People say “motherfucker” a lot in GTA: SA. They also say “shit” and “asshole”. But not, disappointingly, “cunt” – because Americans wouldn’t like that. I can, however, report one joyous instance of “ass-cake”.
Of course, you can also shoot and stab and hit and run and jack cars and punch old ladies in the back of the head. But it’s those cuss-words that really get the knees a-jerking – particularly when, as we all know, our playgrounds are alive with spirited but harmless middle-class ribaldry just like in Harry Potter (in the last book, someone actually says “twit” and doesn’t get laughed at).
Tsch. Disgraceful. Apostrophe misuse is so depressing.
Rik off of The Young Ones had the right idea. Listen to The Kids, for they have the keenest pop-culture feelers. They don’t know much about art, but they know what’s good for them. Particularly if someone else is loudly explaining that it’s bad for them.
Compare GTA: SA to something like The Getaway, where the naughty words are ladled on like some gloopy sauce intended to distract from flaccid and flavourless gameplay. Here, they’re more like the moreish blob of ketchup that adds a dash of extra badness. Oh yes. GTA: SA is junk-food. It feels great while it’s happening, but it’s not a good idea to examine the ingredients too closely.
‘Sleaze’ is the word. Something a bit tacky and tawdry that attracts and repels at the same time. Everything you loved and hated about GTAIII and Vice City is pretty much still here: poxy PS1 pop-up; smudgy and cluttered map; loony difficulty spikes; annoying safe-house save system…
The much-blabbed improvements in hand-to-hand/shooty combat don’t seem to improve much. Scraps/firefights are still hit-and-hope, with comedy-wrong targeting and overbalanced, unrefined challenges. But it’s still admirably crafted to make it all feel right even when it seems so wrong. If you want to see this kind of thing done really badly, cover your eyes and, through slightly parted fingers, have a look at Driver 3.
Dodge cops by invoking the special ‘Concrete Quicksand’ bug.
Yes, slapping tattoos and silly haircuts onto your gangsta goon is a bit of a laugh, but it isn’t really something you’ll find yourself bothering with once the narrative gets rolling. The only genuine progression is the sheer scale of the bastard. Five or six times the size of Vice City, spanning three main cities with loads and loads and loads of rural inbetweenies and off-map oddness. Probably depending on how much gaming time your lifestyle can accommodate, you’ll either see this as a breathless vista of wonder and exploration or just overblown and intimidating. Still, can’t fault the ambition.
For all of its lack of polish, GTA: SA is a lot of fun to play – partly because it was clearly a lot of fun to design. There’s a strong sense of a bunch of culture-tripping geeks sketching out a modern urban landscape packed with their own references (where Vice City nicked a lot from Scarface, GTA: SA cherry-picks the likes of Menace II Society, Boyz N The Hood etc.). It’s a startled, Euro-skewed view of America in all of its wanton, gluttonous glory; complete with an undercurrent of sniggery English humour: ‘Drink Sprunk!’, the Vank Hoff hotel, Brown Streak railroad, Pro Laps sports clothing…
“Damn! Sold out. Guess I’m gonna have to go see Toledo Tit Parade and shit”.
But that’s always been Rockstar’s key riff: their ragged sense of humour – similar to the vibe that Iguana bring to the Tony Hawk games. It’s enough just to wander around, reading signs, nosing in obscure corners, bumping into people and smirking at their sneers on your customised sight, sound – and smell. The mission where you roll up to a backwater survivalist farm compound and swipe their combine harvester is a beauty (“Roll him in the pig sheeyit!”).
The cinematic feel is apt, because this grand, open-ended environment is just a big fat illusion. The constrictive mission structure is linear all the way and, despite some ace cut-scenes and fluid, filmy dialogue, following the missions step by step is the part of the game that’s the least fun.
So why not just do away with it, entirely? Turn it into a fuck-off great sandbox game where the illusion of a living, breathing city would be more effective for not having sections of it closed off to non-elite players. There are plenty of nasty, nasty missions to complete in Los Santos before the more varied pleasures of the other two cities become available. You’re really gonna love having to complete the fiddly and exacting Flying School before being allowed to properly explore Las Venturas.
“My foe shanked, I must swiftly away before motherfuckin’ Five-O comes callin’”.
But I still love it, because, like I said – junk-food. B-movie. Airport novel. Flying a kite at night. It somehow manages to be outrageously entertaining while, technically, having lots wrong with it. There’s so much to see and do, that the niggles soon start to register only as background blips; like those tiny little quirks that piss you off about someone you love, but which you learn to accept as endearing. It has what so many other games desperately aim for and miss: personality. And as ol’ Jules said in Pulp Fiction, personality goes a long way.
The Daily Mail hand-wringers have got it all wrong. GTA: SA isn’t immoral. It’s amoral. Unlike all those beardy ‘God games’, you really can be as good or as bad as you feel like – in open, unscripted ways. At times, the flaws can make it even more entertaining, as you discover chinks in the mission set-ups that let you mess with the whole freakin’ system.
“’Loosest Slots In Town’, my ass! These Nevada bitches are UPPITY!”
There are bigger, more spoilerific examples, but there’s this bit, right, where you have to steal a big truck. While you’re doing this, you get chased down and shot at by a couple of guys in a car. You can either drive away and block them from overtaking you, use the truck’s bulk to run the fuckers off the road, or – best of all – get out of the truck (“Get back in the truck!” the game demands, as you laugh in its face), and, Lost Highway-style, walk on over to your pursuers’ car, and beat the unholy shit out of both of them, before calmly chugging away in the truck and completing the mission.
Here’s another. There’s a mission where you’re supposed to drive a gang boss and his muscle away from the scene of a crime. The first time I did it, I dumbly skidded the car into a river. But instead of a ‘Mission Failed’, we all just got out of the car and had a swim around until we found a stairway. We then got back on land, jacked a new car and completed the mission.
“Would sir be requiring ‘some more’, by any chance?”
Best of all – these new character skills mean you can swim around the blocked bridges into locked areas. Sure, the game is wise to it, and slaps an unavoidable four-star wanted rating on you the moment you emerge onto land. But you can subvert this – by legging it as deep into the city centre as possible. That way, when you’re inevitably zapped by the rozzers, you’ll be deposited right there in the nearest hospital, with all the freedom to wander around the place where – once again – you’re not supposed to be.
Which brings us b ack round to The Kids, again. If you don’t understand the GTA thing, that’s really all it is. A cartoon. That’s why this 18-rated game is so appealing to under-18s who aren’t even supposed to be playing it – and to over-18s who aren’t supposed to be enjoying it so much.
RODENT CASH RATING -
Something to say? Take it to The Forum!