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GTA 5′s slice of Americana makes for an involving open world

Wednesday, 18 September 2013 08:00 GMT By Dave Cook

Grand Theft Auto 5 follows a series-long tradition of lampooning the American Dream. VG247′s Dave Cook takes a closer look at the organic world of Los Santos, and the curious creatures dwelling within.

If any game encapsulated the wondrous view of American life beyond the country’s borders, it was GTA 4. Fresh off the boat, Niko views Liberty City as a place where opportunity and ambition run hot, and where he can make his bread doing whatever he wants. To him it’s a hard reset, a rebirth if you will.

But then reality strikes, and the plastic, false promises of a fairytale existence peel away to reveal a city rotten to its core and infested with the worst criminal filth humankind has to offer. The layer of grime becomes more apparent when you start to wander the streets and let the ambience of everyday life filter through your screen. There are signs of corporate dominance and capitalism everywhere, apparent in the right-wing political views of crackpots on talk radio, to Burger Shot, where you can pay for the privilege of shortening your life-span one Heart-Stopper at a time.

”GTA 5 is like a newspaper cartoonist’s sketch. It’s a piece of hard-hitting black comedy that pokes fun at how futile and artificial many corners of the word have become. It truly is a showcase for effective world-building and observational satire.”

Rockstar had created a world that felt tangible in Liberty City but with Los Santos the studio has taken the format and its prevalent ideologies into the stratosphere. The key theme of financial pursuit takes centre stage in GTA 5 and it’s a motif that sustains throughout almost every aspect of the plot and world at large.

Take a stroll through downtown Los Santos and you’ll frequently see shoppers hanging around outside boutiques, chatting with each other about painfully mundane things like pointless luxuries they want to buy and hanging out with their girlfriends. Walk under the nearest underpass and you’ll see homeless people sleeping on mouldy couches. Neighbouring homes lie boarded up, plastered with foreclosure signs and graffiti. It’s a brilliant contrast that is never explicitly spelled out to you, but it’s there if you care to see it.

It also transcends to missions. We see a key character auditioning on the Los Santos equivalent of America’s Got Talent in the hopes of making it rich and famous, when ultimately, she’s making a fool of herself for the amusement of millions of viewers chasing a similar dream at home. There’s also a pair of star-seekers who roam Los Santos raiding through celebrity bins in search of used items – cosmetics usually, underwear if they’re lucky – to get even just one step closer to touching their rich idols.

There’s a depressing falseness to many aspects of GTA 5′s world that might make you feel a certain brand of contempt for many of its key players. Take Franklin’s boss Simeon, a car dealer and loan shark who sells vehicles on finance with an entirely unreasonable rate of interest. He cons people into buying a car, gets Franklin to steal it back and sells it on again as new. In today’s world of spiralling interest rates, perilous loans and mounting debt, he’s a hateful villain, pure and simple.

Go north to the under-privileged countryside of Blaine County and you’ll see a different way of life. There are no high-price stores, no social pressures regarding fashion, creed or wealth, just rugged terrain, shanty bars and the fun of taking pot-shots at passing cars with a sniper rifle. It’s quiet, dark and hides a different breed of hidden dangers. Walk around Mount Chiliad for too long at night and you’re coyote food, cross the wrong side of the tracks and you’re in meth country.

I’m positive this isn’t a conscious decision by Rockstar North, but the fact that Los Santos is dwarfed by the wide expanse of Blaine County could almost be considered a parallel to these harsh economic times. In the south the minority lives a life in the lap of luxury – the one per cent. To the sprawling north, people live below the breadline and strive hopelessly to get to that special place where prosperity and wealth thrive.

But where would you rather live? If rubbing shoulders with crass jocks, spoiled brats and fashionistas with more plastic in their body than brains is the price of financial stability in Los Santos, then I’d rather live a life of plainness and grateful mediocrity. This is a theme that burrows deep into GTA 5′s plot and world, but is never rammed down your throat with force. If you look closely at the expertly-crafted play-space, you’ll start to see the tell-tale signs and motifs.

GTA 5 is like a newspaper cartoonist’s sketch. It’s a piece of hard-hitting black comedy that pokes fun at how futile and artificial many corners of the word have become, and while I’ve laughed constantly while playing, I can’t help but feel a tad worried when I realise that what I’m playing isn’t necessarily fiction any more, but edging ever closer to our own reality. It truly is a showcase for effective world-building and observational satire.

It plays amazingly too.

Disclosure: To assist in writing this piece, Rockstar Games sent Dave a copy of GTA 5 on Xbox 360. He honestly cannot stomach America/Britain’s Got Talent.

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7 Comments

  1. VibraniumSpork

    Great article Dave! I’m looking forward to the point where some of the game’s smaller moments and ‘subtler’ points sink in; I’m maybe 4-5 hours in at the moment and am still finding it all a bit overwhelming (in the best possible way).

    The world they’ve created and the way you operate within it is just spectacular, an incredibly impressive feat. So much so that when I’m laughing at cut-scenes and dialogue, I find it easy to forget that the script, story, and voice-acting are easily on par with the game’s technical achievements. It feels like this is what Rockstar were after all along.

