Letter from America

Whether you're over here or over there, this week it's all about GTA5.

T'was the weekend before the release of GTA5, and all was quiet except for the sound of a few million consoles whirring away, downloading the game so it can be played the moment it goes live.

I'm not sure whether Rockstar's latest outing is "the most anticipated release this generation”, but it's definitely up there. Either way, the hype preceding this game is quite incredible, and within a few days we can all argue whether or not it's justified. I'm definitely looking forward to it, of course, but I do have some concerns based on the franchise's last few outings.

While I played the early overhead-viewed games a fair bit, I didn't really get into the series until the game's official third outing in 2001. I still remember playing it for the first time and being absolutely gobsmacked by what I saw. But while I was really impressed with GTA3, it was Vice City that I truly fell in love with. Not only did it have a really entertaining storyline and great gameplay, its 80s theme, incredible soundtrack and sheer number of things to do created one of the best games of its generation. What I particularly liked was the fact that I felt I was constantly moving up in the world, and when I finally completed all the missions, felt thoroughly satisfied that I had indeed become king of Vice City. I ended up playing the game quite a bit after I finished it, simply because it was such a fun environment to play around in.

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Is Vice City the best GTA game so far? Perhaps not from a technical perspective, but in terms of hugely fun and entertaining content, it takes some beating.

San Andreas was similarly impressive, and while I loved exploring its mind-bogglingly vast environments, its storyline never quite won me over, and the mission structure wasn't quite as tight and engaging as Vice City. There were plenty of fun things to do, sure, but the game felt somewhat protracted towards the end. I remember playing through the part where you battle rioters to gain control of areas of the city, and hoping that it was all going to end soon. It's not like I wasn't enjoying the action... but it definitely felt like the story was being eked out unnecessarily.

Things tightened up again with Liberty City Stories, and I really enjoyed the addition of motorcycles, which enabled some pretty insane stunts and whatnot. But while still technically incredible and packing an interesting story, the gameplay was beginning to feel a little rote. There was some creativity in the mission structure, but I felt that the series was suffering from diminishing returns: while the game was moving forward technically, that progress wasn't being echoed by its design and structure. Ultimately, its mechanics and machinations were feeling somewhat stagnant.

And that felt even truer for GTA4. Yes, it's a staggering game in terms of how it looks and functions, and there were more than a few moments where I marvelled at just how amazing the game looked and sounded. But the story felt weak, and the missions by this point were feeling tired. I could see the effort the designers were putting into the game, but it almost felt like they'd tapped out the formula entirely. What I liked least of all, however, was that there was little in the way of progression and self-improvement. Maybe it's just me, but I like to at least feel my efforts are being rewarded with fun locations and toys to play with. Prior games had done that quite effectively, but in GTA4 there just wasn't much of that at all. I got the impression that the designers felt that watching the story play out was reward enough. But for me, it just wasn't, and by the time I finished the game, I remember thinking to myself, “that's it?” The DLC helped add a bit more value and interest, but as a standalone product, to me GTA4 just felt incomplete and lacking.

So how will the big “V” do? For me, the critical issue will hinge on whether or not it continues to follow the same mission structure that it has done over the last 12 years. If that's rejuvenated and given a new twist, I think we'll have something interesting our hands. Adding a whole load of new “sandbox” stuff would also help expand the game beyond its story structure and freshen up the series. And finally, being able to make decisions that I want to make, rather than feeling like I'm being forced down a path that's being dictated to me is something I'd love to see. But will GTA5 do that? We'll just have to find out tomorrow!

In other news, we interviewed @petermolydeux, the Twitter parody account of some famous British games designer whose name escapes me. It turned out to be distinctly strange, but rather entertaining. I'm putting this story first just to annoy the trolls who like to post comments like, “I'm not interested in you yanks and your stupid US American stuff”, since this story features an English person being interviewed by a Malaysian woman that just happens to be posted on an American website.

My favourite trailer of the week was this one, which is a game based on a Portal mod. The Stanley Parable looks very creative, and I'm really looking forward to giving it a go. Check out the trailer - it's offbeat, but there's something about it that really appealed to me.

Game of the week for us was Card Hunter, a simple slice of free-to-play genius. I know the mere mention of free-to-playness will have people running for cover, screaming as though they're being attacked by fire ants. Which is a shame, because it's not like that at all. If you enjoy board or card games, it's effin' ace. All I can say is if you fancy the looks of it, try it out. It takes no time to get started, and it really is fun.

The other game I liked this week was Wonderful 101, which is up there as one of my favorite games on the poor ol' struggling Wii U. It's utterly mental, and while our main reviewer had some issues with the controls, me, being all like supa skillz and stuff, didn't. Ultimately, it's a totally bonkers game that in an earlier preview I likened playing to, “using a gallon of gasoline to light a cigarette, while sitting on a massive crate of fireworks in the hold of the Hindenburg.”

We did one of those end-of-generation roundup things, covering the PS3 games that made the biggest impression on us. Journey was one of my three picks, but if you want to know more, you'll just have to take a look.

And finally, we were all quite excited about the prospect of Vita TV, which we think is a top idea. Then our hopes were crushed when Sony said it had no plans for the machine outside of Japan. But then our frowns turned upside down when Sony explained that its initial announcement of “no plans outside of Japan” actually meant “we currently have no plans, but we will have some soon.” Huzzah!

See you next week!

Jaz Rignall is editorial director of USgamer.net, a version of Eurogamer for those who like dumping tea into a harbour, and can't be bothered to type a "u" when there really should be one.

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