The .25 bullet splits the goon’s skull with a crunch, and his brains coat the plasterboard wall behind like a Jackson Pollock painting. He rocks forward, eyes wide, and folds like a deck of cards. Phew. That bastard was tough. I smile, check the chamber of my trusted Saturday Night Special, and realise I’m out of ammo. I panic. This rooftop building site is teeming with bad guys.
I’ve blazed through NPC Lester Crest’s Grand Theft Auto 5 mission ‘The Construction Assassination’ umpteen times before with a careless volley of ammunition, high-impact firearms and devastating throwables – but this playthrough is different. This time, I’ve installed AtomiicNut’s Black Market Arms Dealing mod, which adds a functioning black market for guns wherein players must buy shooters from back-alley dealers across the state, rather than Ammunation stores.
According to the mod’s creator, the thinking here is that this prevents you from getting away with criminal activity with store-bought firearms, as per real life. In practice, it commoditises weapons – more so than in vanilla GTA 5 – and changes the whole complexion of arms dealing in Los Santos. Weapons are scarcer, making every bullet count, and, in the trenches, this sees me trapped 12 stories above street-level in a dangerous maze of partially-erected corridors and angry hitmen who’re after my blood.
I’m after that of corrupt businessman Enzo Bonelli, the boss-man of the job, and, despite my reckless abandon, am now a big bit defenceless and a wee bit shitting myself. When Lester assigned the mission over the phone ten minutes earlier, he informed me my mark would have substantial backup. But, hol-y-shit, I didn’t expect this much.
“I always wanted a mod like this where I could buy weapons from one person on the map, or a few people in different locations,” says mod creator AtomiicNut’s. “I love playing GTA 5 Single-player with mods, be it in free roam or during a mission, and I always loved heist mods. I’ve made a few of these myself, and I would always ‘setup the heist’ by going to the gun store, buying a car and buying a mask. I felt like adding a ‘Black Market’ would make this not only more realistic but add to this experience.”
Anyone who’s heisted in Grand Theft Auto 5, be that in single-player mode or in the game’s Online offshoot with pals and/or randos, will be familiar with the above. The routine of loading up every gun to the brim ahead of big missions generally is likely familiar to most – not least for The Construction Assassination – as is maxing-out side helpings of rations and Super Heavy Armour.
Against GTA 5’s wave of Ammunation stores crammed with readily available fodder, I’ve always appreciated the wider series’ lower-key alternatives, such as Phil’s Place in Vice City, and the gang-affiliated Emmet’s of San Andreas. I thought GTA 4’s decision to eschew the Ammunation gun store chain entirely, replacing them with illegal Underground Gun Shops, made even more sense within its pseudo New York City setting and the fact similar unscrupulous initiatives exist in reality.
AtomiicNut’s Black Market Arms Dealing mod in turn recaptures a similar allure in Grand Theft Auto 5, and while a handful of black-market mods have come and gone since the crime sim’s PC launch in 2015, none as sophisticated, reliable or well-thought out exist today. Limiting the number of guns any individual reseller can offer, for example, not only increases the difficulty of each heist or mission, it forces new tactics, such as stealth, which you wouldn’t normally associate with GTA 5.
Grand Theft Auto 4 was more serious in tone compared to its successor, and Atomiic believes having Ammunation stores dotted all over the Los Santos map taps into and feeds its penchant for carefree and gratuitous violence. He posits that if you have easy access to overpowered weaponry round the clock, by Rockstar’s thinking, you’re more likely to enjoy GTA 5’s sprawling sandbox for what it is.
Atomiic, of course, isn’t so sure, and if you want a challenge, and a totally different experience of GTA 5s missions and heists, I can’t recommend his Black Market Arms Dealing mod enough.
“I think the reason players are allowed to commit crimes in the base game with weapons from store-bought gun stores,” continues Atomiic, “is for the same reason a lot of things don’t make sense in this game – to make it more fun and easier to play.
“If Rockstar were to make it so the only way to buy weapons is from dealers around the map, they would make complicated systems with cop busts, price fluctuations, and gang deals, to name a few things. Albeit this would be a lot more realistic, it sacrifices the simplicity.”
Atomiic says these outcomes may feature in future updates of the mod, as will new weapons, and the possibility of adding your own dealer locations. In the meantime, I could probably do with that last one, given my current predicament. I’m miles away from the nearest dealer, I’m out of ammunition entirely and I’m stranded 12 floors in the air.
Suddenly, I find myself agonising over which bad guys to sneak past, which ones to take on and in which order. I scan the construction site battlefield, and plan mad dashes between stacks of plywood and concrete pipe fittings. I get so close to one goon that I take him out with a punch, but he fumbles over the edge and plummets to the sidewalk below, taking his gun and, crucially, his bullets with him.
The melee alerts a couple of henchmen ahead, so I circle back the way I came. I take cover behind a portable toilet, and can almost smell the piss through my monitor. I’m trapped. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, and here I am: stuck in the middle with poo. And then… is that… a baseball bat? It is! I make a beeline for the far wall, and dodge the spray of machine gun fire from two more thugs shooting down from the floor above. I grab the bat and declare hunting season.
To this point, my stealthy exploits have felt very un-GTA, echoing everything from Metal Gear Solid to Dishonored and Hitman. Now, it’s all gone a bit Dead Rising, as I lay waste to baddies left right and centre with the fat end of my slugger. I sprint from pillar to post, emerging from behind temporary walls and dumpsters to bash my foes to death, like some kind of Bob the Builder-meets-whack-a-mole nightmare.
I get so excited that, having accrued a fair chunk of ammunition from my fallen victims, I forget to reload and switch back to my pistol. I’m almost disappointed when I’m forced to do so in order to execute Enzo Bonelli with a conventional weapon. Two shots to the back of the head as he scrambles for his getaway helicopter. How banal.
This whole hugely entertaining escapade is an inadvertent by-product of limiting gun and ammo supplies, and it makes me wonder why has no one made a mod like this in Grand Theft Auto 5 before.
“I’m not sure why not many people have attempted a similar mod,” says Atomiic. “A good friend of mine, FelixTheBlackCat, made a mod which ended up being base for my mod. The Black Market Arms Dealing script mod was my first time really making a menu, so him teaching me with stuff was very selfless of him.
“The mod’s concept is very basic at its core, meaning it wouldn’t be too difficult for any other scripter dev to make, which makes it even more strange why no one else has made a mod like this.”
To this end, Atomiic has made his Black Market Arms Dealing mod open source, and encourages anyone who might fancy tweaking it or impressing their own ideas onto it to do so.
“The mod has been received well overall,” adds Atomiic. “For me, the feedback feels like the mod was something the community didn’t know they wanted until they saw it. I have had several mod experiences like that of my own – finding a mod then I realising I must download it, even if I’d never thought of the idea before.”
For me, that’s exactly how I feel about Black Market Arms Dealing. Before downloading this mod, I didn’t realise I wanted stealth in Grand Theft Auto 5, and I certainly didn’t expect something which restricts the availability of guns, in a game ostensibly about shooting guns, to provide it. In practice, the mod made think about everything differently, about preserving ammo and about adapting to each fork of every mission, as I was forced to adapt to survive. Praise be to my wooden boomstick.
GTA 5’s single-player modding community is great, but the fact that it’s still producing projects that twist, change and shake up the original formula – almost seven years on since launch; five years since it landed on PC – bowls me over. Or bats me over, maybe. I’m versatile that way.