Monday, 28 October 2013

My thoughts on GTA Online

Good day to you all.  I've been playing a bit of the MMORPG-lite GTA Online recently, and have developed some strong and often startlingly unpleasant opinions on it.  Before I outline my violent hatred of the thing, though - a little back-story.

Around the time of GTA San Andreas (2004 - a kangaroo's lifetime ago) I spent hours daydreaming about the possibility of a proper multiplayer version of GTA.  This heady vision centred around the prospect of trying to evade a friend flying a fighter jet after me: what would I dao? What would my strategy be?  This entertained a brain otherwise fruitlessly engaged in reading Modernist literature and trying to formulate cogent arguments about the symbolism of umbrellas in A Room of One's Own.  The possibilities of a fully multiplayer map with vehicles, weapons and more seemed too good to be true.  And so it remained, for nearly ten years.  GTA IV had a game stab at multiplayer, but it was truly awful: a lazy, crusted turd of an experience, made good only thanks to the fact the single-player game was excellent.  It was this October (2013) that the dream finally came true.

And like any of my other dreams, it has essentially left me feeling frightened, miserable and totally confused.

You see, it's a terrible, frustrating and generally boring game that has still, somehow, managed to make me a total addict.  I am desperately trying to save the (fake) cash to buy the in-game equivalent of a Koenigsegg.  At $795,000, it's not cheap, even by fake-money standards; the fact that the average payout for a 'job' in-game is around $15,000 makes it a distant pipe dream, given the limited time I can invest. It's making me very unhappy.  But I feel I need to clarify to myself, and to others, what my grievances really are, so here goes...

1) Playing with other people is satisfying but hateful.

You see, it's great to have the challenge of playing real humans, with their initiative, experience, skills and unpredictability.  It's a real joy, and it's this that powers the online gaming world.  However, not only can you enjoy these positive traits of humans; oh no, you also get to wallow in the wonderful world of people's mean side.  And my word, GTA Online really illustrates the dark side to humanity.  Being shot for no reason is desperately annoying in real life, and arguably even more so in a video game.  There you are, merrily trying on hats in a clothes shop called Binco, when a guy bursts in, seemingly bypassing the game's ban on wielding weaponry in the equivalent of a Primark, and shoots you in the hat with a shotgun.  This makes me sad.  But even worse is the irritating tendency for people to stop others progressing through the loading screens.  You see, thanks to the desperately misguided touch of forcing all players in a given lobby to vote whether they enjoyed the race, or which level they want to play next, you spend hours just waiting.  Waiting for some vile little craplet to press a button.  Losing one's living moments to some imagined smirking goon who simply refuses to press the 'Y' button is probably the most egregious experience I've ever had with a video game.  The willingness of people, protected by the anonymity of the internet, to ruin others' days is terrifying to behold.

2) Money is too hard to come by.

All anyone really wants is to make tons of money and buy a fast car and a big house.  Or at least enough money to be comfortable and able to buy a new jumper when you need one.  This is a human requirement.  So why does Rockstar insist on making the earning of money in GTA Online as difficult and onerous as it is in real life?  Video games are meant to be escapes from reality.  Sure, I'll never afford an Aston Martin DBS in the real world (I'm a teacher), so I sure as hell would like to be able to get one in a video game.  What I don't want is to feel just as mediocre and pathetic inside the simulation, anything-is-possible world of San Andreas as I do in the reality of Bristol (only joking, but I'm sure you get my point).  As someone with limited time, I'm forced to race in the equivalent of a Reliant Robin whilst a dozen 15 year olds who can spend their entire lives on the game drive Bugatti Veyrons.  If nothing else, this is massively skewing their expectations of their own earning power in their real lives.  The $500,000 we were all meant to receive by way of an apology from Rockstar from screwing up the launch of the game is nowhere to be seen, so my Swedish Supercar dreams will just have to wait.

3) The missions are too hard.

Anyone who's ever played a GTA game knows that your in-game character can more-or-less take a whole magazine of bullets before expiring.  It's part of the joy of the thing.  It makes you feel like T-1000 in a denim jacket.  It's wonderful.  In GTA Online, however, my character seems to have about the same tolerance of bullet wounds as I do - essentially zero.  Before anyone says, 'Ah, but it's just trying to be realistic', let me just stop you dead with one word - Tetris.  Tetris, Pong and all the rest are proof that people don't want realism in video games.  Nowhere in the real world do the physics of Tetris actually occur.  If they did, the building trade would be bankrupt through inexplicable loss of building materials.  We want realistic graphics, yes - I'll concede that.  But we do not want realistic health systems.  The fact that the computer-controlled characters are better shots than William Tell makes the situation all the more dispiriting.  I've been shot from two city-blocks away, whilst driving, by a man hanging out of the window of a speeding Landrover.  Awful.

4) There's not enough variety.

I'm sick of racing now.  I never even began liking the deathmatches.  Parachute jumps can just sod off.  But that's it - that's the variety of jobs in the game.  No heists (yet), no utilisation of the truly incredible landscape and city they've built, nothing.  I want to see more little sub-games and treats.  Perhaps a fishing mode, or a gym, or even some more playable arcade games?  An orienteering activity or treasure hunt would be nice, or even a scavenger hunt where you have to go about with mates finding and snapping hidden easter eggs?  I don't know, but they should - it's their game and they are clearly masters of game-creation.  They should flex their creative muscles and make GTA Online the treat I always wanted it to be.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Pete - would love to re-publish your Hogwarts piece on Slate. Email me? dan.kois@slate.com. Thanks.

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