Published on January 5th, 2013 | by Andy Astruc15
GTA V and the risk of being safe
A new Grand Theft Auto game does not excite me. There, I said it. I feel much better now that it’s out in the open, even as I hear the pitchfork-wielding mobs thundering towards my door. I’ve been playing GTA games since everything was top down and jokes about Keanu Reeves on a bus were relevant. I still own one of the only Australian copies of GTA III which allows you to have sex with prostitutes, murder them and take your money back*, sold before the Australian Government did a recall and forced Rockstar to change it. I’ll happily defend GTA IV in a very important internet argument about the value of minigames and oil-slicked streets.
But the internet is being bombarded with screenshot after screenshot, revealing and not so revealing trailers that have dogs and crime, and poster-sized promotional art, and I can’t muster up a single duck to give. Grand Theft Auto V is coming, and bringing with it a hefty helping of mediocrity and the same old guff. It’s all getting a great big sigh of indifference from me. And I’m angry about that indifference.
It isn’t just the media hype, although you could fill a canyon with the amount of free public relations work the gaming press is providing. An idle search for the game’s title just now instantly linked me to an article proudly claiming that box art is coming soon. An entire article dedicated to informing the public that a company is going to release a picture of a box, but hasn’t done it yet. Good show, everyone. For weeks Rockstar have been drip-feeding screenshots of tennis courts and dirt bikes, and the ever-voracious (and rarely veracious) journalists have been leaping on them like a pack of sickly hyenas. The least offensive sites just posted the shots with deadpan faces and passionless speed. The worst picked apart the tiny details to give us such astounding insights as “there will be police in the game” and “maybe you can ride bikes”.
No, I think I realised I wasn’t on the Grand Theft Train when they started revealing information on the protagonists. And what a lively bunch they are! First we have a well-dressed fellow in his 40s or 50s who is almost certainly a part of the Mafia. Or a mafia. Next there’s a less refined human male who is most likely trying to get his life together despite challenges in his upbringing and problems with those he loves getting in over their heads. Just guessing. Lastly there’s a shouting, balding, ugly man who seems be completely defined by the words “angry” and “dirty”. Word is you’ll be switching between these characters through the game, trying to cope with the cognitive dissonance of being some guy who commits crimes, some other guy who is a criminal, and a criminal who commits crimes.
GTA has had some fantastic characters through the years: James Woods’ paranoid secret agent and Samuel L Jackson’s uber-corrupt cop in San Andreas, neurotic 1980′s criminal lawyers, two separate flavours of psychotic and dangerous girlfriends (one of whom you get to shoot in the face, and both end up banging Claude from GTA III), Yusuf Amir the decadent Muslim property developer and Brucie, a man for whom short-man syndrome and steroid abuse only scratch the totally ripped and sculpted surface. Even the main characters have had their day, particularly Ray Liotta’s portrayal of Tommy Vercetti as a tornado of sociopathic rage and greed and Hawaiian shirts. But the upcoming trio could get lost in a paper bag factory. I have no doubt I could pass them in the street and not blink. But the trailer assures us they’re interesting. One of them has a wayward son, after all. And another is ambitious, or something. I feel like a spectacularly interesting and eclectic son of a bitch just looking at them.
Meanwhile, the promotional image above actually caught my eye. Look at it. Look at it. A sour faced female cop just trying to do her job. Maybe she’s on the edge of cracking after a rough few years on the force. Maybe something is about to push her over the edge into an uncharacteristic orgy of crime.
And the other woman, while clearly designed to be sexy, oozes personality. Fashionable clothes that suggest a lack of fucks given, boss-level aviators and a few pieces of intriguing costume jewellery. Maybe she’s just any old criminal, but perhaps that over-the-top style suggests an international con artist, happy to use her femininity to sell a con. If not, there’s a wealth of useful skills and a quickfire wit to get things done. Alone there’s already scads of potential that is completely absent from the trio of Guy, Buddy and Dude. Maybe they’re forced to work together to get to the bottom of a huge criminal conspiracy, and in the process become more powerful than anyone could imagine. Perhaps they form a Thelma and Louise style friendship bond that can only end in mutual destruction.
Sadly, these two are most likely nothing but side characters that come and go during the adventures of The Three Guys What Make Bad Stuff Go Down. Or perhaps they won’t be in the game at all, since Rockstar has a habit of featuring female characters in concept art that barely exist. Of course you could write a whole other article about their reluctance to put women at the head of franchises. But this isn’t even about gender, it’s about interesting characters for interesting stories. Take a good, long look at those three monkeys and tell me if you think they honestly look interesting to you. And not just adequate.
I might be wrong about all of this, of course. GTA V could turn out to be the most amazing narrative journey in the history of video games. Tweedlesuit, Tweedleblack and Tweedlebald might be as memorable as the vampire Kain or GlaDOS. But I plan to maintain a level of skepticism that seems lacking in the press at large. GTA is a series that I genuinely love, but if they’re content to keep pushing out the bare minimum of identical content to appease fans without taking any risks, then soon enough it will be as exciting and fresh as Call of Duty or Madden.
*It was specifically the sex, followed by violence that got their panties in a twist. The government apparently has no problem with people getting beaten to death with baseball bats as long as they didn’t have a dick in their mouth right before that.