Looking Back, GTA 5 Really Isn't All That Good

Five years on, its become clear GTA V was not the masterpiece everyone first claimed.

It's that time again folks! After explaining why Skyrim doesn't deserve the hype, this curmudgeon who doesn't like your favorite game is going to slaughter another sacred cow.

Now that Red Dead Redemption 2 is out, it seems like a good time to look back at Rockstar's flagship game that is somehow still getting content five years later with the bizarre Arena War landing earlier this month.

I'm not going to beat around the bush. I think GTA V was a flat out bad game, in nearly every way.

Obviously not everyone at GameSkinny agrees -- with some feeling GTA V's PC release is a 10/10 masterpiece for the ages -- so don't go off on them for my opinion, but remember that I actually draw strength and sustenance from the all caps screaming comments (a few more and I get to level up!), so keep 'em coming!

Reality And Chaos In All The Wrong Doses

I recently had the misfortune to review Gungrave VR, a game where I constantly asked myself how a developer could manage to make the exact wrong design choice at every possible turn.

While GTA V doesn't descend to that level of awful gaming hellscape (few games have that dishonor, thankfully), there are plenty of baffling design decisions from Rockstar that really take you out of the universe and highlight how this highly anticipated sequel didn't live up to its potential.

Let's start with the amazing landscape that is the meticulously crafted parody city of Los Santos.

Its big, its beautiful, and its a huge disappointment. 

Both story and gameplay flops do a major disservice to that beautiful location. The biggest problem is easily the lack of interaction with the environment due to the missing interiors for all those beautiful buildings everywhere. That's an issue constantly plaguing these huge open world games, but its particularly noticeably here. Its a shame the modding community is always relied on to fix that issue, rather than the developers being proactive and taking care of it before release.

For all its splendor, the things you can do in Los Santos also tend to be pretty boring.

While there was still plenty of humor and ludicrousness, you can tell Rockstar tried to take the series a  more grounded and realistic direction with GTA IV. With the fifth iteration of the series, Rockstar got the exact wrong combination of grounded reality and ludicrous insanity.

The developers felt a need to implement an absurd number of systems just because they could, and very few of those elements are worth your time. We could yawn our way through loading cargo containers, going to yoga class, and following the stock market. Riveting stuff to be sure.

Those "retirement simulator" elements then collide with outlandish cartoon characters and insane scenarios that creates a very odd juxtaposition of styles. 

Calling a taxi or even walking near a police officer can cause World War 3 for no reason, which is admittedly hilarious the first time. By the 80th time however, you reach a point where you really just want to cross to the other side of town without ambulances and tanks being involved, please.

Those bizarrely aggressive police always manage to show up and ruin everything from boring missions where you slowly follow someone who is going the speed limit to the absolute chore that was collecting nuclear waste from the ocean for no reason.

Awful Control Scheme Walking Or Driving

Homicidal police force aside, the difficulty overall was far too easy, and the hardest part of the game was simply battling the control scheme. There's a recurring issue here from Rockstar with clunky controls, which even continues into some areas of the much-praised Red Dead Redemption 2.

In GTA V, its hard to nail down a single major culprit in the bad control scheme because there are so many contenders.

Take the bizarre quick u-turn mechanic, which makes it difficult to go anywhere and results in frequently entering cover at the wrong location. I seriously had flashbacks of trying to turn around or see around corners in the original Resident Evil.

Then there's how the game re-auto centers on the chase cam every few seconds for no reason, making chases more of a chore than they need to be.

Even basic stuff like attaching the flashlight to the shotgun and then turning the flashlight on became a patience-straining exercise in battling the controls and guessing combination of buttons Rockstar wanted you to press. This is not an intuitive system, to say the least.

Did you spend a silly amount of money on new wardrobes for the three main characters? That's really too bad, because they will switch back to their first outfits whenever you swap between characters for no reason just to throw in another annoying layer of things to do.

Riches To Riches With No Rags To Appreciate It

On the subject of spending too much money, starting out with a mansion was a bad choice that was too much of a shift away from GTA's overall style.

It really felt like one of those episodes of an awful house hunting show where people are rich for no apparent reason. I'm a freelance baby seal puncher, and my wife gives professional thoughts and prayers. Our budget? A cool 1.2 million for a starter home.

The in-game economy in both single player and multiplayer modes are all kinds of wonky (an issue facing Red Dead Online at the moment as well), but for completely opposite reasons.

