Trying to survive GTA 5's campaign amid the absurdity of the Chaos Mod

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This diary first appeared in PC Gamer magazine issue 355 & 356 in 2021. We do one every month, taking on new challenges and approaching our favourite games from entirely new angles – and letting you know how we got on.

I wouldn't describe Grand Theft Auto 5 as a serious game, but it does take its silliness very seriously. Yes, it has absurd crime capers, ridiculous NPCs, and, of course, Trevor. But it's also strict about the rules of its world. If you want to fly, for example, first you must get on a plane, while its missions are rigid in terms of what they allow and don't allow the player to do. Go exactly here. Do exactly this. Under no circumstances stray from the objective. 

I've often wondered what GTA would be like if it truly let its hair down, allowed its meticulously crafted simulation to run wild. Enter the Chaos Mod. Created by a modder known as pongo1231, this mod adds 250 random effects to the game that trigger at set intervals. Some of these effects are small, like adding a random weapon into your inventory. Others are... well, let's not spoil the surprise, eh? 

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My plan is simple. Take GTA 5. Take the Chaos Mod. Then smash them together like a Ferrari crashing into a van full of clowns. I'm going to play the main campaign as you would normally, and see how many giant shoes and red noses fall out in the process. 

First, though, we've got to put the clowns in the van. Simple to install, the Chaos Mod lets you adjust the length and frequency of its random events. By default, a new event will trigger every 30 seconds. I don't want to blow all the game's randomness within the first couple of hours, so instead, I set the event intervals to five minutes. As for event duration, the mod has two settings, both of which I set in ratio with the default settings. "Short events" are set to last five minutes, while "long events" will run for fifteen. 

An event won't trigger until the first five minutes have passed, so GTA 5 kicks off as it always does, with aggressive style. Michael, Trevor, and Barry are robbing a bank in snowy Yankton, holding the staff hostage while they blast the vault door off with C4 explosive. They grab the loot, but the cops show up, culminating in a bloody shootout outside the bank. When the last cop falls, we make our way to the getaway car whereupon the event meter fills for the first time, and the game spawns a tugboat that lands on Michael's head. 

Oh, this is going to be good.

(Image credit: Rockstar)

Random house

Miraculously, Michael survives being flattened by several tons of barnacled steel, and the three men make their doomed getaway. Fast-forward nine years, and Michael, now in witness protection, brays at his therapist before story duties switch over to loveable small-time gangster Franklin, who's in the process of repossessing a couple of cars with his pal Lamar. 

Vehicles acquired, we're racing back to the car dealership when another event triggers—Spawn Deadly Agent. At first, nothing happens, and I wonder whether the mod is still working. But then several new ‘speed holes' appear in the back of my car. I look around to see an Aston Martin DB5 hurtling toward me. 

That's right. I'm being attacked by James Bond. 

This is a problem. I imagine being attacked by James Bond is always a problem. But it's especially inconvenient for me as I don't have any weapons. My only choice is to floor it. Racing to the dealership, I seek sanctuary in the warm, reassuring embrace of a cutscene. I'm hoping that by the time the cutscene has ended, Bond will have gone off to wash his tuxedo or act inappropriately towards a woman, or whatever else 007 does in his spare time. 

At first, nothing happens, and I wonder whether the mod is still working. But then several new ‘speed holes' appear in the back of my car. I look around to see an Aston Martin DB5 hurtling toward me. That's right. I'm being attacked by James Bond.

After a scene in which Michael's son Jimmy is accused of being a massive racist, I head outside to drive Franklin and Lamar home. The moment we do, however, Lamar crumples to the ground, and the mission fails. At first, I think some new Chaos Mod effect, but after it happens a second time, I peek around the corner of the rear exit to see Bond waiting for us. Crafty git. It's almost like he does this for a living or something. 

Now I'm in trouble. I can't get to the car without Bond shooting either Lamar or Franklin dead. So I do the only thing I can, which is run straight out of the door and punch the living daylights out of 007. He goes down disappointingly easily, but just to make sure I stomp on his head a few times. I don't expect you to talk. Not without your teeth. 

Franklin and Lamar head home. Franklin is berated by his aunt for the crime of existing and is then immediately snuffed out of existence by Jimmy, who has appeared in the doorway wielding a shotgun. Guess he really didn't like being called a racist, but I'm not sure how his response does much for his argument. 

I respawn and give Jimmy a taste of the Bond beaters, before moving on to the next mission, repossessing a bike from a garage in Vespucci Beach. Unfortunately, the bike belongs to a local gangster, and the job quickly turns into a shootout. The good news is that Lamar gives me a gun, meaning I can now defend myself properly from whatever the Chaos Mod throws at me. That's what my idiot brain thinks about five seconds before the world explodes.

