Despite easily being one of the greatest games released in 2008, in can’t be argued that Grand Theft Auto was not a game without its problems. Sure, those problems were largely overshadowed by great characterisation, insanely fun gameplay, and a gameworld so fantastically realised in its dedication to detail it often felt like you were looking at snapshots of NYC itself – but still, the problems were there. If Grand Theft Auto 5 is to avoid the critical lashings of its fanbase then its going to need to address the following issues.
Cut scenes versus gameplay
One of the problems evident in GTA IV was the fact that during cut scenes Niko Bellic talked and acted like a man looking for salvation and a life that wasn’t defined by violence. Fair enough. However, as soon as he got out onto the street the rocket launcher was out and he was taking down police helicopters. It’s a problem endemic to all games, not just GTA IV. Uncharted’s Nathan Drake is meant to be an affable, happy-go-lucky rogue, but during gameplay he’s a mass murderer. Far Cry 2’s Clint Hocking coined a fancy phrase for this – ‘ludonarrative dissonance’. It’s a tough problem for games to crack – how do you make characters interesting and believable throughout both narrative and gameplay? If anyone can do it, Rockstar North can (we’re assuming that’s the developer – it hasn’t been confirmed). Rumours have been doing the rounds for some time now that you’ll actually be playing multiple characters in GTA V, which could go some way to solving the problem. One level you could be playing the quiet guy who wants to remove himself from the criminal underworld, and the next playing as the psychotic kingpin determined to get his hands as bloody as possible.
Actually having fun
I wasn’t quite so bothered as this by others, but many criticised GTA IV for distancing itself from the wilder aspects of gameplay that have now become the domain of the Saints Row series. GTA: San Andreas had you blasting around on a jetpack, chasing a firetruck on the back of a motorcycle, or simply just causing utter carnage on the streets with bag full of grenades. GTA IV was an altogether more serious game than that, opting for a more level-headed, cinematic approach to its gameplay. It eschewed zaniness for realism, and making a world that felt altogether more believable than those we’d experienced before. That was part of the problem. The world was so realistic that you didn’t actually want to go round blowing stuff up. It just felt…wrong. For many, that wasn’t what a GTA game should be. In GTA V Rockstar will need to find a way to inject that sense of crazy abandonment into the experience alongside the more serious aspirations towards mature, cinematic storytelling.
The game loop needs addressing
Even though I love Grand Theft Auto IV and everything it achieved, even I can see the transparency of its game mechanics. It goes something like this: drive to a location. Meet character and watch cut scene. Drive to next location. Shoot everyone and everything. Drive to next location. Watch cut scene. Repeat. Outside of this is a larger narrative loop consisting of the protagonist – whether it was Claude, Tommy Vercetti, Carl Johnson or Niko Bellic – meeting crime bosses, doing a bunch of missions for them, somehow upsetting them, and then killing them. It’s often just that repeated over and over until the big shoot out at the game’s end. Hopefully GTA V will introduce enough new mechanics that keep the player doing new and interesting things without having to repeat themselves. Again, the possibility of playing as multiple characters with different roles – an assassin, a driver, a mob boss, even a single mother attempting to keep her son out of the drug trade – all of these could open up a variety of truly interesting gameplay approaches.
No more hanging out with friends
NO LITTLE JACOB. I DO NOT WANT TO GO F**KING BOWLING WITH YOU I’M BEING CHASED BY THE F**KING POLICE.