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Grandest: GTA V Is Bigger Than GTA IV

This man is not stealing a car.

Remember the quote from the guy at the game company who said that the sequel to a commercially successful title would be “smaller, probably not as appealing to a mass audience and much more low-key”? Of course not – sequels are ‘bigger’ and ‘better’. Ask anyone working on a AAA franchise what their role is and whatever the specifics, you’ll quickly find that they work in either the ‘enlargement’ or ‘improvement’ department. This is as true at Rockstar as anywhere else, so it’s no surprise that Game Informer’s reveal of GTA V details harps on about size. The issue itself is even Game Informer’s most massive sequel – “our biggest cover story yet!” – but what does it actually tell us?

It doesn’t tell us a PC release date, or even confirm that a PC version is or will be in the works. This means the best case scenario is probably a minimum six month wait, but let’s hope the eventual port won’t chew up the innards of the average computer, or pull a Red Dead Redemption and forget to exist. You could just stop reading now and wait until we know more about the PC version, but if you do want to read on, it’s all down there rather than being spread across an entire week.

The information that’s risen to the top of the revelation brew is based around the inclusion of three playable characters and a massive world. Let’s do the world first. If you haven’t already seen the following quote then you may not have been on the internet at all since yesterday afternoon.

“bigger than RDR, San Andreas and GTA4 combined”

Rockstar aren’t interested in the single city block, they’re interested in the city itself and they want to do justice to the real life Los Angeles. That’s the ‘big’ then. A city and its surroundings, all offered up in that sandbox style. It’ll need variety to be compelling, rather than simply being more ill-defined city blocks, and Dan Houser offers this:

“The contrast between desert/rural Southern California, inland from LA and just a bit north, compared to LA, gives you a great microcosm of red state/blue state theme – different vibes culturally as much as geographically.”

Those are words that make GTA V sound like it might be an interesting game. I’m also excited by the inclusion of ‘dynamic events’, as featured in Red Dead Redemption. Even though they did become repetitive – so many people tried to steal my horse using the same trick – the world felt more interesting because of them, and they made me feel less like an audience member and more like a participant.

The ocean floor will be detailed and explorable, which seems completely pointless because GTA people hate swimming. You’re as likely to see potato-faced protagonist Niko Bellic wandering around in the silt and the sand looking for sunken treasure as you are to meet a sentient sausage roll who delivers a strong argument for mandatory morning testicle-punches. All this underwater stuff sounds like it’ll be used in one mission and then never mentioned again. Except in bullet point lists of features that pad out the world. Yes, I’m being cynical about the desirability of underwater gameplay in Grand Theft Auto. I think that’s sensible.

Also there are three playable characters. While the ability to swap character at any time during regular (non-mission) play is certainly new, GTA IV had three playable characters as well, even if two of them were introduced in expansions. The idea fits with the ‘different vibes’ that Houser is talking about and should allow Rockstar to tell more of their rise-and-fall crime stories.

Indeed, missions sound more scripted than ever, with all three characters sometimes involved. Switching is only possible at predetermined points during these sequences, many of which will apparently be heists or heist-related, and examples given include one character covering a building, sniping at enemies, while another infiltrates. The player can choose who to control and occasionally a set piece will allow him/her to shift from one to another.

As for their personalities and positions in life, one is a retired bankrobber who made a fortune by ratting out his gang to the FBI. He has a family that he’s in conflict with and he’s running out of cash. He is called Michael. Trevor used to do jobs with Michael and he’s a violent, unhinged drug addict and former military pilot. There will be a mission in which Trevor pilots a fighter plane and he will swear a lot. And then there’s Franklin, the only one who isn’t in his forties yet. He’s a fraudulent car dealer and repo man. Or something. He will almost certainly get in over his head at some point.

There’s loads more information but, blimey, I’ve written far too much already and it’s not as if everyone else hasn’t already written this. That’s why I mentioned sentient sausage rolls – it’s all I can really bring to the story. For what it’s worth, I’m one of the people who enjoyed GTA IV, even the vehicle physics, which Rockstar are now saying were too ‘boat-like’ and will be better this time around. I’m not convinced by the character switching idea – at its best, I think GTA is freedom with focus waiting in the wings. The multi-threaded narrative, with the player picking the edits and switches, could damage that focus.

Also, for all the innuendo and silliness that often runs through their worlds, Rockstar’s games do have interesting characters, or at the very least attempts to create interesting characters and that’s rare enough that it deserves notice. I think they get it right fairly often and even though – perhaps especially because – crime-ridden LA might be a ‘man’s world’, it would have been good to see even one of the three centre stage spots going to a female character. I don’t find the lack of a female protagonist surprising or exclusionary, but I do think it could be an opportunity missed. I’d like to see these worlds through different eyes, rather than crazy criminal, disaffected criminal and up and coming criminal. And, as I said in the last paragraph, that’s coming from someone who enjoyed spending time with Niko.

Importantly, there is a button for flipping people off. In Red Dead Redemption, you could tip your hat and greet people. I’d quite like to be that person again.

GTA V is out on PC when the youngest of us have grown old and the oldest have passed from memory into myth.

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