GTA V Problem: Story/Storytelling
Before I start I must point out this blog will contain Spoilers. I will be mentioning parts of the story and specifically the ending so do not read if you have not completed the campaign. So with that said SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS.
Right, lets get back to the topic at hand. GTA V story is a complete mess and the problem lies with having three playable characters. They all have their own story, which is fantastic to see, but it is when the stories intertwine with each other things go a little bit pear shaped. You would be doing one thing with Trevor and another, completely different, thing with Franklin; yet one of those characters will not mind dropping their life just to help you out and progress that particular story arc. The three playable character idea didn’t work as well as the three playable character stories we got in GTA 4 and its’ expansion packs. Granted it is a different system but that worked well because you concentrated on one story at a time which made it possible to interweave events in a logical format. Too many times did certain story arcs pause so that one of the characters could do their mission first.
Speaking of disjointed story arcs, the last, big, heist happened at a really odd point in the story. The idea for the heist happened many missions before the actual heist takes place but is put on hold for various reasons. I almost forgot about the “big score” until after engaging in a major shootout with various characters from the story; Trevor decides he will leave once the heist is pulled. So they pull this big heist straight after being almost arrested by the FIB and almost killed by MerryWeather Security. This wouldn’t have been such a big deal except for what Michael says as a reason to do the heist now. He basically says the heist needs to be done, before killing those characters who just tried to kill them, because they need to do it before any more heat comes on to them. I sat there speechless at this revelation by Michael. Two of the biggest characters in the story have just tried to end them in one way or another. How much more heat could they get? It just didn’t make any sense. the big heist mission was and a lot of fun to play but, purely from a story viewpoint, it made very little sense and was like the story just took a massive, momentary, detour just so a big heist could be added to the game. I didn’t mind the big heist being there but it should have happened hours before. It was like Rockstar forgot about it and just shoved it somewhere near the end.
One thing the whole set up for the heist made me realise was how underdeveloped the characters really were (even this late in the game). I have been playing countless hours of a game and still the depth of the characters was superficial. The relationship between Trevor and Michael could have been far more than it was (it was like some bad soap) and Franklin was, generally, a poor character with as much personality as a door knob. To me, Franklin became the one who could make driving easy so I only used him (when I had options) for that role. Even Trevor, the better character of the three, had no depth to him. He was psychotic and he did some hilarious things (always fun switching back to him) but I still do not know anything about him. He became the comic relief sadistic guy which is odd because GTA V isn’t a dark story. There was very little need for Trevor being the comic relief character. He also has a weird split personality which is, again, never explored. The infamous torture scene highlights this when he was happy to carry out the interrogation but suddenly after the information was given he completely changes. He stars speaking about how he is against torture but moments ago he was happy to help. Even with people with split personalities or a form of bipolar thought process show other signs which Trevor never displays. By not going further into that the whole scene comes off as feeble as the split thought process never happens anywhere else during the game. Michael highlights how these characters do not fit in the GTA V world. Michael is very much a real character in a real world situation yet the word he inhabits is very satirical. Just listen to the stupid news reports on the radio or pay attention to what the FIB say (or even just look at its name). Michael doesn’t fit in that world and nor do, to some degree, the other playable characters. Rockstar, in previous GTA games, has done well in this regard and it is a shame to see this side of the game fall.
Now we really need to get into spoiler territory here. I am unsure why Franklin was given the choice to either kill Trevor, or Michael or to make a last stand with the other two because Franklin hadn’t really been doing anything up to this point. All he did was have incoherent conversations with his “homie” or occasionally doing odd/ minor jobs often with other playable characters (which I obviously chose over him). It is like Rockstar ran out of time and needed to end the story quickly. This is further supported by the three actual missions. The stand your ground mission is the most fun as more stuff happens but it still felt weak because all the characters were doing different things. First you take on waves of enemy soldiers at a plant. Then you all decide you need to wack everybody you know (even the minor character Stretch) because you need to tie up loose ends. So you play as each character on the way to the hit which doesn’t take long. Each assassination was a massive anti-climax with very little resistance being put up by the enemies. Then you go and kill Weston by all of you pushing his car off a cliff. That is it. I was shocked it was over so quickly. It was a cheap rap up to a very long story. What makes things worse is that this is the longer and better of the endings.
The other two endings are a joke. They both start with Franklin chasing either Michael or Trevor. The difference between the two is with the Michael ending you push Michael off a high tower. There is a small choice but it doesn’t matter as Michael dies either way. With the Trevor ending Michael helps out and Trevor is burnt alive. Both have last stand speeches which I guess were meant to make me care but the problem with that is there was so little character development throughout the game I didn’t care.
What I noticed is Rockstar hasn’t understood the concept of developing their characters. The whole story felt like a cheap soap opera with just more guff being added just to keep the story going. They need to look at games like The Last of Us and Thomas was Alone. Both these games have simple set up and themes yet are far more powerful in their execution. I cared more for some shapes than I did for trio in GTA V and I played with the shapes for merely a few hours compared to the countless amount hours I clocked in GTA V. Another example of simplicity is the Last of Us. Simple setting and story but what worked is they evolved the characters over a lengthy campaign. I actually cared for Ellie and Joel’s relationship and how it ended.
Don’t get me wrong, GTA V is a fun game. The missions are well designed (except for the odd mission here and there) and there is a lot to do but the story and storytelling is by far the weakest I have seen from Rockstar. This problem does leave a bad mark on a really enjoyable game