    Can’t wait to play more. And to think, the Multiplayer’s still to come!

    #1 1 year ago
  2. sb319

    Awesome article Dave, makes me want to spent more time looking around Los Santos and less time charging from one mission to the next.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. Dave Cook

    1 & 2 thanks guys it really is a superbly-crafted world :)

    #3 1 year ago
  4. fearmonkey

    I love all these GTA articles, The game looks amazing. I am going to have a tough time holding out for the PC version or next gen version. :(

    I am amazed that this is running on current gen consoles.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. Gheritt White

    Great article, and I this one was good too: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/10604-Grand-Theft-Auto-5-Made-Me-Sad

    #5 1 year ago
  6. VibraniumSpork

    @4 I too am amazed that this runs as well as it does on current-gen (I’m playing PS3) – it really is something to sit and marvel at at times!

    The PC version has to be worth the wait though! I saw this article on VG247 earlier ( http://www.vg247.com/2013/09/17/grand-theft-auto-5-actors-pose-together-for-a-picture/ ) which makes me think that the LA Noire facial animation tech has been utilized more than was previously believed; I’d like to think there’s a whole bunch of such info that’s being reserved for the PC and Next-Gen versions. Will look even prettier ^_^

    #6 1 year ago
  7. Cobra951

    It all looks so inviting. Too involved with other games now, Diablo 3 in particular, and there’s the matter of the extra USB stick I’ll be needing for proper full install. (2 full-price games plus some hardware. $Yikes$.) But dive into it I will, soon enough. Thanks for the descriptive vistas into the game world.

    #7 1 year ago

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    Star Wars Battlefront is being shown to retailers. Now we want EA to show it to us. Star Wars Battlefront is expected sometime this year, so it’s about time EA gave us a look at DICE’s latest. It turns out that while press and gamers have had to twiddle their thumbs, EA is showing it […]

  • Dragon Age lead creative moves onto mysterious new BioWare project

    Dragon Age creator David Gaider is leaving his baby behind. Dragon Age is a team effort, but Gaider was one of the key creatives behind the franchise, creating the setting of Thedas (which, I was recently amused to learn, is an acronym: “THE Dragon Age Setting”). He was lead writer on all three games and […]

  • Unity 5 available for free with “no fucking around”

    Unity 5 looks amazing, and you can download and faff about with it for free right now. “We’re not nickel-and-diming people. When we say it’s free, it’s free. We’re not charging a royalty, which I think is akin to looking for whales.” Unity Technologies announced the release of the fifth version of its popular, simple, […]

  • Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 may be the end of the series

    Five Nights at Freddy’s 3 released yesterday, and many fans theorise that it marks the end of the series. Five Nights at Freddy’s developer Scott Cawthon has released a new teaser image on his website, but rather than pointing to a new game, many fans believe the teaser signals the end of the series. The […]

  • Source 2 announced, will also be free

    Valve has formally unveiled Source Engine 2, the third major engine to go free to developers at GDC 2015. Source 2 is the successor to the engine Valve has been using since Counter-Strike: Source and Half-Life 2. Valve didn’t have much to say about the technicalities of this long-awaited release. It is apparently focused on […]

  • SteamVR: Valve’s Lighthouse tech allows you to walk around while playing

    SteamVR’s key differentiator is a piece of tech allowing headsets to connect with other devices for extra accurate, room-scale tracking. Valve has announced a new bit of technology called Lighthouse, which it is making freely available to any hardware manufacturer. Like the extra tracking LEDs on Sony’s updated Project Morpheus, Lighthouse improves the headset’s accuracy, […]

  • Steam Machines, Controller, streaming box to launch in November

    Steam Machines will finally become a reality before the end of the year. Valve’s living room PC systems will release in November, the company announced today. Well, I say Valve’s – the idea behind Steam Machines is that a number of manufacturers will offer variously priced systems. Alienware and Falcon Northwest are among the dozen […]

  • Telltale veterans form new team, announce teen thriller Oxenfree

    Oxenfree is a supernatural teen thriller from some of the team behind Telltale Games’ award-winning adventures. New indie Night School Studios unveiled Oxenfree at GDC 2015. It tells the story of a group of friends who accidentally open a “ghostly rift” at an overnight party on the coast. Night School, which is made up of […]

  • PS4 global sales now stand at over 20.2 million

    The PS4 has sold 20.2 million units worldwide. Sony announced the new PS4 sales milestone at GDC 2015 today. It’s a hell of an achievement and salt in the wounds for Microsoft, which hasn’t updated us on Xbox One sales since it shipped “almost” 10 million back in November last year, and has fallen back […]

  • PS4 VR headset Morpheus out in 2016, capable of 120 FPS – video

    Sony’s VR headset Project Morpheus has some impressive grunt. Virtual reality and Morpheus were the heart of Sony’s GDC 2015 presentation today, ahead of its newly announced first-half 2016 comemrcial launch. SCE Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida detailed the headset’s impressive capabilities, notably the fact that it can handle 120 FPS VR games. The PS4 […]

