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Mike London "MAC" (Oxford, UK)

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Zelda A Link Between Worlds Collector's Edition
Zelda A Link Between Worlds Collector's Edition

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, 22 Nov. 2013
This is a fantastic reinvention of zelda don't miss it what ever you do of you love the series or nintendo games in general
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 24, 2013 11:25 PM GMT


Xbox One 500GB Console with Kinect
Xbox One 500GB Console with Kinect
Offered by DA TECH PRO
Price: £297.00

19 of 89 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Blood in the Water? I'd hold off if I were you, 22 Nov. 2013
We finally have all three major console players in the game, with Valve's Steam Box hoping to edge its way into the fight for your hard-earned entertainment dollar. Of the three main offerings, the Xbox One has been the last to launch and is the most expensive with $499, whereas the PS4 is $399 and the Wii U is $299.

To say the Xbox One has had a rough PR road to hoe is putting it lightly. Like Microsoft's flagship product, Windows 8 with its tabet approach, abolition of the start menu, and closed Windows store, the Xbox One was meant to be a radical reinvention of the Xbox brand, with most of the changes being controversial, to say the least. Initially, Microsoft designed the Xbox One to always be online. If disconnected from the Internet, the system would need to connect at least once very 24 hours, or the system would be unable to play any games. All games were tied to an Xbox Live account and console, effectively destroying the used video game market in regards to Xbox titles. Lastly, the system originally mandated that you use a Kinect motion camera in order to operate the system.

These `features' were met with such severe consumer backlash to the point that Microsoft reversed these requirements/policies. Still, these proposed policies greatly damaged the public's perception of the system.

Kotaku (among others) have also reported that they have heard from industry sources that Microsoft has been hard pressed getting the operating system and core applications ready for the November 22 launch. Kotaku's sources have also suggested that Xbox One's developer kits are "buggy". According to Pete Dodd, a blogger who is apparently well-connected and treated as an authoritative source, post this: ""So if you are playing by yourself and just playing the game online it should be fine. But if you're in a party, people get dropped. Voice chat cuts in and out. Certain app combinations make the machine crash completely." Apparently there are SIGNIFICANT issues with the Network infrastructure and Xbox Live, and, in the words of Kotaku, these systems will be coming in "hot".

So what do you get for your $500 dollars besides the console? An external power brick, a chat headset and controller, a 6 foot HDMI cable, and a Kinect sensor. When you power up the system, there will be a mandatory, day one update (so you better have Internet connection available). The UI is based off Windows 8's approach, so depending on how you feel about Windows 8's UI will determine your opinion of the Xbox One.

The Xbox One is marketed as being the central entertainment device in your living room, which is why the gaming industry and pundits mocked Microsoft during their press conference - the focus was largely on everything else the system did and not the games. The system is able to input and output HDMI audio and video, with the intention of being able to operate your entire entertainment setup using only your voice.

In comparison to the Wii U and PS4, the Xbox One is massive. The system weights eight lbs, is 13.5 inches wide by 10.4 inches deep by 3.2 inches tall, with numerous vents on top arnd around the sides (which it was designed for nearly always being on). Like the PS4, the Xbox One is not backwards compatible. As with most new systems, the launch titles, while marginally better looking than their PS3 and Xbox 360 counterparts, haven't hit their stride in showing what the respective systems can do.

IMPORTANT: Xbox One only connects via HDMI cable; you cannot connect the console to a standard definition TV

While there are several excellent features, most are tied to the subscription based Xbox Live Gold account which is sixty dollars a year. . The following features require the subscription in addition to the monthly fees you already have to pay for several of these services: Netflix, Skype, Hulu Plus, Game DVR, the Web Browser (of all things), and the NFL Application.

The primary selling point is Kinect, where you can engage in all your Star Trek fantasies by talking to your TV and game console and them actually responding to your voice commands. But if we learn from history, it's that technology doesn't only work flawlessly, and often times Kinect will not respond correctly. Like Bill Gates getting a BSOD during the reveal of Windows `98, Kinect, while fancy, still has some significant reliability issues.

Although [While] the system's capabilities are impressive on paper (TV, web browsing, video streaming, and a UI that supports voice and motion control), the higher retail cost and continuing subscription fees are significant drawbacks in these economically challenging times. Hardware launches are never easy, and it may be better to just let the dust settle and wait six months to a year for Microsoft to work all the kinks out.

While on paper the Xbox One may be a powerhouse of a system, overall the PS4 slightly outperfomrs it. Microsoft botched the initial reveal so badly that I recommend waiting, especially given all the rumours floating around. Obviously you cannot take every rumour at face value, but when respectable, authoritative sources are reporting sharks in the water, you may want to start looking for fins.
Comment Comments (12) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 22, 2013 11:02 PM GMT


Call of Duty: Ghosts (Xbox One)
Call of Duty: Ghosts (Xbox One)
Offered by PROGAMES
Price: £9.99

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More of the same, 22 Nov. 2013
This one offers more of the same Call of Duty action we love. While some other titles are better, don't miss this one of you are a CoD fan! This one is great!


The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Nintendo 3DS)
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Nintendo 3DS)
Offered by Turbotrance
Price: £17.65

39 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shigeru Miyamoto: "Sounds Like an Idea That's 20 Years Old!", 22 Nov. 2013
GENERAL OVERVIEW: "The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds" is the first top down Zelda game since the 2005's Gameboy Advance title, "The Minish Cap". This game is also first new handheld title in the Zelda franchise that Nintendo has released for one of their flagship products, the 3DS. The game is a direct sequel to the 1991 SNES title, "A Link to the Past", which is one of the most highly acclaimed games in Nintendo's bountiful back catalogue, featuring all new dungeons.

Make no mistake. "A Link Between Worlds" is the best Zelda game since "Ocarina of Time" or, barring that, "A Link to the Past" itself. For longtime Zelda players, "Link Between Worlds" may first initially lull you with its emotionally powerful, highly nostalgic rendering of Hyrule circa 1992, only to discover how deeply Nintendo is rearranging the Zelda template. "A Link Between Worlds" casts off series conventions (while still retaining its identity as a Zelda title).

To compare notes with another franchise, Hideo Kojima is radically restructuring the inherent design of the Metal Gear universe by making "Metal Gear Solid 5" an open world game rather than a tightly controlled stealth game. In order to ease players into the radical shift and new reinvention of Metal Gear's signature stealth play, as adapted for an open world environment, Konami is releasing "Ground Zero", which is a prologue to the main game, as a separate, introductory primer for "Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain".

"A Link Between Worlds" is a reshuffling of the deck, a "Ground Zero" if you will for Zelda. Unlike the Metal Gear comparison, this game isn't about charting new territory though - it's about returning to the very roots that made the series so special in the first place. Before we get into the ramifications and what this game may mean for Zelda in general, here are some pros and cons.

PROS:
Link navigating via merging into walls as a painting is both highly imagitive and drastically opens up new ways of solving puzzles and transvering Hyrule, breathing much needed life into Zelda's [intellectual side] cerebral side.
Excellent level design almost goes without saying. Nintendo has always excelled at level design.
-No farming for items. All usable items are manna-based, with a meter that regenerates over time. You never have to worry about running out of bombs or arrows again! (We so needed that in the original 1987 Zelda!
-Mini-games, including baseball (!!!) and chicken dodging
-Has a dual world setup (Hyrule and Lorule), like the original SNES game.

NEUTRAL:

-Borrows the overworld map of its SNES predecessor almost to the pixel. For veterans of the series, this borrowing will be highly nostalgic, though others may complain they are just rehashing "Link to the Past". One benefit of using the same map is that it helps provide continuity for a series renowned for how disconnected each game appears in relation to others. (In 2011, Nintendo finally published an official timeline in "Hyrule Historia". Guess what! There are THREE SEPARATE OFFICIAL TIME LINES, and all three branch off from "Ocarina of Time".)
-The story is pretty simple. While some may think that detracts from the overall experience, I am fine with a simplified story. Nintendo has never been about story, and when they do get tangled into in-depth story-telling, you end up with three timelines and soap opera disasters like "Metroid: Other M" which by the end you lose almost all respect for Samus. There's a reason why they keep narrative out of Mario games (though to be fair, the Mario RPGs have some good stories).

CONS:
-Visually feels little more than an upgrade to "Link to the Past", rather than a distinct artistic style.
-The Overworld, while expansive in 1991, feels a little small by today's standards.
-Lorule (as opposed to Hyrule) just sounds like an idiotic linguist pun. This is just a minor personal complaint though.

