GTA V trailer analysis – we take it apart, rebuild it, take it apart again, break for lunch, and build it back up again


What with it being a year since the last trailer of Grand Theft Auto 5, we’re not just going to post the new footage and walk away. Oh no, we’re going to take it apart with the same due diligence that we apply to buying DVDs – yes, we’re going to take one look at it and form a lasting opinion, one which we’ll use to colour other, less informed people’s opinions with. Come, let us bring you up to speed:

Paul Dean: You know what? The start of this, with one of the protagonists relaxing by the pool, very much reminded me of Sexy Beast. I was expecting a boulder to come crashing down out of nowhere as a metaphor for the dangers that are to come because, of course, you’re never really out of the game. But nobody playing Grand Theft Auto wants to get out of that game, they want stakes that are ever higher and trouble that is ever deeper. I do, too, but it’s been 11 years since GTA 3 and I want my stakes a little more… varied.

I spent most of the 111 seconds of this trailer wondering how much of that action we’ll get to play through and how much we’ll be watching. Leaping out of the way of a train crash? Catching falling people in our back seats? Leaping across the hoods of cars, 70s-style? That’s all neat, but Grand Theft Auto has always loved telling us stories and hasn’t been so keen on letting us take part in them. It doesn’t lend itself to particularly emergent excitement beyond another unexpected car crash and when the cutscenes that take us away from all that end, we usually find we’ve got a gun or a steering wheel in our hand. I’m tired of that and I want to be able to do more in Grand Theft Auto’s world. For a start, because I liked the characters in this trailer, I want to engage with them more. I hope I get to do that. I’d much rather do that than play another goddamn escort mission.

Oh, and if there is a button that lets you slide your backside across the hood of a car I’m going to be doing that all the time. I may spend entire minutes just sliding back and forth, back and forth.

Jeremy Peel:
Paul is rightfully worried about how many of GTA V’s finest moments we’ll play and how many we’ll simply watch play out, but I’ve found myself mostly preoccupied by the several narrative threads that fly by during that thar trailer.

For once GTA V picks up at the end of GoodFellas rather than the beginning, with a Ray Liotta who’s seen far too many friends’ funerals. He’s burned, but otherwise alive and very well indeed, all things considered. Trevor is on the wrong side of 40 and, sadly enough, that already qualifies him as the bravest protagonist big-budget gaming has seen since Eastern European immigrant Niko Bellic. Replete with receding hairline and beer gut and armed with the unlicensed facial structure of Jack Nicholson, he immediately strikes a more compelling pose on that sunbed than a hundred other buzzcut heroes you could name.

But he’s not our only hero, of course. GTA V has three protagonists. Michael is a retired bank robber made fascinating by virtue of a crippled father-son relationship. Witness the grimace at 1:00 and join me in hoping that all of his stories will be told via facial expressions, not subtitles.

Only Franklin treads in familiar Cesar-sized footsteps, tied to the ‘hood but harbouring ambitions only achievable elsewhere. I just hope that his dialogue is where Rockstar choose to pin down the economic zeitgeist, not a catch-all for clichés.

Rob Zacny: I really must manage my expectations here. I like the generational themes at play here in this trailer. We’ve got the aging ex-mobster type, as out of time as the music used here. A West Coast Tony Soprano. Then you have scenes of action set in the California hills, places where time might as well have stopped sometime around the Dustbowl, and where vicious hillbilly gangsters seem to be doing great violence for small stakes. Then you have the modern mean-streets, drug and gang infested neighborhoods with no sense of future or opportunity.

I’m intrigued by the possibilities inherent in bringing these three settings together via three representative main characters. But Paul is right: there’s the GTA we watch, and then there’s the one we play. The one where there’s no real choices and just a whole lot of driving around and killing people with second-rate controls and mechanics.

Rockstar have always channeled movies very heavily in their games, but they’ve never really gotten at what makes Scorsese movies, or Eastwood’s Westerns, or Michael Mann’s crime dramas work so well. You can recreate the gunfight scene from Heat as many times as you want, but that movie is about how DeNiro’s character and Pacino’s relate to their work, and how that in turn changes their relationships to other people. Goodfellas isn’t just a montage of good times and beat-downs all set to “Layla”. It’s about how friendships give rise to a criminal order, and how that order ultimately destroys itself by destroying the trust between friends.

I like to think we’ll live in these characters’ heads more. That we’ll share more of their lives than gunbattles. I could have driven a cab with Niko Bellic for far longer than I did, too. But Rockstar have yet to make that game, or even demonstrate they’re capable of it. I’m encouraged by the themes and wit on display in this trailer, but like I said, experience should manage our expectations.

Steve Hogarty:Gosh, dogs. I saw some dogs. I hope there is a level where you get to play as a dog and solve a mystery, just like Wishbone or to a far lesser extent Scooby Doo. Wishbone was great because he solved mysteries through historical reenactment inside his own mind while also learning lessons that he could then utilise in the real world, usually at a bake sale. It’s probably a bit much to ask that GTA V lets you control a dog and then lets you press F4 to enter its mind, where the dog is imagining wearing a wig and being a Brontë sister, but Rockstar could probably at least let you pet them. Even Assassin’s Creed 3 let you do that.

I suppose, more seriously, I also like how you can swap between the three characters, though I’m sure I’ll end up picking my favourite and ignoring the others. It will be very interesting to see how Rockstar weave a story using that uniquely ‘gamey’ premise. Could be an interesting marriage of narrative and shooting men from cars.

Julian Benson: It has an observatory in it.