(Image credit: Rockstar)

Death from above

There's no other way to describe it. All around me explosions start going off, transforming a gang war into an actual war. The Chaos Mod appears to have triggered an artillery bombardment, although I can't know for sure because, just before this, I switched off the names of the effects to stop them clogging up the screen. I go through the alley to see the owner of the bike ride off on it. Great, now I have to chase him through the Blitz. 

I'd like to say that I swiftly and dashingly navigated the bombardment and retrieved the bike with ease. I did not. Everything that could have gone wrong in this scenario did. Franklin exploded. Lamar exploded. My car exploded, forcing me to steal another car which also exploded. At one point I managed to shoot the rider off the bike, but both the rider and the bike exploded, as by this point the Chaos Mod had added another effect giving me exploding bullets. 

Clearly, the barrage counts as a long effect, and let me tell you, 15 minutes is a long time in a videogame, especially when that videogame has dedicated all its resources to blowing you up. I begin to think it might be impossible to complete this mission, when the Chaos Mod introduces a third effect—bullet time. This new effect does two things. Firstly, it makes driving through Los Santos during an artillery strike look cooler than a penguin wearing Ray-Bans. Secondly, it makes weaving through traffic much easier, enabling me to get to the bike and shunt the driver off. I leap out of the car and clamber onto the bike. Now to take it to safety without being killed.

Unfortunately, alongside the Chaos Mod's absurdity, GTA's regular systems remain very much in play, and clipping another car as I turn a corner sends Franklin flying across the asphalt. In addition, the police are on my tail, believing that I'm somehow responsible for turning downtown Los Santos into Verdun. Now I'm in a treacle-speed gunfight with the cops while trying to make my way back to the bike before it's consumed by hellfire. 

(Image credit: Rockstar)

Somehow, I manage to take out the police in the immediate area, clamber onto the bike and give the fuzz the slip. By the time I arrive at my destination, both the bombardment and the bullet-time have stopped, while Franklin's character model has vanished, making it appear as if the bike is driving itself. Fair enough, to be honest. I think I'd want to disappear up my own arse after going through all of that as well.

Slowly, I make my way to the next mission. This is partly because I need a break, and partly because the Chaos Mod has disabled my ability to move sideways, making it impossible to drive. Indeed, it's worth noting not every effect the Chaos Mod throws at me is spectacular, or even fun. One spawns an ape that follows me around, which is certainly odd, but not exactly the height of anarchy. The mod also has a propensity for annoying screen effects, like a high-contrast Predator vision and reducing the visible display to a square box that dances around my screen. The worst effects, though, are the ones that disable parts of your controls. That isn't chaotic, Chaos Mod, that's just mean.

I manage to complete the next mission—which sees Michael take revenge on the dealership for taking advantage of his son—without incident. I wonder if the Chaos Mod is giving me a break, but instead it's merely biding its time. I exit the dealership, and see a blimp float down onto the buildings next to me. I assume the mod has just spawned a blimp, but then a helicopter does the same thing. Is air-traffic falling out of the sky? And that's when I notice the cars careering toward me at very high speeds.

(Image credit: Rockstar)

Maximum overdrive

It appears the Chaos Mod has turned Michael into a universal vehicle magnet. Cars and trucks smash into each other as they scramble to be the first to run me down. Before I can react, I'm punted across the road by a black saloon. Climbing to my feet, I spy a ladder and figure it would be wise to get off the road. 

Ascending to the rooftop, I take a minute to admire the chaos below. Then I hear an engine behind me. Turns out this ‘rooftop' is in fact a car park with an on-ramp. I go back down the ladder and leap into the nearest car, which at least provides some protection from the vehicular hordes. With a moment to think, I reckon my best bet is simply to head home. Michael's house is walled off, and the next mission starts there anyway. Can I make it back without incident? No.

Driving while every vehicle in GTA is trying to ram you off the road is almost impossible, while stepping out of a vehicle is like throwing a side of beef into the lion enclosure at the zoo. I die so many times I lose count. At one point I end up trapped under a bus, while distantly I can hear the sound of cars exploding in sequence, each one getting louder. I succeed in making it home once, but I'm immediately killed by some crazed jogger who spawns and shoots me, catapulting me back to the hospital. Eventually, I make it back by driving so fast the other cars don't have time to turn into my path. The random assassin is swiftly dealt with by the grille of my SUV. 


(Image credit: Rockstar)

I leave Michael De Santa sunning himself by his swimming pool, but the gangster Michael owes money to isn't going to leave his legs unbroken for long, so it's time for the retired bank-robber to find himself a big new score. What mischief and mayhem will the Chaos Mod throw at us this time around? Alien invasion? Anti-gravity? 

