GTA V. That Is All.

You might be wondering where my review of GTA V has been, considering the game launched on Tuesday and other sites/blogs have all frothed at the mouth and tossed theirs up like graduation caps.

Well, obviously, my review is late because I’ve been busy playing the game! Duh. And for one very simple reason…

There’s so much STUFF to do in this game, I often find myself loading it up with all intentions of playing the main story line, before succumbing to the lure of the side quests, hobbies, overall mayhem and the fantastic vehicles that populate this incredible world that Rockstar has cooked up for us.

And an incredible world it is indeed. I am a fan of all GTA games with the exception of GTA IV. While my friends were having kittens over that game’s open world, side activities and overall story line, I sold my copy of the game after struggling for a week to develop some interest in it. It didn’t help that my favourite GTA game is Vice City; the music alone in that game gave me reason to play it as often and for as long as my eyeballs could stand. There hasn’t been a game that did that to me since Halo 2, and that was mostly due to the multiplayer. Halo 2 was also the last game I pre-ordered and anxiously awaited. Enter Grand Theft Auto V…

Yes.

Yes.

Everything I despised about GTA IV, this edition seemed determined to correct. As I mentioned before, I haven’t yet finished the game because I’m having too much damn fun playing it. Let’s get along with the rundown:

– The driving mechanics are by far my most favourite fix. One of the reasons I put GTA IV down after just a week was the horrible way in which the cars drove, regardless of whether or not you were in a good car or a clunker.

– The actual script! Holy Hannah Montana, I can’t get enough of this script, from the main characters’ dialogue to the NPC chatter on the sidewalk. I always wonder why people complain about the amount of profanity in Rockstar games; a simple read of what the plot line entails would tell you why there are more F-bombs dropping than a Thanksgiving gathering at Chris Rock’s house. There’s a reason the ESRB rating of M-for-Mature is slapped onto the cover. Do your job as a parent and spare me your whimpering about curse words.

– I was a little hesitant about the introduction of multiple main characters, but switching between them is surprisingly seamless. On most missions, you shift from Michael to Franklin to Trevor with absolutely no interruption in play and it is brilliant.

– The soundtrack. But that’s always been a Rockstar strong point.

– The Great White shark! That is all.

– The main characters themselves…I have to say that Trevor is like a redneck version of Vas from Far Cry 3, and thus he is both hilarious and scary.  Michael is like a more modern (and henpecked) Tommy Vercetti and Franklin is great so far as the hood gangster who wants to be a highroad gangster (a la Michael Corleone).

There is the usual controversy surrounding the depiction of GTA’s female characters, and unfortunately, I do tend to agree with Carolyn Petit’s assessment:

“It’s deeply frustrating that, while its central and supporting male characters are flawed and complex characters, with a few extremely minor exceptions, GTA V has little room for women except to portray them as strippers, prostitutes, long-suffering wives, humourless girlfriends and goofy, new-age feminists we’re meant to laugh at.”

We won’t discuss the pathetic responses to her review (which as you know by now was a 9 out of 10), many of which were filled with the usual name-calling that passes for “critical discussion” these days in the gaming world. I understand that it may seem hypocritical to defend the profanity while condemning the misogyny, but I do believe there are ways to tell a story without stepping on the face of a marginalized group within the art piece (the game, movie, etc). I’m not going all Anita Sarkeesian on you; she sees misogyny everywhere, I see it where it actually exists. It is worth saying that the reason many people still dismiss the gaming industry (despite the ridiculous money it generates; US$1 billion in 3 days?) as a childish and immature hobby. Thankfully, the response to Petit’s bashers is encouraging, so it appears there is sunlight on the horizon!

Overall, I do agree with the average rating of 9/10 for GTA V, but not because of the misogyny. There are instances where combat is a little sticky, although this might be because the XBox 360 has some issues handling the game itself. It is enough of a problem for me to dock it one point, since when you’re running and gunning, getting stuck in a wall makes for a very bad time. So there you have it: 9 out of 10. A beautiful game, an engaging world, and a hell of a story.

I will be absent for a bit until First Look Utrecht which, if you don’t know, is a Dutch gaming and technology convention that invites gamers and tech nerds and all others to view new hardware and game titles that are due for release this year and early 2014. You know what that MIGHT mean right? Oh yes.

