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GTA Online: keys to the city, but the lock’s broken

Wednesday, 2nd October 2013 08:06 GMT By Dave Cook

Grand Theft Auto Online is online now, and VG247′s Dave Cook has been playing it for a few hours. Does it make good on its ambitious goals, or is there still room for improvement? Find out here.

I logged in to GTA Online yesterday to try it out and like many of you out there, I encountered a wide range of technical issues. This is in no way a complaint because look, Rockstar North is playing an ambitious hand with this service. It’s a complex beast that needs time to stabilise.

Without seeing the stats I can already tell that the game’s servers were being flogged mercilessly by the flood of gamers scrambling to get online. Log-ins were temperamental, jobs failed to get started and some missions are simply broken. I tried to play the ‘Roadgame’ key mission about ten times for it to fail as soon as the match began.

There’s the classic argument that goes something like, ‘Oh but Rockstar must surely have known the service was going to be busy. Why didn’t they better prepare?’ Well yeah, that’s a point, but we don’t really know what the issue is, and the company even said that the launch would likely run into issues. If you do manage to get online you’ll start to see just how ambitious the service really is, and perhaps even appreciate why it’s not all quite there yet.

After the initial tutorial is through, you really are handed the keys to the city. You can free roam around Los Santos in search of other players to work with or kill, accept jobs to earn money and start to build your online empire one dollar at a time. I said in this blog that GTA games have always intimidated me. While I didn’t find that with GTA 5, I am finding it already in GTA Online. It’s vast. So very vast.

You can walk into marked stores and hold them up, sell cars to Mod-Shops, kill other players and nick their money, take part in team deathmatches, vehicle deathmatches, car races, bike races, water races, parachute jumps and much more already. it takes a while to learn the menus and options open to you when it comes to setting up sessions, join other game instances, invite your pals and get the ball rolling, but once you do, there’s a danger you might get yourself sucked into GTA Online’s black hole and never emerge again.

One thing I like is the ability to buy-in to Passive Mode, which means you can’t be killed or have your car stolen. It’s the safest way to free roam at your own pace and get a handle on what’s going on around town. But once you deactivate it, all bets are off. I parked my car in an alley and went for an actual piss and a coffee, only to return to see some dude shotgunning my face into paté. Cheers, whoever you were.


Griefers … ROLL OUT!

I was worried that people would be able to kill me and steal my favourite car, but this is where the game gets clever. You can visit a garage and have a tracker installed in your ride, which highlights it on the map all the time, should you become separated. There’s even an option to insure it. If it gets totalled, you can then call up the company to have it replaced. This doesn’t work if it gets confiscated by the cops after a bust though. You have to break into the nearest impound and steal it back before it gets cubed.

On the map you’ll see a mess of blue icons, each representing a ‘Job’ type. You can travel over to them or quick-join via the menu to start the session. For example, I entered a team deathmatch around the Los Santos country club. It was a big map that saw four teams shooting the crap out of each other by tennis courts and opulent club houses. The shooting feels just like it does in the campaign, but as host you can turn match-making on and off, and other variables to tailor the session.

PvP maps are dotted with guns and body armour to give either team an edge, but you do have to enter each fight with your own guns bought in free roam. Fights that aren’t match-made can potentially see tougher players with better weapons whaling on newcomers with starter guns, but I haven’t played long enough to see if this is a issue. I was being one-shotted from miles away in one game, but they could just be a great shot. Again, it’s too early.

I dabbled in a few races too, and there’s mass griefing potential there. One dirt bike sprint saw a bunch of dicks crashing into everyone going nto the first turn, knocking some of us off a ledge and unable to hit the first checkpoint gate. You can hold Y/Triangle to respawn ahead of the last gate you missed, but by that point there was no point in carrying on. We had lost before the race it had really begun. That sort of scenario really grinds my gears, but I’m not sure anything can be done about it really.

These things still didn’t water down the fun I had when things went right. Deathmatch is a riot, the races can be fun when it’s not a destruction derby and I’m really intrigued to see where it all expands from here. My highlight was a horde-style stand-off in a dilapidated plane hanger, as waves of screaming hicks bore down on us. I was just playing with three total strangers but we worked together well and got really far. I could have played that one mission for ages.

