Among the “GTA V” Multiplayer Celebration, A Nagging Worry Remains

Try and deny “GTA V” its applause for the recent full reveal of its online mode, and you’ll be left arms to your side amid an explosion of ovation that the announcement deserves. Ever since “GTA III,” gamers have dreamed of “GTA” online, and the reveal trailer showcases a mode that is everything you could possibly imagine and dreamed of when it comes to the concept, and then some.

However, there is a catch.

See, if you give any number of players guns and put them in an online world, their natural inclination will be to find each one another and shoot until those who are not them are dead. While that is certainly an element of the “GTA V” multiplayer experience (the trailer is largely focused on PvP confrontations) it’s clear that the better intentions of this mode are instead focused on group play and exploration of not only the landscape, but of the potential scenarios that can be created within it.

Simply put, asking a group of 16 (likely) strangers to jump into the “GTA” world and consider violence against each other to be a secondary measure, is asking a hell of a lot. Now that isn’t to say it’s impossible, or won’t occur after a period of time where everyone gets bored shooting each other, but it does mean the better and more exciting elements of this newish type of multiplayer design may not always be present in every session, and may only be accessible should you choose to form a tight bond with like minded players or just happen to get lucky and draw a server of those individuals randomly.

I’d like to believe that gamers will approach “GTA V” in a manner befitting the outside the box design the online element looks to provide, but there is a pessimistic urge honed by years of experience in online communities built off major release titles that makes me believe otherwise, and worries that a genuine effort to provide something truly great may be squandered by the very people it was built for.

I’m not that one standing sulkingly amidst the applause towards “GTA V’s” multiplayer mode, and in fact nurse sore hands from joining the commotion as feverishly as any, but the question no longer seems to be is Rockstar capable of delivering the type of online “GTA” world we’ve always wished for, but rather if the hordes of loyal fans capable of fully embracing it.

When Looking for Proof the Hype is Real About the Next Grand Theft Auto, Look at the Little Things

“Grand Theft Auto IV” almost had to be called “Grand Theft Auto IV.”

What I mean is, considering it was for a new generation of consoles, and featured an exceptionally long development cycle, calling it “GTA: Liberty City” or something similar would have never gone over well with the folks at Rockstar, nor the fans.

However obligatory the name might have been though, the final product never really felt right as being the true evolution to the world changing “GTA III.” It was abundantly clear that all of the focus went into creating Liberty City, and even though that still stands as one of the most impressive accomplishments of video game engineering, the rest of the game suffered from half-baked or just plain bad gameplay ideas.

While it’s true then that “GTA IV” pleased many fans and critics, there were an equal number of people waiting for the real successor to the series.

Based on the recent internet stopping footage that Rockstar released of “GTA V,” that may be soon upon us.

You’d think that there wouldn’t be anything more to say about the next “GTA” until it actually comes out, but the first gameplay trailer of the series proved that as much as we may think we know about the game based on previous information, hearing about the features and seeing them actually come together are completely different things.

Because when you see the game truly in action, it’s clear that Rockstar is aiming to create a game that doesn’t just appear to be alive on the surface, but is a living, breathing, and (most importantly) evolving thing. Sure major aspects like the three character approach appear to work better than we could have anticipated, and new or returning core gameplay features like hunting and purchasing property/stock look incredible, but what really amazes are the little touches.

It’s the things that only the most eagle-eyed of viewers caught like individual weapon stats, or how the mini-map changes based on your current transportation. It’s the new pot shop you can patron, it’s the clever names of the tattoos, and it’s definitely the fact your hand shaped mouse cursor in the game is in fact a middle finger.

Those are the things that “GTA IV” was missing. It’s those aspects that show Rockstar knows how to make a sandbox game on advanced hardware, and are now working to perfect an actual “GTA” experience, and not a tech demo wearing its mask but possessing none of its heart and soul.

When looking for proof that “GTA V” is going to be a game-changer, you may be tempted to point to the tantalizing seconds of footage that reveal a true “GTA” style multiplayer mode. However, for me, the fact the NASDAQ parody stock market is called BAWSAQ is real proof that Rockstar is back to having fun with the series, and in the process advancing its identity.

Where “The Last of Us” puts Naughty Dog Among the Best Developers Working Today

So, remember when I mentioned “The Last of Us” and how it is getting some great early buzz?

