The new podcast is now available, entitled Golden Brew. Normal transmission has resumed this week, with a lot less talk of Grand Theft Auto. Listen below, or hit the iTunes link and subscribe.
WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS. Although if you are worried about spoilers because you haven’t been playing the game yet, what the fuck have you been doing?
As I’m sure most of you Dear Readers out there should be aware, one of the biggest games of the year, Grand Theft Auto V, came out on the 17th of September. Since purchasing it at a midnight launch, I have clocked in roughly 18 1/2 hours game time, with roughly 50% game progress, and completed 45 of the 69 story missions. I think it’s about time I discuss the game that has taken up a shitload of my time in the past week.
For the first time in the history of the franchise, GTA V tells its story from the perspective of three separate characters. There’s Michael De Santa, an ex-con living the good life in witness protection, in a nice mansion with his wife and 2 kids. There’s Franklin Clinton, a gang banger who meets Michael, and begins working with him in criminal activity. And then, there’s Trevor Philips, former best friend of Michael, and complete fucking psychopath, who believes Michael is dead, until a series of circumstances finds him reunited with Michael, and the three main characters begin working together.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we can start talking about how fun the game is to play. Let’s be honest, we’re not buying GTA for the story, right? Sure, it’s important for the story missions to be fun to play, and since there’s 69 of them (69! Dirty…), they better be fun to play. But forget the plot, is the game fun? Short answer, yes. So let’s talk about that, shall we, Dear Reader?
The wealth of things to do in this game is fucking enormous. Aside from the story missions, which as I said there’s plenty of. there’s a series of missions labelled “Strangers and Freaks” that each of the 3 characters can engage in, where they interact with some of the bizarre people who live in San Andreas. More on that later. Missions aside, there’s tons of activities to engage in as well, which bring back a lot of what was available in GTA: San Andreas (still the best of the series), and others, such as the shooting ranges, races, triathlons, flight school, parachuting, the list goes on. It also brings new activities to the table, like golf, tennis, yoga (yeah, yoga, not exciting, but it’s there), hunting, and more. Some of the activities are great, some not so much, but the fact that there are so many options that are rather well designed is wonderful, and ensure that you will never run out of things to do.
Just like GTA: San Andreas, skills are back as well, skills which improve over time, depending on what sorts of things you’re doing, and as those skills increase, each of the three characters become more powerful. So you want to engage in a bike race across Mount Chiliad? Not only do you get the thrill of the competition, but you’re increasing the strength of your character as well, which could become beneficial in future endeavours. The more you drive, the easier it becomes to weave through traffic. Keep working on those gold medals at the shooting ranges, and gun fights will get easier. It all serves to make the game more fun, and no matter where you are in the world, you will find plenty of shit to fuck around with.
Aside from activities like these, the level of customisation for your characters is massive, too. Not quite as ambitious as GTA: San Andreas, but a gigantic improvement over GTA IV, to be sure. You can take any of the three characters across the world, and get fancy new clothes (or even shitty new clothes, if that’s how you roll), haircuts, beards, tattoos, whatever you want. The beauty part, too, is that each of the different clothing stores, barbers, tattoo parlours, and so on, will have different options compared to what the other stores of the same type are offering, so the game invites you to explore the world, and see what you can do.
It can definitely said that GTA V is a fuckload more fun than GTA IV. GTA IV, while it was a great game, stripped down most of the wackiness that GTA: San Andreas brought to the table. But a lot of that wackiness has returned, and the game is better off for it. It still stays reasonably grounded, though, at least as far as the game like this can. It certainly is more consistent and reasonable than one of its major competitors, Saints Row, that’s for sure. Things like searching for UFO parts, playing from the perspective of Franklin’s Rottweiler Chop, getting eaten by sharks (which there is an achievement for!), and much, much more. Some of that insanity even pours over to the missions themselves, especially the “Strangers and Freaks” missions.
