Monday, September 16, 2013


Despite being one of my favorite video game series (perhaps only second to The Elder Scrolls) I have never gotten a Grand Theft Auto game at launch before. Until tonight.

In just a few hours I hope to have successfully secured my reserved copy of Grand Theft Auto V from the GameStop down the street from my apartment at its midnight launch. The last midnight launch I took part in was for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, despite having school the next morning I played until the wee hours of the morning. Flash-forward to my post-graduate life where now I got work in the morning but sometimes you must make first-world sacrifices.

Over the past week I've been prepping myself for GTA V by playing some of the earlier games in the series, namely Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto IV. Full disclosure, the only GTA game I've actually beat (as far as main missions go as there is always more to do, even after "100% completion) is Vice City - so I left that out of my recent playings even though I remember it fondly and regard it has having the single best video game soundtrack of all-time. Let me share some brief thoughts from playing these three recently and why each are masterful and vital examples of these things we call video games.

Get a load of them touch-screen controls for the 10th Anniversary edition of GTA III for the iPad.
I've been playing GTA III on the iPad (heaven forbid!) in all it's touch-screen glory. Not a minute goes by that I don't long for an Xbox controller. Sure, I own an Xbox version of the game but I'm committed to this unique hand-held experience. I look at it as a form of sadistic accomplishment. I started my game on the iPad last year and have been stuck on the Sayonara Salvatore mission for months and months, only occasionally trying my hands at it. This week I finally did it!: I parked a firetruck at the front of his driveway and tossed all the grenades I had from a safe distance. When skippity Seinfeld-like sting sounded and MISSION PASSED came onscreen I shouted for joy. GTA III brought the previously top-down game to a third-person open-city and changed the landscape of video games forever more, paving the long but always inclining road to what we'll have this week in the form of GTA V. I will always view GTA III as one of the most important games of all-time for what it did it terms of technical prowess and the sandbox experience, but after playing its sequels (especially GTA IV it became clear as day that the game was morally shallow and offered little to stimulate once's intellect and emotional resonance).

Photo taken of my game. Found the Chinese Grauman's Theater is Los Santos, can't wait to find it again in GTA V.
San Andreas built on its predecessors and blasted off into a whole new level. Dozens of new features (girlfriends, vehicle customization, lite-RPG elements, character appearance, etc.) were available to players. It's as if someone told Rockstar to go big or go home and they put their heads together and did the former in a massive way. Three cities to explore and vast country side between them with no load times was boggling to mind then and even a little now. To this day I could spend hours pedaling around (they introduced bicycles which are back again in GTA V!) Los Santos and the hilly(billy) regions north of Vinewood. That's still a game I've barely scratched the surface of...

Photo taken of my game. Niko Bellic is taking in the view of the Liberty City skyline. I was actually on this ship looking for an armor pick-up but had no luck...
GTA IV took the series back to Liberty City (i.e. New York) and surprised us all as a rather serious immigrant tale. It's still highly irreverent and full of what we've come to expect from a series with a name like "Grand Theft Auto" but cranked up the realism to a degree that was unsettling to many players. Tom Bissell's treatment of the game (and how it mirrored his personal life at the time) from Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter is a must-read for anyone who wants to treat video games with the maturity and examination that they deserve. Over the weekend I guided Niko Bellic, the player's character in the main game, to the home of an employer for my next job and was surprised to be treated with a cutscene depicting a conversation with his wife where we discussed the effect that killing others would have on the character's soul. "God is very complicated, you must not give up hope," she told us. Us = Niko and me. When you play video games you assume the role of an avatar and become kindred spirits with them. I'm still early in GTA IV as well, which I started anew last week after months of inactivity, but it's a heavy game and story to wade through. It's much less the sandbox that San Andreas delivered and closer to an epic crime saga that you're a thinking character of.

Even if GTA V was not coming out tomorrow I would have more than enough to consume my hands and mind for a long while with stepping stones I'm far from finished with. We all play games differently and I'm certain that my way is far from the ideal. It's a rare occasion if ever I finish with a game and I'm never ever just working on one at a time. I'm scatterbrained, always looking backward and always looking forward. At least one thing's for sure, it'll give me plenty to muse over and pen down about my play-through of GTA V.

Photo I took on the way to work this morning. GTA V billboard where movie ads usually are. It pays to advertise for the most expensive video game of all-time.
Rockstar Games has made it easier than ever to get pumped for their latest offering, which is reportedly one of the most expensive pieces of entertainment ever crafted at some $265 million, second only to the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Check out their robust website detailing many of the people, places and things we can expect to see in the Los Santos and the greater Blaine County area. Everything from the warring politicians to scouting the country club right for you is available to peruse. Oh, and you won't want to pass up sampling each of the 17 radio stations available in the game, a series (must-have) staple.

Let the stalking begin.
Then there's Lifeinvader, a mock social networking site that they launched for the game-world. You can actually sign in using your Rockstar Social Club account and get familiar with people and businesses you'll be coming across in the game. "Stalking" (instead of "Liking") Sprunk for example will get you a free drink in the game. Wow.

