I have fond memories of playing the original GTA in my fourth period high school computer drafting class (circa 1997-1998), running up and down the streets of Liberty City in search of a machine gun and a Jaguar (ahem, I mean Jugular) in my back corner cubicle, away from the prying eyes of my hilariously unaware teacher. Looking down on Liberty City from above, my pixilated avatar would leave a trail of bloody tire tracks, smoldering cars, and panicked citizens in his remorseless wake. I have played each subsequent GTA title on PC or Console since, all of which have delivered new innovations, technical upgrades, and tantalizing new gameplay. There is no doubt that Grand Theft Auto has come a long way since the old days, but where does Rockstar go from here? Can they really deliver another home run that will revolutionize its genre, or will it be more of the same tired gameplay with a graphical facelift?
This series has definitely suffered no shortage of improvement and innovation. Rockstar practically invented the open world genre with this series, and each title has expanded the GTA universe in one form or another.
Rockstars’ Grand Theft Auto is actually a true rags-to-riches story, starting in 1997 with its release of the original Grand Theft Auto. There wasn’t much to the original GTA; you pretty much just ran or drove around, destroying everything in your path until the cops caught on to your antics and took you out. (Unfortunately, hookers did not yet exist in 1997 Liberty City, so running over them wasn’t even an option. This makes me sad.)
Even though the original GTA was fun, it wasn’t released to any critical fanfare, awards, or shining reviews. The real story with this particular title in the GTA universe was the fact that it was banned by Brazil and publicly condemned in several traditionally liberal European countries. This was the beginning of the GTA controversies. In fact, this is probably the only reason GTA survived, due to the additional media coverage of an otherwise middle-of-the-road game. At the time of release, who could have known that the over-the-top crime simulator would grow into the current empire of prostitute-slaying and reverse police brutality that it is today?
There wasn’t any real game changer in GTA 2, But GTA III was undeniably the series breakthrough title. Not breakthrough like “Hey, this is pretty cool;” it was more like a “Holy $#@*!” breakthrough. It took the sandbox, previously only viewed from above, and let you stand in it, able to see it from ground level. You could go anywhere and do anything, letting the player live out criminal fantasy en masse, a true innovation in gaming.
Since then and throughout the series, we have been treated to a veritable smorgasbord of new features with each release. With the introduction of multiplayer, minigames that were never supposed to be released (Hot Coffee anyone?), and serious graphical updates to each successive title, every incarnation of GTA has brought more and more to the table.
But enough of the history lesson, I’m more interested in where the series is going.
Fans of GTA expect a certain amount of continuity with the series, not necessarily with storyline but definitely with gameplay, and GTA V will be no exception. This is something that Rockstar should be able to deliver in droves, and, aside from possible tweaks to player controls to enhance movement, maneuverability, and combat, these will most likely remain largely the same. It simply has to <i>feel</i> like Grand Theft Auto. If there’s one thing that Rockstar has proven, it’s that they know how to stick to the formula; guns + cars + crime + prostitutes = $$$. It’s just simple algebra right?
The trailers leave little doubt to the visual and storytelling chops of GTA V. Although these videos seem to be comprised of mostly cutscenes, the graphics are gorgeous and intense, and the narrative looks to have drawn a bit inspiration from other Rockstar titles like Max Payne 3 and L.A. Noire. I wholeheartedly hope this is the case, because the story and presentation of the two aforementioned games were absolutely amazing, especially in Max Payne 3. If Rockstar can deliver the story in this way, with similar aesthetic flair, they will have something that has never been done in a GTA title before: a cinematic experience that rivals a Hollywood blockbuster. Will it help if I say please? Please.
Rockstar has the opportunity to create the best game it has ever released with GTA V. To do this, however, it must unfailingly deliver with a “trifecta” of game modes. First, the single-player story mode seems to have a lot going for it, with three protagonists and interlaced storylines, but it really needs to rival Max Payne 3 in terms of cinematic quality and presentation. Second, the open world multiplayer and competitive multiplayer must retain the fun of previous incarnations while adding a few new features to separate itself. Lastly, the open world sandbox we all know and love will be enormous, according to early reports (the size of Red Dead Redemption, GTA: San Andreas, and GTA IV combined) but must be able to be easily traversed quickly and present plenty of new content in the vast open spaces of the game. What’s the point in having countryside to explore if there’s nothing there to find?
The only one of these game modes that even gives me the slightest worry is the single-player story, which has been far from definitive in previous installations of GTA. However, I do feel as though L.A. Noire and Max Payne 3 have been trial runs for storytelling mechanics that may be implemented into GTA V. While these titles definitely have their own identity and gameplay, Rockstar could definitely make effective use of the tools it has already created in these two successful games.
So can they do it? Can Rockstar really deliver another action packed, genre-bending, gritty competition crusher? You bet your ass they can. They certainly have the tools and the deep pockets to do so. But will they do it? That’s a different question entirely, and, unfortunately, only time will tell on that one.
So go forth, Rockstar, and bring us the game that you are so exceedingly capable of creating. If not, you may have millions of pissed-off GTA fans on your doorstep. And remember, those are people who’ve learned a thing or two about murder from you. Just sayin’.