What We Want to See in Grand Theft Auto V

The sirens of a new Grand Theft Auto title (a numbered one, no less) are bleating throughout the internet, and thus it falls to me, Nightmare Mode’s second biggest Grand Theft Auto fan, to talk about it in hushed tones.

I’ve made mention before that Grand Theft Auto IV is one of my favorite games ever, warts and all. And it had a lot of warts: it’s a pretty broken, flawed game, but it’s one that really tries to deliver an emotional, legitimately brilliant story, and it does so with all the trappings of a game you could play for hours.

I have, too. Remind me to tell you the story of the time we tried to hit a car with Nico Bellic’s flailing corpse launched from a helicopter.

But where was I? Flawed game, brilliantly broken results, and a game for the ages. And now sequel. What do we want to see in the sequel? Read on!

1.Strong Narrative Character

Lost among the hordes of people who like the game only because it allows cars to fly is the fact that Grand Theft Auto IV told the best story in modern gaming. It’s a game with a rare combination of elements: on one hand, I can tell you countless stories of me playing the game and doing absurd, amazing things, but on the other the game itself offered up a strong conventional narrative. Combined, it was brilliant.

So, GTAV, don’t fuck this up. Give us a main character whose name is as fun to scream as “Nico Bellic!” and a narrative as twisty and compelling as Grand Theft Auto IV’s.

2.A Sense of Place

GTAIV took place in Liberty City, a brilliantly realized locale that had spunk and character all its own. We don’t particularly want another game set there: Liberty City is great, but its stories have been told. Set it somewhere else. We’d love to see a current generation Vice City or San Andreas or (hopefully) a completely new, amazing city. Give us modern day Tokyo, or London, or pull a San Andreas and give us a number of cool European cities. Give us London, Paris, and Bruges (so the player can run off there and be forced on sightseeing trips with a Brendan Gleeson lookalike) and tell a massive, continental story. Or set it in a fictional version of Philadelphia—this is my preference as a Philly native. Let me go places I recognize, then end up in Atlantic City, shooting up a casino.

3.Not Too Silly

I’ve never liked Saints Row, Grand Theft Auto‘s chief competitor, precisely because of its selling point: it was too silly. It’s nothing to manufacture crazy scenarios when you have a car that shoots people from it; it’s more rewarding and, honestly, more ludicrous to create these situations with just realistic items. Maybe I’m alone here, but I’ve created sillier situations in Grand Theft Auto because it feels more like foisting absurdity onto the real world instead of doing insane things in the insane world of Saints Row. Give us tanks, certainly, and give us things, but let us create our own badass moments instead of watching cutscenes of our character flying through a plane shooting four people in the head. It’s exciting in the moment, but it’s not memorable.

4.Let Us Cheat

Now that I’ve made a plea for normalcy, let’s make a plea for absurdity: give us a magic phone.

Nico’s magic phone made perfect sense in a sort of video game logic way: instead of being part of the unwashed masses from Europe with a dark secret, you were that but with a cell phone that could create literally anything. It made sense, the same way dying in a gas station explosion and coming back completely fine did. It was fun. It made sense, too, in a ludicrous but normal way. What we want is more cheats, though. That no friction mod? Make that a cheat. Give us back the ability to throw explosive uppercuts from Gay Tony. The shotgun that can blow up a car in three shots. Give us these, and let us attack missions where the enemies have baseball bats. Let us solve missions in ways we’re not supposed to be able to, like sniping escaping guys with cheated sniper rifles, instead of locking us into the game’s internal logic. Let us play.

5.Simpler, Better Controls

The elephant in Grand Theft Auto IV’s room was how inprecise the controls felt. I’ve jokingly called the jump button the “Kill Nico” button, but it fits: everything feels loose and imprecise about the game. This is fine for a long while, but towards the end of the game it’s frustrating to lose ten minutes of progress because Nico decided to do something completely contrary to what you told him to do. This, above all else, is the fix that I want in Grand Theft Auto V: better controls. Less complicated, more precise controls.

But above all else, Rockstar, here’s what I want: I want a game I can put on and draw all my friends in the room into watching. I want a party game in the vein of GTAIV: absurd, delicious, and utterly compelling to onlookers and players. That’s all I ask.


  1. Dylan

    I’d be tempted to write a “Why I Hate GTA Storytelling” piece, but I haven’t played them recently enough to be able to really say. I feel like GTA’s virtual internet is a good microcosm: it’s ambitious, expansive, and technically brilliant, but it doesn’t at all understand what satire is. The page for fake-starbucks goes on and on about how expensive their drinks are, the funny names for cup sizes, and the fact that their customers are rich granola-types (or something). That’s not satire, it’s exaggerated stereotyping. Most of their characters end up like this too: they’re cardboard thing and so exaggerated that they can’t even be accepted as grounded parodys (the fact that Brucie was the fan favorite makes me cry). I tried to show GTA IV’s opening to a friend and we were both just embarrassed. “Haha! He is whipping a guy sexually! Now we are driving around in a car talking about big tits! Haha!”

    • Dylan

      And I say this not to be mean to GTA fans; I just legitamitely don’t understand what they see in it. GTA III I could get as sort of a new thing, but talking about GTA IV’s story as a sort of magnum opus sounds to me like arguing that Twilight is the greatest novel of all time. Not least of which is because it tried to portray Nico as forced into a life of crime when, from where I was sitting, Nico just volunteered for no good reason; the narrative doesn’t seem to recognize that he’s a murderous sociopath.

      • Tom Auxier

        I don’t think it ever tries to portray Nico as being forced into anything. Actually, I think he has pretty good motivation in line with the player: he’s angry at the world. He’s destructive, a little bit magical (because of, you know, the cheating) and he doesn’t really want a life of crime but he wants a life of revenge.

        Like Bastion, it’s a game made by its ending. Of course, few actually get there.

        • Dylan

          Yeah, I definitely didn’t get there; I think I logged 35 hour or so (not all in the main story, of course, but a good way in) and it wasn’t really going anywhere, I hated pretty much all the characters, etc.

          I’m willing to believe that the ending is awesome, but I don’t think a great ending can redeem everything that comes before, just like I don’t believe an awful ending can nullify the accomplishments of the overall narrative (this is what I say when I’m defending Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy).

  2. I loved GTA IV. Even though the writing was lacking in some respects and, like Dylan has said, the humour was a bit unbalanced (biting satire one moment, juvenile parody the next) there is just something about it that draws you in.

    Part of this may be that it was the first game I played on an HDTV and that ‘next-gen’ feel suddenly hit, but there’s just something about the art direction, the city and the engine that stands out. I’ll still boot up the game every now and then just to drive around.

    RDR seemed like a step in the right direction but I always felt like I was waiting for something big to happen and it never came. The storytelling was a bit more subtle and intelligent but not leaps and bounds above GTA IV.

    I seem to recall one of the Houser brothers mention the multi-character approach to a new GTA and I think that would work best. Have things intertwined and keeping them interesting with the variation.

    p.s. It’s ‘Niko’. And you call yourself a fan… =p