Grand Theft Auto: The Nitpicker's guide to Nitpicks
Looking at the sales figures, I think it is safe to assume that you’ve probably already played Grand Theft Auto: V. You've probably also already read dozens of reviews on the game praising the many elements of the game that Rockstar executed to perfection. There really is no reason for me to just add another review to the pile, so I want to handle this a little differently.
I’ll say this right off the bat: this is the best game that I have ever played. There may be games that I enjoy playing more and games that I will go back to more often; but while I was playing through Grand Theft Auto: V, I could not for the life of me find a flaw in execution.
It has been a few weeks since I’ve finished the game, and now that I’ve had some time to reflect on what I’ve experienced I realize that the game isn’t as pristine as what I imagined while playing.
In this article, I will nitpick the details of this excellent game. Some features are rather glaring in their flaws while others are more closely related to petty complaints by myself. But, I wholeheartedly feel that nothing is beyond improvement, and I wholeheartedly feel that criticism is how the great get to where they are.
Before you read on know that from here on out there will be plot related spoilers. Turn back now if you wish to avoid them. You have been warned.
1) Loose/underdeveloped plot threads
This is the first thing I noticed when I began to reflect on GTAV. This game is so massive, with so many people and places introduced, that it is easy to miss while rampaging around the city. Maybe it’s an unfortunate byproduct of having to develop three separate main characters, but many of the factions and events seem disjointed from one another.
One of the biggest examples of this happens very early on in the story. You probably remember meeting Trevor out in the badlands of the San Andreas desert. At this time, Trevor is a small time meth dealer, and accomplished psychopath, with aspirations of bigger things. He’s looking to expand his small business into the international market, and to accomplish this he is trying to set up an arrangement between himself and some Chinese crooks. Eventually, things go south when Trevor blows up the house of some rival meth dealers that the Chinese had actually gone into business with--riling the Chinese, because life is rough in the drug game. The thing is, nothing really comes of this. Every now and again Trevor might get a call from the leader of the Chinese yelling at how he’s going to kill Trevor for botching their deal, but that’s really about it. This wouldn’t really mean that much if that had been the end of it, but you have to assassinate the Chinese crime boss in the final mission, along with others, as though he was supposed to be Trevor’s personal antagonist throughout the game. I don’t know if this mission was a last second addition, but since it was supposed to be the ultimate clean slate moment for our “heroes” it would have been nice if the narrative up to that point had established this character.
That isn’t the only example of poorly developed plot. This game is packed to the brim with characters that show up for a mission or two before disappearing forever. There are so many instances that it isn’t worth writing about them all, but I will bring up the biggest offender—something that happens with one of the other main characters.
This brings me to...
What was Rockstar thinking when they made this character? There is nothing wrong with his inclusion on its face. Franklin was supposed to be the most down to earth of the three characters. Michael is the career criminal, and all around horrible human being, who is in denial about who he is. Trevor is a grab bag of psychosis who revels in being the bully and the bad guy. Franklin is supposed to be the good guy just trying to make the most of a bad situation.
Basically, Franklin was supposed to be C.J. from GTA: San Andreas.
I guess Rockstar didn't feel like rehashing the same basic mission set from two games ago, because Franklin got the short end of the stick in terms of character development.
To begin Franklin's story, Rockstar set up some odd gang conflict that involved Franklin and his (severely underused for how good his performance was) best friend, Lamar. The two of them would do something “gangster” (like kidnapping a gangbanger), Lamar would mess something up, and they would shoot their way out. It was some sort of Boys in the Hood sitcom with Lamar as the goofball and Franklin as the square. It was fun and it was funny. Then, it just disappeared. Franklin meets Michael and almost everyone that had been introduced up to that point became non-existent. There was even a supposed love interest that had, literally, zero screen time until it was convenient for her to come to his door to make a reference to Franklin “forgetting where he came from.”
The end of the game was the spotlight that exposed just how little attention Rockstar had paid to Franklin through the course of the story. The big plot decision was left to Franklin: Whose life would Franklin choose to take between Michael and Trevor? One person’s antagonist was pressuring Franklin to kill Michael while the other antagonist was pressuring Franklin to kill Trevor. Of course, there is always the option of killing neither where all three of them would go on a rampage and kill each other’s antagonist. It felt like Rockstar wanted this decision to define Franklin's future--as if Franklin was choosing to live either Michael's or Trevor's life style. The problem being that both were, for all their personality differences, the same type of character (amoral, mass murdering, career criminals).
