When I think of Los Angeles, I think of strip malls and highways. I think of parking lots and concrete. I think of Ballard and boredom. Grand Theft Auto V's Los Santos is full of beautiful vistas, but what game isn't? I'm more impressed that, despite its do-anything, go-anywhere crime story about gangsters and thugs, the biggest series in gaming is comfortable being mundane.
Rockstar's homage to the City of Angels is full of the same bleak, modern landscapes that make the real thing such a psychologically strange city to visit.
If Niko's story in Grand Theft Auto IV was about being trapped in a cycle of violence, its successor is about being trapped within the monotony of real life. Michael is bored of retirement and family life; Franklin is bored of his life of petty crime and imagines the excitement of wealth; even Trevor, psychotically energetic, jumps at the chance to recover his chaotic youth.
As I play, I can't escape the tedium of performing one dull activity after another. I select Franklin and take my dog for a walk, throwing a ball across the countryside and watching him sprint off after it. I select Trevor and tumble my way on to a tennis court. The floaty physics feel awful, and the slow wait between serves makes every game impossibly long. I'm too restless to ever bother finishing a match.
Even when I return to my life of crime, eager for the satisfaction of progressing the plot, the missions interchange moments of high octane base jumping with menial labour. Later, the game promises, you will be able to drive a submarine and blow up a boat, but for now, would you mind stacking some crates down at the dock?
I actually don't mind, it turns out. When I tire of towing vehicles as Franklin, I switch to Michael and take him to yoga. But Grand Theft Auto V is the first GTA game where I haven't ended each play session with a rampage, causing carnage through the streets till the military lay me to waste. In the last 15 hours of play, I can't even remember a single exploding car.
Somewhere between the detail of Los Santos' buildings, and the robust simulation of humdrum existence within them, GTA V has created a world that's good enough to be bored within. Why would I want to blow things up, when I could instead switch characters and see if Trevor wants to live life as a taxi driver? I don't want to break Los Santos. I want to live in it.
Loving Sending my dog sprinting down mountains
Hating The interminably long and aimless banter