by Dave Thier

You have to hand it to Rockstar: it just made GTA new again. When GTA 5 launched last year, the developer gave us the most fully-realized and detailed world it had ever built, and yet it was hard to not feel something missing. Not only was its story mode badly written and mostly boring, its odd brand of comedy was tired at best and it once again found itself doing a whole bunch of random stuff with very little at its center. That bizarre anarchy that had seemed so intriguing and dangerous when GTA 3 first came felt just, somehow, lame. Well, the game is coming out for PS4 and Xbox One, and this time you can play in first person mode. What fresh hell is this?

Take a GTA story as old as time: you walk down the street, you pull out a shotgun, and you shoot an innocent person to death in the street. Boring, right? Shocking a decade or so ago, but we’re all used to it by now. First person mode makes that entirely different. That person fills your entire field of view. He’s big enough so that you can see the expression his face. He was texting. Who was he texting? You’re not the puppeteer controlling an agent of violence anymore — it’s one step closer to being you. It seems like this is what the developer intended all along.

Rockstar introduced a hatchet weapon for this version, and it’s hard not to imagine that this is how they intended it to be used. I won’t embed the video, but you can watch it on youtube here.

Or take another GTA classic — the prostitute scene. This isn’t just a vague view of the back of the car, anymore. You see her face. You see your own hand. For obvious reasons, I’m also not embedding the video, but you can watch the sort of NSFW link here.

It’s almost as if Rockstar saw how humdrum the violence had become and said no, no, no. This is truly as terrible as you imagine it. Look at it. Look at what you’ve done. Look at what we’ve done. It’s as if they’re hungry for the same sort of evening news that it used to get and they’re pursuing it with as much fervor as ever. And they’ve done something striking in that quest. Good job?

Of course, it’s not all about the sex and violence. First person also makes skydiving all that much more exhilarating, makes driving that much crazier, makes mountain biking down an exquisitely rendered Mt. Chilead that much more gorgeous. It makes the game’s trademark LA sunsets that much more staggering. It short, it makes everything more. First person mode makes GTA more GTA than it’s ever been: more brutal, more beautiful, more open, bigger and wilder. That’s the thing about it: for better, for worse, it’s an incredible success.

But I’m not convinced about all that other stuff. GTA 3 was a landmark exploration of open world development, but we’re lousy with gorgeous open world games now. A select few of them are as pretty and dense as GTA, but nearly all of them have a better sense of their own identities than GTA. For all its faults, Assassin’s Creed: Unity just delivered a fully explorable, drop-dead gorgeous rendering of Revolutionary Paris — it just means something in a way Rockstar can’t muster. It’s true, GTA 5′s Los Santos is probably the most detailed open world I’ve seen yet. But that just makes Rockstar the guys with the deepest pockets, not the guys with any ideas.

Just the fact that I still feel constantly compelled to compare this game to GTA 3 reminds me of when the actual innovation with this franchise happened.

It leaves us with Rockstar’s only real trick left up its sleeve: the same old approach to misanthropy and violence. Shock value still feels like the biggest thing this game has going for it, and this series burned out on that a long time ago. It’s more real than ever, and it’s more horrible than ever, but less than making the game seem more relevant it just reminds me of the slick, fancy dinosaur it is.

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