Well, now that the first wave of reviews has hit, it appears that was just the early leaks of the wave of gushing love for the PS3’s biggest game of the year, as some are already calling it the best game of this generation at the least.

While that’s all great, it’s also time that we start viewing the game’s developer Naughty Dog in similar terms. As the winds of video gaming shift with the coming of a new generation, it is time to step back and examine who are the very best developers working in gaming today, and where Naughty Dog ranks among them.

5. Bethesda

Fallout3_special

The thing about Bethesda that almost took them off the list is that really, they’ve only  focused on two major franchises (“Elder Scrolls” and “Fallout”) in the last eleven years.

Yet the fact remains that all of the titles in those franchises get serious consideration for the top of several best of lists. It’s admirable that Bethesda has learned that they do one thing well (open ended RPG’s) and have worked to insure that they are the very best at that field, and that every entrant into the genre not only sets an impossible bar of quality, but also sends shockwaves throughout the entire industry.

Sure it’d be great to see them broaden their creative horizons, but only because they are so impossibly good at what they do now.

4. Naughty Dog

The-last-of-us-cover

A fun fact. “The Last Of Us” marks the first time Naughty Dog has worked on two franchises in one generation, as the PS1 got the “Crash Bandicoot” games, the PS2 had “Jak and Daxter,” and the PS3 has had “Uncharted.”

Yet, much like Bethesda, instead of this being a hindrance it has instead allowed them to focus on doing one thing well. Unlike Bethesda, that one thing isn’t a single genre, but rather an intense focus on exploring the cinematic possibilities of gaming, while perfecting the “gaming” part itself. This started to become clear with “Jak and Daxter II,” but it was “Uncharted 2” that let everyone know that Naughty Dog was simply capable of creating experiences no other developer can.

It sounds like “The Last of Us” is continuing that trend in a big way, and at this point there can be no doubt Naughty Dog will be the first company to really show people the first true next gen PS4 title.

3. Valve

TF2_Group

Hey, I’d love to put Valve higher, but the last 5 years or so haven’t exactly been filled with many actual games.

Still, does anyone need a reason for this? If so, I submit “The Orange Box,” which contained one of the greatest games of all time, it’s two equally good add ons, and just for the hell of it, the best multiplayer game of this generation, and another legitimate contender for the best title ever. Oh, and the whole changing the landscape of how the gaming industry works with their Steam system thing.

So while it would be great if you couldn’t nearly measure the time between full entrants to the “Half-Life” franchise in decades, it’s impossible to deny Valve their rightful place in the hierarchy of developing giants.

2. Rockstar

RedDeadRedemptionGameplay

In 2001 Rockstar changed the way many developers approach video games with “Grand Theft Auto III.”

Since then? Along with maintaining that same revolutionary quality with each new “GTA” entrant, they’ve also managed to create the perfect Western game, adapt a cult classic 70’s film into a cult classic video game, and, most importantly, consistently pursue some interesting new gaming ideas and franchise revivals that may be hit or miss, but have never been dull (well…except for table tennis).

Rockstar may have the advantage of being made of several large studios, but each branch can claim the development of at least one classic video game, and all put them under the same logo that has become a stamp for quality.

1. Nintendo

Zelda128

The champ is here.

It almost seems impossible that Nintendo would have stayed on the throne as long as they have, but since 1985’s Super Mario Bros., they have been the one company not only synonymous with video games, but with the best gaming has to offer. No one can match the stable of classic characters and franchises that Nintendo boasts, and no other company is as dedicated to maintaining a level of quality with each new title over such a lengthy time frame. How they have managed to create revolutionary titles out of some franchises over two decades old seems impossible, yet they do it year in and year out.

What really puts them over the top though, is that they are the only developer on this list who also creates their own best selling systems. To quote a song from their 80’s roots, they’re simply the best…better than all the rest.

The New “GTA: V” Trailer – What to Expect

After being delayed by Hurricane Sandy, Rockstar has announced today that the new “GTA V” trailer will debut on Nov. 14th.

While previews are upcoming for the game itself, we’ve been teased with screenshots for months, and we’ve already been treated to the debut trailer for the game, if you think about it we know surprisingly little about what looks to be the biggest title of 2013.