THE MORE PROBLEMATIC ELEMENTS OF MODERN ZELDA: It's not a secret to everybody (to lightly misquote a certain Mobin) that Zelda has grown increasingly stagnant in recent years.

"Skyward Sword" is by far the most devise of the mainstream "Zelda" installments, even more so than initial responses to the art style of "Wind Waker" circa 2003. The more flawed elements of that game are all game design decisions that became codified in the sacrosanct "Ocarina of Time" and over the years finally met their logical conclusion in "Skyward Sword".Eiji Anouma, the main overseer of the series, has even stated in post `Skyward Sword' interviews that Nintendo is rethinking Zelda conventions in order to keep the series fresh and relevant due to lackluster response by players to recent titles.

Tevis Thompson has written a great, lengthy essay regarding the issues he believes is plaguing modern Zelda games. (The title is "Zelda Just Keeps Getting Worse. But It Isn't Beyond Saving". It is well worth reading). Thompson is discussing "Skyward Sword", the 2011 Wii game. "Skyward Sword" is by far the most devise of the mainstream "Zelda" installments, even more so than "Wind Waker". While far too long to address Thompson point by point for an Amazon review, the essential summary of his complaints are three fold:

1. Zelda has gone from a vast, overworld experience to an increasingly narrowed, mechanical by rote design, rather than organic gameplay which invites multiple methods of play. Key quote: "Modern Zeldas do not offer worlds. They offer elaborate contraptions reskinned with a nature theme, a giant nest of interconnected locks." Thompson describes "Skyward Sword" as a culmination of "reducing the world into a series of bottlenecks". In other worlds, Zelda games have become so mechanical in nature that they have lot their sense of wonder and adventure and even (or perhaps especially) danger. The worlds also feel empty, a complaint I first voiced against "Ocarina of Time". For all the grandeur of "Hyrule Field", save for some Stalfos knights that appear after sunset and an occasional Peahat or too, it's a pretty empty field. The sky in Skyward Sword is also notoriously void of any real exploratory content worth mentioning.

2. Lack of Difficulty. The two NES Zelda games (especially "The Adventure of Link") can be brutal at times. Beginning with "A Link to the Past", the difficulty of the Zelda franchise has been on a steep downward slope. Saturo Iwata, Nintendo's President, has directly addressed this decrease in difficulty in Nintendo products.

3. No respect for the player. By design of bottle-neck environmental roadblocks (first heavily featured in "Zelda II"* and culminating in "Skyward Sword"), greatly reduced difficulty, and extemly intrusive "journey companions" that hold your hand every step of the way, Zelda feels more like a guided tour of Hyrule than a daring adventure with real danger at every turn. The puzzle elements have been greatly minimized due to constant direction.

RESTORING ADVENTURE TO ZELDA: "A Link Between Worlds" largely addresses Thompson's concerns. These are the practical, concrete game play mechanics in which A Link Between Worlds" is reinvigorating Zelda.

-Death has consequences. When renting your items, you are able to keep said items for as long as you stay alive. However, if you die you lose your items.
-Challenge: Directly ties to the first point. The overworld isn't the grandiose, but almost entirely devoid of enemies, Hyrule Field. Instead, there are well armored foes intent on killing Link and LOTS OF THEM. Likewise, the dungeon bosses are more difficult than we've seen in a long time. They take skill and cunning to beat as well as figuring out how to best exploit their weak spot. The dungeon enemies themselves are no pushover either.
-Enemies are used as boundary markers. From Thompson's essay: "Link must be allowed to enter areas he's not ready for. He must be allowed to be defeated, not blocked, by the world and its inhabitants." You can get into some areas that will push you to your max to escape alive, let alone in stunning victory.
-"A Link Between Worlds" returns to the open world feel of the original NES title, albeit in the confines of Hyrule as shown in "A Link to the Past". Due to renting items, dungeons are largely (but not entirely) completeable in any order, rather than a pre-defined set path that must be followed at all costs.
-Item renting restores some of the wonder and adventure to the series, because this time around you are truly interested in the contents of treasure chests, knowing that they will hold something other than series trope items such as boomerangs, bows, etc.
-Fast Travelling: If you find yourself without necessary items for a dungeon, you can quickly get to the shop to get said item via warp points without excessive backtracking.
-No more "Hey, Listen!" For the first time in years, Link is on his own, left to figure out what he must do without constant rejoinders from the game helper of the week. To compensate, if you need assistance there is the very unintrusive Hint Glasses which are mentioned briefly and then never forced upon the player, or visiting fortune tellers, which is entirely at the player's discretion. Just like the statue in the 1st palace of the Dark World where you must shoot an arrow in its eye to proceed or the backtracking in the Ice Palace, there will be moments you are left puzzling what to do.

WHAT "A LINK BETWEEN WORLDS" MEANS FOR THE ZELDA FRANCHISE: There are two main camps in Zelda Fandom: those who think "Ocarina of Time" is the best and those who think "Link to the Past" is best. While predictions are a dangerous venture at the best of times, "A Link Between Worlds" clearly indicates that Nintendo is not above radically rewriting conventions for one of its most successful IPs, returning them to earlier times. To return to the Metal Gear comparison with "Ground Zero", "A Link Between Worlds" is laying the groundwork for the still unnamed (at the time of writing) Wii U Zelda game which we know is in development.

Appropriately enough for a series with three time lines, developmentally and in game design "A Link Between Worlds" has effectively ignored the last twenty years of its own franchise. Nintendo has returned to the original ethos and game philosophy of the first Zelda titles and have created an alternate point of development in which Aonuma has indicated he is fully intent upon pursuing. Anouma has confessed to never completing the original Zelda title and wanting to never make a game like that. Before this game, this attitude would explain why there is such a disconnect between the recent games and the trail-blazing originals.

When the game was first pitched to Miyamoto (before it was a "Link to the Past" sequel or even featured the painting), he declined, saying that it "sounds like an idea that's 20 years old!". While the context is not exactly the same, Anouma and his team are finally returning to the hallmarks of Zelda that so captivated us in the first place (at least, gamers of my generation), returning to the older ideas of the series.

"A Link Between Worlds" is a course correction LONG OVER DUE, and if this game is any clear indication, not only have Anouma and his team learned from their mistakes with "Skyward Sword", but are going all the way back to the very foundational elements of the series before "Ocarina".

Aonuma has stated based on user feed back (now so readifuly plentiful via the Internet and Miiverse) that the new Wii U Zelda game will focus much more on the open-world feel so pioneered by the original NES classic that has been largely untouched by the series since then. Games such as the The Elder Scrolls and the Grand Theft Autos are more closely kin to the original "Zelda" than "Skyward Sword" If Anouma is to be believed, then the Wii U Zelda will be a reinvention of modern 3D Zelda titles. If Nintendo follows the direction established in "Link Between Worlds", then the Wii U Zelda will be a grand reinvention indeed!

While Miyamoto is ultimately responsible for Zelda, the last fifteen years have largely been spearheaded by Anouma, and for the first time I feel that we are seeing how Nintendo would develop the series based on the original four games. We are returning to Miyamoto's original vision for the series at long last!
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*Whereas almost the entirety of Hyrule in "The Legend of Zelda" is open to the player, in each successive game the ability to explore became increasingly more and more confined either by necessity of the plot or that to progess to Dungeon 2, you must have an item from Dungeon 1, etc. Thompson points to "A Link to the Past" as the starting point of this mechanical trend in Zelda games ("Oh, there's a wall with weird rocks. Use a bomb."), which is not wholly accurate. While minimally present in the original NES game, "Zelda II" is the first game that really locked you into a defined order of dungeons and locked off worlds. While `Link to the Past'`s Dark World dungeons are tremendously flexible in the order in which you complete them in "A Link to the Past", there is absolutely no possible way for extensive sequence-breaking in "Zelda II". Want to go to the Island Palace? You have to have the Faerie Spell, which can only be obtained by use of the hammer. Want to go to Maze Palace? Have to have the Raft from the Island Palace in order to cross over into eastern Hyrule. Want to go to the Sea Palace? Have to have the boots from the Maze Palace. To get into Three Rock Palace (or even access the southern portion of Hyrule in which that palace is located), you have to have the Flute from the Sea Palace to get by the River Devil guarding the bridge.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 30, 2013 6:49 PM GMT


Led Zeppelin IV
Led Zeppelin IV
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A defining classic in Led Zeppelin's career, 18 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Led Zeppelin IV (Audio CD)
Led Zeppelin's fourth, untitled album proves to be an enduring classic, and provides many of the band's best moments. Their first two albums were forays into hard rock and blues, garnering them comparisios with Black Sabbath. Led Zeppelin retreated into a more acoustic sound, although there were still blues and metallic rockers (namely "Immigrant Song" and "Since I've Been Loving You") for their third album. On their fourth album, they mingled these three strands of music into a wholly successful merger, along with English mysticism which informs much of their work.

