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M for Mature

By: Lara Murray, staff writer

Publisher: Rockstar Games

ESRB Rating: Mature 17+ “(M17+”)

Released: 9/17/13

Reviewed On the Playstation 3 – also available for Xbox 360

Editor’s Note: I have been asked about this game no less than a dozen times by concerned parents since the game was released. As a result, I had one of my writers play through and review it so that parents will be able to read it for themselves (and make decisions accordingly).

Overall Review:

Grad Theft Auto V (“GTA5”) is an open-world action game, and is the latest installment in the notorious but very successful line of Grand Theft Auth video games. The game follows three different protagonists within the fictitious city of Los Santos (based loosely on Los Angeles) in the fictitious state of San Andreas whose lives intertwine as the player completes missions. These missions often require the player to meet a crime-based goal, such as pulling off a bank heist, in order to move on to the next segment in the overall story.

When not involved in a mission, players are given free range to explore Los Santos and find ways to interact with the environment. That is where a bulk of the game play lies. Much of the interaction involves committing crimes, and as players commit crimes they will build up a 5-star rating. The more stars a player earns, the more law enforcement that comes out to find and put a stop to the player’s antics, which then usually ends in a shoot-out between the player and the law.

Family Gaming Assessment:

First and foremost, if the title “Grand Theft Auto” wasn’t a tip off, let the reasons for its M17+ rating speak for themselves: “Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol.”

The ESRB’s explanation for GTA 5’s M17+ rating is available by clicking the provided hyperlink. The ESRB does a great job describing a myriad of graphic in-game examples that explain why GTA V has a M17+ rating, like when the player must torture a kidnapped man for information, or the availability for the player to hook up with a prostitute after she performs a topless lap dance for them. If sirens aren’t already going off in your head, then it’s worth your time to read the ESRB’s explanation.

In addition to the mature content, GTA 5 also has a lot of satire dripping with passive-aggressive contempt aimed at modern American society, from advertisements on billboards to television shows to dialogue passed between characters. Adults may find humor in the game’s tongue-in-cheek approach, but the jokes will go over most children’s heads.

Playability Assessment:

As mentioned earlier, players control one of three protagonists, completing missions that further advance the storyline. Some missions require managing brownies avocat more than just one of the protagonists. This is handled by switching from one to another, sometimes at the game’s decision but most times manually by the player. If a player dies in the game, whether or not it’s during a mission, the game resumes outside a hospital or clinic and deducts a “copayment” from their funds.

Reading and comprehension skills are a must to play, but the average age of GTA 5 players should not have an issue with this. There are no dialogue boxes during conversations, but subtitles are available from the start menu, as well as other features such as a larger map, briefings on current missions, player stats and game options.

During play, a map appears in the bottom left corner that acts like a GPS by routing paths to predetermined locations. The bottom right displays pronouns, such as character names, streets, and types of cars, to help keep track of what the player is interacting with.

Online multiplayer mode was not available at the time of the review, but Rockstar has indicated that the buy steroids online option will become available October 1st, 2013. In it, players will interact with other players in Los Santos, either working together or against each other to earn points for their team, known as a “crew”.

Conclusion:

It’s likely that GTA 5 will appear at the top of many top ten lists this year, as well as the top of many holiday lists, but it’s the kind of mature fun that’s reserved for responsible gamers and not children or teens that are still impressionable and haven’t established firm principles, character, or comprehension. Most families will find that GTA 5 doesn’t have a place in their household, especially in homes with young children. Use discretion with teenagers who may be old enough to see through the veil and handle the mature themes.

Regardless of your decision, use GTA 5 as a talking point with your children. Instead of telling them straight out that a popular game like GTA 5 is banned from the house, explain the reasons why you feel it’s not an appropriate game; it can be a means to explain to them why behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse and gun violence are bad. And if you do approve of the game, let your child know what they’ve done that permits you trust them.

You may not be playing a game but you’re still engaging with your family. That’s what’s important.

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My son is in his mid teens, and I am ok with him playing M rated games that have violence and foul language, but I would still rather not have him playing games where he plays as a criminal like Grand Theft Auto. Can you suggest anything for me?

There is a common misconception that all M rated games are made equal. The idea has gotten out there that if a game has an M rating on it then it is automatically a murder/crime simulator with no redeeming qualities.

The good news is that this could not be further from the truth. There is a wide spectrum of games within the M rating,

Simply put: Just because you feel they are able to handle violence and language doesn’t mean that you have to jump to extremes and open the content floodgates. You have the option to pick and choose.

Avoiding games built around blatant criminal activity is relatively easy to do. It really comes down to context. M rated games will almost all have violence, but the context of these games makes a big difference.

Here is a list of games that are worth looking at.

Tomb Raider:

Players are left with two options for characters when they choose not to play the criminal: The victim and the hero. Tomb Raider gives them a chance to step into both roles.

This year’s reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise was a grim look at the humble beginnings of one of the most well known video game characters there is. It tries to explain how a young woman could be transformed into a cold, calculating, treasure hunter.

