By: Martin Stadtner
Gather round and listen up, you young punks. I’m going to tell you a story about the way-before time when loot wasn’t a thing, and games were quality. Let me tell you about Rockstar Games.
My introduction to Rockstar was their hit title Grand Theft Auto. Released originally in 1997, GTA had everything a young gamer without parental supervision could want. You could steal cars, run people over, cause mischief and mayhem the likes of which had hitherto been the product of actual criminals and terrorists rather than me sitting at my computer screen. Running With Scissors’ title, Postal was also released that year, but that’s another story for another time, sonny.
GTA 2, released in 1999, improved some of the shortfalls in GTA without compromising any of the fun stuff. In 2001, GTA 3 broke ground entirely and transformed the series into a twenty-first century franchise. Before GTA 3, the series had a top-down view that restricted vision and had some clunky controls; this setup made for some difficult car chases because you couldn’t see more than a hundred feet or so in front of you. GTA 3 changed that, and more.
Aside from having 3d gameplay, 3 revolutionized the story of GTA and made it feel far more real. In the original titles, the protagonist is an unnamed and faceless criminal who occasionally works for the gangs in the games to commit whacky or bizarre crimes and other dastardly deeds. These gangs were silly; in GTA 2 this included a struggle between the high tech “Scientists” gang, whose front-man was some sort of Einstein parody, and the “Rednecks”, who gave you the colorful nickname of “Rooster” when they gave you missions and all drove pickup trucks with rebel flags on them. Somehow the Hare-Krishnas were also a gang in the game, and so were a group of mental patients who had taken over their hospital. Aside from being stereotypical and insensitive, these organizations were unrealistic and extreme.
In GTA 3, you worked for actual gangs in a pseudo-New York environment in a story mode that had you interacting with interesting characters: various criminal organizations, corrupt businessmen, or local dog-food magnates, who were all using you to accomplish their ends. Some, of course, were still rather silly, but it’s GTA so who cares?
GTA Vice City, which is my personal favorite of the series, closely follows but improves upon the innovations of GTA 3, again, without compromising any of the quality. Scarface met
Miami Vice, and on a coke filled night of fun with streaming lights and pastel colors gave us Vice City. In VC we got to run around as an overly angry and aggressive Italian mobster in 1980’s Miami trying to avenge some betrayal and become the boss of a criminal empire.
Then came GTA San Andreas, a look at what was going on in this fictional version of California and Vegas from the eyes of a street gang member; then GTA 4 brought us back to New York and put us in the shoes of a Yugoslavian immigrant with a dark and violent past. Each title successively improving gameplay, adding to the shared story, and making being a crook and a madman fun as hell.
Rockstar has never been afraid of making these controversial games. With other titles like Max Payne, Bully, Red Dead, and Manhunt, the studio has always pushed the envelope in video games and embraced the mantra of “no press is bad press.” Also with games like L.A. Noire, they have consistently been innovative in bringing diverse topics to video games.
Notice so far I have said not one word about loot or unfair gaming practices?
This all is beginning to change as Rockstar seems to be caving to the demands of their parent publishing company Take-Two Interactive.
The inclusion of micro-transactions in GTA 5, and the announcement that all future games will include them, is really just a stepping stone, a gateway drug, into the loot system.
How long until we will be gambling with real money in these games for fast cars and other goodies?
Troubling more so (since it is one of my favorite game series) is the recent fear that Red Dead Redemption 2 will include some sort of loot mechanic…
Don’t fix what ain’t broke, Rockstar. You’re better than this, and you know it.