What I Could Do Without:
Grand Theft Auto has been around, in its popular form, for over a decade. Grand Theft Auto III came out in 2001 and, while it was absolutely revolutionary at the time, there were elements of its structure and gameplay that don't stand the test of time. Which, for the most part, is fine, due to the series' aforementioned evolution. Sometimes, though, things slip through the cracks or become so much a part of the formula, an expectation of the audience that will be playing the game, that they manage to worm their way into the series long after their prime. In some ways, the very gameplay structure of GTA is an example of this.
From the beginning, the rule has been: Go to one point to accept a mission, fulfill its objectives, proceed on to the next glowing marker. In part, this is meant to facilitate exploration of the city. If even getting from mission to mission involves time spent traveling across the game's open world, it means the player is given more opportunities to see far more of the world than if everything was simply clustered together. When you're in a rare mood to see the story, though, it can be frustrating to deal with.
Lack of Consequences
In most games, dying in some way sets you back. It can take lives from your total pool, wind your progress back a few minutes or, in tougher games, a few hours. In the most hardcore, it can force you to start over entirely. It can damage your equipment or otherwise cause you to spend time and/or money getting back to where you were. GTA games do some of this, since you generally lose your weapons and some money when you've been arrested or maimed—the game's primary two failure conditions—but in a title that predicates an open world of crime-based shenanigans, it feels like punishment should be somehow more involved.
Where's Liberty City's (or San Andreas', even Vice City's) legal system? Is it really so corrupt (and corruption does run rampant in the GTA games) that it's impossible to put away the player's character, even early on in the game, for more than a day or so? What if Niko was put under house arrest, or forced to escape from prison or something? There are options, dammit, and I want to see them explored, but GTA instead just lets you pick up more or less where you left off whenever you die, get arrested or otherwise fail a mission. It kind of breaks the illusion of that open world.
And that open world can be as much a curse as it is a blessing. With so much to do, and such a big sandbox to do it in, it can actually be difficult to find motivation to follow the rails. More often than not, my GTA play sessions devolved into random acts of violence—driving at breakneck speed into oncoming traffic, crashing into lamp posts, and running down pedestrians. While this is fun in the moment, it can be difficult to "reset," and since my attempts to escape from the cops I've enraged will often take me off course, I'll find that when I desire to actually do a mission, getting to it can be such an involved ordeal that I'd rather just turn the console off.
Grand Theft Auto, as a series, has been a string of commercial and critical successes, which is primarily true because Rockstar isn't afraid to change with each entry whether in a manner that is requested or in an experimental way that is wholly unexpected. Few games ever provide such a distinct experience in a market that they spawn an entire "clone" label, and Grand Theft Auto's success is well-deserved. That's part of what makes it so difficult to explain what about it doesn't always appeal directly to me; I can recognize that it's great, but that doesn't mean I like it, y'know?
Date: September 18, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*