If you are fine with violence but would prefer that there be an interesting narrative attached to it, then this is a great option.

The Assassin’s Creed Series:

This series is a sprawling narrative built around a conflict between two warring factions that has been present throughout most of the major conflicts in our world’s history. Players take on the role, depending on the game, of one of three assassins at different points in history.

The hook, and the predominant reason why I am listing these games here, is that the developer took great pains to recreate these historical periods as accurately as possible. Assassin’s Creed II, for example, takes place during the Italian renaissance. The cities in the game are rebuilt so accurately that if you get lost during game play it is perfectly acceptable to look up actual maps of the cities to find the locations of certain points of interest.

The most recent game in the franchise takes place during the Revolutionary War and is one of the most impressive realizations of colonial American life I have ever seen.

Also, despite all of its violence, the game actively rewards players for being careful and not killing indiscriminately.

The Walking Dead Season 1:

The Walking Dead game is based in the same world as the popular television series. In this case, violence is all about context. This is a game about survival, but it is also a story about discovering what it most important in this world.

Players are put in terrible situations and forced to make meaningful decisions that have consequences that ripple through the rest of the game. Every dialogue choice can have an impact on the way other survivors treat you. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that dividing rations amongst a group of survivors was the single most heart wrenching game play decision I have ever made in a game.

The other advantage to this game is that it is told in the ages-old point and click adventure style. This makes it more than ideal for people to play together and discuss. I know that I can’t wait until my boys are old enough to play this game with me. The discussions that will inevitably come out of it will be great!

Call of Duty/Battlefield Series:

These military shooters get a bad rap because of their popularity, but almost all of the violence in these games is performed within the context of military action. It is not the most accurate depiction of military combat, but the games themselves are engaging and fun.

It is worth noting that the online multiplayer component for these games is often the real draw. If you aren’t interested in letter your kids play online, then there is better value to be found in other shooters. These games tend to be very light on the single player experience. 

The Last of Us:

This is a tough one. I am listing it here because it is one of my favorite games right now. The Last of Us tells the story of a two people in a world that has been destroyed by a mind controlling fungus that mutated and became able to infect humans. The end result is something very similar to a zombie apocalypse.

The reason this game is wroth noting is that the developer (Naughty Dog) has done a masterful job of creating a believable world for these characters to inhabit. If your teenager has an appreciation for storytelling and can handle mature themes then this is a game to keep on their radar.

Also, even if you AREN’T a gamer, I highly recommend that you watch the first 15 minutes of this game. The prologue is a perfect illustration of the kind of emotional impact that a modern video game is capable of having.

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By Bill Gibbs, Staff Writer

Editors Note: I know what you might be saying. “This game is rated M. How could this be reviewed on a family gaming website?” The reality is that we will be reviewing major M rated releases because teenagers are part of the family too! We recognize that there are parents who are willing to let their 15 and 16 year olds play rated M games. So there is no reason to hide the information from anyone.

 

ESRB Rating: M for Mature

This review is intentionally vague on the details of the game as to not require a spoiler warning. Main themes, visual elements, dialog, gameplay, and age suitability are discussed below.

Overall Review:

Remember Me is a game which starts with a truly interesting yet classical feeling science fiction concept: digitizing human memory and the consequences thereof. The world created is deceptively deep given the game’s story (more on that in a bit) although most of the world of the 2080’s is revealed by optionally found journal entries. These entries detail a world ravaged by global weather changes, war, and the dramatic shift of society due to the invention of the “Sensation Engine” (called Sensen). Sensen allows for the digitalization of thoughts and the overlay of digital information in real time into the mind, an idea which the game uses constantly.

Which brings us to the problem with Remember Me. Without any major spoilers, the game itself does little to capitalize on all of this set up. The story for the game itself is fairly straightforward, and although it throws a few curves to keep things interesting the game never really deviates from a basic “topple the evil corporation” line until the last second. Overall the story is average with a few interesting bits, but it’s nothing to be amazed at.

While the soundtrack is not terribly memorable, it does its job during game play to set all the needed moods and set the pace for combat. Voice acting is well done with a particularly good job by the game’s main character Nilin.

Graphics are nearly not worth judging in today’s AAA games unless they are subpar. That is not the case here. The game is good looking, its best features being water effects, lighting, and shadows. These are the basic hallmarks of graphical ability and the game does them well. The neat thing about the visuals in this game isn’t the quality. It is the way the Sensen is intergraded into the world. Shops have their names and menu’s floating in the air directly in front of them, out of order elevators have warnings floating directly in front of them. It takes everything that is being talked about today regarding augmented reality and takes it to its logical conclusion. It’s another example of the depth and detailed thought put into this game in every area accept the gameplay or the main story. A lot of effort went into creating an amazing setting; they just failed to tell an interesting story in that setting.

