop’s review is that he’s more forgiving of misogyny and the “fun” of virtual violence than I might be. Here’s Sam Houser on the topic of misogyny:

“I mean, I suppose we could have done it, early enough on – with a female character.”

Leaving aside the fact that Suellentrop was able to get one of gaming’s more reclusive figures to speak out, I think the discussion was about more than just player avatars – Suellentrop seemed to have been pointing out that all the female characters in the series are treated badly. But, hey, if next time around we get cool female avatars in a GTA game, that’s a win, right?

So, yeah, much as I like the review, I feel that Suellentrop lets GTA V off the hook too easily for its content “issues.” Of course, in the spirit of total honestly, that has to be qualified by the fact that I’ve always found it nearly impossible to get past the content and story choices the GTA team offers. I try, really, I try, but I always seem to find the content too much to bear, even when the gameplay is rock solid.

And in this case, Suellentrop makes a solid case for the gameplay, assessing it in highly positive (and likely accurate) terms. My squeamishness is easily countered. Feel free to ignore me on this…

THE IMPORTANT THING
The important thing is not who likes or doesn’t like the content, or even who does or doesn’t like the gameplay – the important thing is that this review told me everything I needed to know to decide whether to buy the game or not. And then it went on to tell me what place the game might play (sorry for the pun) in a larger cultural context.

Wow.

I read the review and knew to expect open world stuff on a whole new level, more options available to me than ever, great music, visuals that will blow me away, content that makes me go “ugh” and a story that makes me go “meh.” (Okay, I made those last two up – that’s me talking not the reviewers! Bad Warren!)

But all of that being given, the thing I found most compelling, was as Suellentrop put it, the game “evokes and satirizes the anxieties of 21st-century life. There’s a fake Facebook (LifeInvader), a fake Twitter (Bleeter), a fake Apple (Fruit), a fake Kickstarter (Beseecher), a fake “50 Shades of Grey” (“Chains of Intimacy”), even a fake Call of Duty (Righteous Slaughter 7, a first-person shooter game that advertises itself with the tagline “The identical art of contemporary killing”).”

Oh, yeah, I’m in. Facebook as LifeInvader? Twitter as Bleeter? That kind of self-consciousness and cultural awareness are right up my alley – just what it takes to crank a game up to 11. A less well-conceived and executed review might not have twigged me to all that was going on in the game; this one did. If only all game reviews were like that!

So, I’ve read the review. I’ve thought through my history with the series. Will I buy and play GTA V?

Yeah. Sure.

You kind of have to if you call yourself a gamer or game developer, right I’m just hoping I can get past the content this time…

REVIEW AS CONVERSATION-STARTER
Whether you’re a curmudgeonly developer, a gamer, a parent, a reviewer or a game-hating politician, go read this review. At the very least it’ll make a great conversation starter. And we need more adult conversation around games – the way they play, the ideas they express and their place in the broader media/cultural world.

And that conversation doesn’t have to end with debate about the merits of a single game. One might just as easily use it as a jumping off point for a discussion of my current fave topic – the state of games criticism today.

SERIOUS CRITICISM IS ALIVE AND ALMOST WELL
Thanks to many of you, I’m starting to find that the kind of writing and thinking I see in the New York Times is more common than I thought, There’s more quality games criticism out there than I expected. Sadly, if unsurprisingly, most of it is found on gamer-oriented websites, which still leaves the NY Times as one of the few outlets – maybe the only one – that reaches normal humans. But, luckily, the Times critics are doing a fine job.

And that leads to what I consider to be a Big Question…

A BIG QUESTION
Does either Stephen Totilo or Chris Suellentrop have a large enough body of work – more importantly, a philosophically coherent body of work – to justify a collection of reviews in printed or ebook form?

Such a collection, with an introductory section outlining the critical foundation supporting all the individual reviews, could be our “I Lost It at the Movies,” our “Confessions of a Cultist,” or our “The Private Eye, The Cowboy and the Very Naked Girl.” (And if you don’t know those books, look ’em up.)