In the “Strangers and Freaks” missions, each of the three main characters will meet a man called Barry, an advocate for the legalisation of marijuana, and this leads to some of the games most crazy moments. When Michael smokes some of the weed offered to him, he goes on a trip which sees the player having to shoot a series of aliens that are trying to attack Michael. When Trevor visits Barry, and is also unfortunate enough to smoke some of his grass, he envisions a series of clowns attacking him, who have to be fired upon with a gun that shoots out a series of comical symbols (you know the type, @#*, stuff like that). There’s also missions that involve Trevor having to steal a bunch of items from celebrities for a perverted old British couple, Franklin having to help a member of the paparazzi catch famous people in compromising positions, and much more.
Now I think it’s about time to gush about some of my favourite missions from what I’ve played so far, and talk about some of the most fun moments that have just happened at random times.
Friend Request: Michael needs a job and turns to an old friend for help.
This mission happens pretty early on, and sees Michael going to the offices of Lifeinvader, a company not entirely unlike Facebook, and planting a device into a new smartphone being developed that blows the head off the CEO. One of the funniest missions that appears very early on, with one character in particular who works in the Lifeinvader offices delivering a lot of laughs.
Mr. Philips: Trevor has something to discuss with the Lost Motorcycle Club.
Notable for the fact that Trevor kills Johnny from the Lost, who players should remember from GTA IV: The Lost and Damned. It’s a quick end for Johnny, made especially worse since we’ve spent so much time with him in the past, but Trevor repeatedly stamping on his head while yelling “cunt” in time to every stomp is something that I will not forget any time soon.
Fame or Shame: Tracey auditions for Fame or Shame.
Fuck yes! Finally, after hearing him in every game in the series since GTA III, Lazlow has been turned into an actual physical presence in the game! You can see him on the television as the host of Fame or Shame in any of the safehouses, but this mission actually sees you going to where they film the show to protect Michael’s daughter Tracey from humiliating herself in the auditions, chasing down Lazlow, and absolutely humiliating the shit out of him. You have no idea how amazing it is to be able to actually interact with Lazlow. Awesome.
Did Somebody Say Yoga?: Michael finds his inner peace.
This mission starts off boring, with Michael just doing yoga with his wife and her instructor, but it goes to some great places. After the yoga session, Michael convinces his son, Jimmy, to go for a drive with him. They drive to a nearby Burger Shot, Jimmy buys a bottle of something from a dealer friend out the back, convinces Michael to drink it whilst driving, and that’s when things get crazy. Michael gets booted out of the car, and starts tripping balls. He sees monkeys surrounding him in an alleyway before being abducted by aliens. They start to probe him in their ship before he falls out of the ship, and starts hurtling to the ground far, far below him, seeing crazy colours and hearing voices in his head. He crashes to the ground, and when he wakes up back in reality, he’s lying in a field in just his underwear. He makes it back home only to find a note from his family, saying they have left him. One of the crazier missions so far, and certainly on of the strongest story points.
Hood Safari: Franklin and Lamar show Trevor a typical South Los Santos neighbourhood.
Notable for one reason, and one reason only. The mission takes place in Grove Street! Yes, your home from GTA: San Andreas! Sadly, it doesn’t look the same as the Grove Street we know and love from that game, but it’s still nice to be able to make a return.
By the Book: Michael and Trevor combine to locate a target for the FIB.
Not a great mission, but it needs to be pointed out because it’s one of the more controversial parts of the game, and has been talked about quite a bit. Reason being, this mission involves Trevor having to torture a man in order to get information out of him. Unlike other controversial missions in other games, like Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2‘s “No Russian” mission, “By the Book” cannot be skipped, and the player must commit the torture in order to progress in the game. This mission has been met with controversy, but me personally, I didn’t find it all that harrowing. I found Trevor’s treatment of Johnny more difficult than this, honestly. But fuck, this wouldn’t be a Grand Theft Auto game without someone being pissed off about something in it, right?
As usual, the radio stations are top notch. I find myself turning to WCTR, the talk station, as I normally do in the other games, and there’s really funny material to be found here. One of the shows, “Chakra Attack”, is my particular favourite, mainly because of how fucking funny J. B. Smoove is (who you might know from Curb Your Enthusiasm). And Lazlow is there too, as the assistant to the host on “Chattersphere”. It’s also nice to hear the brief return of Reed Tucker, who Lazlow interviewed on “Chatterbox” all the way back in GTA III.
