Gameplay elements! Go to your corners and think about what you’ve done.
There is a moment following the first bank heist where the player takes control of Franklin in a strip club. Franklin can play a simple mini game where he throws cash and the stripper (let’s call her Sophocles) likes Franklin more. Throw enough money at Sophocles, and she will invite Franklin to a private dance mini game which increases both the gyration and boobage on offer. Maxing out Sophocles’ “like” meter results in the anticipated sex scene which is actually just a panoramic shot of a building having an orgasmicaly good time. Sophocles’ contact information is added to Franklin’s phone and the game continues on unchanged.
Moments like the above scene can be extremely valuable when establishing a sense of place in a world. They are an isolated bit of gameplay that, by virtue of being untied to the larger game, promote the idea that the world has hidden nooks and continues on while the player is elsewhere. This encourages the player to explore the world as if it were real and rewards that exploration. Unfortunately for GTA V, the stripping mini game is not just a world building vignette, but also an example of one of the game’s major failings. GTA V has tons of disparate gameplay elements that don’t interact with each other. They exist in separate universes without contributing to each other.
Consider the previous situation again.
In his brief time with Sophocles, Franklin shelled out money and treated the player to a couple of scenes sure to titillate the 13 year old crowd. Nothing else, besides Franklin’s bank account, changed. Franklin didn’t become stronger, get access to special weaponry, or open up a new story line. There is no discernible difference between a player who completed the mini game and one who did not. The same can be said of a number of mini games that pop up throughout GTA V. At one point, Franklin helps out an old flame by running her husband’s tow trucking business while he is strung out on drugs. Again, Franklin performs the required actions and receives nothing at the end. Nothing Franklin does in the tow truck appears to contribute to anything else he will do in that world. What this does is force the player to evaluate the mini game strictly on its own merits. If the game isn’t fun by itself, then there is no reason to do it because it doesn’t add value anywhere else. Unfortunately for Rockstar, most of its mini games just don’t hold up.
There’s a reason Tow Truck Simulator never made it to the top of the sales charts. It’s not a particularly glamorous or entertaining job, yet that is exactly what GTA V has the player do repeatedly without compensation. Contrast that with the Saint’s Row series where each element of the game links which each other element. GTA-like minigames called diversions provide money and new abilities. Main missions capture territories that provide income and protection for the next mission. Even traditional money sink holes like businesses and shops provide the player with the tools to take on larger tasks. Not all of these activities are fun, but they are worth doing on the merits of what they contribute to the rest of the game.
In creating a myriad of isolate game elements, GTA V gives off the impression that Rockstar just threw ideas into the game without considering how they would fit. As a result, they’re, at best, worthwhile only if the gameplay they present is worthwhile. Rockstar needs to focus on what value its activities add and judge them both on their own merits and what they add to the rest of the game. Few, more focused minigames with a clearer conception of what they add is more fun than randomly modeling a game of darts. Until Rockstar gives me magic stripper superpowers for frequenting the clubs, I’m sorry Sophocles, but we’re through.
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