When it comes to Rockstar games, I’ll admit that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them. In a way, I grew up playing Grand Theft Auto games, starting back in 1997 when the original Grand Theft Auto was released for the PC. It was a fascinating and exciting game which was only made better by just how easy it was to mod. The openness of the game and how little the story or any of the missions mattered really kind of made it special. It was a chaos simulator of the highest order and it was hard to ignore. The series followed suit, but somewhere along the line, the “magic” was both reinvigorated and then lost with Grand Theft Auto IV. My fear is that Grand Theft Auto V will be a part of a downward spiral, not a return to form.
The second game brought more of the same to the table, albeit a little more difficult to mod and with a bit more of a cohesive plot to follow. Then came Grand Theft Auto III, the real triumph of the series that brought the game into the realm of 3D polygons and took chaos to the next level. In a way, a lot of what GTA III brought to the table was simple; the missions, the characters, etc., were all pretty straightforward, but it was the amazement of what you could do in the game that made it so special. It continued on from there with Vice City and San Andreas before we moved on to newer consoles with Grand Theft Auto IV.
GTA IV was kind of where Rockstar lost me. It just screamed of trying too hard without really accomplishing what they wanted to accomplish. The wacky parts of the GTA series were still there, as was the freedom to do as you please, but some of the relationship mechanics were cumbersome and the story was just not that great. It felt like they were just trying to cram in as much stuff as they could as opposed to focusing on the characters and the setting like in previous games.
In all of the ways that I found GTA IV to be a failure (albeit a very fun one), Red Dead Redemption picked up the slack and was able to really deliver on a lot of those promises from Rockstar. It had all of the freedom and gameplay that we knew and loved from Grand Theft Auto games, but brought the characters to life and focused a lot on some of the little details that felt either missing from GTA IV or crammed down the throat of players at the cost of taste and subtlety.
A part of me is afraid of what Grand Theft Auto V will bring to the table, as Rockstar North is once again at the helm and GTA IV received almost universal acclaim. There would be no reason to tighten up some of the things that I and many others saw as excessive or obnoxious features or poor storytelling. There are expectations for the Grand Theft Auto series, which Rockstar absolutely have to live up to, with people pulling from every direction as to what Grand Theft Auto V should or should not be.
I do have faith that Rockstar can reign it in with the same sort of master’s touch that a game like Red Dead Redemption received, but then again, Red Dead Redemption was only a kind of sequel and was moving off into new territory. The Grand Theft Auto series carries with it years of expectations and the bloat that comes with high level success over so many years. The latest trailer shows that the game will indeed be action-packed and showcase three very different characters, but there is still just not enough information out there to show which direction the game will go yet.