I awoke Tuesday morning to urgent emails from my editors about the release of Grand Theft Auto V, the latest version of the graphic, violent, racist, misogynistic (and fun!) videogame from Rockstar. After pretending to have already known all about it for weeks and trying to make it seem like I would be the perfect person to review this game, I quickly got on the phone to my local Target. The electronics dude picked up.
“Hey, do you have —”
He cut me off.
“Yes, yes,” he said, exasperated. “But you might want to get down here pretty fast.”
So I did. I hopped on my scooter and roared down to the store and stopped to grab some bananas (they were on the way). Back at the electronics section, I flashed my ID (to prove I’m 18), spent $70 (no sales tax in Oregon), and raced back home.
I did not carjack or shoot anyone on the way, just so you know the pre-Grand Theft Auto baseline. I also did not get stabbed after leaving the store and immediately robbed of the game, unlike this poor man.
As soon as the game finished loading in my PlayStation 3, I was in a bank of some kind, already armed, already peering around at my accomplices and some cowering security guards and potential hostages. This is by design. The battle for glazed eyeballs in the videogame world is fought largely with two kinds of weapons: one, making it quick and painless to start playing (like a bullet to the brain), and two, having the best lineup of games.
There was just one little problem: I’ve never played any of the Grand Theft Auto games. The last time I found myself addicted to videogames like this was during the Duke Nukem/007 era. Same basic concept: man has weapons, runs around, kills things with them. But stepping into “GTA5” after years away from the first-person shooter genre was a little intimidating.
Not for long, though. I did immediately and accidentally kill one of my hostages while seeing if I could learn the buttons via intuition, but a quick check of the settings showed the controls to be pretty simple and easy to store even in my slow and overstuffed brain. Within seconds, I had figured out how to aim at the hostages without murdering them, which scared them enough to move into a different part of the bank, freeing me up to detonate a bomb we’d rigged to the vault door and then raiding the place for $179,500 in cash.
Then, a problem. Some wannabe hero cop comes out of nowhere and grabs me and puts a gun to my face. But I switch characters to a different one of the thugs in my crew and blast the cop in the face, saving the day. Then we’re about to blow up another door so we can all escape and I’m supposed to take cover, which takes a bit to figure out, but then I do, and the door blows and immediately we’re faced with several squad cars outside the bank and cops pointing guns at us.
“Fuck the cops,” mutters one of my bank robber buddies.
“It ain’t supposed to go down like this,” yells another.
“It never is,” I think maybe my guy says.
So true. Over the next 10 seconds or so, due partly to my quick study of how to aim and fire or fire indiscriminately or both, I blow away at least a dozen “fucking cops” (to be fair, they were shooting at us first). And then I get a little Rambo (it’s a movie from the ’80s) and charge up to one of the cop cars and forget how to take cover and am immediately gunned down and have to start a few seconds back into the game play and kill all those same cops all over again.
People keep saying, “This wasn’t in the job description,” and I’m thinking, uh, we’re sitting here with automatic weapons and ski masks and we just robbed a bank. What was the job description?
After just a few more seconds, I have morphed into a pretty expert killing machine. I can not only aim and murder police officers, I can murder police officers while running. It feels pretty amazing, and I’m sure it is no accident that I am this quickly this good at this game. It makes me want to keep playing, even though I didn’t even know how to point the damn gun five minutes ago.
Up next is a high-speed car chase, which is also fun, and some good, healthy profanity, and then a roadblock and a train disabling my car and a sniper taking out two of my guys and me taking a meth-addled-looking woman hostage for a couple seconds in a snowy back alley before another epic gun battle with 20 more cops.
Then roll the opening credits. The game hadn’t even started yet, it turns out.
The game actually starts with this angry middle-age dude in a posh shrink’s office in what appears to be L.A., and the dude is complaining about how his son “sits on his ass all day, smoking dope and jerking off while he plays that fucking game.” This clearly appears to be some kind of self-deprecating nod to the very game I am playing.
Then the guy leaves the shrink’s office and walks out onto the beachfront boardwalk, where a couple of large African-American men ask him politely for directions, apparently to a house where they can steal cars, though they do not explain this outright. The guy points to the house, and the two men engage in a philosophical debate laced with several uses of the N word about whether the cars they are about to drive off in constitute “boosting” them or whether “this shit is legitimate business,” which leads me to believe they are repo men. Then I get to pick which convertible to drive off in, exclaiming, “This shit got robo-roof an’ everythang!” and follow my buddy off into the streets.
On the road, we talk to each other on speakerphone, Eazy E bumping on the stereo. I have to follow him for a while but only until the cops show up, at which point my only job is to lose them. I don’t. I wind up driving into a lagoon of some kind and presumably drowning.
So, look, I didn’t get very far before I had to turn around and write this shitty review, so, yes, I know it’s not nearly as robust or credible as something you’d find over at IGN.com. I didn’t get to the part where you can fly planes and crash them into each other and then hop out of one burning plane and into another midair and kill people throughout, and I can’t compare it with any other version of GTA or any other modern-day videogame, unless you count Settlers of Catan on the iPad (which sucks).
But I can say this much: Grand Theft Auto V is easily the easiest-to-begin-killing-people game I have ever played. The dialogue is stupid, but who cares? The graphics are awesome, but you already knew they would be. The story is clearly complicated enough to allow me to disappear into this world for months, next time I find myself unemployed (or wanting to be). All of which means it is a perfect, amazing videogame. I give it two thugs up.