Aside from the fact that this decision didn't feel like it held any weight due to how poorly developed Franklin was, Franklin’s antagonist that needed to die was just… sad. Even the other main characters knew how underdeveloped Franklin's story was because their dialogue was “um… who do we kill for you? Oh yea! That one guy that called you a busta fifteen game hours ago and might have tried to kill Lamar once!” It was a sad culmination of a paper-thin character.
3) Confused pacing
So, I’ve complained about Trevor and his story elements, I’ve complained about Franklin and his lack of story elements, I guess it’s time to complain about Michael.
Michael is easily the most sympathetic character in this game. He’s introduced as a depressed ex-criminal with an abusive family. His wife only married him for his money, his daughter wants to sleep her way to reality stardom, and his son is a pot smoking good-for-nothing whose only marketable skill seems to be his Call of Duty KDA. It’s clear from the beginning that his family was going to fall apart eventually, it was more just a matter of when.
Michael's story was great up until this point. He felt like the most real of all the characters--or at least as real as any character could feel in this game.
Once Michael’s family was gone, Rockstar seemed to be at a loss with what to do with his character. Sure, there was still the crime he was masterminding, but his personal life was reduced to an over-consumption of alcohol and him attempting to “find himself.”
This search for himself is so out of place where it is within the game. Right when the main story is reaching its climax, Michael takes some time out of his pressing schedule to become a movie producer. This shatters the tension like a hammer to a window. It just doesn’t fit. I get that there is the need for character development; hell, I just spent 500 words complaining about the lack of such with Franklin, but there is a time and a place for it. It felt like there were different groups of people working on each set of story lines (one for each main character and another for the plot involving all of them). In the end, those puzzle pieces just didn’t fit together, but they forced them in anyway because they needed to be somewhere.
4) GTA Online
We are all very aware of the problems that have occurred with the launch of GTA Online. Rockstar was simply not prepared for the sheer volume of players that attempted to log on all at once.
I’m not going to hold that against Rockstar, though. No, this is something that happens for every major release to varying degrees, and what surprises me the most is how surprised everyone seems to be whenever it does happen.
The problem with GTA Online is just how shallow it is. You log on and create your character before being placed in a world with a dozen other created characters. You can do single-player like missions or you can do competitive game modes like deathmatches or street races—some of which fit the game's gameplay better than others. It might sound like a lot, but it is an ankle deep experience. There is no real advancement or satisfaction that comes from leveling up or earning money. I ground my way to get the most expensive apartment available only to find out that it was a carbon copy of an apartment I could have purchased for half the price.
It becomes apparent rather quickly how little value money actually holds. Missions dole out a pittance compared to the cost of anything, leading me to believe that prices were balanced around the micro transaction portion rather than the play portion of online. In order to actually advance my bank account I had to replay the higher value missions over and over again, which was just plain boring. Even that has been patched to give out less money per replay, simply reinforcing my opinion that the in game economy is designed around forcing players to spend real life cash for in game items.
The major highlight that could have been carried over from single-player is oddly absent as well. The heist missions would have fit perfectly, and the online suffers greatly without them. Rockstar has promised that they would be included later as free DLC, but that doesn’t help me stay interested now.
5) The pettiest of the petty
The radio stations
For a game that spent so much money on licensed music, it’s kind of funny just how uninteresting all of the radio stations were. Most of the time, in past GTA games, I could find a station that I just had to have on when I want good driving tunes. This time around, I found myself turning off the radio whenever I even noticed it.
Certain songs were used to great effect at specified moments in specific missions. I can applaud Rockstar’s choices there.
It’s not like a mediocre song selection takes away from my enjoyment of the game, it is just something I wish had been a little better.
Damn those load screens are long. Once you were in game, there were no load screens to be seen, but that means that everything had to be loaded upfront.
I can’t hold Rockstar's choice to release GTAV on the current generation of consoles against them, considering that they had 140 million potential customers compared to probably about 1-2 million customers on the new generation consoles, but it definitely highlighted the problem with the current hardware.
This issue was amplified to even greater heights when coupled with the online play. Every single mission/match you enter into requires the complete reloading of the entire gameworld. If you aren’t interested in spending time just chilling in an open world for extended periods of time, then you could expect to spend huge chunks of your time just… loading.
That's the gist of it. It's important to keep in mind that I consider this game to be as complete an experience as games get. Gameplay is solid, story mode is deep and compelling, and the missions are inspired. Everyone is going to have their own list of complaints and my list is far from comprehensive, but I think just starting the conversation is what's important.