Well, for a worryingly long time, the answer is 'none whatsoever'. I travel to the home of Michael's old friend and accomplice Lester in an entirely normal and unchaotic manner. Lester agrees to help Michael do big crimes on the condition that he scratches Lester's back first, by assassinating the head of social media platform LifeInvader, Jay Norris. Michael grabs the explosive phone Lester has prepared, drives to a nearby clothes shop to dress up like a techbro, then heads over to LifeInvader's offices. 

All of this happens without anything exploding or falling on me or turning me inside-out. It gets to the point where I'm tapping on the screen as if it was a dodgy microphone. The bar at the top of the screen is definitely moving, but so far GTA V has been its normal, only moderately ludicrous self. 

Arriving at LifeInvader's HQ, I'm let into the building by some douchey software developer who mistakes Michael for an IT guy and needs help clearing his PC of viruses. Doing some stupid dance that seems entirely in character, he tells me to follow him upstairs. I start walking, but douche-dev doesn't. He just stands there pulling his pathetic moves. Suspicious, I ascend to the second floor without him, where I discover everyone in the office is doing the dance. It isn't some weird tech-company initiation rite either. Glancing out the window, I see the entire city is jiving to the same unheard tune.


(Image credit: Rockstar)

Dancing in the streets

It's as if I've acquired the 'Dancing Peds' power-up from Carmageddon II. But the sudden outbreak of Saturday Night Fever at least makes it easy for me to swap the phones. As I return downstairs, I hear the sound of nearby explosions. Heading outside, I discover that my old friend the tugboat has spawned on the road, causing a screaming, flaming pile-up just outside LiveInvader's offices. I sigh with relief because the Chaos Mod is officially back on its bullshit. 

With Norris' death arranged, Michael returns home and changes into a suit ahead of another meeting with Lester. When I get back into Michael's car, however, I discover that I cannot exit the garage. I can drive, but the Chaos Mod has goofed my steering, meaning I'm pinballing off the sides of the garage. Exiting the car, I walk down to the road with the intention of stealing a different vehicle, but I'm immediately punted into the shrubbery by the bonnet of a black saloon. 

Climbing to my feet, I realise that all the traffic has been set to what I can only describe as 'doughnut mode'. And I really mean all the traffic. Gazing off to the distance, I spy a jetliner cartwheeling in the sky as if waltzing to the Blue Danube, before it disappears behind Los Santos' skyscrapers, presumably crashing somewhere downtown and resulting in hundreds of fiery deaths. 

The more I play the Chaos Mod, the more I realise how GTA's simulation often masks the initial impact of the mod's changes. Many of its effects tend to creep up on you, and you're often dealing with the consequences of them before you've fully grasped what's happening. After the meeting with Lester, I embark on a bike ride along Vespucci beach with Michael's son, and it's only when I glance down at the nearby car-park I realise the game has turned every vehicle in the city a lovely shade of blue. Later in that same mission, Michael 'rescues' his daughter from a yacht party with a bunch of drug-dealing hoods, and it's only after the ensuing jet-ski chase that I notice the Chaos Mod has set my character to permanently accelerate, forcing me to catapult Michael back onto the beach like an overweight missile.


(Image credit: Rockstar)

Wild man

After this, the Chaos Mod goes dormant for a while. It's still doing stuff, like changing the weather, but nothing that radically alters how GTA V plays. I was hoping for some heist-related hijinks, but Michael and Franklin's first job together goes off without a hitch. 

This all changes when Trevor is introduced, as if the mod understands the significance of the occasion. Within minutes of his gloriously grotty arrival, GTA V's psychopathic star is off on his bloody vendetta against the biker gang The Lost. The Chaos Mod celebrates this event by sending every NPC in the game absolutely fucking bananas. 

The Chaos Mod celebrates this event by sending every NPC in the game absolutely fucking bananas.

I first notice the change in behaviour when they start leaping out of their moving cars as I pass them on the road. But the new world order is fully hammered home when a random fellow lurking outside a shop in Grapeseed whips out a minigun and atomises Trevor's truck. Respawning at his trailer, I return to Grapeseed and plant a bullet between Mr Minigun's eyes before he can raise his mighty weapon. I'm walking back to the truck when a rocket hisses past Trevor's ear and blows up a car behind me. I whirl around to see that a huge battle has commenced between the town's residents, with multiple individuals closing in on me, wielding everything from police batons to assault rifles. 

What follows is a blur of bullets and bombs, as war erupts on the road through Grapeseed, with ever-more cars rolling up and their drivers rushing to join the slaughter. At the height of the battle, the fire brigade shows up. But instead of dousing the flaming vehicles and immolated corpses, the fireman join the firefight, and I'm forced to put them all down. It also seems the police-response system has been temporarily disabled, as they're the only emergency service that doesn't show up to the fight. 

