Grand Theft Retrospective: Introduction

By Shamus Posted Friday Jun 29, 2018

Filed under: Retrospectives 91 comments

The Grand Theft Auto games have always been a big deal, but number five seems to have attained stratospheric new heights. For context, it was the #7 best selling of 2017. Not bad for a game that came out in 2013. Particularly since – as of this writing in April of 2018 – it’s still selling for the launch-day price of $60. It’s also in the top 20 highest-rated games of all time. (Although it’s below Grand Theft Auto IV, which I find mystifying. But we’ll talk about GTA IV later in this series.)

I do wonder who is buying the game at this point. Who is it that decided to buy the game in 2017 for full price that hadn’t already bought it in 2013 for full price? There’s no marketing push going on, so what’s driving these sales?

I guess I’m part of the problem. I have two copies. I got one for the Playstation 4, and another for the PC. I’ve played all the way through both versions multiple times, although for the sake of convenience all of my screenshots in this series will come from the PC version.

After writing this series, I discovered that I’d lost a majority of my game footage. So I had to replay quite a bit of the game to re-create that footage. However, I’d since changed the outfits of all the characters and turned down the graphics settings for the purposes of streaming the game. So this is a heads up that a lot of the GTA V screenshots are going to be mismatched in terms of character attire / graphical quality. It’s not a big deal, but I know some people would ask about it I didn’t explain it ahead of time.

Grand Theft Auto Online

I was going to get pissed off you were selling me in-game items for real money, but then I noticed the items are ON SALE. What generosity!
I was going to get pissed off you were selling me in-game items for real money, but then I noticed the items are ON SALE. What generosity!

I imagine the major force driving these long-tail salesAlthough, can we really call these sales “tail” if the game is still selling in the top 10? Arguably we’re still at the HEAD and we haven’t even reached the tail yet. is Grand Theft Auto Online. GTA V and GTAO are bundled together. They share the same world map and a few characters, but the two games are entirely separate in terms of progression. Completing objectives in one game doesn’t impact anything going on in the other. It’s a bit like if World of Warcraft was part of Warcraft III and you could jump between the two at will.

GTAO is a bit of an odd creature. It’s part of GTA V, but not really. It’s a massively multiplayer game, but not quite. It’s multiplayer deathmatch, but not exactly. When you launch the single-player game you’re shown a bunch of loading-screen promotional cards for stuff in GTAO, and I gather the game is based around microtransactions. I can see the financial reasoning behind this. You get people to buy the single-player game, and then nudge those people into playing online where you can shove them towards the microtransaction store. I really appreciate that the online store operates without getting involved with the single-player experience. Those of us who remember the lootbox controversies of 2017 can probably look back on the systems of Grand Theft Auto Online as “the good old days”.

I played GTAO with friends back when it was new, but I lost interest quickly. You can team up with friends to perform heists, and between those jobs you can roam around the open world and murder other players. I’m not going to cover it in this series. It’s not really my thing.

Graphics, Gameplay, Story

This entire city is playable gamespace. So are the mountains behind the city. And the farmland beyond the mountains. And the desert beyond the farmland. And the coastlands beyond the desert.
This entire city is playable gamespace. So are the mountains behind the city. And the farmland beyond the mountains. And the desert beyond the farmland. And the coastlands beyond the desert.

I know I’m one of the foremost graphics hipsters. I’ve been saying “good graphics” are overvalued since long before it was cool. I’ve spent years complaining that developers ought to stop trying to polish their pixels and instead pay more attention to gameplay, story, and the integration of the two. No matter how good you make those visuals, they’ll still look dated in a few years. Meanwhile, the gameplay can still be fun decades later, and stories are basically timeless. Moby Dick, Lord of the Rings, and Pride and Prejudice all continue to be cherished stories generations after they were published. Advanced graphics are nice when you can afford them, but storyNot just the “story” in terms of what happens, but also tone, dialog, themes, pacing, characters, etc. The cutscene parts. You know, “talky stuff”. and gameplay are where you can’t afford to cut corners.

But GTA V offers a pretty good rebuttal to this point of view. The story is at times tone-deaf, meandering, grating, pretentious, infantile, or derivative. The gameplay is all over the place, with the open-world design philosophy running directly against the tyrannical mission design structure. Even the gameplay elements that work in GTA V aren’t anything special, because they’ve been done better elsewhere. The only thing GTA V has to set it apart is the technology, and that’s enough to make it one of the best selling games in history.

So I guess I have to refine my position: Gameplay is paramount, and story is (depending on genre) a close second in cutscene-heavy games, but you can apparently half-ass both if you have a gargantuan budget that allows you to create a technological marvel and then hire scores of artists to fill the gameworld with more content than most players could ever hope to experience.

Or to put it another way: Don’t try this at home, kids. The developers at Rockstar are trained professionals. Also they’re rich enough that they can afford to take these kinds of chances. Also they’re probably a little crazy. Unless you’re Rockstar-rich and Rockstar-crazy, then you still need to make sure your gameplay feels good and your story doesn’t get in the way.

A Love / Hate Relationship

This game has more unique strip-mall stores than most other games have LEVELS.
This game has more unique strip-mall stores than most other games have LEVELS.

I’ve always had a strained relationship with this series. The things that are bad are consistently bad and their badness seems to be baked into the design. But the things that are good are things that no other game can offer. I suppose I have a similar relationship with Bethesda games: I can’t get the experience anywhere else, so I have to put up with these alternately grating and mystifying design decisions.

On one hand, I love having a giant sandbox of interconnected systems. There’s nothing like creating your own moments in this world, entirely apart from the machinations of the author. Maybe you’ll grab a car, drive to the beach, and watch the sun rise while you listen to your favorite in-game radio station. Maybe you’ll find a bike trail up in the mountains that leads to a secluded shack with an obscure reference or in-joke in the window. Maybe you’ll cruise town in your favorite car and suddenly realize just how scarily realistic the game seems. Not just in terms of lighting and texture detail, but in the subtle details of physics, animations, body language, and soundscape. Even if there was no plot, no story, no characters, no cutscenes, and no objectives, Grand Theft Auto V is still a world worth exploring.