The hallmark of any great record is the ability to try out several genres or styles of music while never sounding forced or cluttered or trying to hard. Zeppelin churns out straight rock and roll ("Rock and Roll"), English Folk ("Battle of Evermore," "Going to California,") heavy blues ("When the Levee Breaks), hippy in-jokes ("Misty Mountain Hop"), and wonderfully layered and complex songs ("Black Dog," "Four Sticks") all on the same album, and the genius is that the eight songs on this LP all fit together. The album congeals and functions as an overall mood-setting device, instead of a bunch of singles thrown together. It was through the work of Zeppelin and other artists that the idea of a cohesive album became vital and alive.

This album, along with HOUSES OF THE HOLY and the first three records, shows that Zeppelin is head and shoulders above much of its souless imitators. Stealing just the heavy sound, many of the Zeppelin discipiles fail to have such a varied and artfully masterful sound as Zeppelin.


From Here To Now To You
From Here To Now To You
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £7.79

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Standard Fare from Jack Johnson, 17 Sept. 2013
This review is from: From Here To Now To You (Audio CD)
After the departure into electric rock ruminations of his late father on "To the Sea" (which is still a rather low-key, ambling affair), Jack Johnson returns to that simple, clean-sounding acoustic music that has for so long been his bread and butter. Some of the sentiments expressed on the album are simplistic at best, but somehow Jack carries the tunes through by the strength of his charm and sincerity, even on these grade-school life observations. He also shows he has some melodic chops, coming up with some of the best melodies of his career, which also help carry some of the weaker moments on the album. He enlisted Beasties Boys producer Mario Caldato Jr, who previously worked with Jack on the 2005 "In Between Dreams".

Expanding his song-template just enough (but still staying close to the his tried and true formula), he gets funky on "Radiate", pays homage to his punk days (!!!) as a teenager in "Tape Deck", and plays some more up-tempo, but still light (and light hearted) rockers such as "Washing Dishses" and "Shot Reverse Shot". Elsewhere, he minds familiar territory with ballads and gentle music such as "Change" and a tribute to his wife, "I Got You". He gets memorably strange on ""You Remind Me of You", a song about parenthood and children as clones of the parent, which doesn't really fit in with the rest of the album.

Johnson has always been something of a sentimental optimist. Like Paul McCartney with Wings before him, Jack never really gets edgy or even sounds like there has evern been anything seriously wrong in life. When he does reach out lyrically beyond the realm of a "Happy Days" life, there is such a disconnect that he doesn't really have credibility.

Even Jimmy Buffett (who is one of my favorites) escapes the stereotypical projection of him as an Island/Gulf swing musician and comes up with some great music that goes far beyond his party-hearty image that has so defined him throughout his career. Jimmy knows that even for a surfer (especially for a surfer, actually), there are hurricanes a-brewin' out there.

Perhaps he is just to idyllic for my tastes. In the end, "From Here To Now To You" is standard Jack Johnson. If you prefer the Paul Mcartney "silly love song" ethos over John Lennon's "Plastic Ono" era which represents deeply cathartic, highly persona confessional songwriting, then you will get a lot more enjoyment out of this record than I did.

Personally, I prefer Lennon's school of songwriting.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 14, 2014 1:48 PM GMT


Grand Theft Auto V Collector's Edition (PS3)
Grand Theft Auto V Collector's Edition (PS3)

33 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the American Jungle, 17 Sept. 2013
Video gaming has come a long way since the late 1970s and early 1980s. Game budgets have balloned into astronomical proportions and marketing campaigns have become blitzkrieg extravaganas. Major video game titles, like the major "tent pole" movies of the summer Hollywood so heavily relies upon, represent significant investment of capital. If you believe the marketing copy, each of these big budget video games represent the very best the video game industry has to offer. *

Sadly, such hyperbole is very seldom the case, especially with non-Nintendo titles. Unlike Nintendo's IPs, which are consistently recognized as some of the most enthralling, well-designed games out there, and also certainly among the most bankable, newer games must establish such a strong, realised world and marketing presence that big budgets are in demand. While Nintendo and Mario/Link are the family friendly alternatives, there exists an large opening for more adult oriented fare to enter and dominate the market place. Enter Rockstar and the GTA titles which, while always controversail, has long helped bring adult themed video gaming into the mainstream with writing that is both brilliant and deeply satirical of modern day life..

GTA V follows the Grand Theft Auto social commentary satire the series is so famous for, and expands it tremendously, becoming a mirror of post-economic collapse America. Nothing is held back from Rockstar's barbed wit: the game tears apart such recent social realities as Facebook (called Life Invader) and the rather sinister undertones by which Mark Zuckerburg and Co. selling our personal data for profit, the ever deepening political divide between the right and the left, America's obsession with celebrities, and their preoccupations with drugs, sex, and violence, and the carnival, fun-house mirror perceptions of America's darkside. Pop culture is alluded too everywhere, from the Sopranos to Breaking Bad to reality TV to the "entitlement" mentality to the absuridty of video game culture and the continual retreating of "Call of Duty" to Millenials. Smart phones which extensively use the Internet (complete with parody websites that also include Twitter) are also heavily featured, which has become a mainstay in today's culture and catapulted Apple into the world's most valuable company..

CHARACTERS: Rockstar changes up the GTA formula by introducing three main protagonists. Introducing for the first time three different characters, GTA V features Michael, a retired criminal in his forties; Franklin, a young gang-banger reminsent of Carl Johnson, and Trevor, a psychotic, in-your-face nutjob who is so unhinged that you can't help but feel he is little more than a caricature than an actual person. Of the three characters, Trevor is by far the most over-the top. A raging lunatic, Trevor is a perfect zeitgest for the GTA player, and is what Hunter S. Thompson would be if he appeared in a video game.

One of the weak points with the GTA series has always been the sometimes unavoidable narrative inconsistencies brought on by its open-ended gameplay, all the while moving the characters down specific narrative arcs. A notable example is Niko Bellic philosophically railing against violence and then engaging in deeply violent behaviors. Likewise, the Elder Scrolls games from Bethesda suffer from this flaw to some extent. By introducing three characters, Rockstar is able to marry that illusion of cohesion between character and gameplay much better than the superficial unions of past games.

At any time (other than specific points restricted for story purposes) you are able to switch between the three characters. The game will then take you to where the characters happen to be at the time - Michael may be at his therapist's, or at the golf club, etc; Franklin may be at a strip joint or other various locals, and Trevor could very well be surrounded by dead bodies in the desert somewhere. Each location fits into the character's story and place in the GTA universe.

STORY: Rather than gradually introduce a wide cast of supporting characters and develop their backstory, Rockstar has streamlined the writing, focusing largely on Trevor, Franklin, and Michael, at the expense of having numerous, secondary characters that so frequently stole the show in previous titles. That's not to say there aren't any memorable secondary characters; rather, the narrative focuses on the big three (and I don't mean Harry, Ron, and Hermione) and delves expensively into their lives and how the characters' fates become inextricably intertwined as the game proceeds.

SETTING: After the sprawling landmass of GTA: SAN ANDREAS, which featured three cities divided by expansive countryside, deserts with secret government bases that may or may not hold alien bodies, and rural communities that appear to be straight out of Deliverance, GTA IV focused on a reimagined New York City. GTA V returns to the west coast, taking place in Los Santos, one of the three cities first introduced in SAN ANDREAS. While not as widely broad and disconnected as "San Andreas", GTA V features the series' biggest map yet, which also includes surrounding mountainsides and Sandy Shores, a costal village.

Unlike previous titles, the entirety of Los Santos and the surrounding areas is available from the very beginning. The gaming world, while always artificial, feels truly alive, with people camping in the woods and bustling city life, and characters interacting with each other in what appears to be (but of course isn't) unscripted, natural way.

