Month: February 2018

Year of the Console, February Review. Grand Theft Auto V

I’m so thrilled that the super awesome TLYW Year of Console Gaming is back on track, after careening off the road and barely adhering to the earth’s surface for several months, like a Los Santos gangster in a stolen sports car or monster truck. We’ve reached the end of February and that was Month 11 in our special 14-month series. Game of the month was Grand Theft Auto V. It was a riot. Here’s my review.

Grand Theft Auto V. Rockstar Games (2013), Xbox 360. An open-world, first-person or third-person action-adventure game. I played single player.

Plot and setting: You will play as three frenemies whose stories are interwoven, as all sorts of gangsta events and bad man tings unfold around the Los Santos area, modelled on present-day Los Angeles. You will drive, run, fly and occasionally sail around miles of beautiful coastline, huge mountains, a glittering city, industrial hinterlands and some desert settlements that are sordid and frightful and reminiscent of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You will commit a lot of crime for no real reason except that crime is fun.

General remarks: Grand Theft Auto has always pushed at the boundaries of what’s acceptable in video games. When GTA first appeared back in 1997, moral anxiety about the game centred on activities that now seem unremarkable in a GTA context, such as running over pedestrians in your car, robbing convenience stores and shooting at the police. This fifth episode of the GTA story caused concern among some who noticed a torture scene in which the player is required to torture a NPC using various grim instruments in order to fulfil a quest. While the gritty realism of this sequence certainly had its disturbing and uncomfortable aspects, it seems to me that it can only be properly understood when we see how the experience it offers the player is replicated throughout nearly every layer of the game. Grand Theft Auto is a fantasy. It is explicitly escapist. It is a playground – firmly contained within your Xbox or Playstation, with clear borders – in which the normal rules of civilised behaviour are suspended and you can feel thrilled with your own bravery and instinct for anarchy as you try out dozens of what-if scenarios. What if I gave up my job and turned to organised crime to support myself? What if I didn’t bother to obey the laws of driving, ran red lights and drove all over the road at 100 mph? What if I stopped respecting the idea of property and took whatever I wanted? What if I had a grenade launcher and aimed at a helicopter? Would it fall out of the sky? It’s a heady experience.

In between all of this, when you are not torturing people, shooting at them or flying light aircraft into the side of mountains, you will enjoy a surprisingly huge variety of leisure activities around Los Santos, including golf, tennis, yoga, hiking, darts, triathlons, motor sports, water sports, going to strip clubs and going to therapy. My character Michael was particularly fond of relaxing in between killing sprees by playing tennis with his wife, during which she would mock and insult him as he lumbered heavily around the court.

Thumbs up: It’s a beautifully-engineered game. Its architecture and mechanics are sophisticated and thoughtful. The city is intricate and the outdoor landscapes are beautifully rendered. Stories have depth. Characters have actual personalities and relationships. You can switch between characters as you pursue their interlinked stories, which is really enjoyable and gives you a sense that they are living people who know each other. Every little detail seems to have been thought of, right down to each character’s smartphone, on which he can receive emails and texts, make calls, browse the internet, take photos, check the financial markets and read local news. Being a Rockstar game, there’s a lot of driving which you will do at insane speeds while listening to Los Santos’s 19 radio stations, which broadcast crime news, chat shows and 240 licensed songs. There’s an immense range of things to do, missions are challenging without being impossible and things like dramatic speedboat chases are guaranteed to be screamingly exciting.

Thumbs down: This is such a proud feat of engineering and game design that I wanted to fall totally in love with it and yet I didn’t quite manage it. The thing is, perhaps as a function of GTA’s aforementioned moral playground, all three of your playable characters are horrible people. First you will meet Franklin, a young black guy who’s kind of objectionable in the sense that he’s rude, lacking in moral fibre and is easily roused to violence. Franklin will suddenly start to seem a lot nicer when you are introduced to the second playable character, Michael, a sleazy, enraged, tight-lipped white man in his forties who is rich and could have retired from crime but went back out on the streets because he likes hurting people and because he’s not happy unless he’s complaining about something. Finally, even Michael will appear to be a relatively sympathetic character when you meet Trevor, another angry old white man who has a pathological need for dominance and does poos in public. In short, they are hard to like. GTA V had this in common with The Witcher 3 which I played back in April last year, in month 4 of our series. Geralt used to enter people’s houses to rob them and step over the bodies of dying children and their parents to get to a few coins, then leave without acknowledging them or saying a word. It made it hard to care whether or not he got killed when he was next in a fight with a griffin. Also in common with The Witcher, while parts of the gaming environment are bright, fancy and pretty to look at, other areas are frankly depressing and there are times when you will find yourself standing outside deserted shacks in the mud and rain.

