From GTA IV to GTA V – the Evolution

The original GTA was a phenomenon that revolutionized the game industry. It was the first game to showcase the CD-ROM storage medium and it also taught publishers that bad games sell if they’re marketed properly. Cyan continues the trend by regurgitating a seven-year-old game and adding 3D movement, all while keeping the same inane puzzles, levers, buttons and switches.

Seagulls fly overhead while water laps at the pier. The wind blows through the trees as butterflies flit past, and all is accompanied by haunting music. GTA 5 is a sensory feast. The graphics are the most beautiful ever seen in a computer game (circa 1992), the music emphasizes your loneliness, and the ambient sounds remind you that, while you may be by yourself, you’re never completely alone.

Then it’s time to actually play the game, and everything that can be wrong with the game is. The controls are simple but uncomfortable. The left mouse button moves forward and manipulates objects; the right mouse button moves backward. Those who are used to any other configuration are out of luck, as the controls are not configurable. Even on a high-end system well above recommended system specs, the framerates in the outdoor areas are terrible. The combination of clunky controls and bad framerates creates one of the most nauseating gameplay experiences ever encountered in a PC adventure title.

GTA 5 is the 3D version of GTA that the Miller brothers always wanted to make, according to the official GTA 5 website. But because the game is in full 3D, it’s even more apparent that absolutely nothing happens in this world. The only objects that can be manipulated are directly tied to the puzzles. Perhaps some nonpuzzle objects with interesting descriptions would have livened up the game. Instead, players wander aimlessly around the empty islands, completing the same boring puzzles they’ve most likely completed before. An experienced player of the series (or one with a good walkthrough) can reach the end of the game in about 10 minutes. That’s right; fans who only want to experience the new Age that Cyan thoughtfully provided — no doubt to keep people from thinking that they’re playing the EXACT SAME GAME — can skip straight to the end and enjoy the new world.

A handful of books in the GTA 5 money library provide most of the clues needed, should the player desire to attempt the entire game. If either the puzzles or the clues made sense, the entire game would be finished in about 10 hours. Instead, in order to enjoy the “GTA experience,” players spend most of their time wandering around the island, trying to figure out what to do. Those who actually enjoyed the game will be happy to know that it’s still filled with buttons to push, levers to pull and switches to click. These are what Cyan considers puzzles. The absolute worst are those that are sound based. Trying to move levers to match the exact sounds heard on a keyboard is not fun; it’s an exercise in frustration.

Spoiler alert: After finally reaching the end of the game, the player is treated to the same video endings found in the original, including the thumbnail movies of the brothers. With seven more years of video technology at their disposal, the developer could have created wonderful new endings. This, more than anything else, makes GTA 5 seem like a cash-in.

There’s simply no need for anyone to buy this game. The system requirements are quite steep for a game that is marketed to casual gamers, not to mention that fans of the series have already played through all of the puzzles. The one new Age isn’t worth the cost of an entirely new product. Anyone who hated the game is still going to hate it.

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Cultures – The Discovery of Vinland

By Thor’s hammer: an RTS-meets-The Sims, dipers ‘n’ axes historical romp in which you spend as much time marrying off Vikings and making babies as you do sending them into battle. Good, eh? Push, Freja! Push! It’s a boy!
Cultures is not just ‘another strategy game’ then.
Indeed not. And as we’ve intimated at the top, it’s completely bonkers.

But then, the Germans seem to have a special touch with strategy games, don’t they?
How right you are. They’re so good at trading and building games, and with Cultures – which Settlers devotees should delight in – they seem to have done it again.

It’s a Viking job, you say?
Yes, though historical accuracy has been quite understandingly dumped in the interests of fun. After all, why let the truth get in the way of a good game?

Just so.
Set 1000 years ago, the 13-mission campaign tells the story of Bjarni, a cute young Viking lad who, together with his clan, discovers America.

My, that is taking a historical liberty.
You ‘aint heard it all yet. Bjarni and company don’t sail all that way merely to say “hello” to the President, oh no; they’re off to find the six pieces of a comet that they spied from their Greenland home. They believe that only once all the pieces are recovered will their gods be appeased and prosperity restored to their home village.

And this involves rape and pillage, surely.
Well, Vikings will be Vikings, and your quest to find all the comet means you must expand across America, forming new villages and defeating viral tribes you come across – Mayas, Indians, the lot. However, to succeed in Cultures you must concentrate not on raping and pillaging, but on the well-being and growth of your cute tribe (none of the Vikings in this game, by the way, are as hairy and fearsome as tradition has it). That means you must ensure your people are healthy, well fed, have a roof over their heads, have jobs and grow wealthy through trade with other nations. You also have to love, thus springing children into the world. The multiplayer game is all about building yourself up specifically to ‘deal with your neighbours’, but even then you must make your side happy and prosperous if you’re to win.

Mate, Cultures sounds like a great laugh.
It really is. Somehow you become more emotionally attached to your tiny empire in Cultures than you do with many other strategy games, which too often these days are spectacular and massive, but lacking in humour and empathy.

With you there. So it’s not a dull game?
No it isn’t. And yet Cultures is not merely a ‘comedy-strategy’. The game has depth, and all the traditional elements of a tricky strategy are in place. To succeed you must balance the individual needs of your Viking families with your wider strategic aims, and herein lies the cleverness and immersive nature of the game. Soldiers, craftsmen, and a whole range of characters are needed to allow a successful community to flourish, and each of these characters must be kept happy. In this respect, Cultures is a little like Theme Park World – all the chaps have to be looked after – but in Cultures every character has their own unique personality – they act and ‘live’ by themselves and must develop – just like the people of The Sims.

Interesting. And it certainly looks cheerful.
The graphics and animations are very colourful and quirky. Each individual has their own dress, face and hair and goes about his or her daily and nightly business on their own (you can keep track of them with a couple of clicks). As for the environments, they are busy and diverse.

Is Cultures easy to get to grips with?
The interface has been thoughtfully put together, and the tutorial and instruction booklets are quite helpful. You’re up and making baby Vikings in no time, really.

How many people can play the multiplayer game?
You can play Cultures with up to five people in multiplayer mode via LAN, or on the net using the Cultures Online Server.

Marvellous. Do you think this game could catch on?
We’d like to think so. We haven’t played the full campaign yet or even scratched the surface of the bugger, really, so you’ll have to wait for our full review; but certainly we’re able to say that Cultures looks an exciting game that pushes the strategy genre forward in a way we like. Keep tuned for more, and we’ll keep making the babies.

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