Asinine statement alert: Grand Theft Auto 5’s world map is really fantastic. You and I have both spent enough time throwing Chop’s ball into oncoming traffic under the setting Los Santos sun to feel that. I don’t need to tell you why it’s fantastic. So instead I’ll tell you why, despite my best efforts, I still feel so distanced from it after playing 40+ hours on both PS3 and PS4 versions.
I thought the addition of a first-person viewpoint to the current-gen version would remedy the detachment I felt towards that bustling city, the constant sense that I was an unwelcome stranger no matter how hard I tried to acclimatise. Looking at GTA5 through the prism of the central trio was the source of my odd sensation, I figured, after all but completing it on PS3 - which died two missions before the end. Going behind their eyes would not only make the world easier to process on a visual level, but more personal, too. Am I right?
Yeah… no. I’ve become so obsessed with trying to break through my detachment that I’ve played the entire game in first-person so far. Every second of it. Flying choppers, shooting thugs on yachts while driving (profoundly difficult), people-watching at pedestrian crossings at Rockford Hills. I drink in much more of the world from this viewpoint, true. But GTA5 still keeps me at arm’s length because of its writing.
The parody here isn’t just vicious, it’s all-encompassing; there are sneering reminders of how dreadful the modern world is between every song on the radio, walking caricatures of rabid consumerism idly exchanging vapid one-liners on every street corner. You can’t even buy a mountain bike on your phone without first reading a waspy remark about cycling’s obsolescence in the age of cars. It’s a world in which only once voice exists, and it’s one of the most misanthropic you’ve ever heard.
That’s why I feel so unwelcome here. There isn’t a tiny crumb of hope anywhere in Los Santos. Not one earnest character who’s just earning their keep without either demonstrating or pointing a spiteful finger at one of western civilisation’s vices. I get it - Los Santos is a place of catharsis in which to vent your frustrations with modern life. But what are you left with when you’ve set fire to the mime artists and bludgeoned the double-parkers with a police baton? When you’ve laughed along with the radio at rock music’s irrelevance and pop’s vacuum? Do you feel better? Do you ever get the feeling you’ve made the world a better place?
I don’t. And that’s why I can never get comfortable in Los Santos. They’ll never accept me at Ponsonbys no matter how many $6,000 suits I buy. The staff of Vanilla Unicorn will never save up enough money to fund a college education. And somewhere in the distant fairy light miasma of the city, in every moonlit photograph I take, there’s an NPC saying, “I’m going for my fourth stomach stapling next week.” To no one.
I’m suffocating on GTA5’s bile, and I don’t want to leave because its geography is so wonderful, and there are so many things I have yet to do. Is there ‘biting parody: off’ button?