In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Phil praises the quiet isolation of night driving through GTA 5's Los Santos.
I'm almost embarrassed to admit this: I'm role-playing GTA 5. In my defence, it isn't very difficult. GTA 5 is a game about cartoonishly sociopathic murderers. Given that, it's hard to do things outside the remit of those characters. It is possible, though, and in ways that sometimes require some creative thinking. For instance, Franklin is a character who never has any reason to leave Los Santos. The dialogue hammers this home as the three characters travel to a Sandy Shores airfield to complete Trevor's Merryweather job. There's a long exchange about Millennials' work ethic, a short aside for class commentary—it's GTA dialogue, you know what to expect.
The problem is that there's a green '?' icon on my map, indicating a "Strangers & Freaks" mission meant for Franklin. It's in Sandy Shores. It's been sat on the map for well over half the time I've been playing it, but I've never checked it off because I've never thought of a good reason for why Franklin should—without prompting—leave the city for a quick adventure in the arse-end of nowhere.
That all changed the other day, when I put the Drive soundtrack onto Self FM. It was night, I was in Franklin's Buffalo, and Kavinsky's Night Call started playing through the radio. I started driving, with no destination in particular. It's become a regular ritual—a break from the missions and events and distractions. A moment of contemplation; of getting to enjoy GTA 5 not for the game, but for the world.
I like driving at night anyway. Not in the real-world, where I don't drive, but in games like Euro Truck Simulator 2. There, night is a companion. It's a mood of stillness and calm that stretches across the endless motorways. In GTA, the night is different. It's alive—like any city would be. There's something incredibly evocative about a city after dark. Cities are huge colonies of movement and commerce. At night, they don't so much shut down as reorient. New areas spring to life as others go still. The heart of the place slows down, but the blood still flows through. The metaphorical blood, to be clear; although there's plenty of literal blood too. This is still a GTA game.
Los Santos may be the finest realisation of a city in gaming. Exploring it without purpose, I get a sort of content isolation. It's remarkably similar to the feeling I get walking through real cities at night—matching streets with music on my headphones in an attempt to see familiar places in a new light. That a game can evoke this is remarkable. The scale helps. It's always worth exploring the city in first-person view. In most open-world games, my sense of the protagonist is skewed by how important they feel in relation to the world. In first-person, though, Los Santos dwarfs you. There's so much of it. I'm a tiny piece of a world, and surrounded by life. It stretches out in miles for every direction. Why not go and look at it?
So I do. I'll slowly meander through the street's of the city's commercial centre, or I'll poke around the utilitarian starkness of its industrial sector. Sometimes I'll head onto the Olympic freeway—taking a high-speed trip to Blaine County. And yet, despite having been doing this for the last few days, I still haven't reached Franklin's Sandy Shores mission. In fact, it's the opposite. By the time dawn breaks, I've inevitably driven half-way across the county.