A bit of old news maybe but Grand Theft Auto 4 won some ‘game of the year’ awards so I felt some berating was necessary (plus I need something to start off the Games category). At this point in the series’ life how is this still happening? If somebody told me the game was fun I could get that. If somebody told me it was cool because the story was cinematic then I would totally agree. But don’t talk about innovative gameplay when it is the same tried and true formula yet again.
Take Two does a lot of things right in their Grand Theft Auto series. I like how the main characters are not typical video game heroes. They usually pick some minority and thrust you into common movie stereotypes and situations but it feels good because we all like watching movies that do this. Take Two does a great job ripping off cool scenes from pop culture and throwing them into their video games, and that’s a great thing. GTA 4 specifically put in an effort to make the cut scenes and story have the familiar feel of a drama. There’s some emotion and comedy in there and the action scenes are taken straight out of a Die Hard flick. There’s even some useless but fun things to do that make Liberty City seem like a real place, like listen to radio stations.
But isn’t there more to the gameplay? Isn’t this a living, breathing city where you can do anything you want? Let me spoil the surprise. If ‘anything you want’ doesn’t involve driving or buying clothes then you are sorely lacking options. But what about all the people you can interact with? Sure, they say random things when you walk by them, but is that really interaction? This is the deal. I see a guy, I can punch him. Oh cool, there’s a hooker. I can punch her. Oh wait, the cops just showed up. Let’s punch them. Are you getting tired of my explanation yet? Because trust me, when you’re actually playing this over and over again spanning hours and days of your life, you will REALLY be tired of it.
When it comes down to it, the problem with GTA is that it is a driving game. All these “open-ended” missions just boil down to driving from point A to point B. 50% of my game experience is driving fast following a yellow line on my radar. I look at that stupid radar more than the street when I’m driving. So that means the car chases are fun since I can ignore the map and just chase what’s ahead of me, right? Yes, I have to admit, but all excitement quickly goes out the window when you realize that you can’t actually catch the car you’re chasing until the developers want you to. If you get too close to that beat-up buick they will turn the hyperdrive on and ignore the laws of physics instead of rewarding you for driving well. What about downtime? To go on a date I need to drive to the girl’s house (follow radar), drive to a date location (check and follow radar), be treated to a cut scene if I’m lucky (because many times the game immediately skips to the end of the date), and then take the girl back home (follow the radar). Well that was a pain in the ass. What should I do now? Great, my fucking cousin is calling me again. I bet he wants me to drive somewhere to pick him up. Wasn’t I supposed to be taking on a mob boss or otherwise doing something exciting?
And the city itself, oh God. If the driving is the core problem with the gameplay, then the buildings are the core problem with, well, the buildings. Sorry if that analogy didn’t work out. It’s just that this entire ‘world’ that was created is very empty. All the food joints will just heal you. All the bars are devoid of any reason to be there. They tried to stick minigames in places but they don’t have enough purpose- for us to play them or for the dev team to justify spending time making them fun. The theater shows are the only locations that really have anything unique in them although they are not interactive at all.
Point is, we really need to set a higher bar for open world gameplay. It should be obvious for sequel number FOUR but the improvements from game to game have been minor. I’m not calling for Take Two to change what they’re doing if they are selling games but isn’t it time for the public perception to admit that this isn’t breaking new ground any more?