Thursday, 15 August 2013

Grand Theft Auto 5: The Big Preview

"Hey cousin, you want to go bowling?"

Seven words that summed up GTA4 for me. It was a game that had unlimited potential and it was completely and utterly broken from the start.

GTA4 for me was Grand Theft Auto with an identity crisis. On the last generation, Rockstar had outdone themselves with the sprawling mass of conurbation and countryside that was San Andreas. They had pushed the PS2 and Xbox to absolute breaking point to deliver one of the defining games of a generation.

How the hell do you follow that up?

GTA4 suffered in a myriad of ways. For a start, the move back to Liberty City immediately meant that the game would be restricted. Rockstar had already defined the three island structure in GTA3, so although it was significantly bigger, it still kept that same structure. 

Then came the characters. Whereas CJ's San Andreas revenge story was halfway believable and you could relate to him, Niko Bellic was the polar opposite. An Eastern European former soldier, haunted by his past with an annoying sociopath of a cousin. It's hardly Shakespeare...

But the one overriding irritation with GTA4 was that it constantly bombarded you with other shit to do while you were on a mission. Sure Niko would automatically blow Roman off, but my god, it was annoying to have him just ring you up and ask you to go bowling or play pool or get drunk.

So now it comes to pass that 5 years later, GTA 5 is about to land. We're going back to San Andreas for sun, fun and massive heists. Oh and one of the most ambitious multiplayer sections ever conceived for a console game.

So what do we know? Well, there are three characters to play this time round:

Michael - the retired crook and failing family man
Trevor - former pilot and massive abuser of drugs 
Franklin - car mechanic and potential gangbanger who wants a change in his life.

The gameplay introduction video that Rockstar has already released show that you can control any of the three protagonists at any point of the game. When not in a mission, the characters you aren't controlling go about their daily lives and you can drop in and out at any point and take control.

The interesting part is when it comes to missions. In previous GTA games, you were little more than a lackey, doing the dirty work for other gangsters who didn't want to get their hands dirty. In 5, it would appear that your central characters are running the show (well, to a degree). When it comes to the heists, you plan out your method of pulling it off, whether you want to be smart and silent, or dumb and loud. It's your choice. When you are actually in the action, your plans dictate how well the heist goes off. An example would be, in one mission you have to kidnap some executive. Trevor is flying a helicopter that lowers Michael down to a board room window. Michael breaks through and grabs the guy but is quickly overwhelmed by guards, the player then flicks to Franklin who is across the street with a sniper rifle. Bam.

Other improvements look to be in the handling of vehicles. This was an issue in GTA4, it was nearly impossible to drive the cars at high speed. Weapon selection has been greatly improved, giving you a radial menu for weapons rather than scrolling through about 15 different guns until you find the one you actually need.

San Andreas itself looks utterly gorgeous, with beautiful countryside vistas juxtaposing true concrete jungle. It looks absolutely massive with so much to do I doubt a single player could effectively find and do everything.

The last part of the game to get an overhaul is the just-announced Grand Theft Auto Online. This looks to be more than a multiplayer like the one shoe-horned into GTA4. This is more like an MMO game set in San Andreas. It's entirely separate to the single player game, it's a place where you can be what you want when you want. Live by the law, buy a house, get a family, or get a gun and go on a killing spree. It's like The Sims on acid, in a fully open, persistent world. It remains to be seen how successful it is, but from Rockstar's trailer, it looks utterly immense and could be a defining legacy for the game.

All in all, GTA5 looks to be miles apart from its predecessor in both scope and ability. Playing with the core formula is what Grand Theft Auto has needed since the last generation of consoles. Hopefully Rockstar have made the ultimate open world game.

I for one, can't wait.


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