GTA 5: 2013′s most anticipated launch is a tall poppy

Tuesday, 17 September 2013 08:47 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Grand Theft Auto 5′s launch is the software event of the year; maybe of the generation. Is Rockstar’s epic already a victim of its own hype? Brenna rolls her eyes at the Internet’s inevitable tall poppy syndrome.

The suggestion that the GTA series is over-hyped and can’t live up to its own anticipation is a spurious one at best. It’s become fashionable, for some reason, to rag on Grand Theft Auto 4, a game which had to follow some of the best-loved titles of the proceeding generation, and more than succeeded.”

Grand Theft Auto 5 is now available in all major territories, having launched at midnight. I wandered down to the launch party at EBGames in World Square, Sydney, which by dint of timezone was one of the first in the world. The party upstairs had been washed out by serious rain, but by 2330 nobody cared – they were all downstairs, queueing in the (nice, dry) arcade leading to the store front, stretching all the way back to the escalators, much to the frustration of the security guards trying to enact crowd control.

I imagine the atmosphere was the same at most midnight launches around the world; near palpable impatience and excitement, rarely seen outside of game launches of this magnitude and, perhaps, One Direction concerts. Midnight launches both feed and feed off hype; to not have a midnight launch for something as feverishly anticipated as GTA 5 is unthinkable. There are few franchises as attention-grabbing as this one. Call of Duty’s annual launches, maybe, and certainly hardware releases; a new Halo might do it. But GTA is one of a select number of titans capable of provoking huge fluctuations of emotion; a half hour delay to the PSN version provoked outrage among East Coast US purchasers. When was the last time you drove yourself close to stroke because a movie or book was 30 minutes late?

GTA is a giant of our times and, perhaps inevitably, the backlash has begun. There is very little dissent in review scores, and even before the game was out in most territories, the Internet went to war over the fact that the majority of well-known games review outlets think the game is pretty great. A few people throwing around the good old “paid off by a publisher” chestnut around isn’t new, interesting, or specific to GTA 5, and nor is Mr Internet’s psychic ability to judge the quality of games without ever playing them (a common superpower apparently enjoyed by fans and detractors alike). The argument appearing in a small number of comments and blogs is quite particular: it’s that Grand Theft Auto 4 reviewed strongly, but turned out to be a disappointment, and that the same pattern is repeating now.

The suggestion that the GTA series is over-hyped and can’t live up to its own anticipation is a spurious one at best. It’s become fashionable, for some reason, to rag on Grand Theft Auto 4, a game which had to follow some of the best-loved titles of the proceeding generation, and more than succeeded. It sold over 25 million copies, and while that doesn’t guarantee 25 million happy customers, the long post-launch sales tail (2 million sales between March and September 2011; 3 million sales between September 2011 and the end of 2012) suggests hype can’t be the only sales motivator.

It’s not like people are buying this game just to decorate their shelves, either. In my mind, Grand Theft Auto 4′s multiplayer wasn’t the world’s most original or breathtaking, but it sure had staying power. It’s still one of the most-played Games for Windows Live titles, and regularly ranks highly in the Xbox Live Activity charts.

That’s not to say it’s universally loved. The criticisms of GTA 4 are so well-worn that we can practically recite them together – combat is clunky, the forced socialisation is annoying, and the story is somewhat too bleakly grimdark for many fans to stomach. That’s not a heck of a lot of complaints to level at what is probably going to be at least a 20 hour game for most players, and one immersed in one of the best virtual cities ever built, sprinkled with some of the medium’s best writing and liberally punctuated by its most entertaining action sequences. GTA 4 isn’t perfect, and there are games now, in 2013, which many of us probably like more, and which better capture the zeitgeist of advances in design trends and technical achievement. Despite that, we should be able to celebrate it, warts and all, and to acknowledge its success even if, looking back, it does not please us in as well as it did in 2008.

An aerial tour of Los Santos.

It’s quite probable that Grand Theft Auto has indeed produced so much hype that reviewers and players are both caught up in it, and may later feel suckered when the game does not turn out to give orgasms, make cruelty-free bacon sandwiches and shit gold in perpetuity – just about the only result that could live up to GTA’s tremendous reputation.

There is going to be disappointment. No game is perfect. Some people won’t enjoy themselves. And when emotions run this high, there will always be a small element of comedown; it’s like kids crying at birthday parties, worn out by the excitement, sugar rush and inability to accept that all good things must end (“only twenty hours?? I expect more for $60″, et cetera).

I’m not one to say “trust this developer because they have delivered before”, or “trust that no game in development for so long and at such cost can be bad”, because we’ve all been well burned there. I do think reviewer consensus is worth paying attention to, though, because I’m not a conspiracy theorist, even if the message you take away is “ah yes, universal opinion is that I personally won’t like this game” (let’s not even get started on the efficacy of reviews, shall we? There’re lots of reasons we don’t whack numbers on games around here, and one is we find that argument terribly boring).

Grand Theft Auto 5 is available now on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

[image - EBGames Australia]

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