“GET OUT THE CAR!”
Today was a big day for me. No, I didn’t sell a script or finally learn how to love; it was something way, way better. Like a sniper bullet through the eye-hole, out of nowhere, Rockstar Games suddenly announced the impending arrival of GTA 5, with the first trailer due to hit next week.
It’s pointless to yak on about why the Grand Theft Auto series is so great, because either you’ve already played them, in which case you know why, or you don’t care and never made it past the first paragraph of this piece. Some people don’t dig the constant stream of brutal violence, pop-culture homages, or the gleefully childish humour that permeates everything, but in case you haven’t noticed from reading this blog, that’s kinda my deal. Possibly what most lifts the franchise above the many GTA-clones is a quality of voice acting that creates genuinely memorable characters, rather than exposition being rattled off in a booth. Scene-stealers like ADD roid-guzzler Brucie are every bit as cattle-branded onto our minds as anyone who walked away with an actual movie. But above all else, there’s just a general… GTA-ness that can’t be replicated by any other studio. My lust for the series is such, that if I get sick, my first thought is always “I can’t die! I won’t get to see the next GTA!” In this bleak, awful world, the thought of how amazing GTA 7 is going to be is often the only thing that keeps me from swan diving off the nearest high building.
San Andreas was my own personal favourite. Rockstar’s ability to create immersive, layered worlds was never better with their distorted take on early 90’s California. Snoop Dogg on the radio, autumnal coloured Boyz n The Hood-style Compton streets, and uzis blazing through the windows of passing cars. I was there, man. I was there, and I killed about a million innocent people. SA’s Flight School was our generation’s Vietnam. Those of us who lived through it will never be the same again, with the ones who emerged victorious stronger for having persevered. There’s a shared experience, like a quiet table at a Chinese restaurant filled with old school friends, all sexually abused by the same headmaster some decades before. It may be unspoken, but Flight School is always there, part of us. Just try it. Say the words “Flight School” at a group of men, and look for the tell-tale signs. Haunted expressions from those who can’t even cast their eyes from the floor; broad, puffed out chests from the stout who refused to quit until they’d 100%ed that shit.
The sheer audaciousness of that first leap from top-down, rail-led missions to open worlds and the Do What Thou Wilt approach was like the shift from silent movies to talkies, and there was no going back. That openness led to the kind of unique experiences that only come about when you’re gifted such freedom, with the randomness of the living worlds allowing for any number of unique moments to just happen. My own such nostalgic GTA moment was upon finally beating Flight School, and taking to the air. With an orange sunrise peeking over the horizon, Skynyrd’s Free Bird kicked in on the radio, right at the moment I found myself soaring freely above the game world for the very first time. Yeah, yeah, it’s only a video game, you’ll probably say if you don’t understand, but that’s precisely because you don’t understand. There’s no less emotional worth in these moments than seeing the Star Destroyer roar overhead for the first time in a cinema, or hearing a song that’ll stick to your soul until you fall into your grave leak out of a speaker in someone else’s bedroom.
GTA 4 really got a raw deal. About a month after release, everyone turned on it, trying really hard to convince themselves they thought it was boring and not any good. Possibly, there were too few multi-part missions, and barring the Heat homage bank heist, nothing replayable on the level of SA’s Terminator 2 chase down the Los Santos viaduct system. And not to be a show-off, because we all know how ladies are super impressed by guys that are great gamers, but it was just too easy. The majority of missions were all done first time, with most of those that weren’t down to silly mistakes on the initial run. There was no learning curve. But those niggles aside, the main problem was that it had to follow a level of hype that exceeded anything I’ve ever seen. I personally was in the sort of wild frenzy that makes me think I should video myself watching the first GTA V trailer, like those Twilight fans you see shrieking on Youtube and pretending to be 50% more excited than they actually are.
So, for what I want out of GTA V, I should note the strangeness of how, with its two most universally loved titles – San Andreas and Vice City – set in the past, Rockstar have yet to revisit a period setting. For the pastime of Grand Theft Auto speculation, that’s the most important thing, the setting, so while this will never happen, I’d love it to be 1969 LA. The Rolling Stones, sixties cars, and a Charles Manson-analogue stalking the fucked up movie starlet wannabe characters of Vinewood. There’s a damp patch on my shorts just from picturing that, but I don’t see it happening, especially as LA Noire already did the period Hollywood thing. For a series so heavily based around cars and music, that there’s still no 1970s GTA is a massive disappointment, so anything set in this era would be amazing. So far though, all signs point to a modern day faux-LA, which is more than fine with me. In the way that Truman Burbank spent his days dreaming about Fiji, I’m all about Hollywood, and that kind of backdrop really lends itself to the spirit of GTA, as well as essentially playing as a partial current-gen do-over of San Andreas.
Features wise, from the way it was all but dropped in the Episodes from Liberty City add-ons, it’s possible Rockstar have already (rightly) decided that the social system isn’t the way to go. Mini-games like bowling or pool are fun, but if I wanted to make friends, I wouldn’t be sat at an Xbox. Also, I want the return of side missions – the taxi/ambulance/vigilante stuff, with the rewards that go with it. The multiplayer from GTA 4 is perfect as it is, and as long as the GTA Race option is there (something that literally burned up entire months of my life – and I don’t regret a single second), we’re cool. But really, all I want, all any of us want, is more GTA. That’s it, just more of the same. Little tweaks here and there, with a new story, new setting, and typically awesome characters making us do hopefully crazy missions. The format isn’t broke, so don’t try and fix it by making us go to the gym, or forcing the main character to find a urinal every five game-hours, or else his bladder will explode like a stinky yellow pipe bomb.
But mostly, I just need a copy on release day. That’s the worst part. I never lived anywhere that had a close enough midnight opening, and I always put my trust in Amazon. But man, that appearance on launch day of the postman at the gate… is he reaching into his basket? Should I have pre-ordered earlier? Gone with Play.com? (no). GTA 5 is probably a year away, and I’m already a juddering wreck. I just hope I don’t die before it gets here.