Grand Theft Auto Again: How Do They Fuck This Up?

Grand Theft Auto is like a casino for me.  And I don’t like gambling.

But so many other people love gambling, talking about how awesome fun it is, how glamorous the casino life, how great the food, and so periodically I question my own sanity.  It must be fun, I think.  Everyone else is having fun.  I must have missed something about the experience.  And so I head into town and find the blackjack table and shell out money, and just as I have the past seven times I’ve gone to a casino, find it deeply disappointing.

Not bad.  Just so uninteresting that there are other clearly superior pleasures I could be wasting my money on.

And Grand Theft Auto gets so hyped that nobody but me ever seems to notice how they badly fuck up the small details.

For example: their tutorials are among the crappiest tutorials in the whole world; it’s like nobody ever played them.  First off, they make the inevitable mistake of having the tutorial text be miniscule for no apparent reason.  Seriously.  I have a 55″ screen that is maybe seven feet away, and I had to get up to sit in front of the TV like a four-year-old watching Nickelodeon cartoons to actually read what the fucking text was.  It was, literally, unreadable from my couch; if the button I was supposed to press wasn’t X, Y, B, or A – the color-coded ones – I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. If it was, I pressed it blind and hoped what it did was obvious.

But then, the tutorial screens pop up as you’re doing other things.  So I’m chasing a dude through traffic, and while I’m trying to figure out where he’s gone, alerts keep blipping up in the top left-hand corner of the screen to say, “WHILE YOU HAVE BEEN SQUINTING TRYING TO READ ME, YOU JUST LOST SIGHT OF YOUR BUDDY.”  What would be wrong with a little confirm dialogue, actually pausing the game for slower readers so we don’t have to split our attention?

Oh, it’d be less cinematic.  Fuck you, Rockstar.

And there’s no archive of these tutorial hints, so if you miss them you’d better get a goddamned FAQ.  Hey, we taught you once, move on, move on.

Saints Row does tutorials correctly, which is why it’s been gaining significantly on Grand Theft Auto.  Sadly, GTA was the biggest premiere in videogame history (in part due to lemminglike suckers like me), and none of the reviews I noted seemed to grok how GTA is very high-quality in some levels, but absolutely bombs in some basic usability tests in others.  It’s one of those things that reminds me that what other people want in a videogame experience is often highly different from mine, and that my tastes are small and easily overlooked.  GTA was a huge success, so why do we need to fix these things?

Because they’re fucking terrible?

5 Comments

  1. Mark D
    Sep 23, 2013

    I actually felt that the tutorials were way better than the tutorials in previous GTA games. At least the first mission gets you right into the action rather than driving your cousin from the boat to his appartement. It reminded me of the tutorial in Saint’s Row 3, which admittedly was more action packed.
    And yesterday I actually went to flight school in GTA 5, which was a nightmare for me in GTA San Andreas. I must have spent at least a full working day on ‘Circle the air strip and land’. In GTA 5 not only is it optional, the lessons are somewhat doable.
    I do agree on the small font for the tutorials, they should at least have given the option to use a larger font (same thing for the text messages on the phone).

    • ForumJoe
      Sep 23, 2013

      I agree with everything you have said about the poor design choices that went into the text size and the timing of the hints. It’s nearly impossible to read them while focussing on the action. So I don’t bother.
      However, I need to point out that you are incorrect about being able to access them after the fact. Just pause the game, select “Brief” and flip down to both “Help” and “Notifications.” It brings up all the recent tutorial texts that you might have missed while you were chasing a bad-guy through the streets at 95mph

  2. Neil
    Sep 26, 2013

    So, quick question… as someone who LOVED GTA3, Vice City and San Andreas… I couldn’t come close to finishing GTA4 because it had stopped being a game and become “work.” I don’t want a game where I’m slave to a cell phone, have to deal with a pesky girlfriend, get lost finding bowling alleys, and when I have a “mission” spend a ton of time just getting to the mission in traffic that is not actually fun to drive in… and do it all over again when I inevitably fail. I know I’m old now, but why such a focus on making it so real that it stopped being a game? Is GTA5 any better?

    • TheFerrett
      Sep 27, 2013

      A little. It feels kind of empty, now, such a big city with little to do, but it’s definitely better than the mundanity of GTA IV. And the checkpoint system is considerably improved, though there are frustrating times when the checkpoint’s wrong and you have to do-over old-school style.

      But it’s harder to find people to run over. That’s a major complaint of mine.

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