This letter contains some GTA V spoilers. Though none you could have guessed if you’ve ever seen a movie.
Thanks for making GTA V. I know you didn’t have to, even though failing to do so would have been like refusing to accept a million dollar paycheck in return for writing a 300 page story about how cool you are and then watching a team of 200 robots make an elaborate puppet show based on it. But still, you could have poorly inserted co-op into the campaign or included microtransactions in the campaign or based the campaign on a miserable arsehole who spent the cutscenes between me frantically stabbing people moaning on about how much he no longer wanted to stab people.
There’s actually quite a lot of things that I hated about IV that you’ve genuinely fixed. As well as fixing the aforementioned “playing as a twat” problem, the police now chase you in a way which is a bit less like a psychic cruise missile. They still operate under the jurisdiction of an odd set of laws which seem to only treat arrest as an option if you’re within arms reach and otherwise default to the “wildly shoot at” or “ram with car” schools of policing. That said, I’ve only went to LA for two days and I was distracted from the police by the constant oppressive fear of getting murdered.
You’ve also really improved the characters. I’ve not had someone I wanted to play as in a GTA game since Tommy Vercetti, being as I like to play the game like a cackling psychopath and I feel better about that when you acknowledge that I might want to play like that by making the player character a cackling psychopath. It’s a bit distracting to go on a date with someone or be invited to play pool with your brain damaged cousin every 45 seconds because his brain damage makes him forget that he just called you but manages to store the spite he felt when you rejected his invitation. I get that you thought I might want to do that but not only did it directly distract me from sniping hot dog vendors but it created a kind of jarring contrast as though I was watching fight club but being frequently offered the opportunity to switch into Tyler mode and just go mental.
V also feels like it has some vague idea of what the word “fun” means. Obviously I mean the kind of fun where you run up to the same man every day, leaning against the same pole, wearing the same sunglasses and then you brutally smash his head against that pole, comically knocking his glasses off and laughing hysterically because he doesn’t remember that you did that yesterday and will probably wander out of his house and go and stand there tomorrow. But this game at least feels like it understands how most people actually play GTA, instead of wanting to be a gritty HBO series which I keep inconveniencing by trying to enjoy it.
The “it’s got three characters now” thing actually works as well. Mainly as a way to get back to the city when stranded in the wilderness, but also as a way to increase the credibility of the story. I felt like Niko and CJ stumbled through events guided by other people’s aims and personalities, whereas Trevor returns to the screaming agency of Vercetti (where many things that happen are prompted by him screaming at the people involved that if they don’t happen he’ll eat their eyelids and then shit them on to their unprotected eyeballs), Michael legitimated gets to make choices about what happens and Franklin fills the role of stumbling moron so that we don’t forget what it’s like to do exactly what we’re told like someone who underwent a DIY lobotomy his creepy uncle performed with a pizza cutter. It feels more plausible that this grand story could happen to a few people, which makes the story more engaging.
It’s not like you’ve fixed everything. In your attempts to unfuck some of the things you fucked last time you’ve fucked them too far the other way, to the opposite end of the fucked spectrum where you fucked it back around to “fucked” again. The money is my culprit here, because you’ve addressed the “having too much money and nothing to spend it on” problem by giving us lots for stuff to buy but not giving us any money to buy it with. It’s like we said “thanks for all the Lego, but maybe we could have some instructions?” and you spent five years designing instructions only to forget to put enough bricks in. Though obviously that’s stupid because nobody really wants Lego instructions. I do want enough money for your lovely golf course though, but completing the whole fucking game didn’t give it to me.