This brings up the gameplay. This is unfortunately where the game is really lacking, which is a problem since this is a GAME. The primary problem is the simplicity of the combat, the insultingly straightforwardness of the platforming, and the shear linearity of the game as a whole. Starting with the combat, you can customize your combos by selecting “pressens” which is the game’s version of individual hits in the combos, into four combos. 3, 5, 6, and 8 hit combos are available which sounds like a great level of customization but in combat it breaks down into rinse and repeat the same four combos over and over for the whole game. There are a few special pressens which grant short term extra power or the ability to one shot certain enemies, but they do little to break up the monotony of combat and in many of the fights are unfortunate requirements due to enemy invulnerabilities to standard attacks.

The platforming sections which separate the fights have only one way to go: forward. There are no mistakes to be made, no having to figure out where to go or going the wrong way. To top it all off the Sensen displays in real time the next jump or move to make, so although you are playing traditional platforming sections (ala Prince of Persia), these sections are little more than an exercise in going through the motions.

There is one saving grace to the gameplay and that is the “memory remix”. In these sequences the game shows someone’s memory of a key event in their life. You then have the power to fast forward, rewind, and pause the memory while you change key details to dramatically alter the target’s personality. Not only are these sequences challenging puzzles but they are brilliant examples of the core theme of the game. How much of whom we are is dependent on our memories? What happens when you start tinkering with the most important events of a person’s life? These questions are directly addressed by the remix sections. There are 4 of them in the game, and they are the clear high points as well as being some of the darkest parts of the story.

Family Gaming Assessment:

Remember Me deals with some very dark topics at times as well as being visually graphic where its enemy designs and environments are concerned. That being said, there is little in the game’s fighting that would not be found in any PG-13 adventure or monster movie. A few moments of foul language complicate matters for the young teen audience but aside from some mutated humans called “leapers” the overall themes and events of the game are acceptable to anyone over the age of about 17.

The game does deal with some dark topics however. Differences in economic class to the point of near slavery, personal manipulation leading to suicide, and generally involved questioning just how far society can fall when given to its own vices are the core themes explored in the game. It is a dystopian world strife with inequality and violence. Although the punch kick combat is fairly sanitized (no blood, guns, or gore) the environments range from filthy flooded sewers full of mutated humans to secret high tech labs where the poor have been experimented on. These environments are not directly inappropriate for early teen players, but they also imply a lot of unseen violence and human suffering. The other issue, as noted before, is the use of profanity in some stages of the game. Though none of these sections are particularly gratuitous and in fact the language used is fairly acceptable given the situations, the fact remains it is profanity and it does happen a few times throughout the course of the game. If you don’t want your 15 year old hearing an F-bomb dropped during the memory of a man arguing with his girlfriend, then this game is not for them. Despite the thin main story, the characters and the setting itself are very real, very charged with emotion, and full of adult themes as noted above.

Playability Assessment:

All things being equal, this game uses a very simple series of mechanics. As mentioned above, the Sensen is used as an “in-game” way for the game to basically hold your hand throughout every section and basically tell you where to go. The combo system is limited and very simple. Anyone with the ability to play “Simon Says” can get through this game with little overall difficulty. The “custom” part of building your combos, while cool, is very easy to exploit which eliminates most of the challenge in the game fairly early on. There are maybe two hard fights in the game on normal difficulty, and they are less hard because they require skill and more because they require the use of a specific special move in order to do any damage to the bosses, and that move has a 2 min cooldown. Frustrating, yes. Difficult, no. Anyone with even a modicum of prior video game experience will quickly master everything this game offers in terms of challenge. Everyone else just has to be able to follow on screen instructions and learn some basic button timing. The price of failure is also not too steep, as you will quickly automatically load the last checkpoint. Checkpoints are well spaced out and after each fight, platforming sections, or major cutscene. This is good pacing but it also means that if you die during a fight all that happens is you end up restarting the fight.

Conclusion:

Remember Me is an ok game meant for a more mature audience based on its themes and dialog but will likely be ok for anyone 17 and up (again, with the profanity exception). The gameplay is lackluster and very point A to point B with little change as the game progresses. The story is thin, but the setting is fantastic. Remember Me will likely not provide much of a challenge to an experience gamer but does rely on some very common core gaming mechanics which allows anyone to pick up the game and learn some important basics.

Bottom line: the game is worth it if you are interested in experiencing a brilliant setting of a dystopian future where man’s quest for technological improvement to the self has resulted in terrible unforeseen consequences. Excellent characters that are well voiced and react fantastically to their dystopian world but unfortunately do so while undergoing very little of an overall story. If you’re looking for innovation in gameplay, a challenge, or a deep and complicated story, you’re going to end up skipping Remember Me or picking it up in the discount bin in a few months.

Parents: Though visually the game is tame and lacks most of the gore, guns, knives, and other implements of violence in its combat, the game is still not suitable for pre or even young teens. The themes are dark and disturbing, the language is adult and laced with profanity, and the atmosphere often depicts vast human suffering. ESRB has it rated as M for “Mature Audiences” citing blood, partial nudity, strong language, and violence.

This review, based on the PC version.

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