Posted on October 10, 2013, Ross Lincoln GTA Online Week 2: Finally Works, Barely Justifies Existence
Just over a week into Grand Theft Auto Online, we can at last finally play the thing.
Yeah, some grueling errors persist, but the initial growing pains are subsiding. The problems with server connection, a lack of substantial things to do, and the ability to even get started are mostly gone. Finally, you can jump into the online version of GTA V’s Los Santos and blow the shit out of it until you puke.
Races are numerous, deathmatches are deadly, and you can do horrible things to random strangers all the livelong day. If all that sounds like fun, it can be, especially if you’re into traditional competitive multiplayer. But unfortunately, it’s not quite enough to make your time in GTA Online time well spent.
A broken character creation system, “missions” that are really more like filler, a painfully slow process of character leveling, and numerous busywork features have managed to turn the sociopathic whimsy of the GTA experience into a frustrating grind. It’s not a terminal illness – as Rockstar continues to update the game it will no doubt improve, and at least it’s free. But as it currently exists, it’s a hot mess that struggles to make playing it worth the effort.
Here are three reasons why.
Character Creation: The Worst
You know what would be awesome? A character creation system that makes everyone look like identical mannequins suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome.
Yeah, no one has ever said this. But I have to assume it’s the underlying philosophy at Rockstar HQ. It’s the only possible explanation for the aesthetic disaster that is the GTA Online character creation system. Perhaps the worst ever such system seen in a game like this, it’s both terribly unfunctional and a total waste of time.
It begins with a somewhat cool idea. Instead of a character editor that allows you to adjust everything from the shape of an avatar’s jawline to the depth of their eyebrows, you instead generate a largely random appearance by choosing your character’s genetic lineage. This means selecting from a range of possible grandparents and parents, then choosing how strong of a resemblance your character has to either their mother or father.
The problem is that a limited range of possible lineages makes it impossible to create a unique character. Dark or pale, emaciated or slightly skinny (there is no other range of body types), player characters are identical, and nearly identically ugly. It’s particularly bad with female avatars, which look pretty much like the male avatars, only with makeup. No really, here is your female default.
Worse, the system is bogged down by a physical trait selection process built around the allotment of “hours” in a 24 hour cycle your character spends doing certain things like sleeping, exercising, or chilling on the couch. It’s inscrutable, largely because the only noticeable changes you’ll see are clothing-related. After spending 20 minutes or more tinkering with your character to no good effect, the final result is either The Skinny Elephant Man, the Skinny Burn Victim, or the Skinny Terrible-At-Drag character.
Much has been made of the fact that Rockstar still hasn’t successfully fixed the problem of your characters being deleted but it seems to me the glitch is doing us a favor. It’s almost as if the game knows that these characters look terrible and the process of creating them is tedious.
What makes it even more maddening is that Saints Row and even APB (shudder) have already demonstrated you can do great character customization in an open world game. Why then would Rockstar just ignore those examples? I get that Rockstar, being Rockstar, wants to make its character creation system stand out from other developers. It’s too bad that their solution was to make it stand out by sucking.