While Job creation isn’t fully there yet – aside from quick races – I can’t buy a house or garage yet as that broken Roadgame mission is blocking my progress, but I really am fascinated to see how GTA Online evolves. There’s real scope to keep this thing going for months if not years, but only if the broken elements are fixed and remain stable soon.

I’ll write more in a week or two once everything’s calmed down a bit. To make a judgement call now would be unfair.

Disclosure: To assist in writing piece, Rockstar sent Dave a copy of GTA 5 on Xbox 360.

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21 Comments

  1. KAP

    Great article. Great to see that your atleast trying to give a game a chance you didn’t initially like.

    Want to hear a little fact, there were more people yesterday trying to get online with GTA then any game in history.

    If Blizzard runs into these kinds of problems, then it wasn’t a big surprise yesterday happened really…

    I have a good feeling this will all get sorted in a few days, by weekend.

    #1 10 months ago
  2. Dave Cook

    @1 Were there really? Jesus that’s impressive. It was inevitable that such problems would arise. The game is full of so much emergent tech and play that it’s impossible to predict and prepare for literally everything.

    I can’t wait for it to get fixed. The potential is vast.

    Also, the horde mode missions are just ace :D

    #2 10 months ago
  3. KAP

    Horde mode?

    Jeez, I honestly can’t wait!
    I got as far as the initial intro, then got the usual crash. but I must say, It felt alot like SP then I ever expected, in the sense of polish and presentation.

    I can’t wait til this is all sorted and they introduce the heist machanic.

    Oh and also I’m glad Rockstar have completely shut the mouths of everyone complaining of a female role. Even If GTA and GTA4 both had female playable characters.

    #3 10 months ago
  4. Dave Cook

    @3 Yeah man Horde Play is in there, called ‘Survival’. It’s basic shit, but still very fun. Gets ace when the enemies roll up in trucks and choppers. Proper insane.

    #4 10 months ago
  5. Diingo

    I get the feeling it may be a few more days before the online sustains itself properly.

    #5 10 months ago
  6. Fin

    “Want to hear a little fact, there were more people yesterday trying to get online with GTA then any game in history.”{{citation needed}}

    Once I got past the first race (+glitches involving me warping throughout the city in the second mission), I’d a fairly painless experience.
    Bit concerned about the amount of money required for stuff though – like is the only way to get a plane buying one?

    #6 10 months ago
  7. TheBlackHole

    I don’t understand why people are still failing to understand the basic principle of server load and how it works.

    Imagine the service is like a football stadium – it has room for 100,000 people, but the doors to the stadium are only small and can only let a limited number of people in at a time. If too many people try to get in simultaneously, the doors get blocked and nobody can get in.

    Over a longer period of time, everyone will fit and the service will work fine, but people have to be patient. There ought to be an orderly queue, which would mitigate the blocked doors.

    Also, to why they can’t just ‘make the doors bigger’. Sticking with the stadium analogy, to make the doors bigger, you’d have to make the stadium bigger, but making a 200,000 seat stadium when you only have 100,000 people doesn’t make any financial sense, so it wouldn’t be worth doing.

    This is why EVERY online game falls over at launch. The best implementation I’ve ever seen has been Guild Wars 2, who literally didn’t allow everyone in at the same time. They forced people to ‘wait their turn’ in the queue. This is what EVERYONE should do.

    Hope that’s crystal clear.

    #7 10 months ago
  8. Ireland Michael

    Does anyone know what JP is for? I don’t recall the game ever explaining its purpose. If there was a tooltip about it, I apparently missed it.

    @3 There’s a horde mode? When do you get that? Do more mission types unlock as you level up?

    @6 “Bit concerned about the amount of money required for stuff though – like is the only way to get a plane buying one?”

    No, there are definitely places on the map you can find them.

    @7 Most people assume you can just throw more servers at a game and that suddenly makes it better. The best servers in the world wouldn’t be able to handle the load this game is trying to process right now.

    I was lucky. I had one crash in the tutorial (entering LS Customs), but it’s been running perfectly for me since.

    —-

    You know, I’m enjoying it so far. The deathmatches and general PvP is a lot more fun than I thought it would be. Boat races are also fun as hell. Its awesome just messing around in the overworld with friends… and I’m also not ashamed to admit to enjoying a round or multiplayer tennis. =P

    But…

    I don’t know. There’s something missing.

    I felt far more engaged in the sandbox of Red Dead Redemption’s online mode, and I can’t quite put my finger on why that is. I think its the variety of “jobs” that has something to do with it. They seem really lacking, and they’ve all been incredibly dull, even with friends joining me.

