What we want from GTA 5
Actually we know nothing about the next GTA. We do not even know it exists, because publisher Rockstar Games hasn’t announced or even let slip a single scrap of information about it. But we know it is in the works, because really, how could it not be? Saying there might not be another GTA on the horizon would be like saying EA might pull the plug on Madden.
But while we do not yet have an idea of what Rockstar’s got up its sleeve, there are a few things that the last game left us wanting. Things that, after careful consideration, we are convinced the franchise needs. Whether we’ll actually get them is anyone’s guess (and we’ll probably love the game regardless), but the following items are what we would really like to see from the sequel:
Less grim, more fun
Look, we get what Rockstar was trying to do with Grand Theft Auto 4. At the time, we even loved it. Where other GTAs had been balls-to-the-wall frenzies driven by explosive idiocy, Niko’s story was methodical, bleak, serious and ultimately sad. It had plenty of goofy moments, sure, but the mood was more subdued, and the action toned down in favor of realism.
Again, we realize why Rockstar did what it did: the old craziness wouldn’t have fit the new, more mature tone, and the transformation from juvenile silliness to somber realism was a big step toward convincing the mainstream that, yes, games can be serious art. Then came The Lost and Damned expansion, which ramped up the bleakness and made Liberty City seem less like a playground and more like a hell on earth. When The Ballad of Gay Tony hit, however, it reminded us of what we would been missing: the pure, unadulterated rush of fun and freedom that every GTA release used to signify.
As infatuated as we at first were with IV’s grimness, Gay Tony made up our minds: in the future, we would like to see a little more levity and big-budget silliness in our car-crime games. Saints Row 2 hit a lot of those notes, rolling out an “old GTA” mentality for fans turned off by IV’s seriousness – but it is no GTA, and we are interested to see what the king of car-crime can do now that it is apparently got its sense of fun back.
Cars that do not handle like ass
Driving controls have been a problem since GTA III. It is always fun to jack new rides and go tearing around crowded streets at high speeds, but it is also damn near impossible to take 90-degree turns, maintain a straight line or not slam into every single pedestrian, lamppost and car between you and a routine drive to your destination.
In Grand Theft Auto 4, part of this was our own fault it is hard not to pull the right trigger all the way in but part of it was a deliberate design decision. The beaters and jalopies players had available in the game’s early chapters apparently had to be clunky in the name of realism, and also to contrast them with the faster, more maneuverable rides you’d find later in the game.
Again, we get it. But enough. In real life, we are perfectly capable of driving around a city without our car hoods flipping up and blowing away. We can take corners without skidding across the intersection and smashing into fire hydrants, and we can drive at high speeds without causing multiple fatalities. We can even do this to some degree in other games. Getting banged up is and should be a normal part of car chases, but it shouldn’t happen every time we are chauffering someone from point A to point B.
True, we could always try harder to just slow down a bit. But where’s the fun in that?
More than one city and/or wide-open spaces
As impressive an achievement as Grand Theft Auto 4’s Liberty City was, it still felt like a step back after the massive world that was San Andreas. True, long stretches of it were empty and uninteresting, but that didn’t do much to dampen the thrill of discovering the unique character and design of each new city, small town or remote point of interest on the map.
It doesn’t have to be three cities. It could be two. Or even one big one, with a lot of outlying wilderness, suburbs or small towns around its edges (we are biased on this count, since we live in San Francisco, but we would strongly suggest a return to San Fierro). Just so long as we’ve got an excuse to bomb across dunes on an ATV, roar down a mountainside on a runaway motorcycle or re-create things like this:
If nothing else, Red Dead Redemption proved that Rockstar can make wilderness as vibrant and interesting as its cities. It’d be kind of a waste if all that cool design didn’t make it into the next GTA, as well. And if a sprawlingly huge game world means the return of airplanes – which we were just starting to like by the time San Andreas ended – that would be even better.
A new time period
While we are on the topic of what we would like to see from the world, how about a new era to go nuts in? Previous games have taken us to the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s, but there’s a whole century of automotive criminality Rockstar could tap for inspiration. we would love to see what Rockstar North could do with the drug-and-disco-fueled ‘70s, for example, especially after it did such a great job with the nightclub-centric Gay Tony. And as long as we are wishing, we’ve wanted to see a fully realized version of 1960s London ever since the amazing-for-its-time London 1969 expansion for the very first Grand Theft Auto.
Of course, there is no reason to focus on the latter half of the century. True, the 20s and 30s have already been done by Mafia, and the ‘40s and ‘50s by its sequel and the upcoming, Rockstar-published L.A. Noire, but those games were (or at least appear to be) serious, no-nonsense period dramas. Meanwhile, a Prohibition-era GTA, provided its cars didn’t top out at 45 miles per hour, could bring an anarchic, Bonnie-and-Clyde sense of fun to the early 20th century, ditching grim, overcoat-wearing gravitas for wild shootouts against Treasury agents and paranoid hillbilly bootleggers. And banjo music. Lots of banjo music.