I love the Saints Row series. The gameplay is vastly superior. But Saints Row isn’t going for immersion and it all feels deliberately artificial. I’ve never really just driven around the world of Saints Row for the sake of it. I’ve never gotten lost in the city looking at all the small details. Saints Row is an amusement park, and you’re usually on your way to the next rollercoaster of firearms and vehicular mayhem.

But while Grand Theft Auto V offers that sense of immersion, it’s never been particularly special as a videogame. This was really bad in the earlier entries where large chunks of the gameworld were locked behind story progress, obliging you to engage with the most un-sandboxy parts of the game to get to the rest of the sandbox. GTA V has at last abandoned this, and it allows you to explore the entire world from the start.

The Lineage of Grand Theft Auto

We've come a long way since the 2D days. Well, the GRAPHICS have, anyway.
We've come a long way since the 2D days. Well, the GRAPHICS have, anyway.

The game is called “Grand Theft Auto Five”, but it’s actually the fifteenth(???) title in the franchiseNot counting the oddball Gameboy title.. Here is the full lineage:

  1. Grand Theft Auto
  2. Grand Theft Auto: London 1969
  3. Grand Theft Auto: London 1961
  4. Grand Theft Auto 2
  5. Grand Theft Auto III
  6. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
  7. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
  8. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
  9. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
  10. Grand Theft Auto IV
  11. Grand Theft Auto: The Lost and Damned
  12. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
  13. Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony
  14. Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City
  15. Grand Theft Auto V

The non-numbered games are typically standalone, full-featured titles. They’re just named by subtitle rather than by roman numeral. Generally, the numbered titles denote a major leap forward in graphics and content. The other titles usually rely on the same engine and assets, but feature new characters and stories.

In this series we’re going to look at GTA V. We’ll pick at the characters, the world, the mechanics, the story, and even the technology. But before we dissect GTA V, we’re going to spend the next few weeks talking about the earlier games in the series and how an odd and mediocre 2D scroller evolved into one of the most popular franchises of all time.

Obviously to figure this out we’re going to need to go back to the beginning, so that’s where we’re headed next week.



[1] Although, can we really call these sales “tail” if the game is still selling in the top 10? Arguably we’re still at the HEAD and we haven’t even reached the tail yet.

[2] Not just the “story” in terms of what happens, but also tone, dialog, themes, pacing, characters, etc. The cutscene parts. You know, “talky stuff”.

[3] Not counting the oddball Gameboy title.

From The Archives:

91 thoughts on “Grand Theft Retrospective: Introduction

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Is it really abbreviated as gtao?Because to me it looks a lot like gta0.Which does fit the naming trends going around these days.

    1. DanMan says:

      I’ve typically seen it around as GTA:O even though Grand Theft Auto Online doesn’t have a colon. I think it’s because of exactly what you said.

      Also, I don’t typically see people referencing the “Online” part as a separate game from the main game. I understand the point Shamus is making, but I typically hear it as just “the multiplayer”

    2. Hector says:

      They call me Gtao
      I have metal joints
      Beat my Single-player Campaign Mode before starting the multiplayer grind
      And earn 15 Silver Playstation Network Trophy Award points!

      1. tmtvl says:

        Don’t eat the lunch and remember to fetch the little kid her cat.

        1. Decius says:

          Run around the cutscene triggers. It’s faster to be convicted of kidnapping anyway.

          1. Syal says:

            Don’t join up with Kid right away or you’ll miss a recruitment.

            1. Leave Kid to die or you can’t recruit Glenn. I was so livid when I found that out.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I like to differentiate between graphics and visual design,personally.Graphics is all about the number of pixels,the size of textures,the number of animated strands of hair,lens flare,etc.And while its somewhat important,its much more important what you are using it on.Having super detailed walls,rendering every individual brick and cracks on them is impressive,but if you are going to use it to make just a bunch of identical buildings you will achieve nothing.Meanwhile,this game fills the map with realistic looking buildings,with colorful billboards and graffiti,with skyrises behind houses,with scenery that varies constantly.

    And yes,in a composite medium such as video games,you can often supplement failings in one part with major successes in other parts.

    1. baud says:

      Visual design is important and good visual design can help an older game look good years laters. For example, I’ve recently played older RPGs, which still look good in virtue of having a good visual design for the environments and the characters.

    2. TheJungerLudendorff says:

      As a complementary example, Square Enix usually creates some really high quality graphics, but often fumbles the art design by trying to show off too much and rely on their graphical fidelity.

      Which is how we get very pretty looking overdesigned characters and locations that constantly devolve into a beautiful, confused mess.

    3. Steve C says:

      I find the visuals too unrealistic. Or rather the general GTA design/feel/visual is smack in the uncanny valley for me. It feels wrong and off. Granted I feel the same way about Los Angeles itself. It is very much not my kind of place. Virtual or otherwise, but the virtual version really magnifies it.

  3. Tobias says:

    What is driving GTAV sales in 2018? I would guess Steam sales.
    I was seriously considering finally buying the game at the current sale. But 20€ is still a bit much for something so far out of my favourite genres.

    1. Christopher says:

      In my limited experience, there’s always gonna be some new kid that turns 13 and wants to play the cool murder game, like my cousin. I’m not convinced they all jumped to Fortnite, it’s not really the same.

      I bet GTA has just got wide appeal. You get a lot of people with a mundane, lavishly depicted modern city where you do crimes. Add 20 years of mainstream controversies and outrage about all the boning and killing you can di, and critically praised games, and you’ve got a mainstream title that is such a household name tons of people play it, and definitely the kinda consumer that otherwise might just play a FIFA that year.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Yeah, I think ‘Household Name’ is the key phrase here. The series is just that well known: everyone and their dog has heard of it and that it’s good*.

