commentary The latest version of the popular video game shows just how much the series has aged.
There is something existentially dreadful about watching a parody of “American Idol” where the contestants have to not only outsing but outfight one another — when you’re supposed to be playing a video game.
I speak of “Grand Theft Auto V.” What other game would even have a bunch of joke TV channels? And that’s part of the problem. “Grand Theft Auto” has been on a decade-long spree of piling on “features,” hoping you won’t notice how much it’s aged.
Looking back, it’s amazing how little evolution the series has experienced. Kidnap someone playing “Grand Theft Auto III” in 2001, bring him in a time machine to the present day to play “GTA V,” and the only actual gameplay differences he’ll notice are that now you can fly helicopters and ride motorcycles, and you won’t die if you touch a body of water. That’s pretty much it. And those changes were made in “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City,” the very next game after III.
The rest of the changes, and there are lots of them, are all peripheral. In V, for instance, you can play fetch with your dog, get in shape by playing tennis, get mauled by a mountain lion, pilot a submarine, play with apps on your phone, even get an R-rated lap dance at the strip club, pressing buttons to get your hands off the girl when the bouncer’s looking.
These are all good for a laugh with your buddies, but if Los Santos (the “Grand Theft Auto” series’ second stab at making a video game version Greater Los Angeles) has so much to see and do, why does every play session devolve into seeing how many bystanders and cops you can kill before you’re arrested or killed, just like it did 10 years ago? If this is such an incredible sandbox, why do we build the same castle over and over again?
“Grand Theft Auto” is great at world-building, but not so great at making you care about what goes on in that world.