GTA: beating the competition

It is difficult to rival the buzz around a new game in the “Grand Theft Auto” series, regardless of medium.  For individuals and groups outside of the industry, it might be difficult to understand why this series is so popular and loved by those who play video games. The stigma and controversy surrounding every game in the series is usually as loud as the hype for it. A reductive look can be boiled down to a series that lets people play as protagonists whose compasses range from morally gray to morally bankrupt and who resort to violence, theft, drugs, and sex to achieve their goals. The games are far more than that, though.

“Grand Theft Auto” started out as a top-down shooter that allowed you to cause mayhem but not much else. There were goals that the player had to reach to get points; a multiplier was applied, depending on your performance. The series’ first foray into the third dimension debuted on Sony’s Playstation 2 back in 2003. “Grand Theft Auto 3’s” non-linear design and open world crammed with events along with a serious, adult storyline created a perfect storm that brought the third-person open world genre to front and center.

Rockstar North, the developers of every main game in the series, have grown as creators and storytellers with each new release. The series started with the player controlling a tiny sprite running around a two-dimensional city. Since then, the experience has matured into controlling a character with motivations and dreams. The developers have constructed a series of games that so accurately portray the pursuit of the American dream. It is strange that a developer based in Edinburgh, Scotland, are the ones crafting experiences that resonate strongly with Americans, but it does make sense since the journey that the character (and the player) undergoes is about navigating through all the messiness and wonders of life in general. Players have to deal with weight and exercise, answering and ignoring phone calls from family and friends, violently collecting debt because it was necessary to use money and other matters that are neither completely right or wrong – just actions with consequences.

For the first time, players will be able to control three different characters in “Grand Theft Auto V.” The narrative follows the intertwined stories of Michael, Trevor and Franklin. Michael is a retired bank robber who made it to the top but now feels unfulfilled, and Trevor is Michael’s former partner in crime and is literally insane (the drugs do not help). Franklin is a guy who has lived a clean life and is currently working as a repo man for a less-than-reputable car dealership. The three come together and journey into the world of crime “in the pursuit of the almighty American dollar,” as Dan Houser, the writer, puts it.

The series may have matured but it has not strayed from its roots. Rockstar has refined the mechanics surrounding the main aspects of the game like driving, shooting and navigating the city of Los Santos. The juvenile (fun) aspects are as present in the new game”“ things like killing hookers, base jumping, flying airplanes, cruising around while listening to fake talk shows. They have countless new activities  ranging from scuba diving to scavenge underwater wreckage and playing a full game of golf. Arguably, these elements are just as important to the series because of the depth add to the world that the players experience. The variety of activities, pedestrians and events make the world feel more realized. It also brings out dynamic and emergent gameplay – events that the developer never envisioned. The players has these unique experiences when the different game mechanics overlap in an unexpected way.

The fifth installment of the “Grand Theft Auto” series will be released next Tuesday, Sept. 17.