The voice acting in the game is great as always. Don’t expect to see many big names this time around, but the cast does a fantastic job. The graphics are also great (I’m playing on Xbox 360, my Gamertag is RaoulDukeKD, if anyone wants to find me), and aside from a few texture issues now and again, I haven’t had any real problems.
So while it’s not the greatest game in the series, I still feel that title belongs to GTA: San Andreas, it is a brilliant game, and definitely one of the best games of this generation.
9 out of 10.
For more on Grand Theft Auto V, and the Grand Theft Auto series as a whole, be sure to listen to today’s episode of Four Finger Spatchcock, “Another kind of GTA Special”, and last week’s episode, “Some kind of GTA Special”, or read a piece I wrote last year, “Grand Theft Soundtrack: the brilliant radio stations of ‘Grand Theft Auto’”.
With the anticipation of the release of Grand Theft Auto V building and building, we got a bit lost on this episode and spent most of our time gushing about all things GTA. There’s some other stuff in there as well, but be prepared for our lot of GTA talk. And make sure to listen next week, when we’ll be talking about GTA V itself in great detail.
As usual, listen below, or hit the subscribe link.
There are many instances that one can cite of a song fitting perfectly with an event in a film or a game. For example, like many others, I can’t hear ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’ by Stealers Wheel without thinking of ‘Reservoir Dogs’, and start strutting around like Michael Madsen.
This is a perfect marriage of scene and song, and this innocent little ditty from Gerry Rafferty and co. can never be thought of the same way again.
What is rarer, however, is when an entire soundtrack can perfectly match the entire feel of what it’s supporting. There are great soundtracks, sure, but how often do they so wholly encompass the tone of whatever film, game, etc. they belong with.
That’s why the ‘Grand Theft Auto’ (GTA) series, developed and published by Rockstar Games, is so amazing. It’s one thing to pick a bunch of songs, put them all together, and let them play in the background without much attention payed by the player. But it’s another to craft the carefully chosen music into genre-specific stations, complete with presenters, alongside scripted talk stations, that can hold up well as pieces of entertainment on their own, and hand control of which radio station will be hear over to the player. It’s something that makes you feel at home in the world, that no amount of high-resolution pixel detail ever could.
Rockstar have been crafting radio stations into the GTA series ever since the first game, ‘Grand Theft Auto’, was released in 1997 (back when Rockstar was still known as DMA Design). However, it wasn’t until 2001, when ‘Grand Theft Auto III’ was released, that the concept really took off.
‘Grand Theft Auto 3’ (which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary) is one of the most influential and ground-breaking games ever made. Set in the fictional Liberty City, it was funny, incredibly violent, fun as hell, and the game world was FUCKING HUGE! It also featured an excellent soundtrack, featuring music from mostly unknown or obscure artists, that helped make Liberty City feel more real.
The absolute highlight of the radio stations of ‘Grand Theft Auto 3’ was Chatterbox FM. Chatterbox FM was Liberty City’s talk radio station, and was so fucking funny, that whenever I would hop in a car in the game, I would immediately go hunting for it, and no amount of times hearing it would ever make me want to stop. The host of Chatterbox FM was Lazlow, who co-wrote the script for the station with Dan Houser, who serves as producer and one of the head writers on the series. Lazlow, a real-life radio personality, plays a version of himself here, who appears in all of the major games in the series from here forwards, and his character continues to develop (more on that as we progress).
After ‘Grand Theft Auto 3’ there was ‘Vice City’, released in 2002. ‘Vice City’ was set in 1986, in a fictionalised version of Miami called Vice City. With the success of ‘Grand Theft Auto 3’, Rockstar could afford to get some bigger artists onto the soundtrack this time around. Artists including Michael Jackson, Twisted Sister, Kim Wilde, Gary Numan, A Flock Of Seagulls, the list goes on. The music chosen for the soundtrack, especially the music featured on Wave 103, perfectly captured what we think when we hear someone say “80’s music”: synthesizers, bad hair, and pure cheese. The great music choices help put you right there in 1986, and you can’t help but feel pleasure riding around on a motorcycle singing along to ‘Kids In America’, blasting away at passers-by with an Uzi. It’s enough to make you want to get up off your couch, do a line of cocaine and call somebody a “cock-a-roach”.