        Treat games like wine. Now there’s lots of wine out there, different vintages, countries, an entire industry built about the tasting, growing and selling of fermented grape products…
        And I don’t know or care. I just want something to drink. If I ask about it, it’s somewhat off-putting: oddly fervent people start to tell me about ‘nose’ and ‘palette’ and how it should be allowed to breath before you drink it and so on – which I don’t have time for. I dunno man, just give me something good.

        Now maybe I can go and look up a wine critic (let’s call him Yamus Shoung) who will tell me that the Chateau GTA I usually drink has always had a bad DIAS aftertaste, and have I tried something from the Saint’s Row vineyard, which is somewhat similar but has notes of Self-Aware Satire that the Chateau GTA lacks?

        But whatever. I’ve had Chateau GTA before and it was fine. Everyone says that Chateau GTA is good. Plus, it helps shut up my kids for hour at a time at what seems to be a fairly standard price when I go looking for wine…

  4. Torsten says:

    Something that may keep the game such a good seller is the roleplay community. There are at least two roleplay mods for GTA Online, and if you take a look at the streamers of the game at Twitch, most of them are roleplayers.

  5. Alex says:

    I think one of the things driving sales is those of us who bought the game originally on PS3/4 Xbox migrating to pc as the technology became less a barrier

  6. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    No matter how good you make those visuals, they’ll still look dated in a few years. Meanwhile, the gameplay can still be fun decades later, and stories are basically timeless.

    That sword can, surprisingly, cut both ways. It feels like for that last few years, the market has been flooded with games that use the 8-bit, 16-bit, or 32-bit aesthetic, but then they don’t necessarily capture what made those original games fun. I’ve found myself saying “The crummy graphics aren’t what made those games classics…” But I agree with your sentiment on the whole: I can live with a game that doesn’t run 4k at 60fps if it’s got a good story, good characters, good mechanics, or is otherwise fun to play.

    With that said, I have to admit my mortal sin that I’ve never been into the GTA series. Just the mere premise isn’t interesting with me. I’ve got friends who really enjoy them and have tried to get me interested, so I’ve played a bit of some of the titles at my friends’ insistence and walked away feeling mostly “meh” about the experience. I’ve never tried GTA 5 though, but I always enjoy your critiques and I look forward to seeing what you have to say.

  7. Redrock says:

    I have come to really dislike GTA over the years, and GTA V in particular. There are a lot of resons for this, including the writing, the gameplay and everything in between, but mostly, the thing that doesn’t work for me is the same one everyone praises: I don’t really get the appeal of a realisitic sandbox in a contemporary city. I think it’s the only game that makes me constantly ask “Why am I playing it?”. Why am I cycling across the city in GTA when I can just go and do that? Granted, I don’t have beach to drive to where I live, but driving to the beach in GTA just makes me sad. And, mind you, that’s the whole gimmick in GTA V. The chance to do “normal” stuff. Because if it’s rampaging and creative destruction you want, basically any sandbox would be better in terms of gameplay.

    Abother thing people mention is “it’s a cool world to explore”. But there’s nothing to actually explore in GTA V. Exploration means the possibility of discovery. You can explore in Skyrim and find towns, NPCs, quests, stories. You can explore in Horizon, find some treasure, collectibles, a dungeon, or, again, quests and NPCs with stories to tell. There’s the occasional quest in GTA V, but there are so few of those and they’re usually so shallow and boring. And because the world is so “realistic”, there’s no reason to really explore for a chance to just see cool places. “Oooh, a strip club! Wonder what’s inside. Oh, it’s strippers and people sitting at tables. Wow”. Also, a huge part of it is just a city backdrop with hundreds of locked buldings, while an even bigger part is a boring wilderness that’s even more empty and useless. It’s the definition of the phrase “wasted space”.

    Mind you, Red Dead Redemption is one of my favorite games ever. There I have no issue with riding across an empty wasteland, because at least I get to do it as a gunfighter in spaghetti western. It’s an interesting ficitonal world. Same with Sleeping Dogs – you’re in a Hong Kong crime flick. But with GTA V? Los Santos is just such a boring place, even to a non-American. It should be as exotic for me as Hong Kong, but instead it’s the blandest place you could imagine.

    There’s fun to be had in GTA V, sure. And I still played through the campaign and fooled around in the open world for a while, especially when a friend came along and we could just take turns doing crazy stuff. But I haven’t touched it in years and I just can’t find a compelling reason to. Huh, this turned into a bit of a rant. Sorry about that. Still, this promises to be an interesting series.

    1. Joshua says:

      That was my thoughts in reading all about the immersion of making a realistic and diverse city. Um, can’t I just get in my car and drive all around the city I’m currently living in for the same experience but potentially with more utility?

      1. Dan Efran says:

        To me, the appeal is not that you can drive around town, but that you can drive around town badly. A real-city sandbox game like this lets you try out terrible reckless driving skills that you’d never risk in real life. Speeding, offroading, highway wrong-way dodging, bashing other cars out of your way…all your wildest traffic-jam daydreams. At least I hope you aren’t getting that same experience driving around your own town.

        Personally, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do in these games, on the few occasions I’ve played them. It’s not compelling enough for me to seek out often or pay for, and I don’t care about the rest of the game, but bad driving is definitely a fun gameplay experience for a while. (I would agree that if you just follow the traffic rules like in real life, then there’s no point.)

        1. Redrock says:

          Yeah, but I can do bad driving in other open world games with an open-world setting that still offer some more interesting and fantastical elements. Like Saints Row or even Watch Dogs. By the by, have you tried Driver San Francisco? It may be right up your alley.

    2. MelTorefas says:

      There’s a fundamental difference between actually physically driving a car and driving one in a videogame. Same with any activity. For plenty of people, I assume the game offers an experience that is either in some way superior to the real life version, or that they don’t have access to the real life version with the same level of ease, comfort, and safety.

      Not that you were necessarily commenting on others’ experiences. I just think it is an important point to make.

