There’s a new trailer for Grand Theft Auto V. And with the coming of this five minutes of dryly narrated gameplay comes the requisite flock of Grand Theft Auto grumps. Or to use the parlance of the day as often wielded by The Bard, Kanye West: haters. For a good spell my Twitter feed was full of grouses and gripes around the game.
The complaints are almost always the same. Some folks grouse about the game’s uneven difficulty and sloppy controls. Others harp on the supposed discord between what the lead characters say (“I’m going straight”) and what they do (blow everything up). On the other side of that coin, there’s folks who don’t want to play as psychopaths – like the whole dude with a heart of gold thing makes sense when you’re plowing through pedestrians. There are complaints about Rockstar’s writing style. They drown the game in story. And their brand of “satire” is juvenile and not very funny.
I honestly believe that Grand Theft Auto IV is the best game in the series. And I’ve never once had a drink with the Housers. I swear.
I totally get it. I was once a Grand Theft Auto grump like you. I vividly remember rage quitting Vice City after failing over and over to raid a police station. For years afterwards I ranted about the great scores that EGM gave the game. And in the back of my head I was sure that there were some kind of hijinks going on over there. Shoe had drinks with the Housers or something. Had to be.
Then I grew up.
I’m only half joking. The years came and went and all the stuff I thought was wrong with Grand Theft Auto sort of faded out of memory. What stuck was that magical moment cruising at night in a sports car with Jan Hammer blasting out of the speakers. Rockstar games are great at delivering those moments. And as the Grand Theft Auto series continued, those moments felt like they came more often.
It was Grand Theft Auto IV that really won me over. It was the first GTA that I finished – and I loved every minute of it. Even when I kept failing those goddamn car chases and gunfights. I honestly believe that Grand Theft Auto IV is the best game in the series. And I’ve never once had a drink with the Housers. I swear.
I am crazy about the way Grand Theft Auto IV was written. Sure, taken from an aerial view, the stories are muddled and unoriginal. But moment-to-moment Grand Theft Auto IV is full of some of the best characterization in videogames. The lead, Nico, is a bit of a cold fish, but his associates are lewd, half-mad and wildly entertaining. Most importantly is the fact that they have business. I love how people are always up to some foolishness during cutscenes. The Latina drug dealer is having a house party, dancing up a storm. The coked-out cokehead is doing push-ups. It’s a small thing, but watch cutscenes in the hottest games today and you’ll still find protagonist and partner standing like they have broomsticks up their asses as they spout exposition.
And that overarching story that everybody complains about? The Ballad of Gay Tony ties up all the loose ends in a satisfying and, dare I say, Capra-esque manner. Oh, yeah, and those moments. In Grand Theft Auto IV I was on a mission, chasing after some hood who just hoofed it onto the elevated subway. I jumped into the first car hand and started driving after the jerk. With metal pylons whizzing past me I realized, HOLY SHIT, I am doing The FRENCH FUCKING CONNECTION. And then there was the station. I bailed out of the SUV, ran up to the platform and there was my guy on the stairs. You can bet I shot him in the back. And you can bet I’m psyched as hell to experience more moments like that in Grand Theft Auto V. All those gripes? You’re right about them. They’re there. And, to me, they’re worth it.
Pretension +1 is a weekly column about the intersections of life, culture and videogames. Follow Gus Mastrapa on Twitter @Triphibian.