I’m late to the game writing about the GTA:Online game trailer that dropped some time back, but I’m kind of glad I went over to Rockstar’s GTA5 launch site because they are apparently adding content on a regular basis. Masters of suspense as always, the seven remaining tiles of content boasting as to the unique culture of the game remained locked, presumably unlocking one by one until the launch slowly creeps closer. The added content is much in the GTA style of humor is present, complete with riffs on California politics, legalized pot, new-ageism, and country club exclusivity. I really hope they bring back the huge fake internet featured in GTA4.
But what does the GTA:Online trailer do? Most impressively, it resolves all the obvious issues with the GTA franchise and promises to bring it back to the forefront of gaming.
First off, the trailer demonstrates exactly where Rockstar is on the spectrum of player control and narrative integrity. The stories of the three main protagonists (as much as there can be a protagonist in a game that revolves around car jacking) appear to be well thought out. But having great characters with personalities runs afoul of mass-customization. These characters are maybe so well thought out that that it threatens the very soul of the GTA:San Andreas legacy; the any-way-you-like-it style of game play. GTA:Online is the missing link between this rich story mode (which also could cleverly serve as a very entertaining tutorial) and the RPG elements that GTA:San Andreas was based on. GTA:Online is the Skyrim and open world aspect that the games have always, at least theoretically represented (although maybe with less clunky menus and a bloated inventory system). Focusing on all the mass customization elements, it’s goal is clearly to have players addicted to playing the game long after the three main stories are completed. And some sort of persistent online world clearly is critical to growing the franchise. Having a character that is your own creates some of the incentive to continually improve (and therefore play) enhancing replay value. This is the breakthrough the series needs; to separate the funny, satirical stories about lovable antiheroes from the otherwise king of the world sandbox experience.
The trailer also clearly shows off that GTA knows it needs to get with the times in terms of player interface. The perennial third-person shooter looks a lot like an FPS during shootouts, complete with a weapon selection wheel. Is this game finally going to bury auto-aim? I certainly hope so. The action appears more fluid, and as always seems to integrate shooting with some of the other mobility elements like parachuting or dirt-bike riding. The menu interface seems to be intentionally minimalist.
One thing is certain: Rockstar is intent on making Online a phenomenon separate from GTA5. It has its own trailer and is being prominently advertised separately on the PS3 home menu. The trailer straight up tells you that in addition to custom player-created content, they are intent on updating regularly. This could be another leap forward for an already well-storied franchise.