In lieu of a clever introduction, I'll just state here that before this past weekend, the last time I touched a Grand Theft Auto game was in 2004. Vice City was a game that I enjoyed, up to the point that I actually tried to advance through the story only to encounter the roadblock that was terrible mission design. I'll spare the details, as this is a story that I've related on Giant Bomb before, but the mission to save Lance from Diaz's goons and get him to the hospital broke me thoroughly to the point that I didn't want to even touch the game anymore. I never played San Andreas because that game seemed more concerned with stacking more mechanics into an already aging game engine than it was with fixing what was broken, and I was still too burned by Vice City to give it a chance. I also never touched GTAIV or any of the various spin-offs for similar reasons. Whatever improvements that GTAIV brought, by that point, I was done with the series and had no interest in playing it.
My interest in the genre was largely rekindled by Saints Row 2 and especially The Third, and I also enjoyed Sleeping Dogs. I'm still only part way through Saints Row IV, but that's also a game that I've liked, even if I don't find it as riveting as The Third. I honestly had no intent on playing GTAV. But when I decided to buy a superslim PS3 this past weekend to replace my original, I found that my only options were bundles containing either that, or Uncharted 3. And my interest in Uncharted requires neative numbers in order to measure.
So here I am, with a copy of GTAV.
As of this writing, I've played far enough that I've completed a couple of missions as Trevor and have unlocked the ability to purchase real estate. And I have to say that, in some ways, I'm really impressed. Obviously, not having played GTA since Vice City, the jump in terms of gameplay is huge (to say nothing of the graphics, which goes without saying), but while some elements like shootouts (thank you, auto-aim), heists and so on have been fun, the game seems to miss just as often as it hits. Driving isn't as fun as it is in other games in the genre, for example. I know that the physics are in general trying to be more realistic than a game like Sleeping Dogs, but trying to win a street race when the car I'm in controls like a boat is just painful. And having just finished flying a plane for the first time...maybe they should have just left planes out of the game.
The same hit or miss elements are affecting my enjoyment of the story, as well. I like the three protagonists in their own ways. Michael's dealing with his family is amusing, Franklin is about as sympathetic a GTA character as I've ever seen, and Trevor is a convincing lunatic. But the world they inhabit is a lazily constructed ball of satire that feels like someone threw a bunch of South Park episodes in a blender. The game is better when it's humorous without trying for satire. Michael completely at a loss with his idiot son and bratty daughter? That's amusing. But the signage, radio bits, TV programs and so on that define the world? It feels like someone trying way too hard to be funny with all the subtlety of a bulldozer in my bathroom. Saints Row: The Third and Saints Row IV are funny because the chaos is actually well thought out; it's dumb, but it's a smart dumb. In Grand Theft Auto V, the dumb just feels out of place. Like everything about the game has grown up except its sense of humor.
So at this point, I'm just really not sure what to think of it. Is it a good game? Yeah, it is. But I wouldn't call it a big "event game." There was a time when Grand Theft Auto was what defined the open world crime genre and every other game that came along was considered a clone. But the better "clones" are now more consistently fun to play and offer more interesting and diverse experiences than yet another warped take on the pursuit of the American dream.