I've murdered in cold blood. I've been stabbed and left for dead. I've served time in the Bolingbroke Penitentiary. My GTA 5 roleplay exploits almost always wind up in the gutter. But they've got nothing on my recent bone chilling trip to Liberty City.
FiveM's i luv LC is an in-development map that gives GTA 4's faux New York City a makeover. Its textures are sharper, its world is shinier and its streets are populated with Grand Theft Auto 5's character and vehicle models. It's also broken in parts—be that roads that collapse beneath you, cars that glitch through walls, or pop-in that throws you off course.
Here I am taking a dip beneath Algonquin after one thoroughfare abruptly gave way:
So why persevere with a playground that'll just as soon dunk you in the West River as it will let you explore? Because when it does work, it looks gorgeous.
It may be ten years old, but GTA 4's Liberty City is still my favourite game world of the series. And while I was always convinced its dull and grainy 2008 aesthetic lent it charm, it looks so much better reflecting today's standards. As if held together with spit and glue, there's also something about running this map's gauntlet that appeals to me; that this world isn't built for you and could throw you out whenever it so desires.
Worse still, it might turn itself into an Orwell-like surveillance state, where NPCs track your every move. That's when things went a bit Black Mirror.
During one particular playthrough, I started off in the drink. I swam to a set of floating stairs, hauled myself out of the Humboldt River and emerged in Chinatown. The streets were empty besides a handful of abandoned cars—both in the middle of the road and parked by the sidewalk. Steam rose from an Albany Avenue manhole, which gave the street an early Silent Hill-style allure. In the top left corner of my screen, the server log suggested other players were online, but I felt very alone.
After trying several cars, I finally found one unlocked. Its alarm rang as I plumped down on the driver seat, and its engine coughed as I attempted to start the engine. No good. I tinkered with its radio, but got nothing but static. This was getting weird.
On foot, I made it to City Hall, where I happened upon my first group of NPCs. I froze. Their bodies looked rigid and unnatural, like mannequins. As I walked left, they turned their heads to face mine. As I doubled back right, they did the same—like one of those creepy old timey portraits whose eyes appear to track your movements.
I then walked to the corner of Liberty Lane and Diamond Street, and came face to face with a female NPC. Similar to her counterparts, her arms pointed straight downwards, away from her waist, fixed like a gingerbread biscuit.
"You're wasting our time! Taxi! Hi! He's attacking me! My daddy's a lawyer, you know!"
The NPC's dialogue had clearly bugged out, but hearing these lines looped one after the other—at point black range from an expressionless bystander—gave me the creeps. I stepped back and circled the NPC. Her gaze followed. I headed further down the street, and heard her muted, disconnected chatter roll on into the distance.
"Get the fuck out of here! Get out of my place you disgusting little man!
"Get me a small salad!"
I decided to head for Castle Garden City, which overlooks Liberty City's Statue of Happiness. I passed several more groups of NPCs, each doing the same stop and stare routine as before. Their vacant, ever-fixed gawks reminded me of Black Mirror's White Bear episode—and while this was the longest I'd lasted in FiveM's i luv LC without being halted by its broken world, I was hardly enjoying myself. To be honest, I was freaked out. I tried another car. Again, nothing but radio static.
I made it to the shore and things got weirder still. Happiness Island looked like it was guarded by towering sheets of metal, while dozens of NPCs looked out onto the water—the majority of whom were perched on what appeared to be an invisible bench. Expectedly, yet more NPCs gave me the stink eye. I got physical with a few of them on the off-chance they might fight back, but they instead crumbled to the floor.
And just as I was about to call it quits, I finally got a vehicle up and running. Still no radio, but this was something. As I pulled out onto the main stretch, waves begun overlapping the freeway. Because of course they did.
The inevitable was but moments away.
Unable to exit my waterlogged ride, I quit out of the game. I sat in silence for a few seconds, taking in what had just happened. I fired up i luv LC again, and it inevitably loaded as normal. I exited, and rejoined. And got the same. I exited and rejoined. The same again.
A few months on, I've yet to recreate the weird and wonderful Black Mirror-esque adventure that unfolded above. I've logged back on a handful of times since in the vague hope it bugs out again, but it's more stable now than ever. Which is of course credit to the map's creators—and I'm equally looking forward to taking in the LC sights while touring its LS-inspired world when it’s done.
But part of me wants to revisit that dysfunctional place, that twisted vision of Liberty City, no matter how much it unsettled me before. Still, it seems i luv LC has a ways to go. Perhaps there's hope for my return yet.