I came to the decision of writing this article with a great amount of trepidation. I wasn't sure if I was ready to write about my feelings on GTA because in doing so I seem to be giving everyone with contrary opinions an easy defense that I dislike games because they are popular (Especially on the heels of a less than glowing retrospective on Final Fantasy VII), but that's just not true. What is true is that when people start talking about how amazing a game is, I am more apt to pull out my magnifying glass, pipe, and Sherlock Holmes hat and begin investigating with a fervor to see if the game is worthy of it's level of hype. More times than not it isn't, but sometimes I find myself in agreement with public opinion (Notable examples include Chrono Trigger, Portal, Diablo 2, etc.). I think it is only natural for people to meet fantastic claims with doubt and suspicion. Imagine a friend of yours introduced you to someone and said, "He is a really nice guy." You'd be inclined to believe him and after a few moments of conversation you would probably agree. Now imagine your friend introduced you and said "This man is the second coming of Christ and you should get on your knees and worship him!" I doubt you'd be quite as inclined to believe your friend and you would require some proof to back this claim up. Right? Good, now get off my back and let's get this article going (And ask your new buddy over there if he can top off my glass with a little Merlot from the faucet, would you?).
"Why can't you let this go?" some may ask me. "Why can't you just call it a good game series and be done with it?" Well one, that wouldn't be very interesting and two, a Grand Theft Auto it isn't just a game. From GTA 3 on (Please note now that any specific information on GTA 4 is speculative and will be amended if necessary), the GTA series is not just one "good" game after another. They are an assembly of multiple "mediocre" games mashed together in one disc, a group of Frankensteinian beings running rampant throughout the land, in clear defiance of the will of the Gaming Gods. Think about it for a second, if you took the driving elements, the combat (both armed and unarmed), or the missions out of context, each of them can be described as "average" at best when compared to other games of a more singular focus. Now some may argue that a game is meant to be better than the sum of it's parts, but I'd only agree when these are parts as a whole like graphics, sound, gameplay, or story, elements of a game which are usually designed by seperate teams and brought together later. When your entire gameplay department is just mixing together of whatever works decently in it's specific genre with no personalization or augmentation, that's just lazy The shooting is what has drawn the most ire from me, since armed combat in the GTAs is a horrendous repetition of "Hold R1 and press/hold fire button until dead." Supposedly GTA4 has remedied this with a new system which better rewards accuracy and responsiveness, and if so good for them, it only took them 3 fucking games to figure it out.
Another issue I have is why everyone is so entrenched in the "greatness" of GTA's open world. I've already talked somewhat about this in my last article, in the context of what happens when developers give the player a vast amount of freedom in order to free themselves from liability when people don't like the game. Don't like the combat? Then just try to sneak around Liberty City/San Andreas/Vice City while attracting as little attention as possible. Don't like the driving? No one is stopping you from walking or taking a bike, go on ahead! Don't like the missions? Then just walk around and mow down civilians for a while. People just eat this stuff up. Now, I will admit to taking a guilty pleasure in becoming a homicidal maniac and using a sniper rifle in game to kill anyone who happened to be wearing a green shirt on a given street, then having a climactic rooftop battle with Police helicopters, but I don't know if I would call this the Renaissance of gaming like some people have. Let me see if I get this straight, if I randomly kill minor enemies for hours on end in an RPG or an MMORPG it is "grinding", and therefor bad. But if I walk around and randomly kill people for hours on end in GTA it is "innovative", and therefor awesome. Makes perfect sense to me.
Now, I'm not honestly trying to convert people to actively hate on the Grand Theft Auto games when I talk like this, I'm just trying to get people to think about what they are playing and to use caution when throwing around terms like "best game ever." If you love you some GTA and wish to contest my viewpoint by using specific examples and well thought out arguments, then I will gladly participate in some discourse because it means you've already gotten your own gaming-magnifying glass of sorts out and taken my advice to heart. Now as far as GTA 4 is concerned, I have not played it yet, and for all I know it could well have re-invented the series and provided us with the golden standard for all of Video Gaming. However, you can be damn sure I will be playing and scrutinizing before I expect it to ride down on a white horse in fine linen and lead us to the promise land.