    It’s also pretty damn clear that the game *is* designed to make you excessively grind for money (or pay up), despite what Rockstar claimed to the contrary. The fact that there’s money penalties for death and money costs for even basic actions makes this blindingly apparently. I’ve yet to decide if the online has enough draw to make the long haul for money work it.

    #8 10 months ago
  9. GK

    R is lossers,had so much time to make it work and screw it.still impossible to play and one day gone already.

    #9 10 months ago
  10. Fin

    @8

    Best I could find online re JP is that they’re “Job Points”, but that’s all.

    I looked all through the airport, couldn’t find any planes – more luck up in the desert, or at the fort?

    #10 10 months ago
  11. Ireland Michael

    @10 I know the army base is supposed has the jet, but it’s supposed to be super hard to get out with it. I think you might have to be a certain level to get access to some of that stuff.

    #11 10 months ago
  12. jaysea

    There are jets and occasionally you can get a c130 type cargo plane at the fort. They will shoot you down fast so fly low until you get away!

    #12 10 months ago
  13. Lloytron

    @9 Comments like that are very easy to throw out. It ‘should’ work from day one and ‘should’ acommodate everyone that wants to play. Sadly lots of things ‘should’ happen. Actually doing them though is a herculean task.

    As a consumer we are within our rights to want things to work on day one. But also we should be kind of understanding.

    If my online shopping delivery doesn’t turn up on time because of the snow, even if it was forecasted, I can forgive the driver because he’s probably had a rough day.

    Similarly I can forgive Rockstar this because the hammering their service will have taken is unprecedented. Yes, they would have known that many millions of people would try to log on on day one.

    What exactly do you suggest they do about it that they are not already doing? Flick a switch marked ‘work’?

    The real criticism here is not that it doesn’t work – its that they should have handled it entirely differently. They should have mate GTA Online free for everyone as part of a beta test.

    Curiously I know someone who was involved in the beta test and they got banned yesterday for playing it before it was released, even though they were an official tester. lol :D

    #13 10 months ago
  14. Jericho Wolfe

    I haven’t had one problem with the service as yet and I’m currently level 6 (still early days) but I think you may have to buy aircraft in the game or reach a certain level as I went to the Airbase and the Airport and no sign of anything to fly yet.

    Although from everything I’ve seen so far (bar getting shot while getting a tattoo) GTA Online is just going to get better and better.

    Recommend driving up to the top of Mount Chiliad on an ATV and Skydiving off the top.

    #14 10 months ago
  15. Lloytron

    @15 are you on Xbox or PS3? Not sure if that matter. I’ve not been able to get on at all on my 360. I made a character and now when I try to play I just get stuck on the first forced mission, waiting for players…

    #15 10 months ago
  16. GK

    13,what kind of understanding? that they get milliards? :D what kind of testers if even first mission is f*** up :D why they could not release online the same date like GTA5? there are a lot of people who likes to play online,but there are people like myself who likes to play single player.automatic is big chance that online had been working good.even in diablo 3 they had problem,but atleast it was possible to play,try five minutes and you in.yertarday and today i tried many times and nothing happening :) so maybe they like to give us some present because of that? like cars,weapons,money for understanding? because that way world is spinning,you f*** up,you have to pay.i order pizza,came later than suppose to come,they give me 50% off the next pizza.tv does not work one day,they extend my subscribe one week,what is how it work.psn out,they give us free games.

    #16 10 months ago
  17. Arcnail

    So you buy in game money with real life money, and can lose in game money when killed etc?

    Not sure I like the sound of that.

    #17 10 months ago
  18. Dave Cook

    @18 Nah, it’s different currency.

    The in game money that you spend as your character is just regular dollars. The money you buy yourself is GTA$, which is used in the in-game store.

    #18 10 months ago
  19. Fin

    @17

    Shit bro, you should definitely work in the games industry.
    Games would have trouble-free launches if you were round to tell people what to focus on!

    #19 10 months ago
  20. VibraniumSpork

    @20 http://images2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20130119025633/glee/images/2/28/Funny-gif-baby-I-See-What-You-Did-There.gif :D

    #20 10 months ago
  21. Lloytron

    @20 +1

    People love saying how things should be, when they have no clue about what is involved!

    #21 10 months ago

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