Someone should publish that book. Now. I’d blurb that book in a heartbeat. Heck, I’d write the foreword, if anyone asked! And then I’d start bugging Totilo and Suellentrop to tackle the little job of writing the games version of “The American Cinema.” At this point, there’s no one I’d trust more to do the job right.

A BIGGER QUESTION
Back to GTA V – anyone know whether I should play on Xbox or PS3? That’s one thing Suellentrop and the Times didn’t tell me!

5 Responses to “GTA V. Great game? Probably. Great review? Definitely.”

  1. Rob Carter September 18, 2013 at 12:59 am #

    Hey Warren,

    Thanks for recommending that review! It’s very well written, and different from all the reviews I’ve seen on game-centric websites. It was very refreshing.

    As to your closing question – eurogamer.com posted an article today comparing GTA V’s performance on both consoles. The conclusion is that the PS3 has a slight edge due to some blurrier textures on the 360:

    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/digitalfoundry-grand-theft-auto-5-face-off

    Always happy to read your blog and hear your well-reasoned opinions!

    Rob (a fan you’ve never met)

  2. Dewi Morgan September 18, 2013 at 5:25 am #

    “Sam Houser […] agreed to be interviewed after I had spent more than 45 hours inside the game’s world.”

    That one line says it all, in terms of my argument. 45 hours. And that’s not the time before writing the review, that’s just the time before getting an interview. How many movie reviewers have *ever* spent 45 hours watching a single movie? What about book reviewers? Only if they read the Lord of the Rings, twice, before reviewing it. And even that’s cheating, since that’s really three books: reviewing the last three GTAs would be a far larger task.

    Game design, gaming, and reviewing games, are an entirely new domain, because it is an order of magnitude bigger in scale than the arts that preceded it.

    That order of magnitude is the difference between a human running a three minute mile, and driving a formula one car at 200mph. It’s the difference between finding someone who remembers the world wars, and finding someone who remembers the battle of Hastings. The difference between a Hollywood screenplay, and the Lord of the Rings.

    Either that, or I just play a lot of big games.

  3. Lukas Irwin September 18, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    “I try, but I always seem to find the content too much to bear, even when the gameplay is rock solid.”

    That is the issue I have with the title. It is the same issue I have with Final Fantasy. The first few games in both series had silent protagonists and an open ended storyline that allowed the player to roleplay whatever type of character they wanted.

    Later entries in the series drop the ‘everyman hero’ in favor of vocal well defined characters and a very tight script that leaves little room for imagination. I guess my issue is earlier games in the series are focused on roleplaying, the latter games are focused on storytelling.

    It is the difference between showing up at a p&p rpg session, rolling a character and having the GM ask what you want to do, as opposed to showing up at a p&p rpg session, being handed a character, and then being told what adventure module you will be running. While there is definite fun to be had in the latter structured gameplay style, and while I can appreciate the unique challenge it is to roleplay a character with a drastically different personality, I much prefer freestyle type campaigns in which I can create whatever narrative I want.

  4. Lukas Irwin September 18, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    Oh, and Ps3 > 360, any day of the week.

  5. Ian Richard September 24, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    My issue with GTA is that the storytelling doesn’t mesh with the story they want to tell.

    On one hand… their scripted tale tells you that you are an immigrant trying to escape the horrors war. He just wants to live a happy and successful life, but trouble seems to catch up with him.

    One the other hand… even leaving out the free-roaming rampages… my guy acts like a psycho. A random stranger asks him to “beat a homeless guy with a bat for $20” and your character immediately say’s “Yes”.

    “Wanna rob a bank?”
    “Sure… why not? I have nothing better to do.”

    They put me into this situation where I’m doing terrible things… yet they keep trying to tell me I’m a good guy. I feel like I’m being lied to, like I’m being manipulated by some puppet master.
    Between the serious story scenes and their attempt to create a realistic world… the wrong-doings I commit are magnified. I know that I’m the bad guy and it makes me feel a little sick.

    I can’t help but feel uncomfortable because the story tells me one thing… while my experience is telling a different tale… a much darker one.

    In no way am I bashing the quality of their game. They are top-notch developers that I respect.
    But GTA isn’t the game for me.

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