Tuesday, January 11, 2005

VidGame - Greatest Game Ever: The Sequel

Probably not the week to ask if y’all caught the
latest – and best – episode of Lost last night? I'll
just say it: the 8th and 9th innings were during the
Alaska broadcast of Lost – and I didn’t even swith
over during the commercials. Sorry. Best show to hit
TV since - what? - early Moonlighting?

Ya know, I’d love to send my congrats to Harman and
thems but I can’t until Foulke finally underhands the
ball over to first for the final out. Hey, pitcher,
like 9 states waiting!!!! Frankly, he’s nearing the
24 hour mark of his “oh, don’t mess this up” pre-toss
pause and we’re getting bored. I think Renteria
finally collapsed this morning halfway down the
firstbase line from dehydration. Maybe by the end of
the week he’ll finally horseshoe-lob it over to
Mientkiewicz (whose painfully deliberate ‘shoe on bag
until AFTER you catch it’ routine is threatening to
sweep the nation’s white dance clubs) and the Red Sox
will actually, finally have gotten the final out.

Until then, I’ll be locked up here, in the recliner,
toes shoved up against the TV, playing Grand Theft
Auto San Andreas.

I mean, the Red Sox win the World Series every 84
years (yeah, I know, pretty obscure but Elias dug it
up for Sportscenter– how about that, 84 years?! Dang.
You’d think it would be a bigger deal), but the
sequel to the greatest video game of all time only
comes out the same week I’m stuck alone in a hotel
room once.

So some thoughts after, oh, 10 hours of GTA5.
It’s giant, it’s artful, it’s bottomlessly deep. In
those respects, it builds and improves on its prequels
It is also dark and mean and uncomfortably racist,
often in a ‘reverse’ sense.
I wrote and never sent an essay about 3 months ago
expressing my concern that GTA5’s announced setting –
90s gangland LA – was going to be a problem. With
Vice City, set pretty much in the middle of Miami
Vice’s 3rd season, there was a built-in layer of
fantasy and comedy. I mean, Miami Vice, the show, was
a wild parody and comedy based entirely in myth - so
adopting it to the absurdist world of video game
violence made it only funnier and sillier. Not only
was GTA4 technically the most impressive video game
ever, it was also the fall-down funniest.
GTA5, though, is set in the “Colors”/“Boyz in the
Hood”/etc setting of LA. And those movies – unlike
the campy Vice – were not funny. Or even fun. They
were movies intended and designed to illustrate
desperate poverty and the savage culture it breeds.
Which is exactly the vibe GTA5 emits – desperate
savagery.
The violence, from literally the first moments, is
much more prevalent. In both GTA3 and 4, you could
roam the city for hours looking at things, pretty much
left alone – here, you are very likely to get shot
very quickly if you stray far.
The “pedestrian” characters are, as I feared, the
worst of ghetto-stereotypes – the crack addict, the
single mom, the wino, the would-be rapper/burger king
worker (OK, that’s funny). And, of course, the swarms
and swarms of gang members.
The only white people so far are the cops you shoot
and the sluttiest of the female extras (in fact, the
better the bodies on the chicks, the whiter they are
drawn as).
It is an obvious nod to these stereotypes that the
leader of the corrupt cops (who are pushing the
narrative) is black, played by Samuel L Jackson (“see,
if we were racist, the cop would be white!”)
It is fair to say that no black/ghetto cliché every
invented is not part of this game. In some sense,
that’s a credit to the gamemakers – they didn’t water
anything down. But I doubt the Mike Powells of the
world will take that view.

Now… the caveats. The game is gigantic. I have
only seen one section – the ghetto – of one city in
the game’s 3 cities. There is a rural farming area, a
Vegas-like Casino/glitz based city, and some sort of
high-end Laguna Beach-like rich person island, too.

But the sly, don’cha-get-it? Humor of Vice City is
gone.

Two technical complaints.
First, you can’t drive with the buttons, only with
the stick. I always drove with the buttons, so that
sucks.
But more than that, they’ve ‘upgraded’ the way you
control the main character – and, in doing so, I
think, made it more complicated than necessary. The
only thing that kept me hooked on GTA4 for the first
few hours was the ease of playing – push the stick,
the guy moves. Push the button, he shoots his gun or
punches somebody. No triple-combo ‘special attacks’
to memorize, no “stealth modes” to activate, no
unsymmetrical look-with this button/aim with this
nonsense. It was just moving a cartoonish little guy
around the screen (which also added to the unreality
of it). Such complex controls have made me almost
immediately quit playing some of GTA’s competitors.
Here’, they’ve added several dimensions of movement
and control – which, as you play, just gets in the
way. You can ‘sneak’ around, the camera angle can be
twisted in 360, but the play doesn’t turn – so you see
something behind you, instinctively push towards it
and end up running or aiming the wrong way. Or your
camera gets stuck in an akward angle trying to drive.
Just added, unnecessary complexity. Never a problem
in GTA3 and 4.
And they’ve made an effort make the guy’s movement
more ‘lifelike.’ Of course, it looks akward. Why not
leave him as a cartoon.
Also they’ve added ‘action’ where you don’t need or
want it– I don’t need animation to change clothes or
eat. In fact, it’s annoying, slow and – as
illustrated by earlier GTAs – totally unneeded. Very
frustrating.
So, be advised – the initial 10 or so missions are
incredibly story-intensive. Five or more minutes of
‘video’ accompany most missions, building up the
backstory. The dialogue is ripped straight from a rap
song – every other words is MF, bitch or shit, casual
drug use is everywhere, and the gangster-as-hero-vibe
is

Finally – it is an amazing world they’ve built.
Shockingly detailed replicas of almost any Southern
California landmark you can think of, from the
Hollywood sign to the Santa Monica pier and Venice
beach to the Watts towers to the LA Convention center.
The dry flood channels (best mission of the early
ones is a long chase through them, with you playing
tailgunner on the back of a motorcycle). Even the
Forum in Englewood. Obviously, a familiarity with LA
helps here, but there is LOTS to see.
And, probably coolest of all – freeways. Huge, wide,
smooth, swooping freeways that connect all the cities.
On ramps, cloverleafs, carpool lanes. And, like the
real things, almost SURE to send you the wrong
direction.

Of course you’re going to go get it. So do. But
just my early thoughts.

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