Flying cars are rad as hell in GTA Online's Doomsday Heist

Last night, we started playing the first act (of three) of GTA Online's new Doomsday Heist, with the intention of offering some thoughts on it before the holiday break. Unfortunately, we were hit by server trouble while on the final setup mission, so that'll have to wait until next year, when we'll write a more comprehensive piece about the whole thing. We did have a good time, though, and one particular mission was among the best that we'd played in any GTA. Below, we share some thoughts on what we experienced. 

Samuel: Tom, I think it's fair to say our crew in GTA Online (which includes PCG's Phil Savage and contributor Tom Hatfield) is made up of semi-regular players. I've sampled mission types from all the expansions, for example, but it's only this year that I really started putting more hours into GTA. We've all completed the first five heists, though, and were excited about jumping into a new one. What did you make of the first few missions we ran?

Tom: It was the smoothest experience we’ve had with GTA Online so far. I mean, the servers went down at the end, but up to that point we managed to bash out a few missions in quick succession. Checkpointed missions, which didn’t just throw us all the way back to the start if we messed up. The game is so much more fun when you’re doing a lot of different short tasks that don’t make you drive all the way across the city multiple times. 

It’s some of the most fun I’ve had heisting in GTA Online, and I can’t believe it’s a free update to be honest (though I guess you have to buy a facility with in-game money before you can launch the missions?). We infiltrated military bases, stole ambulances, had a shootout in a hospital, and pursued a massive jet while piloting a squadron of flying cars, all in a couple of hours.

Samuel: I thought the checkpointing was pretty good in the final heist of the original set, but there were definitely moments in those first four where I felt like I was being made to repeat a bit too much of the game. The checkpointing is great in these missions, though. I don't think I was frustrated by them at all. One thing I'm still not sure about is the decision to preface all the setup missions with a public server vehicle theft mission—the actual objectives are fun, but the idea of other players being able to spoil that is a bit annoying in a game that's already bad for griefing. I think Rockstar hopes mandatory public server missions will instill tension in what you're doing, but all it really does is reward griefers and frustrate people trying to have a good time. Luckily, we found ourselves on a server with just one other player and were left well alone, so we breezed through those bits.

And yes, it is a free update. You do have to buy a facility, which costs $1.25 million at a minimum—that's exactly one £12/$20 Shark card, but the truth is, this is a heist for advanced players, and anyone but a complete newbie will find that pretty reasonable. After the original heists, you've got $2 million in your account, for example, so you could've bought one no problem. GTA gets a lot of heat for its vehicle and property prices—which are sometimes bafflingly high—but you don't need to own much to have a good time in GTA, really, unless you're serious about collecting everything. 

Out of the missions you list, Tom, the obvious breakout is the flying car mission. The steady escalation of that mission from ordinary GTA fare—follow vans, hack them, blow them up—to chasing an airplane through the sky in a flying DeLorean felt like something I'd never seen in GTA before. When the choppers turned up and you were dogfighting with them, it looked like something out of Star Wars. Meanwhile, I hacked the airplane, then took the thing down with rockets afterwards. It was thrilling, and hopefully points at the future direction for the series' campaigns. Much like some of the mission types in Smuggler's Run, it showed how much potential there is in more air-based GTA set pieces.

Tom: That mission embraced GTA’s sillier side, which I have always enjoyed. That mission turns the city into a huge playground, and the way it sends each of you after individual targets and then brings you back together for the finale is very satisfying—and all of it is a race against the clock. It reminded me of the madder co-op shenanigans I loved in the Saints Row series, but GTA 5 has far better driving and flying models, and the city is just spectacular when you’re dogfighting miles above. 

Heist missions create loads of little action movie moments when you’re playing them with friends. At one point I was chasing a boat in DeLorean hovercraft mode when it turned into the sewers. I skidded after it only for a rocket to fly overhead and blow up my target. Turned out Phil had let off a homing missile that followed us both inside. In another mission we had to shoot our way out of a hospital while two of the team piloted a chopper to the rescue—the mad dash across the courtyard under police fire was peak GTA Online.

The Doomsday Heist makes me really excited about the potential for more quality multiplayer modes from Rockstar. If Red Dead 2 has a similar online component and comes to PC at some point, it could be the best thing ever. To me GTA Online feels like it’s built on slightly unstable foundations. Server outages and disconnections are pretty common, and it’s still sluggish when you’re trying to get a game going, but this was a free mode that came with the massive singleplayer campaign. It’s impressive that Online has grown into this since.

Samuel: Remember when we started spinning the hover cars around in the airport, Tom? It was like we found a way to make vehicles emote in GTA. It was amazing.

That escape from the hospital was so exciting, especially as you got left behind for some reason, which always happens to one guy in a heist movie. And these are just the setup missions! I'm sure players who have already beaten all three new heists are thinking, 'you wait, pal'. But even as setup missions, I'd say these are up there with the best stuff in the original heists, like stealing the Hydras from an aircraft carrier. Why do you have to go away for Christmas, Tom? Can't we just finish this damned thing? 

And yes, GTA just needs to load faster, ban cheaters and deter griefing next time, then it'll be my perfect online game. Watching GTA grow has been fascinating, though—what's nice about Doomsday Heist is that it makes the missions the point again, rather than the money. Red Dead 2 has enormous potential. And the treasure hunt they added this week was another cool extra thrown into the game by Rockstar. I'd love more little mystery-based sidequests like that in future.

For an ageing game, then, this is a hell of a nice surprise, even if not all of the prior expansions have been winners. I can't wait to get stuck into more of The Doomsday Heist. Finally, Tom, do you want to explain what happened when I took you for a ride in the Vigilante, GTA's version of the Batmobile?

Tom: We thought we’d race to the objective ahead of Phil and Tom in their pathetic slow ordinary human car, but wow that Batmobile has one hell of a boost.

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Samuel: $3.75 million of in-game cash and I fly it into the fucking sea. Embarrassing.