GTA 5 is the technical achievement of a generation, a worthy grabber of 2013's cash and prizes. Unfortunately, says Patrick Garratt, there's a problem: the content isn't maturing with the code.
The tech's mature, but the content? Only in terms of the rating. Grand Theft Auto has always been a vision of American life through the Housers' lens, but this time the glass is so thick it's practically opaque.
WARNING: there are slight spoilers in the article below.
Tagging Grand Theft Auto 5 as "bad" is ignorant. It's undeniably "good," a benchmark piece of technology singlehandedly responsible for shaming the ever-whining "no more power" soundbiters. GTA 5 is the culmination of a generation's work, a game in which a lifetime's experience in mission balancing checks boredom with ease, an exercise in voice acting and story delivery which doesn't so much raise the bar as chop it up into little pieces, pour petrol on it and transmute it to ash. Before pissing on it. It's a grand achievement, as virtually all of you are now aware. No allegations of pushed scores here: GTA 5 is a motherfucking beast.
Which is precisely its problem. What's old is the motherfucking, and the pissing, and all the rest of the puerility (although, to be fair, it's the funniest game I've ever played in parts). We have meth labs, and hookers, and everything else you'd expect from GTA's latest escalation, again wrapped up in the greasy burger paper of Big Macmerica. The Housers' obsession with the US has become borderline tedious. We're ticking boxes now: black, white, rich, poor, city, country, Mexican, Chinese, guns and drugs. Trevor lives where he lives because he's looking for something as close as possible to the Midwest. We have mentions of the East Coast. We have LA - Los Whatever - represented in such lunatic detail that I knew my way around the pier because I've spent half my life at E3. Nothing's left out. Dan and Sam may have produced a classic in Grand Theft slaughter's next level, but their need to represent all aspects of American life weighs on the tech. Phone unveils, juggalos, stock markets, internet porn: it's all there. What's next? Back to New York to run guns into goddamn fucking Canada, you motherfucking prick?
There's been much talk of GTA 5's main failing being its male power fantasy, but it's difficult to agree when the entire series has been nothing but. It's unbendable; it's a perpetuity. What's wrong here is the extent to which youthful naivety is being exploited. We find Trevor, for instance, fucking some meth-head biker's wife over a table while watching TV, before murdering her husband and starting a war with his gang. You'd be laughing at 18: it's childish at 40. The tech's mature, but the content? Only in terms of the rating. Grand Theft Auto has always been a vision of American life through the Housers' lens, but this time the glass is so thick it's practically opaque. Pushing boundaries of acceptability in any medium is commendable for its own sake, but "adult" is more than bottling a skinhead. The sales may be stratospheric, but the same can't be said of the artistic reach. It's a fantastic game in almost every respect, but I wish the Housers would get on and grow up.
They won't, of course, because they can't. GTA is stuck in America and it's stuck in fuck-jokes and hyper-violence. Naked extremism has its place, but I sincerely hope we see better from the brothers grim. Artists lucky enough to begin their careers early may enter a mature period, a time of production marked by advanced, often surprisingly different work. Whether or not the constraints of compiling the World's Biggest Game will allow the Housers such glory isn't clear (although the reality will probably be depressingly obvious), but I suspect the incessant sucking on youth culture and American symbolism will eventually stymie Rockstar's prodigal franchise. GTA 5 is certainly a good game. How long future titles can remain good by drinking the bright-green-with-a-stupid-umbrella-cock-and-drugs cocktail is a question it may become increasingly stressful to answer.