Sunday, December 18, 2016

Grand Theft Auto Online


   I've talked about GTA V on my blog here before, but I've come to realize that Grand Theft Auto Online is practically it's own game at this point. It actually has more content unto itself than the 'story mode' has. Rockstar has been continually updating and releasing content for GTA:O since it came out, and it's simply staggering in scope. I rue the day this gets shut down, but I predict that won't happen for a very, very long time. The simple fact of the matter is, GTA:O is amazing. Most triple A games these days have multiplayer as a core mechanic, or as an afterthought. There's very little middle ground. But, when you buy GTA V, you're essentially getting two GTA games for the price of one.

   It's not the easiest thing to review a beast like GTA:O, but I can at least throw out my thoughts on it. I've been preaching about this game to anyone who'll listen for at least a few years now, and a lot of it has fallen on deaf ears. But you know who has been listening to their customer base this whole time? Rockstar. People didn't like the character creation, so Rockstar changed it. People didn't like how your character's face was essentially set in stone after you made them, so eventually (and incredibly recently) Rockstar implemented a feature so you could re-enter the creation menu. Kinda like in-game plastic surgery.

   Rockstar has also mastered the art of micro transactions. They release all this content for free. New cars, clothes, guns, maps, modes, and more- but a lot of it costs a ton of in-game money. So you can grind some missions, participate in 2xXP/$$$ events, or you can spend real money and buy 'Shark Cards', which load in-game money onto your account. People still complain about this set up, but from a business standpoint, it's rather excellent. And, as a consumer, the content is still available to me for free- I've just got to put in some time and effort to access it. Thus, GTA:O approaches MMO levels of immersion.

   You grind and do missions akin to dungeons to get money, to buy cool new shit so you can muck around and have fun with the stuff. You can run a crew, a motorcycle gang, become a big business CEO, and more. You can set up illegal businesses across the map and make regular profits. But, of course, it takes money to make money. I play the game casually, although I won't deny I've dropped $5 or $10 here and there for a shark card or two, I've never regretted it. If there's any true downside to this game, it's the people who actually play it.

   Public servers are hell on a stick. It's like a digital daycare for unruly gamers whose sole goal is to make the game unplayable for you. God forbid you get in someone's way, they'll spend the rest of the session picking you off with a sniper rifle from down the block. I guess this is fun for some people, but I actually enjoy playing the game proper- it's a fun game with fun missions. I've very little use for public servers and 99% of the time I've spent playing, I've played in closed friend sessions or other private modes. In that sense, it ends up feeling like an RPG. You level up your character as you climb through the ranks, creating a criminal empire... or not.

   Some of the most fun I've had in GTA:O, has come from just mucking around as one would do in any GTA game. The difference? I'm not playing a CJ, or a Niko. I'm playing as my own character. He has a face I've designed, with stats I've tweaked. I'm following my own story, playing things my way. Granted, this all unfolds within the game's loose framing device which paints you as an up-and-coming in the criminal underworld, but it's still open ended enough that you don't feel pidgeonholed into a rigid story mode. Because GTA V already has a story mode, and it's amazing.

   Furthermore, the game on current gen consoles has a gameplay recording mechanic that lets the casual gamer create entire movies out of their gameplay. People use it casually to showcase their gaming skills, or a fun mission they undertook, but some users have really taken it to the next level- creating short films in the fullest sense- decked out with legitimate camera work, solid voice acting, and engrossing storytelling. It's an absolutely stunning feature of the game that even I've dabbled in for absurdly long periods of time.

   I've been playing GTA:O for years, and it still hasn't gotten old. Rockstar releases regular updates, which puts it's competition to shame. There's really no other game like it out right now, but if anything- it needs a better user-base. I cringe every time I hear a 12 year old's voice through a headset in a mission lobby. With the PS4 back on top as a hot ticket Christmas gift, I can't recommend bundling it with GTA V enough. Both GTA V and GTA:O are amazing games with endless replay value. It's the kind of game you won't want to put down.

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