I’ve always been a big fan of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, so I was hugely excited to try Rockstar’s latest venture, though a bit surprised to discover the locale for the new game was Sweden, the safest country in the world. Unlike previous Rockstar releases, there hasn’t been a whole lot of fanfare around GTA: Sweden, and I was curious if it would live up to the Grand Theft Auto reputation. TL;DR: dear god no it would not.
In GTA: Sweden, you play as Hampus Andersson, a dentist who has just found out his taxes are due. Hampus spends most of the first third of the game filing taxes. From there the game becomes marginally more interesting as Hampus goes on a two-month paid vacation, does a bit of snow-shoeing, and listens to his favorite folk song, “Lingonberry Dinner” on loop.
Violence is virtually nonexistent in the game. There are no guns. The only car is a Volkswagen Golf, if you can find it. There are reindeer EV-ER-Y-WHERE. You can, of course, run around punching people (or reindeer), but they merely thank you for giving them an opportunity to take advantage of state-sponsored healthcare and gratefully offer you lingonberry jam.
About the closest you can get to causing anyone serious physical harm is by luring them to Hampus’ dental office to perform oral surgery. Naturally, the game only lets you do surgery after you’ve taken thorough x-rays, completed a routine cleaning, and discussed proper oral hygiene with the patient (one of the lengthier cut-scenes in the game). Even then, performing a root canal, while amusing and a bit gross, lacks the illicit thrill of, say, barrelling into a gang hideout in a souped-up sports car and raining automatic weapon-fire on the startled goons inside.
I did finally manage to get a wanted star by stealing somebody’s hockey skates, but nobody chased me. They all just shook their heads and muttered in Swedish until I felt bad and returned the blades.
Apparently a lot of money and hard work went into designing the expansive open world, which encompasses all of Sweden and parts of Norway and Finland, too. Whoop-de-fucking-doo. Most of that expanse is bleak, snowy, pine forest that all looks the same… when you can even see it. 23 out of 24 hours of game time are spent in near total darkness because it’s winter and you’re so far north. (One of the only real threats in the game is your Vitamin D level, which slowly depletes unless you regularly eat lingonberries.)
Grand Theft Auto has traditionally made use of mayhem, violence, and vice to provide social commentary. With this mind-numbingly boring release, what’s the commentary? Life in a safety bubble is depressing af? A game with a dearth of violence can be more psychologically damaging than a game with a glut of violence (I’m an upbeat guy and I was contemplating suicide by minute three) Lingonberries are a necessary evil?
On the plus side, I’ll admit I really came around on the pleasure of a virtual sauna, and there is something sublime about sunset at 2pm giving way to a beautifully rendered aurora. 3 out of 5 stars.