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GTA Online’s Casino update review: waking up in the toilets and saving the day

I once got blind drunk and passed out in a Las Vegas casino’s toilet. I woke up with an empty wallet, almost no recollection of the previous evening, and quickly realised I’d missed my 10am flight home by a full two hours. What happens in Vegas, eh?

What happens in Los Santos isn’t much different. Because having spent the warmest day of the year so far floundering around a fake-world San Andreas casino, spending all of my imaginary money and, at one point, waking up in a virtual toilet hungover and disoriented, I can attest that Grand Theft Auto Online’s much-anticipated Diamond Casino and Resort is a fitting and welcome addition to its self-obsessed and hedonistic playground.

The prominent gambling palace has sat vacant on the peripheral of Southern San An’s Vinewood region for almost six years, and its opening, like any substantial GTA Online update, brings with it a host of new toys and tricks to play with.

To this end, the Diamond Casino and Resort has immediate appeal – it’s fresh and new and comes with six new multiplayer missions, doled out by a handful of new and familiar characters. It comes with new property options, such as a penthouse suite that offers a wealth of new customisation options, a Casino Store that flaunts over 400 clothing and decoration items, a library of flashy new cars, and, of course, a whole host of new ways to generate moolah.

The question is: will all of this hold your interest long-term? In order to answer that, we must understand what GTA Online’s latest update does and doesn’t offer.

Oceans Apart

Grand Theft Auto Online’s Diamond Casino and Resort update is not Ocean’s 11. You won’t be busting open vault doors, or dodging lasers like a gymnast, or walking out the front door with a holdall brimming with 100-dollar bills, your brow slick with sweat as you smile vacantly at Vincent, the complex’s head of security, who is nice but built like a brick s**t house. I mean, with that profile, you’re probably best not crossing him, but rest assured you won’t get the chance to do so here.

As an avid GTA 5 roleplayer, the absence of heist-like Hollywood set-pieces pains me a wee bit, but I’m sure the single-player modding community will already be hard at work with this in mind, assuming Rockstar doesn’t have something official up its sleeve for down the line.

Like last year’s After-Hours nightclub update, GTA Online’s latest complimentary venture is ambitious, but it’s not a huge pivot away from what we’re used to. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that such a wholesome add-on comes free-of-charge is wonderful, as is the fact that Rockstar is still finding new ways to spruce up a game now more than half a decade old. But if you’re familiar with GTA Online and how it operates, you’ll soon realise the Diamond Casino and Resort doesn’t revolutionise the existing formula.

Like After Hours’ nightclubs, the casino’s interior is weapons and combat-free, which, in GTA terms, means interaction with other players is limited. You might spot human players kicking around the foyer, chilling in the VIP lounge, or waxing their savings on the same Blackjack table you’re sat at, but don’t expect fisticuffs at the cashier’s desk when cashing in your chips. So you know, one chip on the casino floor equates to one $GTA.

Moreover, unlike After Hours’ multiple nightclub locations, there’s only one casino resort location on the map, which rules out attacks on rival players’ spots. Similar to After Hours, however, it’s the subtleties and attention to detail that the casino update does well. With that in mind, let’s first look at the Penthouse.

Raise the roof

Scottish people the world over are known for being tight with money, adept in fist-fighting and getting blind drunk. The opening paragraph above clearly pays deference to the latter stereotype, so hitting the bottle was, naturally, one of the first things I sought to do in-game.

I suppose also pandering to the former, shall we say, culturally shrewd trope, I linked my Rockstar Social Club account with my Twitch Prime one beforehand in order to qualify for a ‘Silver Status’ membership from the off. With that, I bagged a free $GTA 1.25 million and a Master Penthouse, complete with the VIP Membership – which grants you access to exclusive bar areas and high stakes tables on the casino floor – that’s dished out to all penthouse owners.

The Master Penthouse, aka the ‘Crash Pad’, will otherwise set you back $GTA 1.5 million. For reference, the ‘High Roller’ suite comes in at over $6.5 million, and is naturally kitted out with everything the update has to offer in the way of decorations. Moreover, the Diamond Programme as it’s known, extends to Gold, Platinum and Diamond statuses, which are progressively unlocked via the update’s co-op and Work missions, which we’ll get to later.

First up, let’s get that party organised. As in real life (this lowly games journo would imagine), each penthouse is equipped with a Guest Services phone whereby the resort’s reception bend to your every whim. Scanning the list, you’ll see a Valet Service which grants you access to your own up-to-ten-car garage, a Cleaning Service, a Limo Service, the option to Buy Chips, an Aircraft Concierge (similar to booking planes from your Executive Office) and, voila, Penthouse Parties.

I sunk just over $GTA 1.8 million getting my pad prepped for the perfect soiree, which in turn filled my penthouse with banging techno music, nice décor, and a modest number of human players and NPC guests from downstairs. The size of your party is hinged on the amount of chips you own.

Expectedly, take one of my revelries resulted in this:

As I say, you can’t beat coming-to in a cubicle. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

Take two reflected the other side of my party personality: being an antisocial introvert and playing video games on my tod. Invade and Persuade 2 is a new arcade cabinet, introduced in GTA Online’s latest update. Simple as it is, it’s good fun.

Struggling to shake off the cobwebs from my ill-fated solo vodka and whisky shot contest, I decided to nip up to my penthouse’s Roof Terrace to cool off and wind down in the hot tub and infinity pool. Doing so is one of the update’s more superficial endeavours, but I’m a sucker for nice views and being reminded of the shite in-game tattoos I totally forgot I’d purchased years ago.

