a retrospective as Grand Theft Auto V nears

The approach of Grand Theft Auto V makes me reflect on the series.

  • Highest and purest style: GTA: Vice City
  • Ridiculously gargantuan sandbox: GTA: San Andreas[*]
  • Best damn radio patter: GTA: Liberty City Stories (Dan Houser and Lazlow’s finest moments)
  • Craziest car stunts and most engrossing side missions: GTA: Vice City Stories (Infernus and Empire building).

I bought a PS3 and a new TV and stood in line at midnight to buy GTA IV, but it wasn’t that great. Rockstar upped the detail so you could feel Nico’s gritty lifestyle, but they dropped dozens and dozens of features from San Andreas.[*] The story is sweeping and well-told, but a dreary bummer. With “The Ballad of Gay Tony” Rockstar did a solid job of coming up with a story and characters that work better in the constricted game world, but once the story wraps it’s a realistic but dull place to be, far short of GTA:SA. No triathlons, paramedics, fire missions,.. meanwhile there’s an entire Coney Island funfair that doesn’t work.

  • But GTA IV has the best radio ads. El Chamuco Roboto! Dan Houser and Lazlow are brilliant writers and parodists.

On the basis of that arc, it looks bad for GTA V. Developing the 3-D assets for the level of detail demanded by the latest consoles seemed to exhaust their creativity and fun. Maybe a less ambitious cartoon like Saints Row is the way to go (I liked SR2, I haven’t played Saints Row The Third). But then, a non-GTA game restored my faith in Rockstar:

  • Best storyline, characters, cut scenes: Red Dead Redemption by a mile.

[*] 70+ features in this list, not to mention that San Andreas comprised most of California + Las Vegas. The change in the light and haze in the different areas is phenomenal.

“Masculine in the front, feminine in ze back.”
“Music is life and we snort it until we O.D., again und again”
“At least in the 80s they could play their instruments and there were two ambiguously gay men beating a synthesizer who were up for a go”
– Reni Wassulmaier, transsexual film director turned DJ on Flashback FM in GTA:LCS

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