Grand Theft Auto V


What a nice bunch of people

Grand Theft Auto V was launched today. Rather than queue up at the store at midnight to see the game I took a slightly easier route. Simon set up his copy in our games lab and we had a go over lunchtime. Sometimes I prefer watching other people play games to actually playing them myself, and this was one of those occasions. After a while there was a bunch of us watching Simon as he crashed into buses and managed to land his car on top of another one. Great fun.

What impressed me most was the city of Los Santos. They always say that in GTA games the city is the star, and in GTA V this really is the case. The environment is huge and looks properly alive. When Simon hit the bus head on we could see the driver inside waving his arms and banging his steering wheel in frustration. All that must have been motion captured, encoded and then triggered at the right time.

When you walk round a corner and kick a garbage can down the road you know that someone will have drawn the textures, built the model and given it physics so that it “just works”. If you accidentally punch someone to the ground (it can happen) medics will turn up and try help him. And all this on an old, white, Xbox 360 that must have been one of the first ones they made. Amazing.

Of course there are limitations. You can only enter some of the beautifully drawn buildings, and we did see a tiny amount of “pop-up”of the skyline at one point. But you can’t take away anything from the sheer scale and detail that they have achieved. You can see where over 100 million pounds went.

The gameplay itself is pretty nasty of course. It starts with a botched bank job where just about everyone, including one of the main protagonists, gets shot. And apparently as the story develops you get to kill, maim and torture. Just like the people do in any mainstream TV drama. For me the best innovation is that if you fail a mission three times you can skip on to the next one. So that I really could treat the game as a rather long action movie that I can visit afterwards.

Much has been made of the ability to switch between the three main characters during missions. I haven’t played the game properly so I can’t really comment on that aspect, but it does look interesting.

Every time that another Grand Theft Auto is released people start going on about how this is the one that will make games finally mainstream, that will cause gaming to cross over and takes its place as one of the major entertainment media. I’ve news for you folks. It’s already happened. I’ve been playing computer games for well over thirty years. Pretty much everyone I know of my age does the same. Lots of devices, from bank cash dispensers to car dashboards, have interfaces that have drawn inspiration from the way that games look and feel. Computer games are now part of modern culture. And don’t worry, they are not all as nasty as GTA V, any more than all modern TV is just like Breaking Bad.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what the new generation of consoles can do. I’m sure I’ll be in the queue to get hold of the new devices. Or persuading Simon to bring his along so that I can watch him play.