GTA 5: why I’m just not that bothered… yet

Tuesday, 7 May 2013 09:44 GMT By Dave Cook

Grand Theft Auto 5 has been whipping gamers up into a soapy lather of hype, speculation and excitement since it was first revealed. VG247’s Dave Cook explains why he’s not bothered…yet.


GTA 5 hits PS3 and Xbox 360 on September 17. Here’s the latest round of glittering previews from around the ‘net.

Most recently, Rockstar released a trio of trailers – one for each of the three characters – and you can see them all here.

Missed the official GTA 5 box-art reveal? Cast your eyes lovingly over it here.

Sky-diving, mini-guns, fucking insanity. It can only be a GTA 5 screenshot gallery. See all the images here.

I’ve only completed one GTA game. It was the third one.

Every time I tell people this they look as if they’re about to chin me down to the floor, trample on my nuts and gob a hawker in my eye.


Quite easily to be honest. See, Grand Theft Auto games are awesome. I know that. Hell, blind people know that. But I’ve always felt they were either too dense, too long or stretched far too thin for me to see them all the way through to completion.

These are – personally – problems inherent to every GTA game since DMA Designs’ PSone original. If you want to talk about world-building then yeah, the series does an absolutely stellar job of carving out slices of Americana and packaging them into a dense, organic sandbox brimming with faux-life.

It works, and there’s a tangible sense of place cemented between the paving slabs on every street corner, graffiti-sprayed on the wall of every alley, and coursing through the blood of your victims as you beat them dead with a bat.

Grand Theft Auto is a master-class in how to craft a believable setting, and say what you will about the Houser brothers, but they really can pen a solid story with diverse characters that either verge on sentimentality or parody – both with superb results.

But where the series constantly falls down in my experience is pacing and gameplay. GTA 3 worked for me because it was relatively straight forward, with no annoying smartphone, minimal side-distractions and none of the RPG-esque elements introduced by San Andreas.

Plus, GTA 3 was the first time I – and many of you – had ever walked around a 3D sandbox. The sense of wonderment as you took your first steps out into Liberty City was incredible, and at the time I remember sitting back to admire the cityscape and just thinking, “This is it. This is the future”. What a bright future it was.

But over time the series lost its allure. The 1980s setting of Vice City was impeccable, and I’m tempted to say it’s even my favourite entry as a result, but even then the campaign length and piddling errands between key story missions started to grate.

I think it’s because by this point I was becoming a hoarder of games, putting my GAME staff discount to good use and buying more titles than I had time to finish. I was being a twat basically, but at least I know one thing hasn’t changed.

But anyway, I just felt that there was too much filler between missions, and in San Andreas this problem grew to an unbearable degree. First though I have to just say that the game was a crowning achievement. When you consider the size and scope of the game, you really have to doth a cap in Rockstar North’s direction.

So I mean no disrespect when I say that I just couldn’t be arsed with San Andreas at all. It’s my own personal ‘thing’, but I got several hours in and just had to back away calmly. I think the problem was – again – the sheer scale of everything on offer.

I was intimidated by it, and from that point on I really started to fall out of love with the sandbox genre. It’s a break-up that still stands today as we’re still not really on speaking terms.

Now there’s talk of GTA 5 having yoga, biking, golf, property mini-games and more. It’s already making my head spin, and I realise it’s optional but it’s the kind of thing I get OCD and stressed over. Seriously, it’s my personal issue.

On the other hand, fellow sandbox games like Crackdown or Assassin’s Creed have failed to hold my attention, but that’s because their worlds felt barren to me. I don’t want a giant playground full of empty space and filler, such as collectibles or those dreadfully uninspired courier and race missions you see in so many titles.

I want GTA 4’s Three-Leaf Clover mission repeated for 30 hours. For me it’s a question of mission quality, not quantity. I want the world to be designed and wrapped around big set-pieces and quests, instead of having them etched into the environment after it’s been crafted.

You can tell when a mission has been blatantly dropped into a sandbox world as quite often the experience just feels soulless and devoid of fun or imagination. It’s a trap that too many sandbox games seem to fall into, where the world feels like a Pac-Man grid with the occasional diversion or quest thrown in just to extend the running time.

So given everything I’ve just whined about above, why amn’t I that buzzed about GTA 5? I mean, it looks mint doesn’t it? Yeah, you bet your ass it does. In fact it looks like it’s going to up the Houser’s story-telling ability by having Michael, Franklin and Trevor coming from three very different walks of life.

I’m genuinely intrigued to see how the stories of all three character’s pan out and intertwine, and how they end up in some of the bat-shit mental situations we’ve seen in the trailer so far. Trevor in particular seems to wreck a lot of heavy duty vehicles, so that’s something.

What I need to see is if these high-flying, maximum carnage events and set-pieces can sustain for however long GTA 5 runs for, without the wafer-thin filler gumming up the cracks in between. Thankfully, the latest round of previews suggests this is the case.

Keeping an experience flowing at maximum output for over 30 hours isn’t easy, I get that, but I’ve never really enjoyed being forced into acts of sheer mediocrity at regular intervals when playing sandbox games. Many are guilty, and few seem to be deviating away from the problem. GTA 5 – at a glance – seems to piling on the filler, but bulking out the core content as well, so I’m this close to tipping over into full on hype-gasm mode.

Across sandbox as a whole I’ve always felt we’ve needed new, better distractions – something that feels like less of a chore and as if it’s actually driving the plot. GTA 5’s skyscraper assault mission revealed in the pages of Game Informer earlier this year sounded like a great start, with a three-pronged approach to gameplay and perspective. Lots of that please.

Finally, I get that many distractions and filler in sandbox worlds are optional, but the mundane tasks that are mandatory just feel like they’re there through obligation. Plus I’m one of those 100% kind of guys. If there’s tons to do in a sandbox I won’t rest easy until it’s all done.

I stress about new taxi missions popping up and Niko’s phone going off for the millionth time. But again, that’s just me. The tipping point will come once we actually get to see raw GTA 5 gameplay footage first-hand or if VG247 ever gets invited to play it ahead of release. Then I’ll know if it truly does address my personal hang-ups.

I’m probably alone in all of the above complaints, but it’s not for a lack of trying. I’ve tried to finish all of the core GTA games to date, but just kept on losing interest around the final third. The thought of diving back in after such a lull and to try and piece together where I left off is equally as daunting.

That said, should I just man up and finish them? Answers below please.