Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
GTAV's Characters Are Just Bad

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 15 Oct 2013 12:00
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Right, where were we before all that Expo business that kept me away last week? GTAV? I think we were talking about GTAV. Not that it will change anything now that it's sold better than an umbrella stand in autumnal Seattle, but there's quite a bit that it needs to be firmly called out on. And there's all the time in the world to make people regret their purchasing decisions, which is half my motivation for this job.

I got the usual bullshit argument that 'no-one's playing it for the story,' which I, in turn, will counter with my own usual bullshit argument that nobody would have said that if the story had been good. And, of course, story is a lot more than just dialogue and cutscenes. I doubt the game would have engaged you so much if you'd been piloting featureless white figurines around a grid of building-sized cubes.

The central problem is characters. Does the GTA universe only have about five characters in total? There's 'protagonist man,' whom Franklin embodies: The straight man who nevertheless lacks the self-awareness to avoid getting sucked into the craziness of those around him. Then there's 'vacuous celebrity', 'jaded older figure' and 'person who acts really inappropriately and has no apparent ability to mentally screen anything that comes out of their mouth'.

Which isn't as big a problem as the fact that none of the three protagonists you can switch between as part of the main gimmick engage me. Michael the father, Franklin the son or Trevor the holy ghost. And it's not because they're simply unlikeable people, although Trevor definitely is. Much has been made about the scene in which we control Trevor as he gleefully performs unflinchingly hideous and realistic acts of torture upon a prisoner while under orders from a government authority (which, like all things in the GTA-verse, is utterly corrupt). And while I did find this scene hard to watch and completely not fun, that's not really a complaint. Not in this post-Spec Ops: The Line world in which a confrontational scene can be used to deliberately drive a wedge between player and protagonist.

And if that was the intention, it bloody well worked for me, but I don't think it was, not fully. I've heard a lot of other people make the case that Trevor is intended to be a representation of the behaviour an average player shows when set loose in a sandbox game. A depiction that makes sense when he's being portrayed more as a sort of amoral free-spirited rogue, but not in the moments when he is merely nasty. A player, released in the sandbox and free of consequences, is reckless and whimsical, not cruel. They might kill someone if they're in the way or because they fly off in a hilarious manner, but prolonged and calculated torture isn't the same. It's just not as funny. The protagonist of Saint's Row IV better represents a sandbox player to my mind, because they have charisma; the satire works because they are an idealized self to match the idealized morals of the sandbox, whereas Trevor is an ugly monster.

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