However, if the previous second trailers for the series are any indication, that should all change by the 14th. In fact, in viewing the second trailers for the last few “GTA” games (of which both the “GTA: Vice City” and “GTA: San Andreas” trailers are phenomenal if you need a refresher) there are a few things we can expect to see on Nov. 14th.

A Major Music Track From the Game:

 

It may be obvious, but Rockstar loves to show off their incredible video editing skills by using a big name track from the game set against their typically awesome previews. Hopefully they will do the same here and give us some idea of the type of soundtrack we can expect (or at least one major track they’e acquired) , even if it will be typically diverse. I always felt that “GTA: IV” had the weakest soundtrack of the series, so I’ll be particularly interested in this part to really hype me up.

Important Characters in Minor Parts:

 

The first “GTA: V” trailer had a lot of people in it, but it was hard to tell which of them were actually relevant, and which were just there. This should change with trailer #2 as you can expect a barrage of clearly important characters, even if they do not have speaking roles. By the end of the trailer, we should all have a better idea of what sordid types we’ll be working for, and against, in “GTA: V.”

Weapons:

 

This one is a little more debatable, but since the second trailers tend to be more action packed, expect to see a greater variety of weapons then has previously been revealed. The real question here is will Rockstar go closer to the insane weapon range of “San Andreas,” or stick to something more grounded as in “GTA: IV?”

Customization:

 

Another major aspect missing in “GTA: IV” from “San Andreas” was the customization options for your main character. Looking back at the early previews of “San Andreas,” you could tell differences in the main character’s clothing and hairstyles, hinting the expansion of this aspect. Considering how much this has been talked about, I believe Rockstar may do something similar here.

Counties:

 

So we know the game will take place in the pseudo-LA city of Lost Santos and, based on the country side moments from the first trailer, the surrounding areas. The question is, what surrounding areas? The best idea I’ve heard in relation to this is the theory that we will be exploring various counties in the area. The easiest way to tell this would be to look out for changes in weather, or general geography of the areas shown. Perhaps with a little help from eagle eyed Californians, we should have an idea of the layout.

The main character…s?:

 

I’m fairly certain I’ve heard every theory regarding who the main character was from the first “GTA: V” trailer, and I’m confident that I don’t want to hear anymore. I will say that the one that does intrigue me the most is the idea of multiple main characters. While this could prove tricky in an open world game, it would certainly be a new direction for Rockstar in a game that is a true “GTA” sequel. Nevertheless, we should soon know the answer to this.

Choices:

 

Keep an very sharp eye out for this one. “GTA: IV” hinted at giving you choices in the game via some very minor decisions. If the series gameplay is going to expand, I’d look for this to be the first place it does so. Look for a careful line of dialogue, or a visual of two people at gunpoint, or anything that might just give away if the game that revolutionized open gameplay truly gives players real options. If Rockstar does go this way, they may be tempted to tease it here.

Tone:

 

Maybe the most important, but sure to be most overlooked, aspect of the new trailer will be the tone of it. It was hard to figure out for sure from the first trailer, but looking back on the old “GTA” previews, it’s easy to see in retrospect that we could tell a lot from the tone of them. This particularly applies to “GTA: IV” where the darker, grittier vibe was immediately apparent. Will Rockstar stick to that same style, go back to the more lighthearted nature of the originals, or give us something in-between?

The plot:

 

Usually by trailer number two we are left with little doubt about the overall game. The first trailer gave a pretty big hint to this in what would appear to be a criminal trying to retire, so what we should look for here are the circumstances. In other words, the who, what, when, where, and why. With “GTA: V” drawing ever closer, we should expect these large points to be covered.

Gameplay:

 

We end with what should hopefully be the biggest given for this trailer, the gameplay. Considering how beautiful “GTA:IV” is and was, you couldn’t easily tell what was real gameplay from the first “GTA: V” trailer and what wasn’t. We probably won’t see what the game looks like during the actual gameplay, but I would be shocked if we don’t get snippets of missions, distractions, or something equally tantalizing that will actually show us the most important part of the game…the game itself.

 

Also, as announced today, you can now officially pre-order “GTA:V.” Considering the franchise this still is, this is one time I’d recommend doing just that.

