What we want from GTA 5
In five days, we'll get our first look at GTA V in the announcement trailer. But for now, all we know is this: it has a V in it. So what are we hoping for this time around? What did GTA IV get right, where did it fail, and where does the series need to go next? We've gathered our thoughts into deliciously digestible list form. Add yours in the comments.
Here’s a thing. Rockstar make amazing places. They create deliciously realistic cars and vehicles for you to traverse them. They build gorgeous lighting models and a spectacular weather patterns. They imbue them with brutal, explosive physics. And then they fill them with cartoon characters. Their illusion is shattered.
The problem is with character animation and faces. The detail in the people in GTA games has never matched the life and clarity of the places they’re set in... if the cities are impressionist paintings, the people are caricatures. It means that all dialogue is dialled up to 11, that scenes are written to be catastrophically over-the-top, rather than subtle or quiet, and that plotlines tend the absurd. That used to be fine. But Liberty City is/was gorgeous. It’s just the inhabitants were murderous lunatics.
I think I know how Rockstar can achieve. LA Noire’s performance capture technology could give the chance for actors to imbue their characters with life and emotion that goes well beyond the cartoons we get today. If they do that, they can start telling compelling, human, real stories. Taking the game from the excesses of GTA IV, to something closer to the kind of adult entertainment we've dreamed about for years.
Tightly scripted missions are pretty dull even when they're done well, but in the open worlds of the GTA games, they almost never work. Remember that time you were chasing that guy, and you caught up to him and uzi'd him in the face from your bike, only he wasn't scripted to die yet so he was completely invincible? It was all of the times.
GTA games are open worlds, a genre we love for the freedom it gives us. So it's weird that when it comes to missions, Rockstar keep writing movie scenes and expecting the player to stick to the script.
They're also games that cast you as a criminal, rebelling against the law. So it's weird that they seem to think we'll obey an arbitrary set of rules about where we can go and what we can do, in order for their overwritten missions to make any sense.
We're gamers: we love to break things. That fits beautifully with both the genre and the themes of the whole GTA series. Embrace it. By all means tell us why we're chasing this guy, then get the hell out of our way and let the glorious chaos of the simulation take over.
A little love for the PC
On PC, GTA IV requires you to sign into three different DRM services to play: Steam, Rockstar Social Club, and Games for Windows Live. Idea: don't do that, ever again, for any reason.
It's also weirdly demanding, even today, despite looking pretty drab by PC standards. And it doesn't trust you: it won't allow you to crank the graphics settings higher than it thinks is safe, even in the rare case that the game is running well.
I know, the PC isn't a priority for Rockstar: they like to show up to the platform late, unannounced and half-heartedly - if at all. But the PC is as big as you want it to be. This time, we want GTA optimised, ready to run, and to hit shelves alongside console versions on release day.
If you turn a game that runs perfectly on a six year-old box into something that chugs on PC hardware many times more powerful, you turn the biggest gaming platform in the world into a niche. And if you wrap it in the most widely hated DRM system, on top of your own, you turn the most sociable and influential gaming community into a weapon against you.
Get people who know what they're doing on PC. Stick to Steam as the only copy protection. Put some love into it and find out how big PC gaming really is.
Proper mod support, please!
Every Grand Theft Auto game has played host to fantastic, ridiculous mods, from the addition of multiplayer to Grand Theft Auto 3 to the astonishing graphics tweaks and silly zombie mods in Grand Theft Auto IV. But the community has made these mods - and often fixed bugs in the original game - without any support from the developers. What could those passionate, committed gamers make if, in Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar made a commitment to supporting mods by releasing official tools, providing documentation, and did their best not to break everything with each new patch? Amazing things that would give the game a longer, better life, we'd bet.
The core GTA experience has remained pretty much unchanged since the original game back in 1997. Yes, there are helicopters, experience points and cutscenes, but at it’s heart its just running around a city and driving vehicles.
DS and iPhone versions of Chinatown Wars prove that the franchise can work on handhelds. It would be mind-blowingly awesome if you could start a game on your PC in full 3D, then switch to your phone and do a bit in 2D, and continue back on the PC. Microsoft promised something similar a while back, and the whole GFWL deal Rockstar has means that it could actually come to fruition.
More Flock of Seagulls
Vice City worked incredibly well because it was an 80s pastiche done properly. It didn’t matter that the characters and vehicles looked a bit basic because everything was lit in neon pink and soundtracked with classic 80s tunes. It also employed a cinematic level of self-reflexivity with its references to Scarface and Miami Vice.
GTA IV took itself far too seriously in this regard - yes, there were jokes and comedy missions, but it felt self-conscious in its attempt to be a “modern” product. The problem could be that, following San Andreas’ early-90s adventure, there’s nowhere for the series to go. The 70s are unlikely to connect with its target audience, and the early-2000s are too embedded in recent memory. Surely there’s some room for some retro action, though.
Thanks to rising petrol costs the popularity of urban cycling has increased massively in the few years since the notably bicycle-free GTA IV. And although everyone soon became bored of the human-powered transport in San Andreas, they could still serve as a speedy and efficient way of getting around whichever city V’s set in.
We’re not talking San Andreas’ BMXs and mountain bikes, either - we want proper road bikes with skinny tyres and dropped handlebars. In real-life you can hit 30mph on a road bike, and yet at slow speeds they’re manoeuvrable enough to turn tight corners and dodge between traffic. Imagine being chased by the cops and then skidding down a tight alleyway to make a getaway. There’s so much untapped potential.