GAMEPLAY: The gameplay elements of GTA IV have all been finely tuned: AI is superb, auto-aim works almost flawlessly as does the cover system. You can engage in a wide variety of activities, such as base jumping, cycling, flying, golfing, hunting, tennis, triathalons, vehicular racing, and yoga. Expanding on "Vice City", "San Andreas" and "GTA IV", you can also unlock vehicle storage facilities and purchases businesses and go on missions to help those businesses make profit. You can even play the stock market on your smart phone. There are also individual activities tailored to specific characters (Michael visitng a therapist and playing tennis or practicing yoga, Trevor hunting, etc).

Like any GTA game, there is driving, and a LOT of it. For a series focused so heavily on driving, GTA V is the first time that Rockstar has nailed the driving down so effectivey. Cars handle so much better overall (though the joy rides can still turn into some memorably spectacular crashes). Certain elements of driving in past titles have been frustrating, due to how wildly odd they handle. (Just try driving the combing back from the mission "Body Harvestor" in "San Andreas" and tell me you weren't screaming at the television!) The vehicles handle with precision, while still providing a wide variety of gaming experiences. Rockstar still has not mastered the aerial acrobatics like they have the terrestrial driving, with the plane/helicopter flying still feeling rather primitive in an otherwise impeccable game.

One of the best mechanical revisions introduced in GTA V is that Rockstar has finally fixed the conundrum of mission checkpoints, which saves you from making long, winding drives multiple times if you fail a specific mission.

MISSIONS: The shining point of GTA V, undoubtedly, is the missions, which constitutes the core of the gameplay. Several of the missions are tailor made to one of the three characters. Michael's missions deal with his increasingly fragmented family life as he goes back into crime. Franklin becomes more and more involved with grand theft auto and assassinations. Trevor's missions intimately suit his extremely psychotic psyche with larger-than-life explosions and wild, freewheelin' rampages that would earn anyone in real life a one way ticket to an impenetrable mental instution.

GTA V grades missions on different qualifiers, contingent upon completing optional objects as well as time, appealing to the speedrunners out there. The biggest addition (and it's been a LONG TIME COMING), is, after failing a mission three times, you are able to skip that section of the mission, though your score will be directly effected. Since the 1996 N64 classic "Super Mario 64", open world games have been notorious for having that one, infuriating mission. In the GTA series, often times that mission must be passed in order to progress, and it's high time Rockstar has come up with a solution for those "one mission" nightmares that so often send us into tirades (I'm looking at you, "Wrong Side of the Tracks" from "San Andreas"!). Why develop all these hours of content if, because of one mission early in the game, the player eventually puts down your product, with the game unfinished? Likewise, you can replay missions at any time, another needed addition to the franchise.

A major addition is the heist missions, which involve all three characters. Rockstar is able to show off just how effective they are at featuring three protagonists in the Heists missions, and add a new depth of gameplay not previously seen in the GTA universe. The heists can be done one of two ways: guns blazing, ala Clint Eastwood, or channel your inner Solid Snake and infiltrate and plunder by stealth. Depending on what route you go, the three protagonists then must chose a crew (such as computer hackers, drivers, gunmen, etc) with varying degrees of experience. The better the crew, the more expense, but the less likely the mission will fail or you will run into further complications. The multiple character mode, the choice between stealth and combat, the action-packed setpieces, along with the variables of the crew you have chosen, make the heists some of the most engrossing missions ever seen in an open world game. Unfortunately there is only a handful of such missions in the game. The future of GTA, and sandbox games in general, resides in these type missions, and there is so much untapped potential in them that it almost comes off as a criminal waste.

Off the main story arc, you will find a wide variety of missions, including one where you use a digital camera to produce a sex tape or work with the paparazzi. Trevor also has a rampage mode where he kills onslaughts of enemies.

VISUALS: Fantastic and breathtaking. The game features a wide variety of environments for Rockstar to show off their graphical prowess, from scuba-diving sequences to cross-country to wealthy neighborhoods to seedy, dank areas more terrifying than they are amusing. The variety of locals is astonishing and adds to the overall texture of the game. You will be very hard-pressed to find a more gorgeously looking game on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with all the details becoming much more crisp and the character animations superb.

SOUND: Fantastic as always. GTA V does everything the other games in the series does and more, with a wider variety of musical content, new original music, and the best talk radio (featuring the GTA III perennial favorite Lazlo) this side of Rush Limbaugh. The voice acting is top-notch, as always.

CRITICISM: The game comes across as rather misogynistic, with no strong female characters treated with respect, even given the criminal nature of the gameplay. While boundary-pushing content has always been a hallmark of the game, there is an (unskippable) torture mission that Trevor must complete that [comments] is little more than a veild criticism on the US policy of waterboarding. Even for a game as intentionally lewd and morally reprehensible as GTA V, this mission is deeply troubling and the one time that Rockstar breaks the illusion of "this is just a video game" and actually feeling dirty about yourself as a human being, even though you are playing as Trevor. Sometimes Frankenstien's seams show through, breaking the illusion of reality. Kill an NPC before the mission requires you too and you fail. Even though you are in stealth mode, if a mission requires an enemy sees you, then your stealth is for naught.

ENDING COMMENTS: The GTA games have become a massive cultural phenomena the likes of which few games can attest too, attracting both controversy and fanatical players. With the release of GTA III in 2001, Rockstar introduced a fantastically realised, open sandbox world which was deeply satirical in nature and have only built on the foundations laid by that groundbreaking game.

But twelve years in the electronic entertainment industry and pop culture in general can be an eternity. With the prevelanace of increasingly violent and sexual content regularly displayed throughout our culture, games like GTA V aren't quite as shocking as they were in 2001, let alone 1994 with Mortal Kombat's spine-ripping fatalities went all the way to the United States Congress. Even Christine Hefner, Hugh Hefner's daughter, has stated pornography has become such mainstream that it can hardly qualify as edgy anymore. By this point, the major groundbreaking gameplay elements introduced in GTA III has become a matter of course for big-budget titles. To Rockstar's credit, they have prefected and honed the GTA gameplay to such fine precision that GTA V stands proudly as among the best games ever made in the admittedly very young medium of video gaming [history].

Overall, despite the jaded, cynical culture we now live in, GTA V pushes the boundaries of sex, drugs, and violence to a new level. Like Insane Clown Possy's Dark Carnival mythology , I believe Rockstar is more moral than their detractors allow for. They hold up a twisted, exaggerated picture of life in America today, twisted by crime and sleaze which is enacted by deeply pathological, flawed people. You won't find anything or anyone even remotely redeeming in San Andreas. Essentially, GTA V is a video game equivalent of the sleaze of Guns N Roses's "Appetite For Destruction", and, more specifically, "Welcome to the Jungle".

And what a twisted, warped, manically unhinged jungle that truly is.

*Both Steven Speilberg and George Lucas said Hollywood's reliance on huge blockbusters would cause the implosion of Hollywood's business model when several pictures costing over one hundred million would fail to recoup their investment, shaking the studios to their very core, Modern video games can also represent a significant investment of capital. Disney's video game division estimates the new Disney Infinity game, with its focus on NFC enabled action figures, has a development price tag of one hundred million dollars. Disney's video game division has lost 3.4 billion between 2010-2013.).
Comment Comments (12) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 17, 2013 9:59 PM BST


Grand Theft Auto V Collector's Edition (Xbox 360)
Grand Theft Auto V Collector's Edition (Xbox 360)

16 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the American Jungle, 17 Sept. 2013
Video gaming has come a long way since the late 1970s and early 1980s. Game budgets have balloned into astronomical proportions and marketing campaigns have become blitzkrieg extravaganas. Major video game titles, like the major "tent pole" movies of the summer Hollywood so heavily relies upon, represent significant investment of capital. If you believe the marketing copy, each of these big budget video games represent the very best the video game industry has to offer. *

Sadly, such hyperbole is very seldom the case, especially with non-Nintendo titles. Unlike Nintendo's IPs, which are consistently recognized as some of the most enthralling, well-designed games out there, and also certainly among the most bankable, newer games must establish such a strong, realised world and marketing presence that big budgets are in demand. While Nintendo and Mario/Link are the family friendly alternatives, there exists an large opening for more adult oriented fare to enter and dominate the market place. Enter Rockstar and the GTA titles which, while always controversail, has long helped bring adult themed video gaming into the mainstream with writing that is both brilliant and deeply satirical of modern day life..