Level 10: “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas”

I feel like the most consistently underrated element of video game design is level design. Whether you call them levels, segments, missions, or whatever, the parts of our favorite video games that make up our favorite video games deserve the proper recognition, and it’s the purpose of this column to make sure they get that.

And since the recently released “GTA V” screens have got me reminiscing about the last time the “GTA” series paid a visit to the west coast, I’ve decided to start with my favorite entry in the “Grand Theft Auto” series for this column, by looking back at the best missions from “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.”

10. Drive-By

One of the great thrills of the GTA series is how it allows you to live out all of those great crime fantasies that film and possibly literature has instilled in you. In “GTA: III” is was planting a bomb on a car mob style. In “GTA: Vice City” it was intercepting a coke deal with a speed boat like Crocket and Tubbs on “Miami Vice.”

Since “San Andreas” was inspired by the west coast gangta films, like “Boys in the Hood,” one of the great thrills is living out inner-ghetto turf wars, and any good inner-ghetto turf war needs a drive-by. Drive-by’s are so common in “GTA” that there is a feature on the control for it, but here is the only place where you get to roll up on enemy gangs with your friends and rain ammunition on them while listening to N.W.A. just like most of us modern suburbanites figured happened all the time in the early 90’s. It’s as simple as a mission in “GTA gets,” but it’s so satisfying.

9. Fender Ketchup

So you’re working for the Triads and the Italian mafia has been messing with their operations in the “San Andreas” equivalent of Las Vegas, Las Venturas. One of the thugs have been caught, and to make him talk your friends decide to strap him onto a car which you are to drive at top speed until he gets scared enough to figuratively spill his guts ( or not and literally do so).

Driving around in a convertible at night on the Venturas strip is always a fun experience, but doing so in the most reckless way at your disposal so that a mob thug will rat his gang out makes it all the sweeter. Much like Drive-By this is one of those missions that takes a simple gangland pleasure and lets you run wild with it.

8. Amphibious Assault

When most non-stealth games try to have stealth sections, they tend to suck almost without exception. Of course, this being “GTA,” it’s not like other games and therefore enjoys the distinct advantage of defying normal conventions.

Of course to be fair, this isn’t a strict stealth mission as you are tasked with infiltrating a boat, planting a bug, and making your way off, but are free to kill at will as long as you do it quietly. However, the atmosphere the mission sets is just perfect, and the approach to the boat itself is very dramatic. The “GTA” series has always had an incredible sense of scale, and the ship makes for this perfectly ominous opposing figure in the distance, that makes this mission feel like a true accomplishment for having finished.
Read the rest of this entry »

Payneful Memories: The Best of Max Payne

To me, there’s nothing quite like the “Max Payne” series.

As a fan of action movies, there is no game that can fulfill that itch I have for some ultra violence after watching one of my favorites like “Max Payne” does. More than that, though, the series has its own style and charm that very few games across any genre can possibly hope to match. It’s made up of a million little things that all come together to make something greater than it even looked on paper.

So in honor of “Max Payne 3′s” impending release, I’d like to reflect on ten of my favorite moments, levels, aspects, and everything else from the first two “Max Payne” games.

Mod Max – The “Max Payne” series was designed to be heavily moddable, and from day one gamers have taken advantage of that. From mods that make the game even more cinematic, to giving you the option of employing “Equilibrium’s” gunkata style, and way, way, to many “Matrix” mods, there is a strong community out there devoted to maximizing the games experience.

The two that really stand out, though, are the brilliant Kung Fu mod that gives Max martial arts skills, along with some deadlier gunplay abilities, thus helping the game become even more of an homage to the kung-fu classics that inspired it, and a mod that turns the game into a brawler set in the “Street Fighter” universe. The latter is actually kind of dull and buggy, while the former is a necessity. Both though represent the incredible ability the game has to be modded, and the creative impulses this series inspires out of its fanbase.

Innocent Man’s Story – This is maybe my favorite little moment of the series. In “Max Payne 2,” you are in a police station, when you overhear a cop interrogating a suspect over a double murder. Stay and listen and you will hear the absolute worst criminal alibi of all time delivered by a man who looks and sounds suspiciously like Joe Pesci.

I really can’t do this one justice with words. You have to see it for yourself.

Read the rest of this entry »

Related Posts