In this mini-game you guide Chop to the Ballas bustin' up Franklin's car, one of three activities you can do in the virtual pet piece of iFruit aside from general pet-care.
I found out just this morning that you can also download iFruit for your iPhone which turns your device into the parody mobile that the characters have in the game. You can access Lifeinvader on there as well as order customized vehicles and vanity plates (which will show up in your garage in-game) or train Chop, Franklin's dog, in a full virtual pet suite. Based on how you care for the canine will actually affect his performance in the the GTA V as well.

Last week friends and I spent some time perusing the leaked gameplay footage that was being uploaded to YouTube every minute. This has to be the biggest pre-release leak in game history, but if anything it has only helped Rockstar garner more hype and excitement for the release. Walmart and GameStop employees are such examples of the perpetrators. Who knows if they'll ever be reprimanded, but the rest of us were able to observe some of their exploits. In one video I watched Franklin drive up to the Getty, roll down a mountainside, hijack a bike, run into a deer and then get gunned down by the police. Nobody will ever replicate that same experience which is why video games are so incredible to me.

Last of all, in my preparation for Grand Theft Auto V I've been perusing reddit (the front page of the internet) where there are countless gamers just as antsy as I. Here are some favorites of their memes and pictures: 

I can certainly (mostly) relate to this one.

Oh, how I hope that's possible in the game!

A direct message to gamers who were boo-hooing over the size of the leaked map.

A co-worker and I were sharing what we would do first when we got GTA V. He was going to bike up Mount Chillead and jump off (with or without a parachute). I was going to try and find that reported submersible. We were both wrong.

The 5-year wait is in its final hours. Next time you hear from me I hope to have a report on some early impressions and what I actually ended up doing first. Until then, live on and game on!

Photo taken of my game. Grove Street. I'll be seeing you soon in HD!

More on Grand Theft Auto:

Words by J.S. Lewis

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Grand Theft Auto V (Preview III)

September 17, 2013 (Release Date)
PS3, Xbox 360

Developed by Rockstar North

Published by Rockstar Games

Rockstar will both put this generation to bed and breathe new life into it in one week's time with Grand Theft Auto V.

A week from right now I better be playing Grand Theft Auto V. I fear what will have happened in my life if I'm not. Far and away my most anticipated game of the year, Grand Theft Auto V is the swan song for this console generation, not just for Rockstar Games, but for the systems themselves. From all I've read, heard and seen this game is a massive endeavor and will be pushing the envelope in all the ways that the series has become known for. In terms of technology, in terms of content, and in terms of sheer amount of gameplay.

This marks the third preview I've done for the game. I've previously covered the innovative three main character system that the single player game throws at our feet and discussed how it's (unsurprisingly) the biggest entry in the series to date. What more can be said to increase our collective anticipation? Last week IGN posted exclusive Grand Theft Auto V content every single day beginning with "World's First Hands-On With Grand Theft Auto V," words by Luke Reilly and a video conversation between IGN UK's Alex Simmons and Daniel Krupa. Taking from IGN scoops and other recent sources around the web I will now share what has me more psyched than ever for the most expensive video game of all-time - not that that has anything to do with it, but clearly it does.

In several ways GTA V is an ultimate Rockstar Games experience, almost a greatest hits collection for them. Not only is it building upon each previous entry in the tentpole franchise, their other games are showing their influence. Everything from the racing of Midnight Club to the mechanics lifted from Rockstar Table Tennis. Even the surrounding country side is what part of Red Dead's territory would look like today. For more on this checkout Luke Reilly's "Grand Theft Auto V: The Sum of All Peers" over on IGN.

I could mention how the game world is reportedly 49 square miles, the actual map of which is believed to have leaked online (above). What's more, the entire map is available to players right from the beginning with a cloud over unexplored territory similar to modern Bethesda games. There's 17 radio stations in the game, 2 of which are talk radio. All this in addition to some 20 hours of original soundtrack, a first for a GTA game. There's more cars and weapons than any previous entry as well. Cops now have a "cone of vision," a much more realistic AI than the radius system we saw in GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, which was already a vast improvement over what came before.

It appears that you can switch between the three characters (Michael, Franklin and Trevor) on certain missions (heists I'm assuming) and at anytime during non-mission play. Apparently each of the three have a special ability (i.e Franklin has a bonus when it come to vehicle handling) which I won't lie, irks me a little. Giving "game-y" abilities to characters in an otherwise realistic game tends to pull me out of the experience. Such was/is the case with The Last of Us where you have a sensory talent that allows you to see through wall. On a merrier note, gone are the hidden packages and here (though not necessarily in lieu of) are radio announcements leading you to certain side-missions and the like.

Let's see, you can play full tennis and golf, participate in running and bicycles races (and of course a number of automobile races too), commander every type of vehicle imaginable including some type of submersible now, go to the movie theater, play the stock market, invest in real estate, the list goes on and on. And on. And I've yet to even make mention of Grand Theft Auto Online, a recent announcement that is replacing the game's multiplayer and is it's standalone experience. Fear not, it comes as a downloadable feature for all who buy Grand Theft Auto V, available on October 1st. More on Grand Theft Auto Online in its own upcoming preview.

For a lot more information I recommend checking out "Grand Theft Auto V: Your Questions Answered," a video with Daniel Krupa and Alex Simmons. 

I leave you with the official gameplay video they released in July, but because I haven't done a post since before that it's time now.

Words by J.S. Lewis