It took the PCG crew over two years to complete GTA Online’s first set of heists. Now, we’re older, wiser, and have a near-infinite supply of rockets. We think we’ll be able to power through the Doomsday Heists in just a few evenings. Wish us luck.
Phil Savage: After our last GTA Online outing, I figured I was finally done with the game. With Rockstar seemingly not interested in making any new heists, I didn’t see any reason to stick around. And then, without warning, Rockstar released a new string of heists. Just when I thought I was out…
Samuel Roberts: It’s a nice surprise, and the fact this one has a bunch of new cutscenes and vehicles suggests it’s a big deal for Rockstar. To get it started, we need a facility, which I purchase near Fort Zancudo. I spend a little extra money to make it red, because we have a brand to maintain, I guess. I accidentally activate a cutscene with no one else here, which explains this heist is something to do with a slightly Elon Musk-y figure, an AI named Clifford, Lester from the main game and the US government. Doomsday is coming! I think. Maybe Russia is involved? That’s what I’ve ascertained, anyway. Since only I watched this bit, the rest of the team will never know what’s going on in this heist’s story.
Tom H: Don’t worry Sam, I’m sure we’ll be treated to plenty of long monologues while driving.
Phil: Sam invites us to join his motorcycle club, which is called “Motorcycle Club”. It used to be called Biker Grove—one for all you fans of ’90s teen soap operas—but it seems to be bugged. After joining Motorcycle Club, we’re invited into Sam’s facility and told we need to steal a bunch of special vehicles for reasons. This preparation phase requires us to complete a series of missions on an open world public server. Luckily, we find one that’s pretty much empty, and the whole thing is incredibly easy.
Tom H: That’s the thing about GTA’s open world missions. They’re either incredibly easy or you immediately get murdered by some prick in a fighter jet.
Phil: In fairness, thanks to this update you can now also get murdered by a prick with an orbital cannon. Which is progress of a sort. With the relevant cars stolen, we can now move onto the instanced setup missions. We separate into two teams: one infiltration, one support. Samuel and Tom Senior break into a morgue, while myself and Tom Hatfield hang back in the helicopter that we recently stole, murdering people. This is the familiar co-op content that I crave.
Tom H: Splitting the party is one of GTA Online’s best tricks. I don’t know what it looks like inside the morgue, I’ve never seen it. Instead I experience it entirely through Sam and Tom’s barked orders and exclamations over Skype.
Samuel: There’s some kind of weird glitch where the objective won’t activate in the morgue, so we have to do it again. It’s a fun mission, though, the grisly searching of dead bodies aside. Once we’ve got the data we’re looking for, we have to make our way out and escape in the helicopter.
Tom Senior: I get horribly lost in the building and spend most of it running up and down stairwells under small arms fire. I finally make it to the exit and I manage to get stuck on the door as Sam dashes for the chopper. The team spends a few moments shouting from the safety of the helicopter as I dash across a courtyard full of police and hurl myself into the vehicle. Good mission.
Phil: Next, we’re given a stealth helicopter and told to go and infiltrate a server farm. This goes badly, of course. On our first attempt, the helicopter’s landing wheels disappear—I’m not sure if this is a glitch, or if Sam just accidentally hit a button to retract them. Unable to land, the helicopter just sort of explodes out of boredom. Also, at one key point, Hatfield’s internet connection drops, which boots him from the instance and instantly ends the mission for everyone. And even when all of those things go right, we’re forced to scale a ladder, which for some reason is the hardest thing to do in GTA Online.
Tom S: The trick is to woo the ladder with a gentle approach. Not too fast, so as not to startle it. We’ve experienced enough ladder drama to have learned the hard way.
Tom H: This is basically identical to the last stealth mission we did in GTA. Initially very cool and fun, then incredibly frustrating as instant fails force multiple restarts.
Phil: Okay, that mission turned out to be a disappointment. But this next one has a thumbnail image showing flying DeLoreans. I am unreasonably excited about this. We each get into a car and drive to the coast, where we’re instructed to activate hover mode. Suddenly, we’re skimming across the ocean, using missiles to blow up boats. It’s great, but I was promised full flight, damnit.
Tom H: Then our next assignment comes in. In the most long-winded and obnoxious way possible, Lester tells us he needs us to go to the airport. To chase a plane.
Phil: Oh snap, it’s actually happening! This is it! We get to the airport just as a plane is taking off, and, as we chase after it, a button prompt appears to trigger flight mode. And now we’re flying. In a car.
Tom H: At one point I accidentally press the wrong button and turn off flying mode instead of firing missiles, causing my car to plummet uncontrollable downwards before it turns back on. Quickly I realise I can use this as a deliberate tactic, and toggle flight mode off and on to flip end over end, outflanking one of the attacking helicopters. This is without a doubt the most fun I’ve ever had in GTA Online.
Phil: That was brilliant. And so it’s a shame to discover that this act’s finale, rather than bringing all of the previous mission’s toys together, is just a shootout in a bunker.
Tom H: I’m not entirely sure why we’re breaking into an underground base in order to defend it. I’m also not sure why we’ve done anything we’ve done – only that it has something to do with Elon Musk. The turret part is quite fun, though.
Phil: The structure of these new missions seems to focus on the various toys Rockstar has added to GTA Online, which makes sense. Happily, the second act’s prep missions promise a submarine car and a big truck loaded up with a water cannon. We have minutes of fun with the latter, blasting one another with water and watching our characters ragdoll around.
Tom H: The mission where we acquire the water cannon is terrific. We head to the beach and proceed to start an unarmed brawl with the pedestrians, prompting security to come in and hose us down. Then we shoot them and steal their truck.
