With a launch so devastatingly crippled by server issues, it’s fair to say GTA 5’s first forays into the MMO mire were about as painless as John McClane’s glassy stroll through the Nakatomi Plaza. A credit, then, that despite a start that makes David Moyes look like Pep Guardiola, Rockstar’s world is so enduring, so engaging, that GTA Online is nonetheless a triumph.
To enjoy this, though, you need to understand it. GTA Online is a game that pulls players in multiple directions. Do you stick in free-roam, with 15 other players across Los Santos and Blaine County? Or dive into one of the mission circles hovering on the ground at every turn? What about the phone calls offering other missions? And the lobbies? And liquor store heists?
It takes time to settling into a rhythm. Fun in GTA Online is at its strongest in free roam, but to really take advantage of it you’ll need to rank up, which is best done in missions. There are races and deathmatches to batter your way through, but the best structured-play comes from cooperative challenges that you access via the contacts in your phone.
Tackling a drug heist or a gangland shootout with three real-world friends is almost unanimously fantastic; the game allowing you the scope to try out multiple strategies and approaches to every shootout or dashing escape. As you progress, you’ll unlock ever-more complicated and bountiful criminal activities, and those who do rank up will also have more toys to play with in free-roam mode, with better vehicles, activities and weapons available to the experienced Los Santan.
The true beauty of GTA Online is its endlessness. There are bigger worlds, but none as dense and rich with possibility and hilarity. This is a game that will give and give, and that makes its technical hardships mere distant blips on its radar.
Version tested: Xbox 360. Multiplayer played for 33 hours.