      As for myself I have no interest because I don’t really enjoy the idea of games celebrating criminal behavior in a realistic environment. I have fairly strong feelings about that, which I don’t need to go into any further. But this may be another series I have to pass on, depending on how much it goes into those elements.

    3. Cubic says:

      Speaking of the club, I visited a strip club as Franklin and after a good handsy effort actually ended up dating my stripper, which was a bit unexpected. I didn’t take that anywhere so I don’t know what happens next.

      When I played GTAV at the release, I also thought it was a bit empty. But scanning the net I now think there were a lot of quests that I just didn’t find (or were they added after I finished?).

      1. ElementalAlchemist says:

        I didn’t take that anywhere so I don’t know what happens next.

        That’s basically it. She becomes one of the “booty calls” that you can phone for sex. There are a couple of strippers that are available like that, and also a couple of other women (1 for Franklin, 1 for Franklin or Trevor) that you can pick up through a side-quest or stranger event.

    4. Cubic says:

      By the way, I loved Red Dead Redemption, just loved it. Very different mood from the GTA games. Looking forward to RDR 2 in just a few short months.

      I tried Sleeping Dogs too and sort of liked the setting but found the fighting a bit too repetitive and long-winded to really dig into the game. It lacked the true sandbox feeling too, IMO. Still, a pretty good game, just not quite for me. I got maybe a third in or so before my motivation died.

    5. Agammamon says:

      Mind you, Red Dead Redemption is one of my favorite games ever. There I have no issue with riding across an empty wasteland, because at least I get to do it as a gunfighter in spaghetti western.

      This is a good point, and why I never got into the series. Especially GTAV.

      So, I can wander around a very detailed city as a balding, overweight, middle-aged asshole? In real life I do that every day.

      I played RDR . . . 2? Where he’s forced by the government to kill some gang in order to get them to leave his family alone? It was freaking awesome – right up to the part where I singlehandly killed 40 men in order to get a gatling gun from them. FFS, isn’t this like 1880 or something? Can’t you just order them from the Sear’s catalog alongside a case of opium elixir?

      1. ElementalAlchemist says:

        I played RDR . . . 2?

        Just Red Dead Redemption. It’s a sequel in name only to Red Dead Revolver, which was being made by a studio that Take-Two bought and renamed Rockstar San Diego. RDR 2 is the prequel due out later this year –

        1. Redrock says:

          Red Dead Revolver was also pretty fun, although history kinda forgot it. I recently replayed it thorugh an emulator and had a blast. It’s style is nicely over the top and the shooting is solid, with very nice visual and audio feedback for every kill.

    6. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Even if you live in the same city gta was based on,even if you can just go outside and explore it,you still cant do it like in gta.In real life,youd need hours to travel the distance you can cover in minutes in the game.Not to mention that you can change the scenery by going to the beach,then to the mountains.

      1. Redrock says:

        Of course, it’s easier in the game, but why do it in the game at all? Why spend your time in a mundanely realistic virtual world doing mundane things that you can conceivably do in real life? Yeah, real life sunsets aren’t as pretty and getting to the beach ain’t as easy, but on the other hand, hey, you can smell the salty air and feel the sand under your feet. I guess there’s a certain appeal in that type of gameplay for physically handicapped people, but I don’t get why anyone else would enjoy it.

        I mostly play games to do things I’ll never experience in real life and often things I wouldn’t want to experience in real life. Violence, adventure across fantastical worlds or other time periods, oh, and more violence. Living in a genre movie, at least. Experience a story. Something not even remotely possible to do in real life.

        Like I said, when I get on a bycicle in GTA V, or walk into a clothing store or whatever, I constantly ask myself “What am I doing with my life? Why am I sitting in front of a monitor doing fake versions of stuff that I can do in real life for a more fulfilling and meaningful experience? And why am I using horrible, horrible controls to do it?”. I don’t get that from other games.

        There was a time when GTA offered something unique. There were few open-world games out there, and GTA was fresh and exciting. But that was so long ago, the term “GTA clone” had time to get born and die. Now we have dozens of open world games and GTA V is the blandest of all of them.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          The same reason why people enjoy their sims cleaning the toilet,or taking a shower.It does not matter whether you can do it in real life or not.

          1. Redrock says:

            Yeah, Sims players also tend to baffle me, although there is a mechanical difference between having the Sims do stuff and doing it in GTA V. A more apt analogy would probably be Viscera Cleanup Detail, which, again, I don’t get. Remember, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t enjoy such activities in games. I’m just saying that I don’t.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              This ties to my prefered definition of video games as active models that allow the user to experience systems that they would otherwise be unable to experience at the time.

              So anything that people arent able to experience physically at a time,even if its the simplest task of taking out the trash because they dont want to actually do it,can be turned into an enjoyable activity for them by giving them a model of said activity.Stimulating ones brain with something can be enjoyable while that same thing in real life would stimulate their nose in an unpleasant fashion.

              Same goes for driving to the beach to enjoy the sun.Sure,you cant stimulate your nose with the smell of the sea in gta(yet),but you wont also stimulate your muscles with the tiring task of getting there.Virtual worlds do remove a bunch of things that exist in real life,and while some of those things are positive(smell of the sea),some are negative(smell of garbage).If you lose more bad than good,then virtual world is preferable to you than the real world.

              Of course,this is subjective,because to some the smell of the sea would highly outweigh the tiring task of getting there,some can easily disregard various stenches,some dont enjoy sunsets at all,etc,etc.But the principle is the same.

        2. Syal says:

          I don’t get why anyone else would enjoy it.

          No gas costs, no sunburns, no bugs, no crowds, no driving around the block looking for a parking spot, no job you have to get back home early for, no crocodiles that have gotten hold of someone’s jetski and are jetskiing around terrorizing the beachgoers. No pot holes.

          1. Abnaxis says:

            If you run over a pedestrian because you were driving while looking at the sunset, it’s just like “meh”

            … Wait, what were we talking about again?