Or it could be set in the future. Whatever. To bring up Red Dead Redemption again, though, the lavish western was a reminder that Rockstar has a gift for re-creating interesting moments in history, and we certainly wouldn’t turn up our noses if they decided to apply that gift to GTA again.
More DLC episodes
Rockstar was definitely on the right track with this one. Less DLC add-ons than they were entire new campaigns, The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony injected new life into Grand Theft Auto 4’s aging Liberty City, giving players who’d finished Niko’s immigrant story a reason to dive back in. While it is putting several carts before the horse, we hope the next GTA makes this cool idea a series tradition, giving us new characters and stories to make the most of whatever cool playground Rockstar is probably building for us right now.
Hell, every open-world game should do this. With current-gen technology turning the wait for sequels into a years-long affair, being able to squeeze the big sandbox you already own for a few more stories is pretty damned appealing.
As cool as the DLC episodes were, this was probably the best – and most overdue – innovation that they brought to GTA. Missions in Grand Theft Auto can be long and grueling, and having to start over if you die or fail can be immensely discouraging. Mid-mission checkpoints are, and need to be, standard. Their appearance in Red Dead is a sure sign that Rockstar’s probably going to keep them for any future games, but it is a point worth stressing just the same. Also, if the checkpoint could give us back whatever armor or weaponry we had when we hit the checkpoint, that’d be a plus.
More things to spend money on
Being able to buy new properties was unequivocally one of the best things about Vice City and San Andreas. It was tangible evidence of your rise to power and wealth, it occasionally opened new story arcs to you, and high-end safehouses and businesses gave you something to save up for. It made the gobs of cash you could earn actually mean something, instead of just being a resource good only for frittering away on weapons and body armor – which is exactly what it was in Grand Theft Auto 4.
Instead of offering up property for players to buy, Grand Theft Auto 4 simply handed us new apartments – which wasn’t the same as buying them, even if you “earned” them by doing favors for Liberty City’s assorted criminal scum. Being able to buy or “rent” safehouses in Chinatown Wars and Red Dead was a step back in the right direction, but really, they’re just places to retreat, rest and save your game. Much as we like the smaller-scale stories of Grand Theft Auto 4, we would really like to see another rags-to-riches tale in the next game. One that makes us feel like we are conquering the world, not just scurrying through its shadows as a workaday mercenary.
Oh, and while we are on the topic? we would like to see the customizable cars from San Andreas make a comeback, particularly if we can somehow keep the results after wrecking and/or abandoning them. Saints Row 2 expanded on that idea with all kinds of crazy options, and we know Rockstar can do it better.
You could argue that Grand Theft Auto 4 already introduced dedicated co-op with its free-roam multiplayer, which theoretically enables up to 16 players to team up to wreak havoc across the city. But you’d be wrong, because there’s nothing to do in free roam aside from committing random acts of violence or general dicking around. No, we are talking about co-op in the single-player campaign, something everyone seems to want, but that Rockstar has never seemed comfortable implementing.
We are not asking that the whole game necessarily be structured around co-op, or that the next protagonist needs an AI partner to follow them everywhere when the second player isn’t plugged in. All we want is for one to three friends to be able to drop in and experience the missions alongside us. It doesn’t even have to be accounted for in the story; that we get to have a buddy or three along for the ride, Crackdown style (or, if nothing else, Saints Row 2 style), would be enough.
A female lead
So far, Rockstar’s presented us with a veritable rainbow of minority protagonists who’ve hailed from Jewish, Chinese, Dominican, Italian, African American and Eastern European backgrounds. It is even named a DLC episode after a prominent gay character. And in all this time, the only GTA to have so much as the option of a female protagonist is the very first game, which debuted 13 years ago. Clearly, women are overdue for a turn at the (stolen) driver’s seat.
Of course, a female GTA protagonist would cause some complications. Marketing wisdom holds that GTA’s target audience simply isn’t interested in playing as a woman, and that is to say nothing of how to handle the series’ oh-so-infamous prostitutes. Still, there’s no reason not to try it; if Rockstar doesn’t want to take a gamble on handing its flagship franchise to a female lead, maybe a DLC episode is a better way to experiment. In any case, the series has featured plenty of tough, interesting female characters over the years, and we would welcome finally getting to play as one.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: in most games, glitches are a sign of poor testing. They’re embarrassing and, if they break the game, often unforgivable. But the glitches in Grand Theft Auto 4 and Red Dead Redemption, so long as they weren’t crashing the game or making it otherwise unplayable, were among the most entertaining things in the games, particularly for those who’d finished them.
Random bystanders who literally behave like animals? Swingsets that can launch your car across the city? Yes, please. While we expect Rockstar to do rigorous bug-testing on the next chapter of GTA, we’ll also be happy if we see a bit of random strangeness.