Grand Theft Auto V enters its fifth year of mayhem, cult and hundreds of millions of non-stop dollars in sales. Here’s a celebration of a franchise that is as much cinema as it is a game
Three no good lowlifes at different stages of the American dream, which is now more or less the great urban dream of planet earth, going hammer and tongs at a world full of zero-moral high-level crooks waiting to squeeze a deal out of every moment. Had a Hollywood producer heard it as an elevator pitch, he may have turned it into a static 150-minute feature film. But this was Rockstar Games in picture, and they were about to follow up the twenty-year act with their most ambitious offering. What came out of the company’s New York studios in September 2013 has today gone on to become the most successful game of all time, excluding mobile sales, numbering 85 million copies. With an annual revenue in the territory of 700 million USD every year, it is also challenging Hollywood and the set-in-stone way of consuming entertainment. A phenomenon this large and this lucrative may seem mind-boggling, but behind it are 20 years worth of ideating, adapting, and understanding the gamer to give him the most entertaining and interactive version of the urban environment, from which he isolates himself on his gaming couch.
WHERE YOU MOVE
The most striking factor about GTA V may be its cinematic narrative, but what really makes the gaming experience seamless, convincing and worth coming back to is the amazing sandbox world built by Rockstar. GTA 2 was released in 1999 and was the first to experiment with a non-serial story mode, where characters could move around the city and choose their missions at will. GTA 3 brought the top-view violence of the previous games into a third-person perspective, and to achieve it created a living, breathing city that spanned a few square kilometres. GTA V has distinct makeups and architecture for different parts of the city – from the upscale business district to the run down ghetto, from mountains and rough roads in the countryside to plush suburban villas with swimming pools. The accuracy and imagination of the GTA V sandbox, be it the geography and terrain down to the hilariously scripted talk shows on your car radio, is probably the strongest factor in drawing gamers into its alternate universe. There had been other modifications made to the behaviour of the extras in the streets, keeping things alive and random in earlier versions of the game, and in GTA V the people in the streets will not think twice before throwing an abuse at your poor driving manners, or even inviting the police if you indulge in harassment.
WHO YOU ARE
The three protagonists of the game – Michael, Trevor and Franklin – were designed based on Rockstar’s three most typical profiles for its gamers. Borderline psychotic Trevor wakes up drunk in his underwear at unknown locations in the city and is known for his propensity for violence – he represents the GTA gamer who has traditionally overdone the violence that the game has allowed for. Michael is the rich, retired heist specialist dealing with a spoilt and ungrateful family, designed to mimic the gamer who has finished the game and is now taking it easy. Franklin is the young street thug trying to hustle and make his way through a world that demands a level head, another standard psychological profile for the GTA gamer. The net result of this treatment is that despite finding themselves in outrageous situations, the gamer always understands the motivations of the character he is playing. The three even have different sleep cycles, based on their lifestyles. This is the next level of an interactive narrative, and filmmakers must have taken note.
WHAT YOU DRIVE
Bringing the “Auto” in the Grand Theft has always been a focus of the franchise, ever since its first topview map form in 1997. In many ways, GTA has been a driving game, and movement has always been a mode to get to activities and experience the streets of the city-world ever since the franchise went 3D. GTA V takes the concept of motion to earth, water and sky, with a variety of vehicles to drive, ranging from cruiser motorcycles to offroad buggies to slick supercars on ground, motorboats and sailcrafts in the sea, and agile biplanes and helicopters for the sky. The ability to move around the city and observe its different areas from these points of view has the indescribable feeling of drawing the player completely into the environment, enhancing the complete suspension of disbelief, which makes
wreaking joyous mayhem more rewarding.
WHAT YOU DO
Of course, once the single-player story mode of the game that takes the three protagonists and tens of allied characters down dastardly paths, there are always pointless things to do in the city of Los Santos, just like in real life. There are tennis courts and yoga instructors, bars and strip clubs, gun stores and shooting ranges, custom garages and hangars – you choose the life. There are also continuous ways to make GTA money for gamers with entrepreneurial tendencies, from participating in two different stock markets to owning and running establishments. The addition of GT Online (live streams of which are extremely entertaining just to watch) connects gamers who have enjoyed the scripted bits of the game, and are now willing to interact with each other, increasing the longevity and replayability of the game. Somewhere, this replayability lies at the success of the franchise. After all, there is an entire city its makers have created, and there seems to be an alternate lifetime to be spent flying over the mountains and coast of Sandy Shores.