          2. Redrock says:

            For me, that’s exactly the problem. If there were jet-skiing crocodiles in GTA V, I’d probably like it a lot more.

          3. Nessus says:

            This guy gets it.

            I love driving IRL. In my 20s I used to go out nearly every day and drive for the fun of it. I live in southern California, and while not in the city this game is based on, the scenery is often close enough. I would absolutely love to be doing that IRL instead of in the game.

            BUT, since those carefree days of yore, things have changed. Gas has gotten way more expensive, traffic has gotten worse, and I’ve become a lot more conscious about the maintenance-per-hour costs of operating a car. And of course, I’ve physically gotten older, which means sitting in one position for long periods of time leaves my body feeling more cramped.

            If I wanna go out and retrace one of my old driving-for-fun routs, it’ll cost me 2-3 times what it used to, and instead of being free to enjoy the sights and smells, I’ll spend at least half my time cramped in traffic. What used to be a 45 minute drive is now a 2 hour drive, and instead of arriving back home with my mind rejuvenated by the experience, I arrive with both mind and body exhausted.

            I ABSOLUTELY see the appeal of driving around in a game like this. No, it doesn’t have all the elements of a real drive, but the balance of positives and negatives compared to a real drive these days is unfortunately in the game’s favor. A real drive is a rare treat, that is never quite as satisfying as you wanted it to be, and always more of a PITA than you wanted it to be. A simulated drive in game only satisfies a fraction of the same feeling as an ideal IRL drive, but it gets enough to tickle those same neurons, and you can do it every day if you want, WITHOUT having to pay $40 in gas per session, without having to spend extended random chunks of it jockeying with crowds at 20 below the speed limit instead of enjoying things, and without ass-cramps and stiff joints at the end.

            Under those conditions, the scenery doesn’t have to be exotic. Which is not to say I’d value exotic scenery less, but anything that’s rendered well enough to trick at least part of my brain into reacting to it like the real thing is going to be valuable, mundane or no.

            But also given that I do live in SoCal, and this sort of scenery is what I spent so much time driving around, there is a nostalgia/familiarity appeal to the “mundane” scenery that a more exotic location wouldn’t have. Parts of it just feel more like the roads I used to love to drive. If I’d grown up in a different place, that would probably be different, so that’s a more personal factor, but it is a real and valid one.

            This logic isn’t exclusive to driving in games either. I love hiking and camping, but I haven’t had the opportunity to do it IRL in a long time. In Skyrim, I can spend a couple hours hiking just about any evening I want. It’s only a little taste of the real thing, but the fact that I can get a that taste whenever, and without any of the costs of the real thing, means I can “tide myself over” for long periods of time when I can’t do the real thing.

          4. Agammamon says:

            no crocodiles that have gotten hold of someone’s jetski and are jetskiing around terrorizing the beachgoers.

            Ah, a resident of Florida, I see.

    7. Guest says:

      Like with RDR, it’s the simulationist aspect that makes it worth a bit more. There are a bunch of systems that play into each other, and they’re fun to play off against each other.

      I just kind of wish it went deeper in those areas, that you could go into more places, that there were more ways to interact with the world. I love it when I can find ways of getting onto the rooftops, or go inside buildings. The detail in the simulation is really cool, it’s probably the reason it’s still my go to of it’s sort (And I basically play online just because I get that with a character I made), but the level of interaction is unfortunately, always shallow, and takes a chunk of the fun away.

  8. Volvagia says:

    Fourteenth. Episodes from Liberty City is just a repackaging of The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony.

  9. Shoeboxjeddy says:

    “The Episodes From Liberty City” is a retail version of the two DLC packs Lost and the Damned and Gay Tony. So you’re wrong in two places there. Those two things ARE DLC for GTAIV (just very in depth, very lengthy DLC campaigns) and you’ve counted them twice.

    1. Droid says:

      They can be played as standalone titles (at least EFLC can). So at least that one should be counted.

  10. John says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever played a single GTA game. Once, back in the caveman days, a friend showed me the first GTA on his PC, but I don’t remember trying it myself. I will say that the 3D games, especially GTA5, look more appealing than the old top-down ones, but the only thing I’d particularly want to do in them would be to wander about playing virtual tourist. Fortunately for me, I can scratch that particular itch just as well in genres whose core gameplay I prefer, like RPGs and certain space games.

  11. LCF says:

    “an odd and mediocre 2D scroller”
    I had not many video games as a kid / young teen, and the joyous mayhem brought forth by GTA the first is enshrined in My memory forever in a rose-tinted reliquary. How dare you?

    (I’m not angry for real, but I do have fond memories of said game. ^^)

  12. Karma The Alligator says:

    Only reason I’m even considering getting GTA5 is the multiplayer.

  13. King Marth says:

    That list of titles gave me Kingdom Hearts flashbacks. Kingdom Hearts 3 is the 10th game in the series (8th if you don’t count the browser/mobile-only games), and Kingdom Hearts 2 was the third game.

    1. Mikey says:

      The Kingdom Hearts series is probably the actual worst offender with regards to this numeral chicanery, since it’s a singular ongoing story where every installment matters (or at least the writer wants them all to matter; I’d say the DS games and the mobile game/Back Cover are skippable,) but most casual fans have spent all this time thinking every game that wasn’t numbered was a spin-off.
      At least with GTA, if you only play the numbered entries, all you’ll be missing out on is probably a cameo or two.

      That being said, I’ll always be bitter about the fact that the Final Fantasy series gave two numbered entries to MMOs.

      1. Redrock says:

        The worst thing is, even if you play all of the Kingdom Hearts games, up to and including “Dissonance of Lucidity 2,743”, you still end up no closer to figuring out what the hell is going on. Well, apart from the slighlty lovecraftian notion that everything that ever was or ever will be is basically Xenahort.

