When I think back through my long history of video games, very few stand out in my mind as being as commonly criticised as Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto franchise. From driving over prostitutes, to arming yourself with the widest variety of weapons and gunning down all number of pedestrians, to San Andreas’ infamous “hot coffee” minigame – if there’s one thing you can grant Grand Theft Auto, its pushing the boundaries of what most people would deem acceptable.
Growing up, I played most of the Grand Theft Auto games; I even had the original, top down and as horrible as it was. Vice City and San Andreas certainly left their mark on me, too, and I still to this day herald San Andreas as one of the best PlayStation 2 games I ever played. Sure, some of the scenes might’ve been a little dicey and some of my actions questionable, but underneath all of the over-the-top drama the game was layered with, there was a diamond in the rough that really was quite the feat at the time.
Move on almost 8 years since I first played San Andreas, and there are millions of people eagerly awaiting what is certain to be Rockstar’s coup de grâce for this generation of consoles; Grand Theft Auto V. Currently, GTAV is poised to be one of the biggest games not only of this Christmas season, but for the entire year. Many people will purchase the game simply because they’re a long-running fan of the series – I myself can’t even count on both hands how many people I know that have already pre-ordered the game ready for its slated release on September 17th, and I know even more people that will be picking it up when the time comes around.
However, I am here to ask the question, why does GTAV need to be something special – and more to the point – how can it be that something special that everybody wants and needs it to be. I’ll be looking back at some of Rockstar’s biggest titles so far, and also some of the stiff competition Rockstar is likely to face over the coming months when the title finally lands to define exactly what Rockstar needs to do to make GTAV a surefire winner. Lets begin, shall we?
Rockstar has a reputation to uphold.
When you consider a video game and the success its likely to garner, one of the things most people probably don’t consider is video game companies that have been doing this for quite some time and have their potential reputation on the line. Rockstar have been developing games since 1997, and among their titles have been some of the most successful franchises ever to exist.
Lets consider, then, some of the titles which have been released since the last GTA title – Grand Theft Auto IV – hit shelves, and their potential impact on Rockstar’s reputation:
- First up, Red Dead Redemption followed Grand Theft Auto IV in 2010. Set in an open world Western environment, Red Dead Redemption borrowed a lot from the way Grand Theft Auto did things, and was surprisingly similar to the game despite having a much different feel to that of GTA. Players took on the role of John Marston, an outlaw who is taken from his family and is forced to search out the remaining members of his old outlaw gang in order to achieve amnesty. The plot was overall a lot more serious than any of GTA’s previous titles, and did extremely well off the back of it, generally garnering 8-9 out of 10 reviews across the board and selling in excess of 10 million copies worldwide. To this day Red Dead Redemption is still stuck firmly in the minds of many people as the best western action-adventure of the 21st century.
- Realising that many players were more than happy to play as someone rather than the criminal for a change, and following in the successful footsteps of Red Dead Redemption came 2011’s L.A. Noire. Set in the seedy 1947 Los Angeles, L.A. Noire takes GTA and flips it on its head, putting players in the shoes of one Officer Cole Phelps as you progress through the ranks of the law enforcement, generally solving more and more severe crimes. The game introduced several new mechanics to the Rockstar universe that many players enjoyed, such as the interrogation “mini-game” and the use of extensive facial motion capture. Rockstar painted the role of a police officer in an entirely new light, and in doing so captured the hearts of many an avid gamer, myself included. The series went on to be extremely successful as a first-time hit, selling well over 5 million copies worldwide.
- Finally, and most recently, we have Max Payne 3. Released last year, Max Payne is a long running franchise for Rockstar, but was developed by Remedy Entertainment until MP3, upon which developing duties were handed over to Take-Two Interactive instead. Many feared this would impact severely upon the quality of the game, but the game still achieved impressive ratings across the board and sold over 4 million copies since its release. The game also reintroduced the bullet-time mechanic which was incredibly popular with many fans, as well as a “last stand” mechanic which allows players a chance at second life after they have been downed.
As you can see, Rockstar have carved a considerable mark on the gaming market over the past few years, and while some would argue that this would only benefit the release of GTAV, I would say that in some ways, it may very well hamper it.
Consider, if you will, the level of expectation that is currently sitting on GTAV – Rockstar have, in the past 5 years, released several games which have all hit 90+ ratings and sold in their millions. These games have introduced some incredibly well known mechanics such as L.A. Noire’s facial recognition and interrogation, and Max Payne’s bullet time and last stand. This puts a huge weight on the shoulders of Rockstar and GTAV to pull something similarly new out of the bag to continue to impress – use too much of the same old GTA formula and its going to look like a whole lot of waiting by the fans for a whole lot of “same old, same old” by Rockstar.
I’m not suggesting Rockstar implement facial recognition, interrogations and bullet time into GTAV by the way – I’m just saying they’ve got a lot to live up to when it goes shoulder-to-shoulder with its peers.
Grand Theft Auto needs to be careful it doesn’t become Saints Row: The Third 2.0.
Furthermore, we know that Grand Theft Auto was always a game renowned for being a little over the top and ridiculous in its ways. Since its last release, Volition’s Saints Row has seemingly stolen its crown, and is currently floating down crazy bubblegum river inside a fruit loop – its that far off the chain. While I’ve always been able to appreciate a slant towards humor in video games, I really think that GTAV has to be careful and try to be a more mature game now more than ever. If it verges on being too ridiculous, its only going to look stupid alongside games like Saints Row: The Third which have already done it much better (worse?). As great as flying a helicopter into someone’s grandmother in GTA might be, maybe its time for it to be the potentially more mature game that it needs to be and rise above the silliness.
Finally – GTAV has some extremely stiff competition from other long-running franchises. Let us not forget that since the previous GTA game last released, almost every other franchise that’s got a game releasing this year (Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and Battlefield to name a few) have been continuing on and building a fanbase, while GTA has led relatively dormant. This means that GTAV may well have some catching up to do when it releases in September. GTAV will be, however, the first to release out of all the major titles, but whether this gives it the upper hand when it comes to sales has yet to be seen.
So can GTAV pull it off? Am I just being a massive cynic?
Probably, yes. Grand Theft Auto has never failed to carry its own weight when it comes to game sales, and I don’t see it being a problem for #5 either. The one thing that shows serious sign of promise to me currently is the fact that GTAV is introducing new facilities to ensure that there is some level of variety in its mechanics – for example, being able to switch between characters on the fly will certainly be a first for the Grand Theft Auto universe, and its sure to bring some interesting things to the table.
Regardless of what I’ve stated above, I feel that Grand Theft Auto is such a behemoth at this stage, the only way it could really crash and burn would be to trip itself up – IE, with something drastically wrong. I have faith, however, that Rockstar won’t let its fans down.
Whether or not Grand Theft Auto V will be something special remains to be seen, but its starting to show its potential. As long as it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with its peers and does not get hidden behind them, I have no doubt that Grand Theft Auto V will be the game we all want – and need – it to be.
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