Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Should you buy Grand Theft Auto V on consoles or wait for PC? (First impressions, PS3)

Like a lot of people I was upset by Rockstar's decision to release Grand Theft Auto V on consoles only. That means I'll likely have to buy it again on PC when (if) it comes out, which is what happened when GTAIV game out five years ago. Yes, you read correctly: it's been five years since the last flagship GTA. For those of us who played Sleeping Dogs on PC, GTAV is a significant step down in terms of graphics. Even so, I was impressed. It's not quite as pretty as Uncharted titles, but as it simultaneously streams data from your hard drive and the disc itself, GTAV performs in ways you didn't know the console could. The draw distance is maybe a notch or two above acceptable and loading times are a thing of the past. If future games don't make use of this technological step forward, well, I doubt I'll play many future games.

To answer the question above: yes, you should buy the game now. Since Red Dead Redemption never made it to PC, there's no guarantee GTAV will. And yes, graphics would be better on PC, but not a whole lot better. The graphics here are more than okay. Now, you may think it's worth it to wait for the mods this game will surely have if it makes it to PC, but consider the timeline: you're likely looking at six months before the game releases on PC if at all. And how long after release will you have to wait until there are decent mods?

To further answer the question above: do yourself a favor and buy now and buy later. By the time there are decent mods for the PC version, the game will probably have seen a Steam sale or two.

Now, onto first impressions...

If you've ever read older posts on the matter you know I like the GTA franchise even more than most gamers, considering my favorite kind of movie is the crime film. Fargo is my all-time favorite movie and there's a shot in GTAV's prologue that's clearly influenced by it. This shot is not plagiarism, but genuine homage. And that's why GTA means so much to me: historically it has not been a cheap imitation of the crime film like so many other video games, but something that actually approached the levels of Scorsese and Coppola, people the developers have no shame in admiring.


Now, twelve years after the third entry which revolutionized gaming, the fifth installment is finally here. I don't think I've been happier with a game at launch since Half-Life 2. Read no more if you wanna go into the game 100% fresh. I won't post any spoilers, but it's still better to go into it not quite knowing what you're getting into.

The story opens as stick-up men Michael and Trevor race away from a heist gone bad. The cops appear in full force and the gang's getaway vehicle, a helicopter, isn't where it's supposed to be. Michael takes a bullet and Trevor presumably escapes across a foggy snow bank. Nine years later, Michael and his family have entered a witness protection program and are now living in Los Santos. Michael tells his shrink he thinks his posh life sucks and his wife and children hate him. He has everything a superficial Beverly Hills type could want, but he was much happier when he was performing heists and running from the law.

Soon after that we're introduced to Franklin, a young black man who aspires to leave the hood. He doesn't like the life he's "supposed" to live and he's surrounded by friends who seem proud of their prison time served for small-time crimes. When you play as Franklin you really do feel the pressures of the street, really see why someone born in his environment could make one stupid mistake after another. After stealing his son's car for an insurance scheme Franklin meets Michael. The two men, as it turns out, respect each other; Michael sees who he used to be in Franklin and Franklin sees Michael as someone who can elevate him to the big league.

Sick of sitting around his pool, catching rays and getting fat, Michael slowly emerges from retirement. When he catches his wife banging her tennis coach he snaps, hops into a pickup truck, and drives to what he believes is the man's house. He instructs Franklin to chain the winch to a support of the cliff-side home (yes, just like in Lethal Weapon 2) and tows the entire thing down into a mess of destruction. The problem is tennis coaches don't live in such nice places and it turns out the house actually belongs to a man with ties to the Mexican cartel. And now Micheal has no choice but to pull off another heist.



You've seen Trevor in the trailers. You briefly see him in the prologue. But for several hours of gameplay Trevor is absent. It's a wise, cinematic choice on Rockstar's part. You keep hearing about him in the meantime, about how crazy he is, about how bad it would be if he enters the situation. The tension builds and builds until, finally, we see Trevor. He's giving it to a meth addict whose bent over the counter of his dilapidated trailer house. While he's screwing her the television news broadcasts a story on the jewelery heist in Los Santos. Trevor recognizes Michael's M.O. and we know the situation is about to ratchet from worse to worst. Indeed, before leaving the countryside where he has relished in guns and meth and extreme decadency, Trevor decides to go on a murderous rampage, running off The Lost motorcycle game (remember them?) and assassinating business competitors.

So one day Trevor shows up in Michael's home. And really, I've given away too much already.

The best crime stories work in layers (see: Layer Cake, a film which took the concept literally), adding one volatile situation and one incongruous character after another. Previous entries in the GTA series have wavered in building their layers. GTAV doesn't. Gone is the feeling you have to do work in order to unlock more of the game. You still have to take jobs to advance, but it's no longer laborious. With the lack of loading times and the addition of numerous checkpoints, performing tasks is funner than it's ever been. In fact, I haven't even done much of the open-world exploration that was the icing of the previous GTA games' cake.

Cars drive better. Combat is more like Max Payne than Grand Theft Auto IV. The game transitions so smoothly between gameplay and cutscenes, you'll find yourself playing much longer than you expected. For those of us who are sick of Facebook, reality TV, the self-help mentality, and yoga moms, GTAV is the most satisfying and cathartic video game ever made. And that's no joke, son.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Asimov's Predictions for 2014 (from 1964)

Here is a video that shows Asimov knew a thing or two about predicting the future:

the predictions Asimov got right in 1964

The problem is the video only shows the predictions Asimov made at the 1964 World's Fair. Even so, his predictions are 600% more impressive than any purported psychic who ever lived and not nearly as vague. For the full list of Asimov predictions, click here.