GTA V follows the Grand Theft Auto social commentary satire the series is so famous for, and expands it tremendously, becoming a mirror of post-economic collapse America. Nothing is held back from Rockstar's barbed wit: the game tears apart such recent social realities as Facebook (called Life Invader) and the rather sinister undertones by which Mark Zuckerburg and Co. selling our personal data for profit, the ever deepening political divide between the right and the left, America's obsession with celebrities, and their preoccupations with drugs, sex, and violence, and the carnival, fun-house mirror perceptions of America's darkside. Pop culture is alluded too everywhere, from the Sopranos to Breaking Bad to reality TV to the "entitlement" mentality to the absuridty of video game culture and the continual retreating of "Call of Duty" to Millenials. Smart phones which extensively use the Internet (complete with parody websites that also include Twitter) are also heavily featured, which has become a mainstay in today's culture and catapulted Apple into the world's most valuable company..

CHARACTERS: Rockstar changes up the GTA formula by introducing three main protagonists. Introducing for the first time three different characters, GTA V features Michael, a retired criminal in his forties; Franklin, a young gang-banger reminsent of Carl Johnson, and Trevor, a psychotic, in-your-face nutjob who is so unhinged that you can't help but feel he is little more than a caricature than an actual person. Of the three characters, Trevor is by far the most over-the top. A raging lunatic, Trevor is a perfect zeitgest for the GTA player, and is what Hunter S. Thompson would be if he appeared in a video game.

One of the weak points with the GTA series has always been the sometimes unavoidable narrative inconsistencies brought on by its open-ended gameplay, all the while moving the characters down specific narrative arcs. A notable example is Niko Bellic philosophically railing against violence and then engaging in deeply violent behaviors. Likewise, the Elder Scrolls games from Bethesda suffer from this flaw to some extent. By introducing three characters, Rockstar is able to marry that illusion of cohesion between character and gameplay much better than the superficial unions of past games.

At any time (other than specific points restricted for story purposes) you are able to switch between the three characters. The game will then take you to where the characters happen to be at the time - Michael may be at his therapist's, or at the golf club, etc; Franklin may be at a strip joint or other various locals, and Trevor could very well be surrounded by dead bodies in the desert somewhere. Each location fits into the character's story and place in the GTA universe.

STORY: Rather than gradually introduce a wide cast of supporting characters and develop their backstory, Rockstar has streamlined the writing, focusing largely on Trevor, Franklin, and Michael, at the expense of having numerous, secondary characters that so frequently stole the show in previous titles. That's not to say there aren't any memorable secondary characters; rather, the narrative focuses on the big three (and I don't mean Harry, Ron, and Hermione) and delves expensively into their lives and how the characters' fates become inextricably intertwined as the game proceeds.

SETTING: After the sprawling landmass of GTA: SAN ANDREAS, which featured three cities divided by expansive countryside, deserts with secret government bases that may or may not hold alien bodies, and rural communities that appear to be straight out of Deliverance, GTA IV focused on a reimagined New York City. GTA V returns to the west coast, taking place in Los Santos, one of the three cities first introduced in SAN ANDREAS. While not as widely broad and disconnected as "San Andreas", GTA V features the series' biggest map yet, which also includes surrounding mountainsides and Sandy Shores, a costal village.

Unlike previous titles, the entirety of Los Santos and the surrounding areas is available from the very beginning. The gaming world, while always artificial, feels truly alive, with people camping in the woods and bustling city life, and characters interacting with each other in what appears to be (but of course isn't) unscripted, natural way.

GAMEPLAY: The gameplay elements of GTA IV have all been finely tuned: AI is superb, auto-aim works almost flawlessly as does the cover system. You can engage in a wide variety of activities, such as base jumping, cycling, flying, golfing, hunting, tennis, triathalons, vehicular racing, and yoga. Expanding on "Vice City", "San Andreas" and "GTA IV", you can also unlock vehicle storage facilities and purchases businesses and go on missions to help those businesses make profit. You can even play the stock market on your smart phone. There are also individual activities tailored to specific characters (Michael visitng a therapist and playing tennis or practicing yoga, Trevor hunting, etc).

Like any GTA game, there is driving, and a LOT of it. For a series focused so heavily on driving, GTA V is the first time that Rockstar has nailed the driving down so effectivey. Cars handle so much better overall (though the joy rides can still turn into some memorably spectacular crashes). Certain elements of driving in past titles have been frustrating, due to how wildly odd they handle. (Just try driving the combing back from the mission "Body Harvestor" in "San Andreas" and tell me you weren't screaming at the television!) The vehicles handle with precision, while still providing a wide variety of gaming experiences. Rockstar still has not mastered the aerial acrobatics like they have the terrestrial driving, with the plane/helicopter flying still feeling rather primitive in an otherwise impeccable game.

One of the best mechanical revisions introduced in GTA V is that Rockstar has finally fixed the conundrum of mission checkpoints, which saves you from making long, winding drives multiple times if you fail a specific mission.

MISSIONS: The shining point of GTA V, undoubtedly, is the missions, which constitutes the core of the gameplay. Several of the missions are tailor made to one of the three characters. Michael's missions deal with his increasingly fragmented family life as he goes back into crime. Franklin becomes more and more involved with grand theft auto and assassinations. Trevor's missions intimately suit his extremely psychotic psyche with larger-than-life explosions and wild, freewheelin' rampages that would earn anyone in real life a one way ticket to an impenetrable mental instution.

GTA V grades missions on different qualifiers, contingent upon completing optional objects as well as time, appealing to the speedrunners out there. The biggest addition (and it's been a LONG TIME COMING), is, after failing a mission three times, you are able to skip that section of the mission, though your score will be directly effected. Since the 1996 N64 classic "Super Mario 64", open world games have been notorious for having that one, infuriating mission. In the GTA series, often times that mission must be passed in order to progress, and it's high time Rockstar has come up with a solution for those "one mission" nightmares that so often send us into tirades (I'm looking at you, "Wrong Side of the Tracks" from "San Andreas"!). Why develop all these hours of content if, because of one mission early in the game, the player eventually puts down your product, with the game unfinished? Likewise, you can replay missions at any time, another needed addition to the franchise.

A major addition is the heist missions, which involve all three characters. Rockstar is able to show off just how effective they are at featuring three protagonists in the Heists missions, and add a new depth of gameplay not previously seen in the GTA universe. The heists can be done one of two ways: guns blazing, ala Clint Eastwood, or channel your inner Solid Snake and infiltrate and plunder by stealth. Depending on what route you go, the three protagonists then must chose a crew (such as computer hackers, drivers, gunmen, etc) with varying degrees of experience. The better the crew, the more expense, but the less likely the mission will fail or you will run into further complications. The multiple character mode, the choice between stealth and combat, the action-packed setpieces, along with the variables of the crew you have chosen, make the heists some of the most engrossing missions ever seen in an open world game. Unfortunately there is only a handful of such missions in the game. The future of GTA, and sandbox games in general, resides in these type missions, and there is so much untapped potential in them that it almost comes off as a criminal waste.

Off the main story arc, you will find a wide variety of missions, including one where you use a digital camera to produce a sex tape or work with the paparazzi. Trevor also has a rampage mode where he kills onslaughts of enemies.

VISUALS: Fantastic and breathtaking. The game features a wide variety of environments for Rockstar to show off their graphical prowess, from scuba-diving sequences to cross-country to wealthy neighborhoods to seedy, dank areas more terrifying than they are amusing. The variety of locals is astonishing and adds to the overall texture of the game. You will be very hard-pressed to find a more gorgeously looking game on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with all the details becoming much more crisp and the character animations superb.

SOUND: Fantastic as always. GTA V does everything the other games in the series does and more, with a wider variety of musical content, new original music, and the best talk radio (featuring the GTA III perennial favorite Lazlo) this side of Rush Limbaugh. The voice acting is top-notch, as always.

CRITICISM: The game comes across as rather misogynistic, with no strong female characters treated with respect, even given the criminal nature of the gameplay. While boundary-pushing content has always been a hallmark of the game, there is an (unskippable) torture mission that Trevor must complete that [comments] is little more than a veild criticism on the US policy of waterboarding. Even for a game as intentionally lewd and morally reprehensible as GTA V, this mission is deeply troubling and the one time that Rockstar breaks the illusion of "this is just a video game" and actually feeling dirty about yourself as a human being, even though you are playing as Trevor. Sometimes Frankenstien's seams show through, breaking the illusion of reality. Kill an NPC before the mission requires you too and you fail. Even though you are in stealth mode, if a mission requires an enemy sees you, then your stealth is for naught.

ENDING COMMENTS: The GTA games have become a massive cultural phenomena the likes of which few games can attest too, attracting both controversy and fanatical players. With the release of GTA III in 2001, Rockstar introduced a fantastically realised, open sandbox world which was deeply satirical in nature and have only built on the foundations laid by that groundbreaking game.

