A quick look through this list proves without doubt that 2013 has been a stunning year for gaming. Titles such as The Last Of Us, Bioshock Infinite and Gone Home could all make strong claims for being named Game Of The Year for a variety of reasons, not least because they all offer deep and emotive story lines that have engrossed gamers across the world. Our game of the year though, as voted by the Midlife Gamer community, has surpassed all these, receiving nearly unanimous praise from players and writers alike, and thankfully lived up to the years of hype and expectations that built up before the release.
The Midlife Gamer ‘Game Of The Year’ is Rockstar Games superlative Grand Theft Auto V.
It should come as no surprise that the winning margin this year was very slim, but few could argue with it being the victor. Below, we’ve taken four of the Midlife Gamer writing team and asked them to pick out an element that particularly resonated with them.
Graphics & Scale – Sarah F
The first thing I usually do whenever I start a new GTA game is run people over and look for the hookers. It is a credit to Rockstar that I wasn’t compelled to do either of those things in GTA V; instead I simply followed the story and enjoyed the expansive detailed open world they have created. The hookers could wait.
It’s hard to describe the scope of San Andreas without regurgitating the countless words of praise it has already received. But it is such a perfectly realised world that the praise is well deserved and worth repeating.
From the rundown suburbs that are smeared with graffiti, to the metropolitan city streets with their shining skyscrapers, to the hazy mountains that watch over beautifully rendered forests teeming with wildlife – I could go on but my word count would be eaten up in no time. It becomes apparent to the player after a while that they have been immersed in a dynamic and fluid game, so much so that it almost loses its game-like quality and becomes something real and alive.
Speaking of which, the characters are the most realistic in terms of animation than any yet in previous GTA endeavours. Their personalities are perfectly captured in their features, bringing them to life, whether it is through Michael’s frustration with his family, Franklin’s eager ambition or Trevor’s gleeful malice.
It’s not just in its great character animations that GTA proves its status as Game of the Year. The environments have been meticulously crafted with fantastic weather effects and lighting. The way that headlights from a car or the gaudy neon glow from a shop window are reflected on a wet road at night – these things make the world all the more believable.
In fact, Rockstar’s attention to detail is phenomenal when you look at the sheer scale of San Andreas. Most open-worlds of this magnitude are sparsely populated and looking towards the horizon will only reveal glitch-ridden blobs, making you wonder if your character needs to get their eyes tested. GTA V is mostly smooth and relatively bug-free, a great achievement on the dying generation of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles.
From a creative perspective, this game is a masterpiece, with its unrivalled visuals and diverse environments. Ignore the hookers and just take some time to bum about and explore. You won’t regret it.
Story – Gogul1 (Billy)
If games have fallen short in any category the most, it’s in their stories. Given the segmented way in which we play games it makes producing an intriguing and cohesive story very difficult.
Given how relatively new the medium is, this is no surprise. Movies and TV have had almost a hundred years of influence with which to garner inspiration and improve on old tropes. Gaming has tried to utilise this endless well of creativity but deep down, we all know games are not movies. Slowly but surely, developers are coming to realise this and with the latest generation of old school gamers moving into their 30′s to 40′s – they want games to evolve with them.
Grand Theft Auto V has realised this and tried to move with the times. Incorporating a three man story arc it allowed for a diverse amount of missions and side quests.
Michael’s plot line was by far the most interesting to me. The middle aged, bloated, ex criminal who was stagnating in his own success was a great way to present a different kind of crime saga. Where most focus on a young newcomer trying to rise up through the ranks, this story went the way of the Soprano’s. Michael and his family are at a junction in all their lives and it was great to see this old has-been trying to make sense of his broken home as well as his own life. His past coming back to haunt him and his conflicted feelings about being brought back into a life of crime really made him stand out as a great character.
Trevor is by far the cult favourite and far more cartoonistic than Michael. His ability to fly off the handle at any given moment and the way he revels in his malevolence made him the most colourful of the trio. His lack of compassion for most of the inhabitants of the vacuous city of Los Santos and surprising sense of right and wrong (regardless of what the law says) allowed people to identify with him a little more. He was portrayed by the actor Steven Ogg with such energy that it won’t be long before we see him again playing a Trevor-like character in a Televised serial in the near future. Trevor was the comic relief as well as it’s darkest protagonist and will forever be used as a milestone in computerised characters for many years to come.
Franklin, for me was the weakest but necessary newcomer in the threesome. His enthusiatic youthfulness and grounded mentality allowed the other two to be able to focus on the job at hand and not let their history envelop them. He acted as a referee and someone they could project the angst about each other on without resorting to killing each other.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though.
The several plotlines that crossed over on a regular basis didn’t always hit the nail on the head. Sometimes the most interesting parts were skipped over in favour of gameplay which was necessary but not ground breaking. Michael and Trevor’s history was something I wanted them to push a little more. I never truly felt that the boiling point was ever reached and in some ways it felt a little under cooked or under developed. Given that Trevor is psychotic and Michael has a family to protect I didn’t truly feel like the ending justifed all that went before it and sometimes I wished Rockstar took the bull by the horns and made more gutsy decisions.