        1. Mikey says:

          That simply isn’t true. As someone who’s only been into the series since 2015, the story makes sense if you play every game (Which admittedly used to be a lot harder, but nowadays you can get the entire series in two discs on PS4.) It’s not that well-written, and in hindsight it’s easy to spot the points where the writer changes their mind, but it’s easy to follow.

          An old Sith Lord Keyblade Master attempts to recreate the ultimate weapon. Three young Jedi apprentices Keyblade wielders manage to stop him, but at great personal cost to themselves.
          Ten years later, the Keyblade Master enacts one of his backup plans, and is thwarted by a kid who stumbled upon the power of the Keyblade but still proved himself worthy of it. A year or two after that, the Master’s second backup plan goes into effect, and is thwarted by the same kid, this time with the help of his childhood friend/rival.
          Where we are in the current canon, the Master is gearing up for his third and final backup plan, which aims to re-create the cataclysmic war that was originally fought over the ultimate weapon he sought to recreate over a decade ago.

          Yeah, there are a lot of details mixed in there with Nobodies, two Ansems, digital worlds, and “Who Else Will I Have Ice Cream With?” but all of that only serves to disguise how simple the overarching story really is. Kingdom Hearts is nowhere near as complicated as it wants people to believe.

          1. Sure, in its very broad strokes the plot is pretty simple. But if you dig into anything with the characters – their history, motivations, relationships to one another – the game becomes ludicrously complicated to no purpose. That’s what’s so incredibly irritating about it. It’s thumbtacks-and-red-string-connecting-pictures-on-a-corkboard convoluted in service of a story where the Chosen One defeats the Dark Lord with a Legendary Ancient Weapon and the Power of Friendship.

  14. Leipävelho says:

    The open world in GTA V is big. Really big. It feels infinitetly smaller and blander than the open world of San Andreas. GTA:SA had more variety and more unique feeling in its hyper-compressed world than any GTA game I’ve ever played.

    1. Cubic says:

      Yes … I’m replaying GTA:SA for the n’th time (n > 8), this time for 100% completion (knock on wood). Just doing some of the collectathon stuff turns out to show the world from fresh new perspectives. It’s fun. Still, I’m simultaneously wishing there would be more missions, more stuff, more story …

      1. Droid says:

        Oh, I’ve done that, too. The oysters are a pain, and so are the bike races, and probably some other things I’m forgetting now. But overall, it was a ton of fun.

        1. Cubic says:

          The bike races (Chiliad Challenge) was actually the inspiration for this attempt. After I randomly won the last race, I started looking at what to do next, one thing led to the other … Now I’ve done the car exports, the oysters and the horseshoes. Current objective is spraying all tags (groan) (except they’ve made it a little bit more challenging than I thought; not pure drudgery but still mostly relaxing). Seems like I’ll have to look into the gambling system as well, I’ve always skipped that before.

      2. Cadrys says:

        I sometimes contemplate another run through SA. Then I remember the RC missions, and the urge dies in a crash of balsa, metal, and failure. Again.

        1. Cubic says:

          “I thought you could shoot, Carl.” Can you still hear it?

          On the PS2, that first RC mission simply induced despair after a while. The second one was pretty bad too. These days I play on the ipad(!) with a Nimbus controller, and the difficulty of those missions has been dialed down quite a bit. Whew. They also lightened up on various subsystems about failing missions or getting wasted so that you can retry immediately and don’t have to save/restore all the time and then travel through the countryside for ten minutes. All in all improvements.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            I personally rebound the plane/helicopter controls to use wasd+numpad and surprisingly it worked really well.I had no trouble with any mission that involved flying.Yes,not even that one.

            The bank race mission in vice city though,that one still makes my blood boil.Especially in that the asshole dies the first thing in the next mission,instead of doing his fucking job!

            1. Cubic says:

              The bank race mission in vice city though,that one still makes my blood boil.Especially in that the asshole dies the first thing in the next mission,instead of doing his fucking job!

              Lol, oh man, that one was annoying. Car chases in those narrow streets with just enough traffic were pretty painful.

              Vice City had a lot of great missions where they loved to throw you in the deep end and let you figure it out. “Listen Tommy my friend, I need you to steal a tank that’s guarded by fifty heavily armed soldiers. Oh, and you better hurry because they’re rolling it through town as we speak. (warmly) Thank you, amigo.”

              1. Droid says:

                That one was SO MUCH FUN! They even made the AI not-totally-stupid by making the soldiers move parked vehicles (read: roadblocks) out of the way instead of just ploughing through as they always did in SA.
                Even though the hardest challenge in that mission wasn’t to get it right, but to fail it in just such a way that you could keep the tank!

                1. Cubic says:

                  It’s almost irresistible, isn’t it?

                  If you can’t do it during the mission, there is the other option. I’ve used two locations to summon and steal tanks. The first one is the low roof of the hospital near Hyman Condos, the one where there is one of those collectible statues in the basement, and the second one is inside the Malibu Club (which I found by mistake but actually worked better).

                  Basically, you collect a lot of rocket launchers, maybe some sniper rifles, and so on, and gradually raise the number of stars by being anti-social. Both locations are hard to storm for the cops, so you are relatively safe. If you’re outside you will have to learn to shoot down police helicopters. When you reach six stars, it’s time to bumrush the tank that appears. Either it rolls by the hospital or it’s outside the Malibu. Run up to it, snatch the driver and leave some treadmarks. The Hyman Condo garage is big enough to save it.

                  (Note: it’s relatively easy to get killed during the bumrush phase, so you may have to do it again.)

      3. DeadlyDark says:

        I did it that way, so when I did final mission I also got a 100%, like a boss, back in 2010. Good times

  15. krellen says:

    Here’s what really bugs me about GTA: it’s become synonymous with gaming. If I tell people I’m a gamer, they will automatically assume I have played GTA – at least one of the titles. I have, however, played none of them, and likely never will, because they don’t appeal to me at all.

    This is why I don’t tell people I’m a gamer.