But twelve years in the electronic entertainment industry and pop culture in general can be an eternity. With the prevelanace of increasingly violent and sexual content regularly displayed throughout our culture, games like GTA V aren't quite as shocking as they were in 2001, let alone 1994 with Mortal Kombat's spine-ripping fatalities went all the way to the United States Congress. Even Christine Hefner, Hugh Hefner's daughter, has stated pornography has become such mainstream that it can hardly qualify as edgy anymore. By this point, the major groundbreaking gameplay elements introduced in GTA III has become a matter of course for big-budget titles. To Rockstar's credit, they have prefected and honed the GTA gameplay to such fine precision that GTA V stands proudly as among the best games ever made in the admittedly very young medium of video gaming [history].

Overall, despite the jaded, cynical culture we now live in, GTA V pushes the boundaries of sex, drugs, and violence to a new level. Like Insane Clown Possy's Dark Carnival mythology , I believe Rockstar is more moral than their detractors allow for. They hold up a twisted, exaggerated picture of life in America today, twisted by crime and sleaze which is enacted by deeply pathological, flawed people. You won't find anything or anyone even remotely redeeming in San Andreas. Essentially, GTA V is a video game equivalent of the sleaze of Guns N Roses's "Appetite For Destruction", and, more specifically, "Welcome to the Jungle".

And what a twisted, warped, manically unhinged jungle that truly is.

*Both Steven Speilberg and George Lucas said Hollywood's reliance on huge blockbusters would cause the implosion of Hollywood's business model when several pictures costing over one hundred million would fail to recoup their investment, shaking the studios to their very core, Modern video games can also represent a significant investment of capital. Disney's video game division estimates the new Disney Infinity game, with its focus on NFC enabled action figures, has a development price tag of one hundred million dollars. Disney's video game division has lost 3.4 billion between 2010-2013.).
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 23, 2013 1:54 PM BST


Grand Theft Auto V (PS3)
Grand Theft Auto V (PS3)
Price: £16.85

32 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the American Jungle, 17 Sept. 2013
Video gaming has come a long way since the late 1970s and early 1980s. Game budgets have balloned into astronomical proportions and marketing campaigns have become blitzkrieg extravaganas. Major video game titles, like the major "tent pole" movies of the summer Hollywood so heavily relies upon, represent significant investment of capital. If you believe the marketing copy, each of these big budget video games represent the very best the video game industry has to offer. *

Sadly, such hyperbole is very seldom the case, especially with non-Nintendo titles. Unlike Nintendo's IPs, which are consistently recognized as some of the most enthralling, well-designed games out there, and also certainly among the most bankable, newer games must establish such a strong, realised world and marketing presence that big budgets are in demand. While Nintendo and Mario/Link are the family friendly alternatives, there exists an large opening for more adult oriented fare to enter and dominate the market place. Enter Rockstar and the GTA titles which, while always controversail, has long helped bring adult themed video gaming into the mainstream with writing that is both brilliant and deeply satirical of modern day life..

GTA V follows the Grand Theft Auto social commentary satire the series is so famous for, and expands it tremendously, becoming a mirror of post-economic collapse America. Nothing is held back from Rockstar's barbed wit: the game tears apart such recent social realities as Facebook (called Life Invader) and the rather sinister undertones by which Mark Zuckerburg and Co. selling our personal data for profit, the ever deepening political divide between the right and the left, America's obsession with celebrities, and their preoccupations with drugs, sex, and violence, and the carnival, fun-house mirror perceptions of America's darkside. Pop culture is alluded too everywhere, from the Sopranos to Breaking Bad to reality TV to the "entitlement" mentality to the absuridty of video game culture and the continual retreating of "Call of Duty" to Millenials. Smart phones which extensively use the Internet (complete with parody websites that also include Twitter) are also heavily featured, which has become a mainstay in today's culture and catapulted Apple into the world's most valuable company..

CHARACTERS: Rockstar changes up the GTA formula by introducing three main protagonists. Introducing for the first time three different characters, GTA V features Michael, a retired criminal in his forties; Franklin, a young gang-banger reminsent of Carl Johnson, and Trevor, a psychotic, in-your-face nutjob who is so unhinged that you can't help but feel he is little more than a caricature than an actual person. Of the three characters, Trevor is by far the most over-the top. A raging lunatic, Trevor is a perfect zeitgest for the GTA player, and is what Hunter S. Thompson would be if he appeared in a video game.

One of the weak points with the GTA series has always been the sometimes unavoidable narrative inconsistencies brought on by its open-ended gameplay, all the while moving the characters down specific narrative arcs. A notable example is Niko Bellic philosophically railing against violence and then engaging in deeply violent behaviors. Likewise, the Elder Scrolls games from Bethesda suffer from this flaw to some extent. By introducing three characters, Rockstar is able to marry that illusion of cohesion between character and gameplay much better than the superficial unions of past games.

At any time (other than specific points restricted for story purposes) you are able to switch between the three characters. The game will then take you to where the characters happen to be at the time - Michael may be at his therapist's, or at the golf club, etc; Franklin may be at a strip joint or other various locals, and Trevor could very well be surrounded by dead bodies in the desert somewhere. Each location fits into the character's story and place in the GTA universe.

STORY: Rather than gradually introduce a wide cast of supporting characters and develop their backstory, Rockstar has streamlined the writing, focusing largely on Trevor, Franklin, and Michael, at the expense of having numerous, secondary characters that so frequently stole the show in previous titles. That's not to say there aren't any memorable secondary characters; rather, the narrative focuses on the big three (and I don't mean Harry, Ron, and Hermione) and delves expensively into their lives and how the characters' fates become inextricably intertwined as the game proceeds.

SETTING: After the sprawling landmass of GTA: SAN ANDREAS, which featured three cities divided by expansive countryside, deserts with secret government bases that may or may not hold alien bodies, and rural communities that appear to be straight out of Deliverance, GTA IV focused on a reimagined New York City. GTA V returns to the west coast, taking place in Los Santos, one of the three cities first introduced in SAN ANDREAS. While not as widely broad and disconnected as "San Andreas", GTA V features the series' biggest map yet, which also includes surrounding mountainsides and Sandy Shores, a costal village.

Unlike previous titles, the entirety of Los Santos and the surrounding areas is available from the very beginning. The gaming world, while always artificial, feels truly alive, with people camping in the woods and bustling city life, and characters interacting with each other in what appears to be (but of course isn't) unscripted, natural way.

GAMEPLAY: The gameplay elements of GTA IV have all been finely tuned: AI is superb, auto-aim works almost flawlessly as does the cover system. You can engage in a wide variety of activities, such as base jumping, cycling, flying, golfing, hunting, tennis, triathalons, vehicular racing, and yoga. Expanding on "Vice City", "San Andreas" and "GTA IV", you can also unlock vehicle storage facilities and purchases businesses and go on missions to help those businesses make profit. You can even play the stock market on your smart phone. There are also individual activities tailored to specific characters (Michael visitng a therapist and playing tennis or practicing yoga, Trevor hunting, etc).

Like any GTA game, there is driving, and a LOT of it. For a series focused so heavily on driving, GTA V is the first time that Rockstar has nailed the driving down so effectivey. Cars handle so much better overall (though the joy rides can still turn into some memorably spectacular crashes). Certain elements of driving in past titles have been frustrating, due to how wildly odd they handle. (Just try driving the combing back from the mission "Body Harvestor" in "San Andreas" and tell me you weren't screaming at the television!) The vehicles handle with precision, while still providing a wide variety of gaming experiences. Rockstar still has not mastered the aerial acrobatics like they have the terrestrial driving, with the plane/helicopter flying still feeling rather primitive in an otherwise impeccable game.

One of the best mechanical revisions introduced in GTA V is that Rockstar has finally fixed the conundrum of mission checkpoints, which saves you from making long, winding drives multiple times if you fail a specific mission.

MISSIONS: The shining point of GTA V, undoubtedly, is the missions, which constitutes the core of the gameplay. Several of the missions are tailor made to one of the three characters. Michael's missions deal with his increasingly fragmented family life as he goes back into crime. Franklin becomes more and more involved with grand theft auto and assassinations. Trevor's missions intimately suit his extremely psychotic psyche with larger-than-life explosions and wild, freewheelin' rampages that would earn anyone in real life a one way ticket to an impenetrable mental instution.