In single player, there's no point in doing much after the first few heists since you'll be flush with an unbelievable amount of cash. That's the exact opposite of the other games in the series where you start off poor and struggle to work your way up, with constant setbacks.

Becoming the top dog kingpin in previous games like GTA IV was a massive struggle. There were times when you couldn't afford the ammo you needed for big story missions and had to go out and complete other tasks to be ready for the next objective.

Here, everything is handed to you quite early on. Your crew will be millionaires before you know it, and the random open world stuff just isn't worth your time anymore.

Of course, in online mode the problem is actually the exact opposite, with a constant agonizing grind to afford anything (or you could spend real money to get a boost, which is obnoxious).

Possibly The Worst Characters In The History Of Video Games 

Another major problem of starting off with an overly privileged rich guy quickly becomes apparent in the GTA V storyline... there's no one to connect with and care about.

"I'm rich and bored and have a perfect life, so I should start doing crimes to spice things up," isn't really a problem many people can relate to.

Michael's interactions with his spoiled, obnoxious kids are painful to sit through, and often had me just wanting to put the controller down and go do anything else. I don't watch TV shows about awful rich people on purpose, so it wasn't exactly a gripping arc to throw that element front and center into the main storyline.

These characters are all unbelievably whiny, which quickly becomes grating. Can you imagine Niko Bellic ever behaving like Michael or putting up with Trevor's nonsense for even a second?

Speaking of everyone's favorite insane drug dealer, its probably because I've lived in an apartment building with shrieking meth heads, but I didn't find Trevor's shrieking meth head personality at all amusing or endearing. I'm not sure there's ever been a video game character I'd wanted to see die horribly more than Trevor.

That brings us to Franklin, who doesn't have the obnoxious family of Michael or the all-caps screaming fits of Trevor to deal with, but still comes with his own reasons to hate every single story mission he appears in. For me, it was the constant string of racial slurs that made me start wonder if Quentin Tarantino was hiding in the backseat wherever we drove.

Throwing out the racial slurs a few times for shock value and to showcase the nature of a character is fine, but eventually it hits a level where its just unnecessary.

To be clear, I'm fully opposed to censorship of any kind and think games, movies, and literature should say or show whatever they want, but there's still such a thing as tact to keep in mind.

Rockstar found the line and gleefully trampled over it, and not just with the slurs but with a constant barrage of low brow jokes that became distracting from the story.

It's clear the developers were trying to make a parody of southern California life, but they took it so far that there's no way to empathize at all with any of these characters and you start to hate the game world, which is a very bad thing for an open world game.

They succeeded in making the characters and world so unlikable that the few moments later on where you are suddenly supposed to want good things to happen to Trevor or to Michael's family just fall flat on their faces. 

In GTA IV, I legitimately got a little sad when Mallorie called to reveal her pregnancy after I chose the ending where Roman dies.

I seriously thought about going back and picking the other ending, because getting into open world shenanigans without my cousin felt wrong. GTA V never even came close to garnering that level of attachment to any of its cast of awful, throwaway characters.

Maybe We Can Learn A Lesson Here?

Bad characters, bad controls, bad economy, bad difficulty, bad story... there's no way around it, GTA 5 was just a flat out bad game.

Looking at Red Dead Redemption 2 now that we've had time to fully digest the experience, the areas where Rockstar has improved on the formula and the areas where they keep making the same mistakes really come into focus.

With ludicrously bad decisions like Fallout 76 marring the big name, open world gaming landscape, its clear we need to be holding developers like Rockstar and Bethesda more accountable when things go wrong.

Whenever GTA 6 shows up down the line, the major mistakes made here need to be studied and hopefully not repeated. There's a perfect 10/10 game hiding somewhere in this formula, its just going to take a little more effort to unearth than Rockstar has been willing to put in before.

Now its time for all of you to sound off -- what entry in the GTA universe do you think is the best of the series, and what would you like to see done differently with the next game?

Featured Contributor

Ty splits his time between writing horror fiction and writing about video games. After 25 years of gaming, Ty can firmly say that gaming peaked with Planescape Torment, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a soft spot for games like Baldur's Gate, Fallout: New Vegas, Bioshock Infinite, and Horizon: Zero Dawn. He has previously written for GamerU and MetalUnderground. He also writes for PortalMonkey covering gaming laptops and peripherals.

Published Dec. 23rd 2019

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