Marriage Counseling from Grand Theft Auto V - Level-Up

Despite being the 14th title in the Grand Theft Auto series, a simple perspective change completely alters the way the player approaches and perceives the long-running franchise. With the inclusion of the first-person perspective, the world of GTA suddenly feels more personal and tangible. No longer is the player able to feel a disconnect between themselves and the often immoral actions that they are required to do. No longer is the player able to soften their guilt by putting the blame on the ever-present on-screen character. For the first time in the life of a GTA player, he or she truly feels sorry for their actions.

My first taste of this sour reality came when I, in a recently stolen sports car, collided head-on with another car and instantly killed the driver; who had slumped over the steering wheel, the horn piercing shrilly into the night like some sort of demented eulogizer. The immense wave of remorse that spread over me was unprecedented. I had never felt anything like that before while playing a GTA game - and from that moment onward I did something I had never done before in a GTA title: I exercised extreme caution.

The ability to play in first-person mode is but one of the many things that makes Grand Theft Auto V, well, that much more grand than its predecessors and contemporary open-world action games. The ability to control three different protagonists (another series’ first) is another feature that truly bought a series well-known for its open-ended gameplay to even more endless heights (or widths, whatever your prefer). Now you can explore the beautifully detailed Los Santos either through the eyes of Franklin (a gang-banger); Michael (an ex-robber); or Trevor (an all-round psychopath). The latter is considered by many as the most memorable character of the trifecta (and possibly the whole GTA series). However, I felt more drawn to Michael de Santo. His superbly written character arc made him arguably the most relatable from the trio, and the versatility of his missions provided far more enjoyment than Trevor’s often psychopathic rampages and Franklin engaging in stereotypical behavior.

Marriage Counseling is the sixth mission from the game (and Michael’s third); and while it may seem rather unfair to choose a mission that appears so early in the game, perhaps this should be seen as a testament to Rockstar’s greatness: the uncanny ability to grab your attention early. This mission sets the tone proper for the main plot of GTA V. The consequence of successfully finishing the mission results in a solid partnership between Michael and Franklin that plays an important role in the development of the former’s activities; Michael coming out of retirement to do best at what he’s in, and ultimately the resurrection of old ghosts, one of which includes Trevor. The events leading up to Marriage Counseling are fair, but not exactly memorable - a gunplay session here, chase sequence there. This mission changes all that, and when you realize exactly what was riding on its gameplay and aftermath, you cannot help but awe at how the game impressively entered the main storyline with such a dramatic intro.

The mission begins with Michael coming home to find his wife in dangerous liaisons with her personal tennis coach. Like any husband discovering his wife en deshabille with another guy on their bed, Michael gets angry, and after making threats to kill the coach (in one of the game’s many comedic moments), the latter jumps out of the window and drives away in his red sports car. Around this time, Franklin drives up to the mansion and both he and Michael give chase to the coach in a borrowed truck. I’m really glad that the the chase sequence is abruptly cut short after thirty seconds because participating in another car chase - after doing just that in the previous mission - would’ve made things too repetitive and perhaps even boring. Shortly after you give tail to the coach, a scripted moment sees an RV backing out onto the road, blocking your path - and by the time it has completed its intended action, you lose sight of the coach’s car (the icon even disappears from the mini-map), leaving Michael wondering as to where he could be living - or as how the coach puts it later on, hiding. It doesn’t take long however to find the coach’s red car parked (albeit haphazardly) beneath a stylish  deck built (albeit precariously) on supports overlooking a rather spectacular view of the city (it is even possible to see Michael’s house from here).

Once you reach the glowing yellow spot, a short cutscene occurs which sees Michael and the coach exchanging perhaps THE funniest lines of dialogue in the entire game. Memorable quotes include “How fucking magnanimous” and my personal favorite, “Maybe I should come up there and practice my backhand… on your face!” The hilarity of the scene, coupled with Franklin’s utter bemused state (“Hey man, you really gonna be this fucking dramatic?”) and Ned Luke’s fantastic voice acting as Michael, makes this cutscene easily one of the game’s best and a moment you will for sure want to replay several times.

The mission doesn’t end here however, far from it. As it so happens, the truck has a winch at the back and Michael gets a devious brainwave: attach the cable from the winch to one of the supports of the house (as it’s built on a sandy cliff) and pull it down. This is where the game’s first impressive moment kicks in: watching the house come down in its entirety really is a sight to behold. The advanced physics show their potential and overall it is one awesome sequence that excels in just about every way and will permanently etch itself in your brain as one of the best highlights of your gaming life.

After the senseless destruction has been caused, Michael and Franklin get a phone call from the freaked out coach explaining that the house the duo just pulled down wasn’t his, and that he was just hiding there. The coach is then cut short by a woman (whom we briefly see in the aforementioned cutscene, and who is shortly revealed to be Natalia) who screams perhaps the most infamous quote from the game: “You’re a dead man! Green light! Green light! Martin Madrazo give you green light!”. The quote has garnered something of a cult status among gamers and has already been elevated to notorious level as that of GTA: San Andreas’ “All you had to do, CJ, was follow the damn train!”.

After the short but memorable tantrum (read: threat), Michael hangs up the phone and mocks the woman. Franklin, however, is noticeably more terrified, and if you keep on driving, he explains that Martin Madrazo is a dangerous and important personality in Los Santos; a man of fear and respect. Michael brushes this off  as nothing of concern; but no sooner that he does, two cars with several hitmen suddenly appear at your tail and open fire. Now there are two ways to deal with this situation: A) Switch to Franklin and keep shooting at the hitmen until either you lose sight of them or they die, or B) Get out of the car and take them out without the hassle of a car chase. When I first played the mission, I kept shooting at the tires to spin them out. While I was successful for the first vehicle (I even managed to get a lucky headshot), one of the shooters from the second car killed Michael and it was game over. Fortunately when you fail at the mission (or at-least in the second-half of it anyway), the mission doesn’t start from the beginning but instead resumes from the chase itself. The second time I played it, I stuck to the same strategy, and this time I was able to spin both of them out. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to record the gameplay as I would have loved to share the sight with others of two cars rolling like barrels behind my car, like some action scene from a Michael Bay movie.

Once the firefight has subsided, you return back to Michael’s mansion. No sooner than you step out from the car that you get a visit from the Man himself: Martin Madrazo. As one of the few recurring character in the game to only appear during cutscenes, Madrazo interrogates the duo and physically attacks Michael with a baseball bat. He then demands that Michael finance the reconstruction of Natalia’s recently torn down home. Michael has no choice but to accept, and this is where Grand Theft Auto V begins proper. The mission ends with Michael giving a call to his old friend, Lester.

So there you have it, a concise look into my personal favorite moment from the game. Very few levels from video games have that level of impact on the player, sinking its hooks firmly into you. Needless to say, Marriage Counseling has it in spades and is a great reminder of Rockstar’s tendency for bigger than life moments that truly live up to the spirit and quality of their games: world class, chart-topping, showstopping rockstars.

Article by Hamza

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