GTA V grades missions on different qualifiers, contingent upon completing optional objects as well as time, appealing to the speedrunners out there. The biggest addition (and it's been a LONG TIME COMING), is, after failing a mission three times, you are able to skip that section of the mission, though your score will be directly effected. Since the 1996 N64 classic "Super Mario 64", open world games have been notorious for having that one, infuriating mission. In the GTA series, often times that mission must be passed in order to progress, and it's high time Rockstar has come up with a solution for those "one mission" nightmares that so often send us into tirades (I'm looking at you, "Wrong Side of the Tracks" from "San Andreas"!). Why develop all these hours of content if, because of one mission early in the game, the player eventually puts down your product, with the game unfinished? Likewise, you can replay missions at any time, another needed addition to the franchise.

A major addition is the heist missions, which involve all three characters. Rockstar is able to show off just how effective they are at featuring three protagonists in the Heists missions, and add a new depth of gameplay not previously seen in the GTA universe. The heists can be done one of two ways: guns blazing, ala Clint Eastwood, or channel your inner Solid Snake and infiltrate and plunder by stealth. Depending on what route you go, the three protagonists then must chose a crew (such as computer hackers, drivers, gunmen, etc) with varying degrees of experience. The better the crew, the more expense, but the less likely the mission will fail or you will run into further complications. The multiple character mode, the choice between stealth and combat, the action-packed setpieces, along with the variables of the crew you have chosen, make the heists some of the most engrossing missions ever seen in an open world game. Unfortunately there is only a handful of such missions in the game. The future of GTA, and sandbox games in general, resides in these type missions, and there is so much untapped potential in them that it almost comes off as a criminal waste.

Off the main story arc, you will find a wide variety of missions, including one where you use a digital camera to produce a sex tape or work with the paparazzi. Trevor also has a rampage mode where he kills onslaughts of enemies.

VISUALS: Fantastic and breathtaking. The game features a wide variety of environments for Rockstar to show off their graphical prowess, from scuba-diving sequences to cross-country to wealthy neighborhoods to seedy, dank areas more terrifying than they are amusing. The variety of locals is astonishing and adds to the overall texture of the game. You will be very hard-pressed to find a more gorgeously looking game on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with all the details becoming much more crisp and the character animations superb.

SOUND: Fantastic as always. GTA V does everything the other games in the series does and more, with a wider variety of musical content, new original music, and the best talk radio (featuring the GTA III perennial favorite Lazlo) this side of Rush Limbaugh. The voice acting is top-notch, as always.

CRITICISM: The game comes across as rather misogynistic, with no strong female characters treated with respect, even given the criminal nature of the gameplay. While boundary-pushing content has always been a hallmark of the game, there is an (unskippable) torture mission that Trevor must complete that [comments] is little more than a veild criticism on the US policy of waterboarding. Even for a game as intentionally lewd and morally reprehensible as GTA V, this mission is deeply troubling and the one time that Rockstar breaks the illusion of "this is just a video game" and actually feeling dirty about yourself as a human being, even though you are playing as Trevor. Sometimes Frankenstien's seams show through, breaking the illusion of reality. Kill an NPC before the mission requires you too and you fail. Even though you are in stealth mode, if a mission requires an enemy sees you, then your stealth is for naught.

ENDING COMMENTS: The GTA games have become a massive cultural phenomena the likes of which few games can attest too, attracting both controversy and fanatical players. With the release of GTA III in 2001, Rockstar introduced a fantastically realised, open sandbox world which was deeply satirical in nature and have only built on the foundations laid by that groundbreaking game.

But twelve years in the electronic entertainment industry and pop culture in general can be an eternity. With the prevelanace of increasingly violent and sexual content regularly displayed throughout our culture, games like GTA V aren't quite as shocking as they were in 2001, let alone 1994 with Mortal Kombat's spine-ripping fatalities went all the way to the United States Congress. Even Christine Hefner, Hugh Hefner's daughter, has stated pornography has become such mainstream that it can hardly qualify as edgy anymore. By this point, the major groundbreaking gameplay elements introduced in GTA III has become a matter of course for big-budget titles. To Rockstar's credit, they have prefected and honed the GTA gameplay to such fine precision that GTA V stands proudly as among the best games ever made in the admittedly very young medium of video gaming [history].

Overall, despite the jaded, cynical culture we now live in, GTA V pushes the boundaries of sex, drugs, and violence to a new level. Like Insane Clown Possy's Dark Carnival mythology , I believe Rockstar is more moral than their detractors allow for. They hold up a twisted, exaggerated picture of life in America today, twisted by crime and sleaze which is enacted by deeply pathological, flawed people. You won't find anything or anyone even remotely redeeming in San Andreas. Essentially, GTA V is a video game equivalent of the sleaze of Guns N Roses's "Appetite For Destruction", and, more specifically, "Welcome to the Jungle".

And what a twisted, warped, manically unhinged jungle that truly is.

*Both Steven Speilberg and George Lucas said Hollywood's reliance on huge blockbusters would cause the implosion of Hollywood's business model when several pictures costing over one hundred million would fail to recoup their investment, shaking the studios to their very core, Modern video games can also represent a significant investment of capital. Disney's video game division estimates the new Disney Infinity game, with its focus on NFC enabled action figures, has a development price tag of one hundred million dollars. Disney's video game division has lost 3.4 billion between 2010-2013.).
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 17, 2013 8:24 PM BST


Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360)
Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360)
Price: £17.99

18 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the American Jungle, 17 Sept. 2013
Video gaming has come a long way since the late 1970s and early 1980s. Game budgets have balloned into astronomical proportions and marketing campaigns have become blitzkrieg extravaganas. Major video game titles, like the major "tent pole" movies of the summer Hollywood so heavily relies upon, represent significant investment of capital. If you believe the marketing copy, each of these big budget video games represent the very best the video game industry has to offer. *

Sadly, such hyperbole is very seldom the case, especially with non-Nintendo titles. Unlike Nintendo's IPs, which are consistently recognized as some of the most enthralling, well-designed games out there, and also certainly among the most bankable, newer games must establish such a strong, realised world and marketing presence that big budgets are in demand. While Nintendo and Mario/Link are the family friendly alternatives, there exists an large opening for more adult oriented fare to enter and dominate the market place. Enter Rockstar and the GTA titles which, while always controversail, has long helped bring adult themed video gaming into the mainstream with writing that is both brilliant and deeply satirical of modern day life..

GTA V follows the Grand Theft Auto social commentary satire the series is so famous for, and expands it tremendously, becoming a mirror of post-economic collapse America. Nothing is held back from Rockstar's barbed wit: the game tears apart such recent social realities as Facebook (called Life Invader) and the rather sinister undertones by which Mark Zuckerburg and Co. selling our personal data for profit, the ever deepening political divide between the right and the left, America's obsession with celebrities, and their preoccupations with drugs, sex, and violence, and the carnival, fun-house mirror perceptions of America's darkside. Pop culture is alluded too everywhere, from the Sopranos to Breaking Bad to reality TV to the "entitlement" mentality to the absuridty of video game culture and the continual retreating of "Call of Duty" to Millenials. Smart phones which extensively use the Internet (complete with parody websites that also include Twitter) are also heavily featured, which has become a mainstay in today's culture and catapulted Apple into the world's most valuable company..

CHARACTERS: Rockstar changes up the GTA formula by introducing three main protagonists. Introducing for the first time three different characters, GTA V features Michael, a retired criminal in his forties; Franklin, a young gang-banger reminsent of Carl Johnson, and Trevor, a psychotic, in-your-face nutjob who is so unhinged that you can't help but feel he is little more than a caricature than an actual person. Of the three characters, Trevor is by far the most over-the top. A raging lunatic, Trevor is a perfect zeitgest for the GTA player, and is what Hunter S. Thompson would be if he appeared in a video game.

One of the weak points with the GTA series has always been the sometimes unavoidable narrative inconsistencies brought on by its open-ended gameplay, all the while moving the characters down specific narrative arcs. A notable example is Niko Bellic philosophically railing against violence and then engaging in deeply violent behaviors. Likewise, the Elder Scrolls games from Bethesda suffer from this flaw to some extent. By introducing three characters, Rockstar is able to marry that illusion of cohesion between character and gameplay much better than the superficial unions of past games.

At any time (other than specific points restricted for story purposes) you are able to switch between the three characters. The game will then take you to where the characters happen to be at the time - Michael may be at his therapist's, or at the golf club, etc; Franklin may be at a strip joint or other various locals, and Trevor could very well be surrounded by dead bodies in the desert somewhere. Each location fits into the character's story and place in the GTA universe.