Which leads on to the other principle problem, the heists. It’s not a great idea to trumpet a mechanic as your central feature if you’re going to blow your load on it in a completely uneven manner. Whilst we’re at it, it’s not a great idea to have stuff in your tutorial like threatening people into a room by pointing your gun at them and blowing safes if that stuff is going to reappear precisely fuck all times in the rest of the game, with every safe you find taunting you with it’s invincibility. Similarly, it’s a bit disingenuous to open the heists with an exciting jewellery store raid which pays very well if the next heist is going to involve slowly driving a submarine for twenty minutes and getting fucking nothing in return for it. Sneaky and obvious are cool choices for my first heist, but they’re less cool on the fourth heist, especially if the intervening heists also only had these options. The last one is great, has interesting options and pays pretty well, but unfortunately it’s got “THE LAST ONE” written on it in fifty foot high letters, which diminishes the excitement of you having remembered how to do this properly. It’s also funny that Trevor and Michael are happy to tattoo a dick on a guy for being a bit mean to Michael’s idiot daughter, or waterboard a guy for fun, but when they’re repeatedly told “sorry that heist you just spent an hour on earns you less than the cost of a new hat”, neither or them staple the lip of the fucker telling them that to his face. The fact that the heist system is so painfully crying out to be used organically to design your own missions but is never offered for this purpose exposes one of the fundamental flaws in the direction you’ve taken GTA in.
The problem is this: open world games thrive on a sense of freedom. A tightly written, elaborate story with spectacular set pieces probably fits into a linear game better. You have slowly morphed GTA into an open world game with a tightly written, elaborate story with spectacular set pieces. You’re good at both of these things, but even if you can have a really satisfying cup of tea and a really satisfying shit, it might not ever be a good idea to merge those two experiences. It’s weird having total freedom to walk to whatever letter you want (or not walk to the letters at all!!!), then arriving at the letter and being inserted into an incredibly limited, completely linear challenge. Setting it in the lovely open world environment means that I’m constantly reminded that this world supports the ability to run off and kick pigs, but not whilst you’re doing this scripted task. What’s really weird is that you used to be much better at this, with a silent protagonist driving the story through his actions without being needed to accommodate lengthy musings on the nature of car murder. You also used to allow me to fuck with the missions and find creative ways to complete them, where now you add so many fucking arbitrary “you can’t leave this area/park there/get in that/kill them” that you may as well have built a fucking corridor for that shit to happen in like FFXIII did. Now you’ve gone a bit Hitman, taking the liberating freedom which made us love you and trying to cram it into a spectacular box, even if bits fall off as you’re cramming it in there. Admittedly you’ve taken a slow, one step at a time approach to that instead of Hitmanning fully and throwing out everything that people like about your game in an attempt to make more people like your game.
Wouldn’t it be nice to play an open world crime game where we committed open crimes? You put those heist targets in there and that board system and then you let us choose how to do them from lots more options. In a world of seedy criminals, you could probably drum up a few more choices than “the shit cheap guy” or “the expensive competent guy”, and good job explaining how to make that choice after I’d already done it two of the three times you decided to let me do it. Whilst we’re talking about explaining, whoever told you that writing text descriptions in 8pt font in the corner of the screen whilst I’m driving into oncoming traffic was a great way to impart wisdom was taking the piss out of you. Maybe I might want to read that shit again? But you’ve not bothered to even include your trademark funny but useless manual this time, instead releasing the manual as an app but only for certain phones in a terribly clever satire of what a complete prick would do.
But hold on, I think I’m piecing something together here. Vastly expensive shit, weirdly balanced economy, systems designed with flexibility but then none offered. I know it’s tempting to become complacent when your last game was widely critically regarded as the second coming despite being a miserable bore of a game, but don’t you think people might look back less fondly on this one when they realise its an extended tutorial for your online game? I know you wrapped everyone’s story up (aside from the glaring hole where after robbing the shit out of a government bank they use their newfound wealth to stay in the same place looking the same), but there’s a lot here which feels like I’m playing it with NPCs because you’ve not unlocked the online mode yet.
