There is no denying what a huge financial success GTA V has been — when a game makes a billion dollars in its first three days that much is obvious. But is the game any good? In the case of GTA V, one could argue that it is actually two separate games: a traditional single player campaign and an online multiplayer version of the game.
I was as psyched as everyone else at the idea of finally being able to play a GTA game with friends online, but when the game released in Japan only the single player campaign was playable at first. This meant that for a good month or so I could only play as Michael, Trevor and Franklin, while I looked on enviously at YouTube videos of other peoples’ GTA Online shenanigans.
Luckily the single player campaign for GTA V is good. No, it’s actually better than that; it’s bloody excellent. I for one loved the ability to switch between the three main protagonists on a whim. I liked warping to Trevor to find him dressed in a flowery dress in the dessert in a dune buggy being chased by cops. I liked finding Michael embroiled in some domestic spat with his shitty family. And I especially liked finding Franklin at the mercy of his nouveau empowered aunt and her friends.
The missions were interesting, challenging and varied, culminating in the big heist jobs that were just about the most fun I’ve ever had in a game of this genre. Los Santos is gorgeous, the vehicles handle like a dream and the combat system has been massively improved. I was sad when I reached the single player campaign’s conclusion, but just at that time, Japan’s GTA Online servers went live and I eagerly dived in to check out this new, bigger, better experience. And that’s when it all fell down.
GTA Online is pure crap. And I’m not talking about bugs and stuff; I’m talking about the core gaming experience to be had from it.
Firstly, there is this lack of focus for your character’s progression. Sure, there is a ‘plot’ of sorts as you advance through missions, but when you end up playing the same missions over and over and over you eventually forget why you’re doing it in the first place. It becomes monotonous and boring.
Another big problem is that in Online you find yourself playing as a mute, a-la-GTA III. What I loved most about Michael, Trevor and Franklin was their personalities. This dumb mute that I now control in Online feels like a huge step backwards and I just couldn’t care less about them.
But the biggest problem with GTA Online is the players. On the Japanese servers there was a sort of golden time for a little while after Online launched where it seemed that this was the next evolution of video games. In the game, people stopped to give you a lift when they saw you running from cops. Often they joined in with your shootout, too before making a daring get-away together. Strangers joined up to perform missions together, then opted to stay as a group and perform follow up missions. I had particular fun picking people up in helicopters and flying them into Fort Zancudo to steal jets. It was tremendous fun and it lasted precisely two weeks.
It seems that two weeks is about as long that this altruistic style of gameplay remains fun. Since then the GTA Online world has become a hellscape of anarchy. Now, when I see someone fleeing from the cops and I land my helicopter nearby for them to hop in and fly to safety, they kill me and steal my chopper instead.
Now, when I complete a team mission, everyone ops for ‘free roam’ and then immediately set about murdering their one-time teammates and stealing their money.
Now, when collecting cars for Simeon I always make it to the docks, just to be blown-up by some clown who spent the last 30 minutes just sitting by the delivery area with a C4 remote.
Now, when I fly someone into Fort Zancudo to steal a jet, they take off and immediately shoot my chopper out of the sky.
Now, when I exit a Los Santos Customs spray shop, there is a troll waiting outside to destroy my new ride or simply riddle me with bullets.
So, I say again, the biggest problem with GTA Online is the players. Sure, I could align myself with a crew for protection or I could only take part in team missions with friends, but that’s really missing the point of what this game could have been.
There was a short, glorious moment where strangers met, played together, enjoyed themselves and then parted amicably. Where a sort of gamers’ camaraderie existed binding people from all over in the pursuit of the same goals. But that version of the game is now dead and buried in the sands of Blaine County. Now Los Santos is the real Wild West, where it’s everyone for themselves. Where the spirit of comradeship means nothing and where trust gets you killed.
Seeing what happened so quickly to GTA Online makes me worry about the future of these types of games. With upcoming titles like Destiny and The Division focusing on this sort of connected team play, I can only hope that GTA Online serves as a warning to those developers and that they manage to get it right.
This after all is what happens when good games go bad.
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Sebastian has been playing games since the age of 8, cutting his teeth with Nintendo and Sega, and now can usually be found dying repeatedly in online FPS’s. Really, he should just quit. Open world RPG’s and grand strategy games also see him lose his sense of reality for several months of the year. You won’t find him on twitter though since he lives in a cave