Eventually, the fighting literally dies down, and I'm free to make my way to the actual mission, made extremely easy due to the vast arsenal I collected during the Grapeseed Massacre. Afterward, Trevor embarks upon various entrepreneurial endeavours to expand Trevor Phillips Enterprises, during which time the Chaos Mod is relatively quiet, restricting itself to changing the colours of the cars (silver this time) and making all the doors on vehicles open and close as if they're attending some sort of vehicular rave.


(Image credit: Rockstar)

Plane sailing

The mod does pull one of its more dastardly tricks during this collection of missions, however. After a mission that involves flying a pair of planes to drop off a weapons shipment in the ocean, Trevor and his, erm, acquaintance Nervous Ron wheel them around to the nearby airport. Landing planes in GTA V (and indeed, reality) is not the easiest skill to master, so I'm pleased when I get the plane back on terra firma without burying it into the tarmac. 

At this point, the Chaos Mod immediately teleports the plane to the top of a nearby mountain. So not only do I have to try to take off on the mountainside, I also have to land the plane a second time, while the other plane idles on the runway. To my own amazement, I manage both of these feats, although the second landing is less 'three- point' and more 'three falls and a submission'.


Once the future of his 'business' is secure, Trevor returns to his trailer, his attention swivelling to his pursuit of Michael, who he's just discovered is still alive. Trevor's forming plans in his trailer when, mid-cutscene, all the physics in the game cut out, and he collapses in a pile of limbs on the floor. I'm forced to spend the next five minutes watching Trevor flop uselessly across his cockroach-ridden trailer until the effect, which is mercifully short, ceases. The next effect spawns an object behind Trevor as he clambers to his feet. Turning around, I have just enough time to exclaim "Christ on a hoverbike!" before our Lord and Saviour blows Trevor to smithereens. 

Trevor respawns outside his trailer while I'm reeling from the fact that I just got nuked by Jesus. Fortunately, Christ can't get his hoverbike through the door, so I'm safe from his holy wrath. I could leave him hovering inside like an angry wasp, but something tells me Trevor wouldn't let getting decked by the Son of God go so easily. Besides 'Trevor versus Jesus' is too tantalising a grudge-match to ignore, the rural equivalent of Alien vs Predator. 


(Image credit: Rockstar)

My first plan is simply to run into the trailer and gun Jesus down, but he casually repaints the walls with Trevor's insides (I don't know what Christ is wielding, but it certainly has godlike power). After this failure, I then throw a bunch of grenades through the door, but it appears Christ is impervious to explosives. Finally, I try the same tactic, but with bullets instead of grenades. This is very effective, if anticlimactic, and soon Christ is off his hoverbike, bleeding out on the floor of Trevor's trailer. I walk in to find out what Christ was pummelling me with. Turns out it's a railgun. Never let it be said that religion doesn't get you anything. I'll be having that.

With Los Santos County now officially the devil's domain, Trevor travels to the city for his long-awaited rendezvous with Michael. The confrontation is aborted, however, with the revelation that Michael's daughter Tracey is about to embarrass herself on Los Santos' premiere reality TV show, Fame or Shame. Together, the two veteran criminals ride-out on a mission to 'rescue' Tracey. I'm thinking that now would be a good time for the Chaos Mod to throw in something that fits the scene, when, as if on cue, it starts raining whales.

Soon, the streets are running red with the blood of fallen humpbacks, while Michael and Trevor weave between the whales and the ensuing traffic apocalypse to reach Fame or Shame's studio. By the time we arrive, the cetacean clouds appear to have cleared up, and Michael and Trevor head inside for a little chat with Fame or Shame's host, the inimitable and incorrigible Lazlow.


(Image credit: Rockstar)

Fish flingers

The chat soon turns into a chase, with Lazlow in his electric hatchback and the two stooges driving an 18-wheeler. As we exit the car-park I notice that, contrary to my initial assumption, the weather is still podding it down. The result of this is the single most absurd chase sequence I've experiencedm in a videogame, as I'm forced to dodge plummeting seaborne mammals in a hulking truck while trying to keep up with Lazlow's puttering go-kart. Oh also, my truck can jump, but given the broader situation this barely registers. 

Somehow I evade all the falling blubber and force Lazlow into a final confrontation beside the Los Santos river, which is now filled with whale corpses. After giving Lazlow a taste of his own shame-based medicine, Trevor heads off, while I'm returned to the body of Michael. 

With the sun setting, I'm about to return home for another afternoon by the pool. But the Chaos Mod has one last trick in store. As I leave the whale-strewn riverbed, Michael is suddenly teleported to inside what appears to be an airport control tower. I'm noodling around for an exit, when an alarm begins to sound. Worried now, I ascend some stairs, bumping into two men wearing camouflage sporting assault rifles. 

Oh no. 

I've been teleported into the military base.