The day before the release of Grand Theft Auto V, GameRankings and MetaCritic blew up with unanimous critical praise across the board. Right now, the PS3 version of Grand Theft Auto V is sitting at 97.05% and the Xbox 360 version at 96.56%. This makes GTA V the fourth-highest rated game of all time, right behind Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario Galaxy, and Super Mario Galaxy 2, but above Grand Theft Auto IV, Super Mario 64, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Metroid Prime, Batman: Arkham City, Resident Evil 4, Half-Life 2, Halo, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and countless others. This is a travesty.
Like most people, seeing these early review scores caused my hype level for the game to skyrocket. I waited for two hours at a GameStop during the midnight release for my copy, playing Uno on the floor of the store for shits and giggles and to pass the time. After receiving my copy of GTA V, I sped home, popped in the install disc, ate a bagel, and waited to begin the game that would inevitably consume my life for the weeks to come.
And for the first 30 hours or so, I did enjoy myself. I enjoyed myself immensely. The story in GTA V is second to none, a fantastic achievement on the part of Rockstar Games, as it is populated by engrossing characters, jaw-dropping events, and dishes out a healthy balance of depravity and brilliant satire.
Most people are into GTA not for the story, however, but for all the fun that happens outside of the story. Whether this is just screwing around by blowing up pedestrians, upgrading cars, playing the goofy mini-games, or whatever else, GTA has traditionally been the most entertaining once the story has ended.
Grand Theft Auto V marks the first time that I was thoroughly disappointed and outright bored to tears by a Grand Theft Auto end-game.
Before the game released, someone at Rockstar (I believe it was Dan Houser, but don’t quote me on that) claimed that the single player content in Grand Theft Auto V could span up to 100 hours. Of course, they didn’t mean that the plot was going to take 100 hours to get through, but rather completing the plot, going through all the side missions, and earning all the single player achievements would amount to 100 hours or thereabouts.
And you know what? That’s a fairly accurate statement. If one takes into account the fact that 30 of those 100 hours is a fantastic, virtually unparalleled gameplay experience and then the other 70 hours of the game is padding. Ridiculous, unnecessary padding that features tasks that are nigh impossible without consulting outside materials (such as this wonderful Grand Theft Auto V guide!) or just tedious to the point of boredom.
Why did Rockstar decide to pad the game so much? The answer is not difficult to find. They did this for the sole purpose of being able to say that their game is 100 hours long. They want GTA V to be held up in the same light as Skyrim, a game that could legitimately take 100 hours (I personally have put 120+ hours into Skyrim and I am still having fun, discovering new things, and haven’t even reached level 50 yet) or much more to complete fully, but the difference is that Skyrim is not bogged down by cheap padding tactics and hollow tasks that offer no reward or fulfillment.
In previous GTA titles, completing the obnoxiously long tasks such as finding all the hidden packages would yield rewards. In GTA III, the hidden packages even had milestones so that rewards came before even finding all of them. These rewards were very helpful, oftentimes resulting in weapons spawning directly in safehouses, which in turn made the game easier and actually felt like an accomplishment — finding those hidden packages was actually worth something. In GTA V, all you get is an achievement, for the most part.
Look, achievements are great, but they should not replace in-game rewards. They should complement them, supplement them, give players extra incentive to keep that disc in the disc tray of their console. In Grand Theft Auto V, there are virtually no rewards for completing the long, tedious tasks that bog down the end game, and that makes them so, so much worse. I feel bad for the disillusioned GTA vet that actually bothers to complete all of these, uh, “objectives” under the false pretense that they are going to get something cool for their efforts.
Don’t believe me about the padding? Check this out:
Go around in submarine and get rid of nuclear waste x30
Go around in ocean and find parts of submarine x30
Find letter scraps x50
Find spaceship parts x50
Stunt jumps x50
Fly under bridges x50
Knife flights x15
It would be one thing if these only required doing the same thing 10 times or so, but 30? 50? What is the purpose of this beyond padding the game’s length? Not only that, but the only reward you get for any of these (besides money, which is the last thing you need at the end of the game anyway) is from finding the spaceship parts, and the reward is a crappy car that you’ll never have any use for at all. Oh joy.
