'But can I take over the city?' This was my main question before I saw the recently-released GTA Online trailer. For months I'd been yapping to anyone who would listen (and even those who wouldn't) about how this had the potential to finally make Rockstar's online presence more than just an add-on to something else they were making. Max Payne 3, GTA 4, Red Dead - interesting experiments, successes and failures all. Like its single-player promise of being a bigger and more diverse game than all of the previous efforts put together, GTA Online is Rockstar's assertion that it is ready to radically change things.
But does it? Having seen the trailer, the answer is 'maybe'. That's not to be down on the thing. It's obviously a monstrous achievement, and it sounds superb. GTA 4 played around with co-op missions, tasking you with stuff like rescuing mob bosses from police custody. Red Dead let you posse up to take down hideouts, and Max Payne introduced the concept of crews.
These are all carried over here, and there's a far tighter focus on co-op missions and interactions. From the trailer, it seems as if you and your crew will have to work your way up the ladder, knocking off smaller targets before getting into some serious action like robbing banks. You'll have to work as a team to get it done, spending money to make it on various weapons and vehicles, planning your assault: refreshing in an online world currently dominated with what kill-spawn gameplay.
It is f**king cool. Rockstar build the best worlds, and they've been crying out for a co-operative online aspect for years. Before, players had to take matters into their own hands, creating mods like Multi Theft Auto for III, Vice City and San Andreas. Now, Rockstar is doing it for them, and appears to be doing it well.
Persistency is the key this time around. No longer are you locked into just running and gunning, or escaping crime scenes, with a definite start and end point. There will be smaller, more contained stuff of course, but at the moment it all seems to feed into a bigger picture.
But something's missing for me at the moment. All this talk of street races and deathmatches is all well and good, but that's not my bag. Instead, I (puts on bloodthirsty dictator hat) want to take over everything on the map. I want to drive the other gangs into hiding, or embark on ambitious assassination missions against rising stars online. I want to control the wealth and power of the city, or fight against those that do.
Granted, that's a big ask. With only 16 players, it seems unlikely that is feasible. But if Rockstar is creating an online universe that is persistent - and that there are actually far more people in the world, just not in your 'lobby' - then I'd love to be able to band together and exert some influence in a larger, meta conflict. Something akin to GTA's gang wars, played out on a vaster scale with real people. Planetside on this planet.
Because that's what GTA's about: taking over. In fairness, it seems that Rockstar is making moves in this direction. Between the online missions and persistency of being able to buy and kit out your apartments, and making and spending money, there are very serious moves to making your character more important than perhaps even the ones Rockstar itself creates.
There's a reputation system in place, which presumably is to show how far and how fast you're moving up the ladder. According to this report from CVG, there's also a multitude of different ways you'll be able to affect the world. The example about diluting the stock price of a company by shooting up its outlets - enabling you to buy it on the cheap - sounds ace (and is something I've been wanting for a while), as does the splitting of money if you're the heist leader. I'm imagining screwing over my fellow gangsters by parachuting out of a rapidly descending plane and not giving them their cut, then using the CCTV in my apartment to make sure that they're not going to turn me into the next Tony Montana.
Mad, hype-addled flight into fantasy that may very well be, but the tools are there and I see no reason why the above scenario can't be actually performed. That said even tools exist is already a giant step forward for the series, and I'd wager that this is just the start. Rockstar is committed to this world, and yet for its players to remain so it'll have to keep upping the ante. And if that means new missions, new levels of persistence, eventually I hope we'll get to the stage where you can be a player not just in your own game, but in someone else's, even when you're not there. Which is what everyone wants to be powerful for, right?
GTA 5 launches for Xbox 360 and PS3 on September 17, followed by GTA Online on October 1.