Kevin: It seems like the cops get easier and easier to outrun in every game.
Nick: I actually love the cop evasion system in this game.
Kevin: Oh, how you can see them on the map?
Nick: Yeah, it’s like a macro version of Pac-Man in the city streets.
Kevin: Yeah, that’s the thing with this game. Mechanically, it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played.
Kevin: When you strip everything thematic out of the game, it’s such an enjoyable experience. I can’t believe we haven’t mentioned the character switching yet. You can switch between three characters, and the way it works in the heist missions is so genius. You’re always at the point where the action is the most fun. You’re always varying things up between a little puzzle solving, a little shooting, a little driving, outrunning the cops, all within one mission. It’s a problem with most action games, where you get tired of doing the same thing over and over. In GTA V, within the span of a fifteen-minute mission you’ve done so many different things that it’s always fresh.
Nick: The heists are totally incredible. I love how the character switching works in the open world, too. If you’re ever lost or bored, you can just say, “Fuck this, I’m going to another character.” I got stranded in the ocean the other day and would have had to swim for like five minutes to get to a vehicle, which is the kind of problem lots of old GTA games ran into, but instead I just swapped away and let the AI handle the guy in the ocean.
Kevin: The three characters really do so much for the game. I’ve been thinking about it kind of like a magazine. It has short content, long content, funny content, serious content. You can open a magazine and always find something you’re in the mood for. That’s why we keep magazines in our bathroom. GTA is the only videogame that works no matter what you’re mood is: if you want to make progress, or if you want to be distracted, or if you want to drive around. It has everything for every mood.
Nick: Yeah, that’s a good way to think of it. And it’s all enabled by the sheer number of mechanics that are built into the game. I had this thought the other day: if you broke every single way you can play GTA into it’s own $0.99 iPhone game, how many games would come out? Obviously there’s driving and shooting, but there’s also a pretty nice tennis game…
Kevin: The tennis game is really good.
Nick: I know, right? And there’s skydiving, or even whole mechanics for tiny parts of missions like cutting a grate off a sewer pipe, and these could all have small games built around them. It makes the whole game feel stuffed full.
Kevin: I have to say though, I hate the voice acting. Especially Trevor. He resembles nothing in reality. He’s just a guy yelling. He’s never funny, nothing about him makes sense, and he’s not convincing in any way.
Nick: Right. My read on Trevor is that he’s basically the player’s manifestation.
Kevin: Yeah, that’s basically what Tom Bissel and a bunch of other critics have argued. Franklin is the one we play as when we want to get something done, like the story missions. Michael is us when we’re bored, and Trevor is who we actually resemble the most.
Nick: He feels reverse-engineered to me. Like, what sort of person would actually do the things the players of previous GTA games did? That results in Trevor.
Kevin: It’s weird because at first, playing as him is offputting because he’s so nihilistic and chaotic, but eventually you come to like his story missions the most because they’re the most ridiculous.
Nick: Right, and on another level, everything you do as Trevor feels in character. No matter how much mayhem you cause, it feels like you’re roleplaying as Trevor, which is not the case with Michael and Franklin.
Kevin: He might be the smartest thing about the game.
Nick: So, have you played the torture scene?
Kevin: I did. You know, it’s not surprising that it’s really divisive, but it seems like most critics have come down saying it’s disgusting and ineffective. But I felt the opposite, I think it’s the best part of the game so far.
Nick: Oh yeah. So, everyone goes nuts for the famous “thank you kindly” scene in Bioshock, where it’s like, “Oh my god, you’ve been controlled the whole time.” And I think this is a much less clumsy version of that. The developers are like, “We know all of you motherfuckers are against torture, but we’re going to make you do it and watch it because that’s what the whole game actually is.” They’re saying, “If you’re horrified by this, why aren’t you horrified by the rest of the game?” They use their narrative skills to make you feel your actions more viscerally during that scene, but the things you do at that point aren’t any worse than everything else you do.