Not only that, but the padding is obvious elsewhere. Some side missions contain overly long airplane trips, some with no checkpoints at all (which wouldn’t be a big deal, but isn’t consistent with the story, so it becomes frustration), and if all of what I have already mentioned in this editorial weren’t enough, there’s the triathlons. Oh god, the triathlons.
In order to get 100% in the game, players have to complete three triathlons. The triathlons basically amount to mashing on the A button and pointing the left stick in the right direction. Fine. There are only three, so it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal at first. The first two triathlons are pretty smooth sailing, actually, as they don’t take an obnoxious amount of time and you won’t feel the need to call a doctor about your thumb afterwards. But the third triathlon. Oh god, the third triathlon.
Guess how long it takes to complete the third triathlon? Go ahead, take a guess. Take a wild shot in the dark. If you said 30 real life minutes, then you’d be correct. Yes, that’s 30 minutes of pointing the left stick in a direction and mashing on the A button until your thumb falls off. What makes this triathlon even worse is that, based on the amount of people I have seen complain about this issue, it’s fairly easy to have your thumb slip and hit “right” on the d-pad, which in turn causes the triathlon to quit. The one time you’d actually want the “Are you sure you want to quit?” message, and it doesn’t pop up. Fantastic!
If that’s not padding, I don’t know what is. It’s a test of endurance, that’s for sure. A pointless test for endurance designed only to keep people from getting 100% as fast as they should because Rockstar decided to bog down their game with tasks that are overly long to disguise the lack of genuine, worthwhile content available to players.
And then there’s the problems with GTA Online. Rockstar has recently released an update to GTA V that added the GTA Online functionality, and, to their credit, fixed numerous problems. They fixed the glitch where peoples’ cars would disappear from garages, and they also fixed the glitch that caused many players (myself included) to be unable to continue Michael’s Epsilon Strangers and Freaks missions. Unfortunately, they failed to deliver their promise of GTA Online, and it’s for the dumbest of reasons.
Basically, the reason that GTA Online was delayed two weeks was so players could learn the basics of the game, according to Dan Houser. So guess what the first thing you do in GTA Online is? A tutorial.
What’s even more insulting about this is that anyone that manages to get by the tutorial, those lucky few out there, are able to experience GTA Online without too many interruptions. Yeah, annoying stuff is still happening to them, like the game crashing, a multitude of bugs, characters being deleted, but at least they aren’t just sitting there, staring at a lobby of ill-fated “created” (GTA Online has one of the worst character creation systems in the history of gaming) characters standing around in a parking lot, shuffling their feet in an anxious anticipation of a race that will never happen, what with the disappearing car and all.
The current theory regarding this issue is that there is a “bottleneck” effect, in which Rockstar is funneling everyone through GTA Online and into this forced tutorial, but it simply isn’t working. My question is, if one of the main reasons for the GTA Online delay was to make sure players learned the game before playing it online, then why does GTA Online start with a pointless racing tutorial?
I was in love with GTA V during the story. But it’s the end game that is the problem. They just don’t give you interesting stuff to do, and in the interest of padding the game’s length, they decide that all the boring crap you have to do is amplified by a thousand. Not only that, but the GTA Online experience is a catastrophe, made even worse by Rockstar’s reasons for delaying the Online in the first place.
I keep track of my favorite games of the year for my Top 10 Games of the Year list I write in late December/early January. Before beating the story of GTA V, it was at #1. But right now, a much more deserving game, The Last of Us, is sitting in the top spot, and I honestly don’t see it being dethroned by the time 2014 comes along. Grand Theft Auto V, as it is right now, is not a 10/10 game, and it is not the Game of the Year. Maybe by the end of the year it will be able to crawl back up to the #2 spot on my list, but that’s going to take a lot of effort on the part of Rockstar to fix these issues and deliver a worthwhile GTA Online experience, the kind that we were all promised when we laid down our $60 for the game.