Which slides us neatly into why I’m writing this. I’m writing to you because I like and respect you and over the last few days you’ve shown me about as much respect as the dog chew toy you gave to that tramp to cram up his arse. Here’s a short statement I wrote for you for free: “After an early spike in users most online games tail off then stabilise, making purchasing enough servers to handle the initial rush a fucking stupid idea, so we didn’t do it”. There, that’s called the fucking truth. Do you know what isn’t the truth? Saying that you “didn’t expect it to be so popular”. Really? So whilst you were stuffing those discs with boxes you were thinking “people probably won’t buy this many, but better safe than sorry”? What about when you were stuffing the billion dollars we gave you in your greedy little pockets, were you thinking “I’m sure all those people won’t want to play the much hyped online mode we’ve spent millions developing”? What about when you were cramming that money down a hooker’s throat when you should have been stress testing your severs? What were you thinking then? Because you don’t seem to have been thinking “this is obviously going to be massive so we’d better try and make it work a bit and avoid getting our fucking balls chewed off by the ravenous jaws of the Internet”. Your thinking was working pretty well until you took the money, but it’s at that point that you seem to have gotten ill from stuffing your face with caviar and truffles and neglected to make the thing you sold to us work. At all.
I expect the launch of a highly anticipated online game to be buggy. For a game to be buggy I have to be able to start and play it, so GTA Online doesn’t qualify as buggy, it’s just broken. “But Rockstar couldn’t anticipate the demand and you’re an idiot if you thought this would work anyway” cries one of the endless yes men apologists that inexplicably surround large companies, making excuses for them. These cunts are the reason that companies think its ok to repeatedly shit on us, because when they do some fanboy twat sits in his bedroom writing an passionate forum post about how they didn’t mean to shit on us and you were silly for thinking that they wouldn’t shit on us and if you turn your head up and open your mouth you might taste the chunks of genius poking out of the big shit they’re doing on us. It’s fucking kneeler sheep like them who make companies think that their “loyal fanbase” wants a facefull of shit because they can’t differentiate “loyal fanbase” from “loudmouthed, empty minded vacuum where original thoughts go to die who is actually stupid enough to put a face on a faceless business and think that supporting that business even when they shit on you is a worthwhile use of your precious life”. It’s a common mistake. But those fuckers are your version of Michael Jackson’s medical team, telling you that whatever stupid shit you do is great because they’re so enamoured with you for telling them what to think. They’re the Yoko to your John, the Rick McCumbutt to your George Lucas, the whoever told James Cameron he could write and design to your James Cameron. If you listen to the fuckwit apologists you’ll lose touch with reality and end up thinking you should re-release GTA III with Michael awkwardly shoehorned in because it turns out he’s Eightball’s mum. They’d fucking love that, beating off to their fan fiction where all the protagonists meet up for a big gay bumming session in New York because you’re so fucking scared of women and places that aren’t America.
I paid you £50 (worth about eighteen million dollars if I’ve got the conversion right) and I expect you to give me the shit you wrote on the box which I gave you the eighteen million dollars for. I don’t want to go to a screaming tabloid or some fucktard consumer advice service designed to reassure idiots after someone scams them out of their life savings in return for a conservatory they never delivered. I want you to admit you fucked up and clearly tell us what you’re doing to fix it, and how you plan to make it up to us. The way I see it, if you’d pulled your diamond encrusted fist out of your arse long enough to make this work you could have had a triumph on your hands. I understand that saying “gee, we thought you millions of guys were buying those GTA discs to throw at the moon and reflect sunlight into the eyes of birds, we never thought you’d want to play the game we sold you” is supposed to magically turn this into a triumph by making us think that we’re just part of such a large in-crowd that nobody could organise it, but the problem with stealing EA’s damage control methods is that you’ll find EA have already run them into the ground, endlessly reusing them in that unique way that EA do to everything because they’re even more scared of new ideas that your average conservative MP.
Give us an acknowledgement that you’ve fucked this up and explain how you’re going to fix it and compensate the people you’ve screwed over. You know, your core audience who line up at midnight to buy your game because they love you. You fucked those people so apologise, or I’m going to be forced to admit that with your pre-order DLC (fuck you), microtransactions (fuck you) and day one server issues because you didn’t realise it would be so popular (FUCK YOU) you’ve actually become the pathetic corporate dick puppets that you’re so eager to parody.