10 games to play while you wait for GTA 5
GTA 5 is finally coming to PC this year. We've pored over the trailer to discover a series of new features we can look forward to from the visually upgraded edition. Andy's considered why GTA 5 will work so well on PC. All that's left to do is sit back and wait for launch. But what games can we play in the meantime to scratch that GTA itch? We've rounded up ten contenders. Some feature open worlds and driving, others are all about committing crime, some are about all those things. Let's begin.
Saints Row 4
Phil: Saints Row 4 isn't much like GTA 5. That's a surprising thing to be able to write, given how the series started. What was once an unashamed clone managed to shed its derivative elements and emerge as something entirely its own. It helps that the GTA series has similarly moved away from its roots.
Saints Row proved the perfect petri dish for the silliness of the GTAs of old. It's grown and mutated, and now Saints Row 4 is a game about the President of the USA saving the world from virtual alien enslavement. It's also genuinely funny, with proper jokes and a cast of characters that are as human and likeable as they are cartoonish and ridiculous. You might be hard-pressed to argue that it's a better game than GTA 5 (we'll see when it's released), but it's definitely a more delightful one.
Phil: In many ways, Sleeping Dogs is Just Another Open-World Game—you know, that one you've played a hundred times before. It features a big city filled to the brim with missions, side-quests, amusements and a catalogue of collectibles. But at the edge of that well-worn structure, there are plenty of things that make Sleeping Dogs stand out. You play as an undercover cop, for one. Don't worry, that doesn't impact on your ability to punch, shoot, and run over any civilian in sight, but it does mean an upgrade system that encourages professionalism over carnage.
It's other great feature is the city of Hong Kong. It feels vibrant and alive—refreshingly different from the urban American parody of the GTA series. The setting also has the effect of shifting the focus from gunplay, and towards a combat system that could almost rival the Arkham games.
Red Faction Guerrilla
Tom: Grand Theft Auto is a pastiche of US culture set in the modern era, so why is there a game about being a resistance fighter on Mars in this list? If you've always felt like GTA's housefronts felt a bit too much like an impassive facade to you then Guerrilla's super-destructible environments provide a cathartic alternative. This underrated game lets you smash anything up with a ridiculous power hammer, and then hands you a gun that shoots nanomachines that eat buildings (and people, horribly). It's not as clever or funny as GTA, but it's a brilliant playground for players that enjoy making their own fun.
My advice: find a powerful Martian muscle car, aim it at the lip of a crater and vault into the side of a tall building. The slow Jenga collapse that results should be worth the effort.
Tom: Travel back to a time when it was possible to wear a fedora without looking like a twit. Strap into a sharp pinstripe suit, throw on a pale trench and walk slowly through the rain. Admire the burnished chrome of the old-fashioned cars driving by. Listen to some jazz. Mafia 2's beautiful city distils the cool of that era perfectly, which makes walking around a pleasure. The original Mafia had a better story, but if you want a city to explore, the sequel's is as atmospheric as they come.
Andy: I love L.A. Noire. I know, I know. You've probably already scrolled down to the comments to call me an idiot. But despite its many flaws, and the maddening 'resolution' of the homicide desk, I can forgive it all because of that city. Rockstar are among my favourite world-builders, and their skill at creating atmosphere through environment and audio design is up there with the best. Grand Theft Auto 5 and L.A. Noire present two very different visions of the city of Los Angeles—one satirical, one historical—but both are created with the same level of convincing detail and artistry.
There's nothing to do in L.A. Noire's open world. That's because it isn't really an open world game. This is the opposite of GTA 5's map, which is heaving with distractions and minigames. But if, like me, you enjoy simply exploring game worlds without being harassed constantly by mission markers, you should load up free mode in L.A. Noire and just walk. Start at the bottom of the map and walk north-west, all the way to the Hollywoodland sign. Don't run or drive—stroll and soak in the atmosphere of 1940s LA.
I did the same in GTA 5. Picked a direction and walked. Sure, I enjoyed the heists and other criminal capers, but some of the most fun I've had in that game is strolling through the Mount Chiliad State Wilderness, or grabbing a mountain bike and bombing around dusty country trails. L.A. Noire's world is nowhere near as detailed or pretty as V's, but if you want a flavour of Rockstar's brilliant world design, it's worth revisiting. And if you've never played it before, give it a chance. You might like it. There are dozens of us. Dozens!
Just Cause 2
Sam: Avalanche very much marches to the beat of its own drum with open world games, and 2010’s Just Cause 2 still does a lot of things that no GTA title has ever done, including 5—standing on the top a moving passenger aircraft, for example, or letting you flip a moving vehicle over by tethering it to the road with a grappling hook. I’ve got a soft spot for Just Cause 2’s brand of chaos.
All this has been helped by the madness of Just Cause 2’s multiplayer mod, as well, which you can download on Steam in addition to the game and transforms Panau into a hotbed of hundreds of people firing grappling hooks and driving vehicles.
Sam: The most obvious choice, it’s likely you’ve already done Niko Bellic’s soured American dream (the tragic life of a man who steals $50,000, gets away with no consequences but decides to keep doing odd jobs anyway). If you’ve been leaving the superb Episodes From Liberty City alone, though, they do offer a convincing, different angle on Liberty City that explore the still-amazing city in interesting ways.
The rise and fall of biker gang The Lost represents GTA IV’s best storytelling overall, being neither overly serious or forced in its humour, while The Ballad Of Gay Tony features some of the series’ best set pieces, including a ludicrous three-part race across land, air and sea. Both reach a little further than GTA 4 itself, in my opinion—but 5 will be better.
Euro Truck Simulator 2
Phil: Yes, really. GTA 5 is a loud, brash game about violence and carnage, and yet here I am recommending a sedate, monotonous game about careful driving and economic management. Stick with me, there's a reason: it's that GTA 5 isn't really a loud, brash game about violence and carnage. Its excitement is punctuated by long moments of quiet—of peacefully driving across a giant map, nothing but the beautiful landscape and environment for company. Then you clip a police car and all hell breaks loose.
Similarly, ETS 2 is a game about getting lost in the rhythm of the road. You pick a destination on the other side of a vast continent, and set off on your mundane adventure. Along the way, you'll encounter towns and cities, lakes and mountains, and miles upon miles of open road.
Sam: Bully is the opposite of GTA 5 in the ouevre of Rockstar open world games: smaller, and thick with detail. Set in Bullworth Academy, a school where bad-but-not-really kid Jimmy Hopkins is deposited by his uncaring mother, you have to navigate the warring subcultures of the school and attend lessons that are presented as genuinely fun minigames. It’s odd to see GTA’s irreverence be presented in a way that’s suitable for more age groups, but it actually just lets Jimmy and co. be more likeable than a typical GTA cast.
The town opens up a few chapters in, and its muted colour palette and small town America feel brings out a different side of Rockstar’s open-world design. The PC port has a few issues with pop-in scenery, but it’s mostly fine to play now. Aside from the long-absent Red Dead, the quality of writing and characterisation in Bully is a high for Rockstar.
Tom: Payday 2 is a co-op shooter, rather than an open world game, but GTA does have great heists, and that's what Payday 2 is all about. You team up with three friends, pop on some masks and commit various criminal acts while under assault from waves of cops. Like GTA 5, it owes a small debt to the famous heist scene from Heat, to the extent that you get to run through the street with bags of cash, brandishing automatic weapons as cops start crashing in. GTA's heist sequences become grander as the game progresses, and your options in Payday 2 increase as you move along the leveling curve and unlock more interesting gadgets.