  • Papo & Yo developer making a VR game about dinosaurs

    Some days you write a headline and it makes you so happy that that you have to do a little chair dance, you know what I mean? Papo & Yo developer Minority Media, whom I would personally go to the wall for after they cut out my heart and stomped on it via the medium […]

  • Wasteland 2, Shovel Knight and more in big ole bunch of indies coming to Xbox One

    Xbox One owners are about to receive a pile of great new indie games. At GDC 2015, Microsoft revealed a list of new indie games headed to Xbox One. Some of these titles have already released on other platforms, so it looks like Microsoft has really relaxed the parity clause of ID@Xbox – or perhaps […]

  • Here’s an indie VR game made with Unreal Engine 4

    GDC 2015 is blowing up with indie games, VR and Unreal Engine 4, so here’s a video combining all three. Loading Human is a virtual reality adventure from indie developer Untold Games. It’s in the works for Mac and PC, and Sony has given an early green light for Project Morpheus, too, so expect it […]

  • GTA Online: Daily Objectives and Adversary Mode coming next week

    Heists aren’t the only thing coming to GTA Online next week: players can also expect Adversary Modes, new Daily Objectives and other Freemode activities. GTA Online’s Adversary Modes are new PvP modes which feature a range of competitive challenges and will unlock as players progress through Heists. Here’s a rundown straight from Rockstar: Come Out […]

  • Syndicate is the latest free game download on Origin

    The latest free title to be added to EA’s Origin service is 1993′s Syndicate. For a limited time, you can download the game for free and keep it, much like previous titles such as Theme Hospital. The isometric, real-time, tactical-action game was developed by Bullfrog Productions and released in June 1993. It is a favorite […]

  • Ancient Labyrinth DLC for Lords of the Fallen now available

    The Ancient Labyrinth DLC for Lords of the Fallen is now available for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It will run you $7.99 and builds upon the existing lore, characters, and storyline. Have a look at some new screenshots in the gallery below.

  • Shadowrun Online gets a name change and release date

    Shadowrun Online developer Cliffhanger Productions has announced the game’s name has been changed to Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown and a release date for April has been set. The new title was formed via the developer and its Kickstarter backers, with the goal being to let those unfamiliar with the game know by the title alone […]

  • Amazon hosting Rockstar and 2K Games sale

    Amazon is hosting a Rockstar Games and 2K Games sale with discounts Max Payne titles, Bully and more. Here’s just some of the offerings listed: Manhunt 2 PC Download $3.00 Max Payne 3 PC Download $4.00 Bully: Scholarship Edition PC Download $3.00 LA Noire Xbox 360 $2.95 L.A. Noire: The Complete Edition PC Download $6.00 […]

  • Destiny weekly reset video shows off Inferno Crucible gameplay

    We have a gameplay video featuring Inferno Crucible gameplay featured in the Destiny weekly reset for you. In it, Arekkz Gaming gives you a look at Inferno Crucible and goes over the various intricacies. You can read up on the weekly reset through the links.

  • Resident Evil: Revelations 2 Episode 2 available from today

    Episode 2 for Resident Evil: Revelations 2 is now available. If you’ve purchased the Complete Season, you’ll be able to download Episode 2 on PS3, PS4 and Xbox One. Steam players should see the episode go live around 9-10pm PST, and Xbox 360 owners should be able to download very early tomorrow morning, per Capcom […]

  • Here’s a sneak peek video for Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide

    Fatshark Games has released a sneak peek video for its upcoming Games Workshop title, Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide. Vermintide is a FPS, co-op action title coming to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and its set during the End Times of the Warhammer universe in the city of Ubersreik. Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide […]

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare video shows Ascendance DLC early access weapon

    As you know, Xbox Season Pass holders now have early access to the Ascendance DLC Pack bonus weapons for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Now you can watch a trailer for the weapon. The OHM directed energy hybrid weapon can switch between an LMG and Shotgun “on the fly,” and it also includes the OHM-Werewolf […]

  • March PS Plus games include OlliOlli 2, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, more

    March PlayStation Plus titles have popped up on the PS Plus page. Noticed by NeoGAF user skynidas, the titles include: OlliOlli2 (PS4/VITA) Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PS4) Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty (PS4) Counterspy (PS4/PS3) Papo & Yo (PS3) Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishment (PS3) A notice has also been posted on the EU PS […]

  • Sci-fi horror game Caffeine will release on Xbox One, PS4 alongside PC – new trailer

    Caffeine creator Dylan Browne has announced the Unreal Engine 4 game will be released on Xbox One. The game will be published through Microsoft’s Indie Program. As previously announced, it is also coming to PC and and now PlayStation 4. Caffeine is a sci-fi horror game which stars a young boy who has been abandoned […]

  • Xbox 360 Preview program invites going out this month

    Much like the Xbox One Preview program, starting early this month, invites for the Xbox 360 Preview program will start rolling out. Select invitees will be able to join program directly from their Xbox 360. A special Xbox Live message will be sent, directing users to head over to their Settings page. Further instructions are […]