    1. Abnaxis says:

      I’m in the same boat. By the same token, anyone who ever volunteers to me that they are a”gamer” 100% invariably means they play some flavor of GTA (or FIFA) that I have no shared experience with

  16. ccesarano says:

    I’ve never been able to get into the GTA games, though I tried with #4. Never cussed so much at a game in so short a span of time. However, I remember seeing my brother play “this new game called Grand Theft Auto II” on his PC, and seeing what it was then to how it exploded on the PlayStation 2 with GTA3 was something. Something I never understood because the game looked ugly to me, it looked janky to me, and I just didn’t see the fun in running over pedestrians.

    What’s odd is I found myself really enjoying Saint’s Row 3, even though it should encapsulate everything I hate about GTA. The difference is that the over-the-top nature and complete lack of believable humanity in pedestrians makes the entire chaos of it too much to care about. I don’t see the pedestrians as people, and thus when they get caught in a cross-fire it’s hard to feel bad or guilty. It’s a cartoon where NPC’s are NPC’s in the highest sense.

    I dunno why GTA bugs me since I don’t feel like they’re trying to portray people realistically either, but it does.

  17. Ebass says:

    I don’t “love” the GTA titles, I guess I’m like Shamus in that I have a similar opinion towards them as Bethesda titles, they give me something that isn’t available elsewhere.

    That said, I really don’t know how people are criticizing the game play…. There’s something very… Tactile about the whole GTA experience which just doesn’t seem to quite happen in other games. The driving and shooting feels really solid in a way most games just don’t seem to manage

  18. Lino says:

    Yay! A new series to read at work on Sundays! I’m very excited about this one!

  19. The non-numbered games aren’t expansion packs or DLC. Those are standalone, full-featured titles.

    I know at the very least Lost and Ballad are very much not stand alone games. EFLC piles ’em together, and I believe that has a stand alone version. I’m also relatively certain at least london ’61 was not stand alone either and both Londons are considered expansions rather than full games, like the doom level packs that got sold in those days.

  20. Cubic says:

    Shamus, you should add GTA Advance to the list. Haven’t played it myself but it’s out there.

  21. Alezul says:

    Geez, tough crowd around here. A guy is saying 20 euros is still too much money for probably the best open world city ever created. Yeah yeah, gameplay is not for everyone but still…

    Well i love the GTA series. There, i said it! I played them all, grew up with them and each one was awesome in its own way. PLenty of bad things in each, they are far from perfect so i can’t wait for the weekly articles.

    Sad to see the online garbage pretty much killed the series. Not one singleplayer DLC for one of the best selling games of all time. What a sad outcome this has been.

    1. RichardW says:

      I was just as sad to see what they did with “GTA Online”. Going from the wonderfully customizable freeform mayhem of GTA IV’s multiplayer to the rigid, progression obsessed, Shark-card peddling crap of GTA V was a shock to the system.

    2. This is going to sound like I’m being a sarcastic ass, but I’m genuinely curious. Can you explain in detail for me what’s fun about the game for you? I’ve played every GTA since III, at least briefly, and I’ve always found their popularity baffling. I found every one of them intensely frustrating in every single direction. I’m curious about a different perspective on the games.

  22. Preciousgollum says:

    The only GTA game I remember really enjoying was GTA:Vice City (PS2) – aka the 80s Miama one. Bikes! Speedboats! Helicopters! Classic Cars! Do the Lance Vance Dance! V-Rock! Laslo. Bark at the Moon! Love Fist!

    I also had San Andreas (on PS2) because it promised loads of options but I think I was defeated by the mission where you had to parallel park…

    GTA 4 I borowed from someone and got into until I realised that there were no opportunities in that game to buy property and own businesses, which I really liked in Vice City – That system allowed for approaching mission order in a free and non-linear way.

    I’ve had them all on PC now for a while: 3, VC, SA, 4 + expansions etc so perhaps I should finally try to finish the rest of them, but of course old games can have their problems on modern PC – I didn’t play Beyond Good & Evil because I was convinced that the framerate was de-synced, but it turned out to be dodgy game animations lol – I checked it with PS3 HD footage on YouTube and it matched.

    Is GTAV worth getting now? Is it good? It is slowly but surely getting cheaper on PC.

    1. Cubic says:

      I was defeated by the mission where you had to parallel park…

      Heh, driving school in San Fierro?

      1. Droid says:

        I thought so, too, at first, but now I think he means the one in Los Santos where you have to kidnap and then drown a celebrity for having the gall of actually being successful through talent.*

        In that mission, you start out by killing the original driver, getting the car fixed up (thankfully, there’s a Pay’n’Spray just around the corner; probably put there after beta-testing…) and getting it parallel-parked somewhat correctly WITHOUT TAKING ANY DAMAGE. Not even “no visible”, but no contact damage either (e.g. a pedestrian running into your parked car).

        *) Yeah, the celeb was probably an asshole, but I always hated OG Loc/Jeffrey the most of all the idiotic, over-the-top scumbags, villains and danger-to-the-public-level retards, simply because the writers clearly thought I must find him endearing in his psychopathic endeavour to torture more people with what he calls his musical talent.

        1. Preciousgollum says:


          …getting it parallel-parked somewhat correctly WITHOUT TAKING ANY DAMAGE. Not even “no visible”, but no contact damage either (e.g. a pedestrian running into your parked car).

          Ye I think that was the one. It was a long time ago that I played GTA:SA – (back when it came out) and if you so much as touched anything with the car, it was mission over… which is a problem in a game with ultimately unrealistic driving mechanics and AI behaviour. While the GTA: Vice City mission which results in having to lose nearly full-star cop rating was tough, at least it was fun, and a tank or two could be spawned if necessary lol: Tank with touch of death on cars doesn’t work for driving missions…

          Some ‘clever’ video games writer could now reflect and say it was…. The Dark Souls of Grand Theft Auto vehicle based mission design lol hehe chortle chortle smug smug.

          Mafia 1 also apparently had an infamous driving mission that a lot of people struggled with.