For what it’s worth, I’d also definitely go swimming more often in real life if the process of changing involved less faffing about.

Get on the floor

And so onto the casino floor, which houses the update’s most endearing features. As mentioned earlier, the Diamond Casino and Resort update, like last year’s After-Hours update, excels in its attention to detail. As an aside, I learned last year that a group of techno enthusiasts within Rockstar’s dev team worked on the game’s last significant add-on, and I’m convinced the same process applies to its latest.

I fell in love with After Hours’ minor details – the muted base that pounded from below as you passed each spot's box office, the rush of cheers and piano loops as you first invaded the dancefloor, the zipping neon lights and understated moves of the crowd, nodding their heads and pumping their fists in unison. The same subtleties shine here – the foyer’s glitz and superficial lighting, the Wheel of Fortune-esque machine holding court in the centre of the room, the prize supercar showcased on a rotating platform, the money, the wealth, the greed – it’s all there and it comes together brilliantly.

You can almost smell the ubiquitous cocktail of body odour, alcohol and perfume as the crowd of all cultures and creeds fritters away its collective savings for hours on end. Anyone who’s set foot in a real-world casino will know that these buildings are designed so you’re never far from a machine or a table or a bar, and it took me several loops of the floor to get a handle on its layout.

Near the entrance stands the Lucky Wheel, which can be spun free of charge once per in-game day. I managed to snag some RP on my first try, but, at level 130, I’d much rather have bagged one of the update’s newest supercars.

Six of a planned eight rides are available to buy at present, with a mouth-watering orange/red Truffade Thrax currently at the behest of Lady Luck and her Lucky Wheel. Other cars out now include the Annis S80RR, the Obey 8F Drafter, the Weeny Issi Sport, the Vapid Caracara 4x4, and the Enus Paragon R.

Further in, you’ll find the resort’s Table Games and Card Games, which include Roulette, Blackjack, Three Card Poker and Slot Machines. I don’t and will never understand poker well enough to win decent cash from it, but I did give the odd croupier a run for their money on Blackjack and Roulette. Go me.

Deeper still, you’ll find Inside Track, which is a virtual horse racing simulator akin to the one found in 2004’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Like poker, I’m crap at this one as well.

On a mission

Away from the building, the Diamond Casino and Resort update offers six story-led missions and 16 ‘Casino Management missions’, all of which are handed down by casino manager Agatha Baker. Story-wise, we’re told that Los Santos Triad party boy Tao Cheng has recently invested his mobster uncle’s money in the Diamond resort having taken financing from a dodgy Texan oil and gas family, headed by Avery Duggan, along the way.

“It’s up to you to help Tao, Agatha, Tom and the rest of the Casino staff to hold off the Texans long enough to get the shiny new entertainment complex back in the black,” we’re told, all of which unfolds in a series of escort, search and retrieve, ‘blow this thing up and kill all of these baddies’-type ventures. Like most GTA Online updates, much of what makes these online co-op missions fun is their unpredictability. With the right team and ample luck, you might breeze through each and every one of them, but it’s the moments of circumstantial chaos that provide the most entertainment.

One mission, for example, has you defending the casino from Avery’s henchmen in a Scarface final chapter-aping siege. Each mission can be undertaken by 2-4 players, but I took this one on with just one other body. We kicked ass for the first leg, cleared out the onslaught on both wings of the casino exterior and made our way upwards for a showdown on the roof. There, we failed and failed and failed, outnumbered by seemingly interminable waves of machine gun-toting cowboys.

I then had a lightbulb moment when I decided to pilot an idle chopper in a bid to distract our foes. I mean, I say lightbulb moment, but I essentially took flight, lost control, parachuted out, broke my fall on a sniper, inadvertently took out the biggest hitters in a ball of fire, and allowed my partner to pick off the remains of the enemy crew. Job done. It was all intentional, I swear.

So, are Diamonds forever?

The million-dollar question. In a world brimming with money-making options, is the Diamond Casino and Resort a viable alternative to, say, running an exclusive inner-city nightclub or operating a gun-running scheme or shipping illicit goods as a CEO of an executive office? In the here and now, the answer is: yes.

The Executive Office has always been my go-to set-up for quick cash-generation in San Andreas, because, as much as I love the DJs and soundtracks last year’s After Hours update introduced to the game, promoting your nightclub and maintaining its popularity is, for the most part, pretty tedious. The casino’s 16 Casino Management jobs aren’t revolutionary by any means, but there’s always the chance you could double or triple or quadruple that pay-out downstairs, should you be so inclined.

Moreover, less than 48 hours since launch, community intrigues such as players using their personal garages to host community car shows are beginning to surface, which speaks to the social elements the Diamond Resort brings and the legs these elements could have moving forward. With longevity in mind, Rockstar has also introduced 54 hidden playing cards to the world map, which offer RP and chip bonuses. Collecting them all will apparently unlock outfits and card sets, and will likewise unlock special crossover items in Red Dead Redemption Online in the months to come.

Granted, it’s early days yet. And I’m under no illusions that, as someone well-invested in GTA Online, a huge chunk of the update’s appeal for me is its freshness and newness. But with new cars, new clothes, and new ways to make money, I’m sure the Diamond Casino and Resort update will keep Rockstar’s enduring crime sim spinning for some time.

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Grand Theft Auto IV

PS3, Xbox 360, PC

Grand Theft Auto Online

Video Game

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Joe Donnelly