STORY: Rather than gradually introduce a wide cast of supporting characters and develop their backstory, Rockstar has streamlined the writing, focusing largely on Trevor, Franklin, and Michael, at the expense of having numerous, secondary characters that so frequently stole the show in previous titles. That's not to say there aren't any memorable secondary characters; rather, the narrative focuses on the big three (and I don't mean Harry, Ron, and Hermione) and delves expensively into their lives and how the characters' fates become inextricably intertwined as the game proceeds.

SETTING: After the sprawling landmass of GTA: SAN ANDREAS, which featured three cities divided by expansive countryside, deserts with secret government bases that may or may not hold alien bodies, and rural communities that appear to be straight out of Deliverance, GTA IV focused on a reimagined New York City. GTA V returns to the west coast, taking place in Los Santos, one of the three cities first introduced in SAN ANDREAS. While not as widely broad and disconnected as "San Andreas", GTA V features the series' biggest map yet, which also includes surrounding mountainsides and Sandy Shores, a costal village.

Unlike previous titles, the entirety of Los Santos and the surrounding areas is available from the very beginning. The gaming world, while always artificial, feels truly alive, with people camping in the woods and bustling city life, and characters interacting with each other in what appears to be (but of course isn't) unscripted, natural way.

GAMEPLAY: The gameplay elements of GTA IV have all been finely tuned: AI is superb, auto-aim works almost flawlessly as does the cover system. You can engage in a wide variety of activities, such as base jumping, cycling, flying, golfing, hunting, tennis, triathalons, vehicular racing, and yoga. Expanding on "Vice City", "San Andreas" and "GTA IV", you can also unlock vehicle storage facilities and purchases businesses and go on missions to help those businesses make profit. You can even play the stock market on your smart phone. There are also individual activities tailored to specific characters (Michael visitng a therapist and playing tennis or practicing yoga, Trevor hunting, etc).

Like any GTA game, there is driving, and a LOT of it. For a series focused so heavily on driving, GTA V is the first time that Rockstar has nailed the driving down so effectivey. Cars handle so much better overall (though the joy rides can still turn into some memorably spectacular crashes). Certain elements of driving in past titles have been frustrating, due to how wildly odd they handle. (Just try driving the combing back from the mission "Body Harvestor" in "San Andreas" and tell me you weren't screaming at the television!) The vehicles handle with precision, while still providing a wide variety of gaming experiences. Rockstar still has not mastered the aerial acrobatics like they have the terrestrial driving, with the plane/helicopter flying still feeling rather primitive in an otherwise impeccable game.

One of the best mechanical revisions introduced in GTA V is that Rockstar has finally fixed the conundrum of mission checkpoints, which saves you from making long, winding drives multiple times if you fail a specific mission.

MISSIONS: The shining point of GTA V, undoubtedly, is the missions, which constitutes the core of the gameplay. Several of the missions are tailor made to one of the three characters. Michael's missions deal with his increasingly fragmented family life as he goes back into crime. Franklin becomes more and more involved with grand theft auto and assassinations. Trevor's missions intimately suit his extremely psychotic psyche with larger-than-life explosions and wild, freewheelin' rampages that would earn anyone in real life a one way ticket to an impenetrable mental instution.

GTA V grades missions on different qualifiers, contingent upon completing optional objects as well as time, appealing to the speedrunners out there. The biggest addition (and it's been a LONG TIME COMING), is, after failing a mission three times, you are able to skip that section of the mission, though your score will be directly effected. Since the 1996 N64 classic "Super Mario 64", open world games have been notorious for having that one, infuriating mission. In the GTA series, often times that mission must be passed in order to progress, and it's high time Rockstar has come up with a solution for those "one mission" nightmares that so often send us into tirades (I'm looking at you, "Wrong Side of the Tracks" from "San Andreas"!). Why develop all these hours of content if, because of one mission early in the game, the player eventually puts down your product, with the game unfinished? Likewise, you can replay missions at any time, another needed addition to the franchise.

A major addition is the heist missions, which involve all three characters. Rockstar is able to show off just how effective they are at featuring three protagonists in the Heists missions, and add a new depth of gameplay not previously seen in the GTA universe. The heists can be done one of two ways: guns blazing, ala Clint Eastwood, or channel your inner Solid Snake and infiltrate and plunder by stealth. Depending on what route you go, the three protagonists then must chose a crew (such as computer hackers, drivers, gunmen, etc) with varying degrees of experience. The better the crew, the more expense, but the less likely the mission will fail or you will run into further complications. The multiple character mode, the choice between stealth and combat, the action-packed setpieces, along with the variables of the crew you have chosen, make the heists some of the most engrossing missions ever seen in an open world game. Unfortunately there is only a handful of such missions in the game. The future of GTA, and sandbox games in general, resides in these type missions, and there is so much untapped potential in them that it almost comes off as a criminal waste.

Off the main story arc, you will find a wide variety of missions, including one where you use a digital camera to produce a sex tape or work with the paparazzi. Trevor also has a rampage mode where he kills onslaughts of enemies.

VISUALS: Fantastic and breathtaking. The game features a wide variety of environments for Rockstar to show off their graphical prowess, from scuba-diving sequences to cross-country to wealthy neighborhoods to seedy, dank areas more terrifying than they are amusing. The variety of locals is astonishing and adds to the overall texture of the game. You will be very hard-pressed to find a more gorgeously looking game on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with all the details becoming much more crisp and the character animations superb.

SOUND: Fantastic as always. GTA V does everything the other games in the series does and more, with a wider variety of musical content, new original music, and the best talk radio (featuring the GTA III perennial favorite Lazlo) this side of Rush Limbaugh. The voice acting is top-notch, as always.

CRITICISM: The game comes across as rather misogynistic, with no strong female characters treated with respect, even given the criminal nature of the gameplay. While boundary-pushing content has always been a hallmark of the game, there is an (unskippable) torture mission that Trevor must complete that [comments] is little more than a veild criticism on the US policy of waterboarding. Even for a game as intentionally lewd and morally reprehensible as GTA V, this mission is deeply troubling and the one time that Rockstar breaks the illusion of "this is just a video game" and actually feeling dirty about yourself as a human being, even though you are playing as Trevor. Sometimes Frankenstien's seams show through, breaking the illusion of reality. Kill an NPC before the mission requires you too and you fail. Even though you are in stealth mode, if a mission requires an enemy sees you, then your stealth is for naught.

ENDING COMMENTS: The GTA games have become a massive cultural phenomena the likes of which few games can attest too, attracting both controversy and fanatical players. With the release of GTA III in 2001, Rockstar introduced a fantastically realised, open sandbox world which was deeply satirical in nature and have only built on the foundations laid by that groundbreaking game.

But twelve years in the electronic entertainment industry and pop culture in general can be an eternity. With the prevelanace of increasingly violent and sexual content regularly displayed throughout our culture, games like GTA V aren't quite as shocking as they were in 2001, let alone 1994 with Mortal Kombat's spine-ripping fatalities went all the way to the United States Congress. Even Christine Hefner, Hugh Hefner's daughter, has stated pornography has become such mainstream that it can hardly qualify as edgy anymore. By this point, the major groundbreaking gameplay elements introduced in GTA III has become a matter of course for big-budget titles. To Rockstar's credit, they have prefected and honed the GTA gameplay to such fine precision that GTA V stands proudly as among the best games ever made in the admittedly very young medium of video gaming [history].

Overall, despite the jaded, cynical culture we now live in, GTA V pushes the boundaries of sex, drugs, and violence to a new level. Like Insane Clown Possy's Dark Carnival mythology , I believe Rockstar is more moral than their detractors allow for. They hold up a twisted, exaggerated picture of life in America today, twisted by crime and sleaze which is enacted by deeply pathological, flawed people. You won't find anything or anyone even remotely redeeming in San Andreas. Essentially, GTA V is a video game equivalent of the sleaze of Guns N Roses's "Appetite For Destruction", and, more specifically, "Welcome to the Jungle".

And what a twisted, warped, manically unhinged jungle that truly is.

*Both Steven Speilberg and George Lucas said Hollywood's reliance on huge blockbusters would cause the implosion of Hollywood's business model when several pictures costing over one hundred million would fail to recoup their investment, shaking the studios to their very core, Modern video games can also represent a significant investment of capital. Disney's video game division estimates the new Disney Infinity game, with its focus on NFC enabled action figures, has a development price tag of one hundred million dollars. Disney's video game division has lost 3.4 billion between 2010-2013.).
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