          1. Cubic says:

            Lol, there were plenty more hair-rending driving missions after that, just so you know. I’m bald now.

            1. Preciousgollum says:

              Lol, there were plenty more hair-rending driving missions after that, just so you know. I’m bald now

              Thanks for the word of warning. Starting to thin on the top, so perhaps San Andreas is a miss; it was never as glamorous as 80s Miami.

              Has anybody set up the ‘Gamers With Baldness’ website community yet?

        2. Cubic says:

          They sort of hammered home that CJ’s ‘homies 4 life’ was ultimately not a very good motto. Let’s see, those homies were Ryder, OG Loc and Big Smoke … Hm.

  23. Joe says:

    I watched your vids, Shamus. Roaming around a big city actually looks interesting, going all the places I can’t or won’t go in real life. However, I’m kind of poor right now, and don’t want to buy a new game if I’m not going to fully dive in. Hopefully your series should clear up if I should buy it or not.

    In the meantime, when I’ve been walking around IRL, I’ve been looking around more. And noticing things I’ve missed for years. Turns out that my local train station has spires on it, for reasons I can’t guess. Stuff like that.

  24. EwgB says:

    Is it really full price in US? I bought it a couple of years back on some Steam sale (I think). And right now where I am (in Germany), it is on Amazon for anything from 9,99€ (for the PS3 version) up to 25€ (for PS4 and XBONE versions). You CAN of course find someone selling it for full price, but you can also find those who don’t.

    1. EwgB says:

      P.S.: I will actually be probably joining the ranks of those who buy this game in 2018. As I said, I have the PC version, but it’s the first game in years that my PC (mid range AMD from 5 years ago and a mid range AMD graphic card) can’t actually run properly. The graphic card is basically twirling it’s thumbs, while the (unfortunately only two core) CPU is struggling to keep up, so the game ends up with 10-15 fps. Not really a playable framerate in the long run, though it didn’t stop me putting in about 30 hours of gameplay. But now I have a PS4 Pro and a 4K TV, which sounds to me like a far superior setup for this game.

  25. Mr. Wolf says:

    “between those jobs you can roam around the open world and murder other players.”

    Really? I’ve not played online, but the way I hear it you can roam around your spawn point and be murdered by other players.

    1. RichardW says:

      Or if you’re unlucky, have a tugboat dropped on top of you while millions worth of in-game currency rains all around. The rare times I’ve gone in public matches I’ve always had to nope the hell out ASAP at the first sign of weirdness for fear of Rockstar’s retaliation. More often than not, legit users get banned because of random hacker trolls dumping cash on them or worse, and the hackers get off scott free.

      I don’t know how the hell the RP community has sprung up around this lately. When I checked in a year ago the makers of mods like FiveM were facing litigation from Rockstar, now it seems there’s a whole scene around it. Nowhere near as big as IV’s modding community, but it exists, and I can’t reconcile that in my head with what was going on barely 10 months prior. Would try it out but it’s all very cloak and dagger feeling.

      Everything is enlivened by playing with friends of course, but the standard multiplayer experience is fairly unrewarding. Except for a few of the more zany event types they added over time, it’s a world of distractions that’s constantly artificially limited. The game keeps you on an EXP treadmill and works you pretty hard before offering anything good in the way of unlocks or abilities. To really experience much of the cars, weapons, suits, etc. you kinda would have to buy a bloody Shark card (or several) these days.

  26. RCN says:

    I remember playing the original GTA a LOT when a kid, as one of those PC-Gamer magazine CDs with several demos (what happened to demos anyway? I miss them…)

    It only gave you 5 or 10 minutes of gameplay, during which you could do anything you wanted in the first city. Every time I tried to explore as much as possible. I discovered you could punch people into the subway’s line and they’d be electrocuted. I discovered the game had weapons. It was really novel to just walk to any car and take it for yourself.

    But mostly, it was really fun to be chased by the police. The game might have been mediocre, but the psychotic way the police chased you certainly differentiated it from the lot, even when other car games had already transitioned to acceptable 3D at the time.

    1. Joe says:

      This is purely half-remembered hearsay, or readsay, so take it with a grain of salt. But developers/publishers discovered that games with demos sold better than games without demos. Also, demos took a lot of time and effort. So while there are a few around these days, they are a lot rarer than in the past.

      Which is a shame. I discovered many great games from demos. Nowdays I have to rely on reviews/YT, which don’t properly tell me how I’ll really enjoy it.

      1. Joe says:

        I got it backwards. The demoless games sold better than the ones with demos.

  27. DeadlyDark says:

    I love GTA 3-VC-SA-IV. V not so much, and I can’t put my finger why. I guess, radiostations are important, since V has way worse selection, than previous titles

  28. Homer says:

    I didn’t really play any of the london games, but from GTA wiki description they don’t seem as much of full games as GTA advance; especially not ’61.

  29. Bubble181 says:

    I’ve played nummers 1 through 5 (the top-down ones, basically), then quickly lost interest with the 3D games. I’ve tried 4, and couldn’t even make it an hour in. It just didn’t grab me – the main character was unsympathetic, cars were annoying to drive (apparently this I’d mostly because I always party KB&M), the world was bleak and uninteresting…
    We’ll see if I get convinced to try 5 by this series. But I’m certainly looking forward to it!

    1. ElementalAlchemist says:

      IV is pretty divisive. It was Rockstar attempting a more grim and gritty realism approach, and a lot of people were not fans of some of the wackier elements from earlier instalments being toned down or removed. It has its own charms though.

      As for Niko, I think your assessment of him as a character is pretty unfair, especially given your claim of playing it for less than an hour. He’s arguably the most relatable main character in a modern GTA, once you actually get to know him and his backstory.

      1. Cubic says:

        Niko was okay but GTAIV was a pretty ‘dry’ game all in all. Lots of missions, or so I seem to remember, where you kill a dozen guys in a warehouse gunfight, then: bowling with your cousin! My favorite of that generation was actually the Ballad of Gay Tony.

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