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Grand Theft Auto is dangerous again

First-person games have become boring.

The majority of first-person titles ask you to walk around the environment — almost always with a gun in your hands — and either kill everyone you see or flip the equivalent of switches to make something happen.

We know how first-person games are supposed to look and act, and that has led to games that are mechanically so similar as to be indistinguishable. The vocabulary has been mastered; we know what to expect.

So why does the first-person view in the current generation release of Grand Theft Auto feel so fresh? Why are we fascinated by seeing a first-person depiction of sex in a world we already know to be a lurid caricature of the crime films many of us grew up watching?

It wasn't designed for this

The trick is that Grand Theft Auto was designed to be a third-person game. You look down and you see your body. Your hands reach out when you jump over fences. Your body has a sense of weight and reality that's missing in most games. It's not a first-person game now, but nor is it a purely third-person title. The game has to do both, on the fly, and the necessary changes to make that possible bring the game to life.

The game was built with the idea that you'd always see your body, and Rockstar has the sort of budget most studios can only dream about, allowing the world to be fleshed out and detailed in a way that's rare in games. Seeing this reality through the eyes of your character is stunning, and not just because you feel a deeper connection to the setting. If anything it makes everything you see and do more repulsive.

Grand Theft Auto games have always rubbed your nose in their own worst impulses, forcing you to deal with the fact that you're taking part in horrible activities or laughing at terrible jokes. It wants you to look at how horrible these people are, and then makes you want to live inside their skin because they get to do cool things.

All the murder is perfectly fine because later we get to fly a jet!

It's not surprising that the first-person sex is so unattractive, there is nothing about this world or these people that is aspirational, and those traits come to the surface when you're stuck inside them, viewing the world through their eyes. The stolen cars, the bong rips, the oral sex in the front seat of a car ... nothing about this looks fun, and bringing the camera closer to the action leads to a bigger thrill but also an extra helping of revulsion.

Hey look, that's our tattooed and scarred hand pushing the woman's head down! How neat. There is no distance between the player and these horrible characters! Awesome, dude! Do the Dew!

It feels like nothing else

By placing a first-person view into a historically third-person game they've made everything feel different. The guns don't sit on the screen in the same place they normally do in first-person games.

Driving a car becomes claustrophobic, and the car crashes, filled with broken glass the sky changing places with the earth, are terrifying. Walking up to a random person on the street and putting a bullet in their head felt banal in the original release, but it feels terrible and amazing when done in the first-person.

The game can even keep track of what view you're using; I like to drive in third-person and then have the game revert to first-person mode when I'm walking around the neighborhood. The view switches back to third-person when you take cover, which is a nice touch that gives you added flexibility in a firefight. All of this is controllable on the fly, but you can also tell the game to change the view based on what you're doing. It's flexible, and works much better than it should.

The kids are going to love this

Since the game was built around a third-person view you have to walk towards doors and actually open them, your view will pan down as you bend over to lift up a garage door, for instance. It feels immediate and real because all those little animations and attention to how we actually do things has been kept in the game.

It feels like someone existing in the world rather than a video game, and when you combine that with the gross tone and off-putting sex and violence of this series you have something that feels both seedy and attractive. It makes you feel like a god, with the whole world at your disposal. The kids are going to love this.

You're going to see many videos in the next few days that depict doing different activities in Grand Theft Auto V, even activities that are common in many games.

By creating a game that had to work in both third- and first-person views, Rockstar has made an aging series feel fresh, and has shot new life into the most expected video game activities. The first-person view isn't just a new thing for the series, it feels dangerous again. That sense of testing the limits is something the Grand Theft Auto series has lacked for a while now.

The first-person view in Grand Theft Auto is amazing because they had to work to get there, instead of taking it for granted. This entry in the series features characters who are at war with themselves, and now we're stuck inside that battle.

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