Four Things About The Latest ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ Trailers

So now we’ve got a closer look at the three leads in September’s “GTA V,” courtesy of three new trailers showing each character’s motivations (or in tweaked-out Trevor’s case, chaotic response) to Rockstar’s latest crime saga.

Looking at Michael, Franklin, and Trevor’s trailers, I had a couple of thoughts about the direction of “Grand Theft Auto V” (which I should hasten to add I have no played a single minute of) and the legacy of the franchise in general.

Look at those faces

The protracted development of “L.A. Noire” yielded one major positive for publisher Rockstar: some excellent facial capture and animation technology. The mouth movements, physical animations, and character detail are all endlessly watchable.

The eyes remain a problem, either moving too quickly or too slowly in their orbits or just over-lit (or under-lit, I can never be sure) in the way that most high-quality animation can’t get peepers right. That’s not really on Rockstar so much as a someone-needs-to-figure-out-eyes problem.

We’re still mining the “Sopranos”/”Analyze This” thing in pulp fiction

Michael’s trailer features the former gangster attempting to talk through his midlife crisis with a shrink, forming the backbone of what appears to be his arc for “GTA V”: how to go completely legit and retreat from the violence of his former life.

No brilliant revelations here on my part: I’m just surprised so many years after its obvious antecedent–“The Sopranos”–heyday, Rockstar would head in that direction in order to explore their lead character.

I’m somehow even less interested in Franklin now

And this is something that could be easily smoothed over by playing the game, but right now, Franklin’s story has the least definition of any of the other two. While he has a clear crisis (how will he get by without embracing the criminal life), we’ve heard this story so many times before about dead and dying young black men on the streets of America, and fewer and fewer writers are finding anything constructive (or interesting) to say about it.

Franklin’s not the first GTA lead of color nor is this the first time that Rockstar has gone to this well–CJ has already played out some elements of their “Boyz In The Hood” story. I’ll give Dan Houser and company the benefit of the doubt that they’ve done somewhere beyond that narrative, but based on this trailer, it’s hard to see.

Trevor is the platonic ideal of a “GTA” character

In another universe, after Rockstar kept following up “GTA: Vice City” with slightly iterative sequels, some version of Trevor and not Niko would have been the lead of “GTA IV.” Instead, Rockstar embraced the drama while scaling back the anarchy in its last numbered sequel, pushing the franchise towards heightened, albeit relatively realistic crime fiction.

Based on the trailer, Trevor would feel more at home in “Vice City” and its ilk, a dirty, profane ball of chaos who makes more sense for the “Saints Row” franchise than he does for the current incarnation of “GTA.” With Trevor, Rockstar’s selling up all of the Fox News-ready freakouts about violence in games and the sort of unfettered, yet exciting id-driven experiences of “GTA III” onward.

And that’s kind of cool to see some of that abandon and recklessness injected back into the series.

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