Phil: We have high hopes for the setup mission, but it’s actually pretty boring. We pile into the truck, drive to a place, put out some fires and steal some data – all while shooting a seemingly endless procession of crime boys. And then we do it all again about four more times. This feels like a waste.
Tom S: These are some tough-as-nails goons, too. Every individual soldier can take maybe a dozen or so shots to the body and then get back up. You’re encouraged to get headshots to put them down quickly, but they seem to be spawning everywhere forever. I squirt them with a water cannon instead and send them flying off down the street.
Phil: Hopefully the submarine car will be better. Divided into two teams, we drive our submersibles to a beach and charge towards the water.
Tom H: I accelerate to top speed and ramp my car off the dock, transforming it into sub mode just as I hit the water. It looks awesome.
Samuel: Blasting the mines with the submarine car was fun, but it seems like the game never really makes the most of them—blowing up a submarine, or fighting off some kind of enemy underwater is the thing missing from this mission really. Considering how good the flying car element of the first act was, this seems like a missed opportunity.
Tom H: But hey, next we get to steal a giant VTOL jet from the airport, that’ll be fun right?
Phil: We drive to the hanger and approach the VTOL mammoth. I am very excited. Then the lights go out, and we’re ambushed. And then we die. Oh good, another of Rockstar’s infamous online heist difficulty spikes. We attempt multiple times, and then have to restart the entire thing over because of yet another connection drop.
Tom S: There’s very little cover on the hangar floor, so we end up trial-and-erroring our way through, learning where the soldiers spawn and head-shotting them to clear the room. It’s essentially a deadly quest to turn the lights back on, and it’s one of the most frustrating parts of the heist so far.
Phil: Eventually, we make it. We all hop in—me in the cockpit, the rest of the team manning mounted turrets in the back—and fly towards a remote landing zone. It all goes smoothly until we reach the destination. I land, but the mission doesn’t end. I readjust a couple of times, but can’t seem to hit whatever invisible trigger completes this thing. Finally, we get a mission failed screen. Apparently, the jet took too much damage? This is getting frustrating. We do it all once more, and this time, finally, it just works. This has been a pretty weak act, overall. Hopefully the final mission will deliver the goods. We’re split into teams again. Sam and I return to our submersible cars to assault a submarine.
Tom H: While they head underwater, Tom Senior and I hover above in the VTOL, shooting down waves and waves of helicopters. And I do mean waves. In fact the same number of helicopters attack from the same direction every time. After a while I suss out where they’re launching from and just point my turret there, trigger finger held down, killing them all the moment they spawn.
Tom S: This is actually the low point of the entire thing for me. The VTOL is a cool vehicle that’s really fun to fly, but we’re stuck stationary, hovering over the ocean watching choppers spawn from the same parts of the mountain in front of us. Hopefully, Phil and Sam are having more fun under the sea, because I can’t remember the last time I played a mission in any game that demanded so little from the player.
Phil: Our bit is actually pretty good, and involves a protracted shootout through tight corridors. But when we exit the sub, our car is gone. We swim back to shore to meet up with the VTOL crew. It takes forever.
Phil: I still have no idea what the story is, but this is it: the last chain of missions before the big payday. We wrap up the prep missions efficiently. Worryingly, though, our connection drops are worse than ever. During this open world section, Tom Hatfield and I each get booted from the server at various points.
Tom H: At first I was concerned that my internet was the causing our connection problems. In fact I unplugged, replugged and reset everything I could think of to try and fix the issue. But now it’s happening to everyone.
Samuel: The first real mission involves driving to a dock we scouted out earlier and fighting a bunch of Merryweather dudes, which seems nice and simple. We clear out the warehouse with no real problem. Then, three guys in armour with machine guns and invisibility cloaks turn up and pretty much mow us down with ease. This is suddenly absurdly hard.
Tom H: Throughout our entire heist experience GTA Online has been consistently ramping up the health and deadliness of enemies, but these guys are some hot bullshit. Immune to anything but high explosives and headshots, invisible, and constantly firing a spray of minigun bullets.
Phil: It’s hard, but we’re figuring it out. We take out the first three with sniper fire, and then get surprised by their reinforcements. Still, it’s progress. A plan is forming, but, before we can execute, the mission fails. This time, it’s Samuel who drops connection. That’s three people who have been booted at various points this act.
Samuel: I make the bold suggestion that GTA has one more chance—that one more dropped connection in the next hour, and we’re done. We walk away from the entire heist, despite getting this far.
Tom S: Two quotes from classic heist film Heat spring to mind. One: “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat.” Two: “Don’t waste my motherfucking time!” GTA Online’s heists are amazing at points, but we’ve had to work pretty hard to find the fun since the awesome flying DeLoreans mission, which feels like it happened a decade ago at this point. At least my connection seems to be holding strong.
Phil: The difficulty spikes I can deal with, but losing all of your progress when someone’s booted from the instance is sapping my resolve away. We reload the mission one final time, and, while driving to the mission area, Tom Senior gets kicked. The mission fails.
Tom S: Balls.
Samuel: That’s the end. Sorry, GTA. We want to enjoy you but you’re making it too hard. There’s a brilliant online game hiding in here, but I feel a bit burnt out and ready for a less testing online experience.
Phil: This feels like an anti-climax, but one that, for me, sums up GTA Online pretty well. When it works, it’s one of my favourite co-op games. But those moments are hard won, and there are plenty of more seamless multiplayer games we could play instead. Now who’s up for some Vermintide?