In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Tom Senior and Phil Savage try to pin down the pleasure of sharing a car in GTA Online.
Tom S: It's taken us way too long to get into GTA 5 Online and try some heists. It was worth the effort, but for surprising reasons. Heists are multi-part co-op missions that send you on capers all over the city, but the best part so far has been simply driving around in the same car together, looking around in first-person and laughing like loons. Joining me to discuss why this is the best thing about GTA Online today, Phil “The Designated Driver” Savage.
Phil, are we mad or is this legitimately brilliant? We are essentially claiming that the best thing about this sprawling beautiful sandbox is carpooling.
Phil: It was great, although we should qualify “best part so far.” We haven't finished one of the four-player heists yet. Technically, we haven't even started. We're still on the setup phase, thanks to an incident with a bus.
But piling into our sensible SUV was a frequent highlight, and I'm not entirely sure why. Is it good in the way that even bad co-op games can be good when experienced with friends? Or is there something about an uneventful four-man roadtrip that is, in-and-of-itself, conducive to having a good time?
Tom S: I think there's something great about being a passenger, and completely at the mercy of your friend's incompetent driving. If there are multiple passengers you all feed off that collective helplessness and that intensifies the terror. It's a delightful feedback loop. GTA 5’s first-person mode is good at selling the undulating chaos of an SUV that’s just gone unexpectedly off-road, and the weight of GTA 5’s cars make impacts meaningful and a little bit shocking if they catch you unawares.
Phil: You call it incompetence, I call it a successful off-road shortcut. I think there's something to the fact that travelling in a single car is a shared moment. When scattered around the map, we're using voice chat to share individual parts of a joint anecdote. In the car, we're all actors in the same anecdote. Hearing Samuel's attempts to shake off the cops was pretty funny, but it was something happening exclusively to him. Watching as Samuel—for no reason—jumped out of my car during a high speed freeway chase was one of the funniest things I've ever seen happen in the game. GTA 5 is brilliant at random acts of chaos. It's always funnier if everyone can see and experience them.
Tom S: Road trips are a great way to explore camaraderie, which is why there’s a whole film genre dedicated to people dicking around in transit. When you climb into a vehicle in a game, you’re clambering into those scenes and appropriating their silliness. While you can’t quite recreate the full Wayne’s World Bohemian Rhapsody headbanging sequence, you can wave guns around in stupid ways, and giggle at the fact your crime masks are just paper bags with faces drawn on them.
Phil: Yeah, and that means it's not just the failures you share in—amusing as they are. When we (finally) stole that plane, it was because we all rocked up in the hangar, jumped out, and took our positions. It was cool. At least, it was cool the second time when we weren't still moving and so didn't fall out or get run over by our own car. And when we (nearly) got that bus, it was because we'd worked out a coordinated method for positioning the car to let the passengers efficiently gun down its driver. That's why it's so good in GTA Online, specifically. Heist films are about suave professionals perfectly executing a plan, but GTA undercuts its own fantasy with a layer of absurdity. It lets you instantly flip from action to comedy as part of an on-the-fly story of your own making. That's always going to be better when shared with friends.
Tom S: That’s true, but I wonder if it would still be great without any of the co-ordinated heist framework. We know what must be done: Truck Simulator co-op. There must be a mod somewhere that will let us live the dream.