State of play


I don’t write on here much about videogames these days … choosing to concentrate on movies as  a whole.  Yet sometimes games come along that make me sit back and my mouth fall open – their excellence too obvious to go un-spoken (or un-written) about.  Two such games I’ll be reporting on are the PlayStation exclusive action / adventure The Last Of Us, and the hotly anticipated Grand Theft Auto V.

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I have just come from a lengthy game of The Last Of Us, a sort of The Walking Dead inspired action game where you’re pitted as Joel, who has to escort Ellie, an immune teenage girl from one side of the states to the other so to take her to a science lab and possibly find a cure for a virus that has all but destroyed mankind.  Developers Naughty Dog of the famed Uncharted series have truly delivered their masterpiece.  First and foremost it looks stunning, with highly detailed, life-like environments and ultra-real character animated and human behaviour I haven’t seen done quite so well anywhere else.  You get the feeling each character is alive, especially the full of personality Ellie, your computer-controlled partner for much of the game.  Add to this gameplay that allows you to be strategic, upgrade your weapons and traverse each environment with an almost-open-world freedom – and this is a game that not only looks great, but plays great also.  Combat in my opinion has often been Naughty Dog’s Achilles Heel, but this time its fun and clever, with a great use of various types of weaponry so you can plan your way through each encounter however you see fit.  The story too is highly involving, very emotional and above all else – real.  Story telling of this depth is rare in videogames, but here it’s on par, if not surpassing at times those you see in a blockbuster movie.  Take note Hollywood.  Essential.

Then we come to GTA V, a game I just can’t get enough of.  The open-world of San Andreas / Los Santos is easily the biggest in the series and has so many areas to explore and secrets to find, that just driving around, causing chaos is a game in of itself.  Now add to this a first in the series, three very individual characters to control, Michael a former mobster now in witness protection, Franklin a typical hood gangster, and then there’s Terry, a psychotic hillbilly nutjob.  GTA has often been about its characters, its tongue-in-cheek humour and its satire of modern living-  and that continues here, with the same funny, sarcastic radio DJs, the great, varied music, and above all else, a joyful disregard for taste and decency.  GTA is the gaming world’s rebellious cousin, and he’s on top form here.  Developer Rockstar have pulled out all the stops, with a vibrant never-looked-so-good game world, believable characters and situations, with plenty of nods to movies and TV shows.  It’s the kind of game you keep in your collection and even if you don’t want to do any of the 60+ missions, this game offers more fun per minute than almost any other game out there (with this time, the whole world open to explore from the start).  It’s adult humour and subjects aren’t for everyone however, and the frequent strong language and sexual or violent moments can get a bit much – but it’s to be expected in a series that has always pushed boundaries and caused controversy.  Either way this is a must play.

Sitting back and looking at the above games, makes me wonder just what is the next generation going to bring us?  These two games look amazing, with more effects and ideas going on than we’ve seen for a long time, a pinnacle of design and programming, and dare I say it, artistry, that trumping them next generation won’t be easy.  We can’t possibly get the technical leap we had from say, PS2 to PS3, but with technical limitations further widened, developers have even more power at their disposal, and games of this style or even things we haven’t imagined yet, could just be around the corner.  I remain on the fence as to whether its needed – our currently consoles still very capable of wowing us – but it’s certainly exciting times we live in as gamers.

For the love of GTA


I have recently been playing Grand Theft Auto IV, the most eagerly awaited entry in a long running franchise that started out back in the day on PC and Playstation, with the top down, crudely designed GTA 1 & 2, where you could piss in the street, and go on killing sprees.  Thankfully the template has been refined considerably over the years, coming into its own with the exemplary GTA 3 on PS2 which saw the franchise go 3D for the first time, and brought a phenomena to the games industry, bold enough to still be as violent and outrageous as before, but with plenty of brains behind the comic-book violence to make it a very memorable experience.  Later came the acclaimed Vice City, bringing 80’s nostalgia and references to Scarface et al into the mix, that although lacking the grand scope of  ‘3’ had enough of its own personality to stand out.  Then of course we got San Andreas, to this day still the largest most ambitious entry in the franchise, with added RPG elements and a massive 3 city structure not yet bettered.

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GTA IV however is a very different beast.  More glossy and big budget, like a Hollywood thriller directed by Michael Mann, but thankfully with plenty of the series old tongue-in-cheek humour and outrageous violence so to not alienate fans.  Niko Bellick is certainly the series most well realised character, and the cast itself is a huge leap from games gone by, with voice acting to match.  Now for some reason GTA IV has come in for a bit of a mixed critical reception, and I suppose the realistic style of the city (modelled as in GTA 3 on New York) may limit the potential for mayhem and stunts that has been a series stable-mate for years, but I personally still have fun speeding through the streets on the fastest bike I can find, mowing down pedestrians, out running the cops and causing chaos.  The missions are a little repetitive, agreed (but then again they always were) but the characters on show make up for much of the tedium.  They are certainly a lot less annoying than before.

Now lets add the brilliance of the next-gen graphics, the weather effects, the details, the enemy (or NPC) intelligence (Police will chase criminals around regardless of what you are doing, and arrest them before your very eyes – very cool), yet the ambulances aren’t as clever as in San Andreas (they some how just turn up, and no longer resuscitate someone you’ve just shot or bludgeoned in the street – odd).  The social element is also there to add some realism that you aren’t just in a mission-following-mission game, but a living ‘world’ where you do much of the things you may do in the real world, such as going out and getting drunk, playing darts, going on dates and getting laid.  Yes this all seems a little pointless, but its all there to add to the whole experience, and hey – you don’t have to do any of it if you don’t want to.

That is why GTA is so attractive to me, as I can play it as a mission based action game with a good story, good controls, interesting characters etc, or I can just drive about, and get any work-related stress out of my system by going on a killing spree ending up in a shoot out with the ‘law.

GTA is unrivalled.  No copy-cat game really seems to capture its heart, no matter how similar they might seem on the surface, they can’t emulate the humour or the intelligence so obviously available from the series developer’s Rockstar North.  So back off Driver, Saints Row etc…leave this stuff to the guys who do it best.  Long live GTA!