Let me touch you, my preciousssss....

Let me touch you, my preciousssss….

Follow me on Twitter at @DHMelChan, where I will be live-tweeting everything I see and touch at First Look. Until then, be easy and game on!

Replay Values: Arkham City

Hello, folks. I know it’s been a while since my last post, but you know how life goes. Between a month-long holiday back home (where I volunteered for the Video X Games), new projects at work, and new projects outside of work, it’s been by far the craziest summer of life. Now that the wind and rains have descended upon The Netherlands, I’ve got some time to update this blog, just in time for First Look 2013, the next-gen console launch and what seems like a bazillion game launches.

Touch new stuff before it’s out…go on…touch it.

And what better game launch to prep for than the highly anticipated Batman: Arkham Origins? And what better way to prepare for that title than by playing through Batman: Arkham City? I couldn’t think of anything either. I started running through Arkham City over the weekend which, by the way, was peppered with Gotham-like stormy weather. As is usually our custom, my sister and I split the cost of a new copy 50/50 upon its release, and we bargained that she would get the Catwoman code. Luckily for me, she now lives with me, so this was my first play-through with Miss Kyle.

Admit it. She filled out the suit well.

Admit it. She filled out the suit well.

What I loved about Arkham City were the improvements made to the combat system from Arkham Asylum, which was already pretty cool to begin with. Everything in Batman: AC however, just seemed crisper and newer than Asylum, while essentially staying the same. The set piece of Arkham City itself was impressive all on its own; the grit and grime almost palpable as you soar overhead or creep along in the shadows to your target(s). The grapple system was an epic lifesaver through all this, and the potential for exploration and discovery makes Arkham City one of my favourite replay games.

However, even on this second play-through, I was still frustrated by the increased difficulty in obtaining the Riddler trophies. I know it’s maybe silly to gripe about a collectible game within the game, but I can’t help but feel that a player should be challenged, but not utterly frustrated, by the puzzles they face. There was one trophy, for example, where I angrily cursed Batman’s cape because it let me float down gently when I really needed to just dive bomb onto the target. The timer of 9 seconds from point-of-activation didn’t help. The fact that the Riddler trophies and riddles were bound so tightly to the Riddler Hostage side mission only made it more frustrating, as I could never quite progress far enough in the secrets pursuit to move the side mission forward. So, scratch that one for me. However, the other side missions, in addition to the main mission, were so enjoyable that they negated the frustration of the Riddler’s.

You can’t talk about Batman and not mention the incredible voice acting. You know who I’m talking about; Mark freaking Hamill. I know, he’s been the voice of the Joker for years,  but it never ceases to amaze me how absolutely psychotic he sounds and how vividly he brings the character to life. Always hilarious to me is Nolan North as Penguin; of course we all know North from Uncharted, but you know how you never really put a face to a name until you see them in something else? Yeah. Pretty Little Liars is my guilty pleasure, and Mr, North plays Peter Hastings. It’s clear to see that vocal acting is his clear calling though. No offense Nolan! You’re my home boy!

"I'm just saying, Batman could probably kick Nathan Drake's ass."

“I’m just saying, Batman could probably kick Nathan Drake’s ass.”

Notice how I don’t even mention Kevin Conroy as Batman/Bruce Wayne. That’s because Kevin Conroy is so awesome, he just exists and does not require mention.

All in all, Arkham City offers pretty good replay value for your buck (or euro). It was a well thought-out campaign story that linked the events of Arkham Asylum with current events. The chatter among the thugs was a nice touch as well; they were dropping name references (Black Mask) and other comments about Asylum moments (Bane getting hit with the Batmobile) as you navigate the Arkham City set piece. It helps to flesh out the story, and sometimes you even get an extra hint towards solving a Riddle. Playing Batman: AC for the second time has certainly got the excitement going for Batman Arkham Origins. I’ve pre-ordered the Collector’s Edition, so I might do an unboxing and upload it to YouTube, if enough people bug me to do so.

If you’re in The Netherlands and you’re interested in previewing games, consoles and other goodies before their release, check out First Look 2013 in Utrecht. I’m heading up on October 6, and with all the next-gen everything coming out, it’s bound to be an exciting event!