But the story was always engaging, came at the crime saga from a different angle and brought to life three very diverse and well rounded characters that were both memorable and interesting. The cast, writers and Rockstar as a whole came at it like they were producing a high calibre piece of entertainment and in a lot of ways it worked. There aren’t many games I could sit here and write about the story without revising first to help me remember it. I recall the highlights of GTA V easily and remember some of it like a I recall a great movie. Now that is something Rockstar can build on and with games like The Last Of Us raising the bar to standards never before seen in interactive entertainment, Rockstar is likely to step up and compete.
GTA Online – Munkimatt
To say that GTA Online had an underwhelming launch would be a smidge of an understatement. Rockstar were seemingly ill-prepared for the huge volume of people who tried to log in on day one and, somewhat inevitably, the game suffered. Add to that a fairly sizable array of bugs and it’s easy to see why those initial days of GTA Online could be viewed as somewhat of a frustrating disappointment.
Were some folk too quick to judge it though? Quite possibly. After a month or so Rockstar had pushed out several patches that killed off the majority of issues and left GTA Online as the start of something potentially spectacular.
GTAO very much in it’s nascent state currently but already the Midlife Gamer community have between us sank thousands of hours into Los Santos. We could be racing through Blaine County by car, boat, aeroplane or bike, partaking in deathmatches across various locales or performing jobs for the criminal fraternity of the city, performing 4,000ft parachute jumps, holding up liquors stores before escaping in helicopters…the list seems to go on and on.
Does GTA Online need ‘more’? Of course, but Rockstar were very honest about it launching in a somewhat barebones state. We’ve been told that we’ll see a steady stream of new features, there’s already been one injection of new content since launch, many more in the pipeline, plus there’s the promise of the content creation mode, where we’ll be able to create our own missions to partake in. Most exciting of all have to be the premise of the heists, and I know that many of us are waiting for the day where we can partner up and turn over the banks across Los Santos.
The only real negative I can find with GTA Online is that it launched in the wrong generation. The online mode would be absolutely perfect for the new consoles and their ability to record and share moments of gameplay. There’s been numerous occasions of absolute hilarity when the Midlife Gamer Community have been playing together that I wish we could treasured for years to come. With any luck a next gen (or is it current gen now?) release is in the pipeline.
Enough of the looking ahead to the future though. Right now we have a game in which you and 15 of your friends can play together in a rich and vibrant world, cause utter chaos, and live out your long held dreams of being a bit of a wrong ‘un. What could be better than that?
Whether it was Mix Clifford planting stories designed to cause an outcry back in 1997, or the now infamous hidden Hot Coffee sex scenes in San Andreas, or Jack Thompson describing the series as a ‘murder simulator’, the Grand Theft Auto games have always attracted controversy despite the overwhelming majority of level headed adults having no issue with the content.
Grand Theft Auto V had a moment of genuine darkness though. A scene which attracted criticisms from across the spectrum, from the obvious such as MPs, but also from advocate groups such as Amnesty and games reviewers. I’m referring to, of course, the torture scene.
Our new favourite sociopath, Trevor, subjects a hostage named Mr K to an array of violence in order to extract information from him, at the behest of an FIB agent. It’s a brutal scene, made worse by the fact that you’re controlling Trevor subjecting the helpless gentleman to torment as opposed to just passively watching a cutscene play out.
While undoubtedly heavy handed and uncomfortable in it’s delivery,(if you enjoyed waterboarding your prisoner you should probably have a quiet word with yourself), for me the sequence works. Despite Mr K being obviously willing to disclose information, trevor blindly follows the instructions he’s given. You soon realise that the intelligence you’re being given is vague and incorrect, not in spite of the torture but because of it.
After these acts take place Trevor forthrightly explains the reasons for committing such atrocities. “The media and government would have us believe that torture is some necessary thing. [That] we need it to get information, to assert ourselves. Torture’s for the torturer. You torture for the good times! We should all admit that. It’s useless as a means of getting information.”
The Grand Theft Auto series has always done a wonderful job of holding a black mirror up to society and making us taking a long, hard look at what we’ve become, however this is normally done with a tongue firmly placed into the cheek. Had they taken this approach though with a subject of such gravity as we’re discussing here, would have been an insult to those who have suffered at the hands of torturers. I commend Rockstar for not pussyfooting around, and instead bluntly telling people the futility of their actions. There is absolutely no reason for this to take place in the game, and that is exactly the point.
With Grand Theft Auto V Rockstar did all we hoped for, and far exceeded it. They eschewed the gritty dourness of it’s predecessor and in essence returned to a similar style to the much lauded Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas; Creating a vast and beautiful game world full of life, surprises and dripping with scathing social commentary, coupling it with a storyline that’ll keep you engrossed throughout the 30+ hour length.
The bold choice of a narrative driven by three characters, a decision that was met with no small amount of confusion on it’s reveal, was an inspired move. Michael, Franklin and Trevor are three distinctly different protagonists, each with very unique motivations and personalities, and at no point does it feel like Rockstar created this triple-pronged story just ‘because they could’, each feel absolutely integral to how the the story plays out.
The significant addition of Grand Theft Auto Online needs special mention. While not yet fully evolved into the final package, it maybe provides an insight into where the title is going in the future. No longer bound by the constraints of being a single player title, the idea of a fully fledged MMO-style future title, complete with a fully-realised story, which you and your friends will experience together fills me with excitement for what Rockstar have in store for us.
Yet again, Rockstar has raised the bar for all open world games and in Grand Theft Auto delivered their finest title to date. A much deserved recipient of this year’s Midlife Gamer Game Of The Year.