I’m still working on Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories.
I have a very strong love / hate relationship with the GTA series. On one hand, I love exploring a huge, open-ended city with lots to do. I love the freedom, the size, the running day / night cycle, the varied vehicles and other modes of transport, and the (usually) great music. On the other hand, I hate the missions, I find the characters repulsive, and the stories are frequently wearisome. I love everything about the game except the game itself. I hate the mandatory central story, and I love some of the optional stuff.
I wonder how widespread my view is. I can’t be the only one.
The series is is a chart-topping, multi-platform, best-selling, headline-grabbing, money-making dynamo. It’s popular beyond belief, but the aspects for which it is [in]famous aren’t the things that draw me in. For me, the real star of GTA isn’t the thuggish protagonists, it’s the expansive gameworld. Nobody has an engine capable of realizing a city the way GTA can. The gameworld is immense and seamless. You can look over great distances and see landmarks and places miles away. You can go to those locations, often without hitting load zones. When you get there, you’ll find it to be just as detailed and full of activity as the place you left. I think GTA works in spite of it’s brutal story and murderous characters. It is the city, not the violence, that sells this game.
Which is why I find it so maddening that at the outset of the game I can only get to one-third of it. You “unlock” sections of the city by playing (and replaying and replaying) missions to advance the plot. In this bowl of Lucky Charms, the game is making sure I’m eating the stale, tasteless cereal and not just wolfing down the marshmallows. Doing these missions very quickly takes on the texture and flavor of work.
I have yet to
unlock earn the next area of the game world. I’m still stranded on the first island, but I can look out across the water and see the the second one, calling to me – an oasis of wide streets and and new vehicles. I want to go there, but I am already sick of the protagonist and irritated with the meandering plot. I’ve quit in disgust twice now. I know I’ll eventually, grudgingly, work my way through this. Sooner or later I’ll get to that second island, and sometime after that I’ll set foot on the shores of the third. I’ll jump through the game’s hoops, but only because at the end of them I can see a wide open field free of hoops.
I’ve always had this gripe with the series. Despite this, I’ll still walk away from the game and blurt out things like “That’s a great game!”. People near me when I’m playing are mystified that I continue to do so, since I seem to hate it so much. I don’t know what sort of bewitchment they use at Rockstar to make me remember the best parts of the experience and forget the anger and tedium I endured to get there. They should license it. I can think of a few games that would would really benefit from that.
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