Return to? Yes, I think so. You can have an immense amount of fun with these characters if you don’t pause to reflect on their values. The music is great and everyone likes driving fast, shiny cars. Also, Michael was gradually starting to get better at tennis and golf.

We have video of actual gameplay!

In this film, we’re playing as Michael, who is having a disagreement with the police.

In this one, you can see all three of the playable characters working as a team on a single mission, one of my favourite aspects of the game. Trevor is flying the helicopter, Franklin’s doing range damage with a sniper rifle and Michael is rescuing a guy from some other guys for some reason. Lots of helicoptering, grappling, shooting action.

The camera in each character’s phone allows them to take photos of the scenery, wherever they happen to be, but also to take selfies, which certainly captures their personalities and has a lot of comedy value. In the photo set below, photos that were all taken by my three guys on their own phones.

A selection of favourite GTA V wallpapers, just to capture the flavour of scenes around Los Santos.

Tomorrow I’ll announce the game of the month for March. Game 12 of 14. I cannot wait.


I was lucky enough to visit Delft on my recent tour of Holland. I fell in love with it. It has mediaeval architecture, beautiful streets with quaint houses and tree-lined canals and a lovely, modern library.

There are two churches that you can go and look round to admire the architecture. I went to the New Church where William of Orange is buried, you can tell it is the new one because it was only built in the 14th century. The other church is old.

If you are in the area, you must visit this delightful bead shop. It’s not just about the gorgeous beads which are a riot of colour; the delightful Dutch proprietor will make you mint tea and sit you down at a table where you can chat for as long as you want while she helps you make a necklace. Highly recommended. Don’t buy a house in Delft, though, because I want one so don’t go taking all the good properties.

I realise it is the last day of February and therefore the latest instalment in the TLYW Year of Console Gaming is due to be published today. It is coming. I’m writing the post now so watch this space.


A few photos from my trip to Amsterdam back in August.

I obviously went straight to Museum Square to visit the Stedelijk Museum, where the modern art is.

Sculptures and outdoor scenes in Museum Square, including a brass band and an enthusiastic dancer.

Families playing in the fountain outside the Rijksmuseum.

A few photos from the shopping district. Miffy the rabbit, or Nijntje, to use her proper Dutch name, is a national mascot. I became slightly obsessed with Miffy while I was there and aspire to knit one.

I might be visiting Amsterdam again soon, so there will be more photos of historic and cute things. It’s a lovely city.

Everything proceeds well chez Gloria. Harry and I are as happy as two bugs in a rug and are looking forward to our future. I have resumed learning Chinese after a five-year break and Harry is learning with me. Chinese is a part of our day every day now. We say “wo ai ni, Harry tai tai” and “you are a very handsome xiaohuozi” and other such sweet nothings. So that’s keeping me quite busy and I am getting no video gaming done. You can find my Chinese blog at

More travel photos coming soon. I want to show you a little bit of Den Bosch and also Delft, both in Holland, then I’ll say a few things about my trip to India.

Grand Theft Auto V

Grand Theft Auto V. Rockstar Games (2013), Xbox 360. An open-world, first-person or third-person action-adventure game. I am playing single player.

It’s February and that means it’s Month 11 of the super amazing TLYW Year of Console Gaming. There are 14 games in this specially extended series so we’re now down to the last four! The series will conclude in May and at that time I’ll take an overview of all 14 games and hand out some imaginary awards.

Grand Theft Auto has already won an award, of a kind, in the sense that it is the only game to appear twice on the shortlist of fourteen games that I had to play in order to feel like I’ve received an education in console gaming. I played GTA: San Andreas in September and in fact San Andreas was the reason why I even bought an Xbox in the first place – without that, who knows if the Year of the Console would have happened.

As you know, we are following an historical trajectory throughout the series by playing games in the order of the period in which they are set. Having started in prehistoric times, we’ve very nearly arrived at the present day. GTA V is set in 2013, the year in which it was published. We are about to return to the fictional state of San Andreas, based on Southern California, several years on from the adventures of our old friend, the gangster CJ, who was running around the area, shooting up the place, going to the gym and vomiting in chicken restaurants in a story that was notionally set in 1992. Come to think of it, that makes CJ twenty years older than the characters we’re about to meet and could be someone’s father. Cripes. How time flies.

I am beyond excited to play GTA V. I haven’t played it before but the numbers speak for themselves. It grossed one billion USD within three days of its release in 2013. It has sold 85 million copies worldwide. If there were a contest for the most successful video game of all time, GTA V would have a strong claim on that title. It is a monumental game, a towering achievement. It is almost above criticism. I feel honoured to be in its presence.

It is the game for February. Here’s a 15-minute compilation of all the trailers, which I feel is a preview not just of the game but of my life for the coming month.