The talk stations return in the form of K-Chat and VCPR, which both have their moments, but aren’t up to the standard of Chatterbox FM. Our good friend Lazlow does return however, as the host over at V-Rock. For those paying attention in the previous game, which was set 15 years after ‘Vice City’, Lazlow references the time he “got kicked off the rock station”, so there is a great level of attention-to-detail shown here.
For my money, the pinnacle of what Rockstar could do with a soundtrack in a ‘Grand Theft Auto’ game was reached in the follow-up to ‘Vice City’, 2004’s ‘San Andreas’.
‘San Andreas’ not only features the best soundtrack of any GTA game, it is also the greatest GTA game. Some may consider it too ambitious, and therefore lacking focus. Some may find it too silly, with the ability to fly around using jetpacks or beat people up with giant pink dildos. Personally, I think that Rockstar took everything they’d learned with the previous two games, and went balls to the fucking wall, creating a masterpiece in the process. ‘San Andreas’ is set in not just one city, but in an entire fucking state. Comprising of 3 main cities (Los Santos, San Fierro, and Las Venturas) and all the countryside in between, ‘San Andreas’ is set in late 1992, so it features a lot of music that is a part of that time period.
I was born in 1985, making me a child of the 90’s, so I grew up with a lot of music featured in ‘San Andreas’, which helps put it into its position as my personal favourite. The main reason the soundtrack is so fucking awesome, though, is the fact that the 3 main cities and the surrounding countryside all have distinct personalities, and there are radio stations that reflect that so perfectly. Some people may be content just listening to their favourite songs over and over again, but I couldn’t help but get sucked into wherever I was in San Andreas and switch over to a station that suited.
If I was in Los Santos, based on Los Angeles during the time of the L.A. riots, it was gangsta rap all the way, with Radio Los Santos featuring artists like Ice Cube, 2Pac, Dr. Dre, and Cypress Hill. If I was in San Fierro, based on San Francisco, I could tune into their own house music station, San Fierro Underground Radio. Then there’s Las Venturas, based on Las Vegas, which calls for a bit of Master Sounds 98.3, with some James Brown, Maceo & The Macks or Bobby Byrd for that cool Vegas feel. And there’s something to be said for drving around the country side in a crappy old pick-up listening to the country staton K-Rose, with ‘Amos Moses’ by Jerry Reed playing at top volume. There’s also plenty of other stations with plenty of great music (including my personal favourite, K-DST, with Axl Rose playing DJ Tommy “The Nightmare” Smith), and the return of talk radio with WCTR, again featuring Lazlow.
These 3 games came in the last generation, with ‘Grand Theft Auto’ entering the current generation with ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’. Like ‘Grand Theft Auto III’ before it, ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’ is set in the present in Liberty City. It features a lot of great music, featuring classic artists like The Stooges, Queen, Stevie Nicks, and The Who, and contemporary artists like Kanye West, LCD Soundsystem, The Black Keys, R. Kelly, and Busta Rhymes.
The issue that this game has, like ‘Grand Theft Auto 3’ before it, is that because it is set in the present, it’s hard to get a feel for what defines this generation of music, therefore leading to a lack of a central vision, unlike ‘Vice City’ and ‘San Andreas’ which were set in time periods that had a certain type of music very closely associated with them, like New Wave and Grunge.
There is one very large saving grace that ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’ has going for it, soundtrack wise, and that is Lazlow’s first channel that he has all to himself since ‘Grand Theft Auto III’, Integrity 2.0. Integrity 2.0 picks up on Lazlow’s story after he’s been fired from Chatterbox FM, gotten divorced and gone through a huge drug addiction and a fall from fame. He’s trying to reclaim his fame by hitting the streets and trying a different kind of radio show. Being a huge fan of the Lazlow character, listening to him get himself in crazy situations while cursing like a sailor and talking about his sex life, is hilarious. It’s the best talk station in all of GTA, and worth a listen on its own.
As far as soundtracks are concerned, nothing is better than GTA. So go check out the games, Dear Reader. The radio stations are nothing short of astonishing, and hey, the games are great to play too.