As we wait with bated breath for the Grand Theft Auto VI trailer that’s coming next month, we’ve been replaying some of the older games and trying to imagine what shape a modern GTA would take. The world has changed irrevocably since GTA V released in 2013: whether you’ve approved of them or not, it’s undeniable that there have been huge social and political changes in the last ten years.
Politicians have almost become immune to scandal. Brands are advertising themselves in ever more outlandish ways. Following the trauma of the pandemic, biting recessions, and various other nonsenses, it often seems like a collective madness has taken hold of the human race. In short, the line between the brash, hyper-exaggerated reality of GTA seems like a tame mockery of the real world now, in much the same way that The Day Today and Brass Eye are now barely distinguishable from what constitutes today’s news media.
Aside from the societal changes it’ll have to navigate, there are a lot of mechanical, gameplay aspects of the older games that kinda suck now, not to mention the horrendous experience that GTA Online has grown exponentially into over the years. So, I sat down with my colleague and fellow lifelong GTA fan Mark Warren to hash out a list of things we think the next GTA should keep, and things it should leave in the past:
As a bonus, here’s a list of things I desperately hope we see in GTA 6:
GTA IV’s DRIVING MODEL
It took a lot of flak at the time, but GTA IV’s driving model is sublime. Those big American saloon cars have a heft and weight to them that feels so realistic and tactile when throwing them around the tight corners of Liberty City. It was softened somewhat for GTA V, which feels a lot more arcadey in its handling, but I’d argue that IV’s uncompromising vehicle physics really connected you to that tarmac, and as a result, made that world feel all the more real.
GTA IV’s PHYSICS
The euphoria physics engine was a revelation back in the day: procedurally generated character animations that made NPCs react and behave with frightening realism in response to object contact. Like the driving model, it gave Niko Bellic some weight as a player avatar: someone who actually felt attached to the ground at his feet. It also gave rise to some of GTA IV’s best humour: the way peds would flail around looking for handholds if you barged them over, or the way they would grab on for dear life and get dragged along as you sped off in their motor.
Again, it was toned down massively for GTA V, which was a massive shame in my view.
GTA SAN ANDREAS’ SENSE OF SCALE
Ok, so, obviously GTA V has a bigger map. GTA IV has a vastly more detailed and intricate map. But San Andreas has never quite been surpassed in terms of how big it feels. With three decently sized cities and land enough between them to necessitate miles of freeway, the journey of discovery San Andreas set us on was truly epic. Even if it was mostly smoke and mirrors, but what game isn’t?
Freeway driving was a big part of V, but aside from Los Santos itself, there wasn’t much in the way of civilisation beyond the city limits, aside from a few small hamlets and a bit of industry. The Los Santos Highway kind of feels like a road to nowhere in particular. I hope GTA VI has at least two cities to drive between.
GTA ONLINE’S CONTENT DROPS
I’m a single player guy. Nothing ruins games more than other people, as far as I’m concerned. But I have looked on with envy at the seemingly endless updates and expansions that feed their way into GTA Online. Many of them would work as single player stories, and feature reprisals of classic characters from previous games. It’s enough to make you forget that GTA Online is a generally horrid place to be, especially if you don’t have an infinite amount of spare time to plough into it.
I know it’s not realistic to expect that level of long-tail support for the single player, but if Rockstar could syphon a smidgen of its infinite cash reserves into some Witcher 3 style DLC quests and items, and maybe a couple of full-fat single player expansions, I would be ready to let them inspect my wallet.
GTA V’s SENSE OF FUN
The last mainline GTA game was something of a course correction from the drab, almost depressing setup of GTA IV. Don’t get me wrong: I love IV for that. Its bold choices, its engaging, prestige TV narrative that sat somewhere between The Sopranos and The Beano in terms of its tone.
But IV was more or less about failing to live the American dream, in a city that swallows people up and leaves them as husks. GTA V, on the other hand, is pure Californication: at once complex and superficial, intoxicatingly beautiful and grotesquely vapid. It realised that what GTA players really love more than anything is being able to just let loose.