The GTA Online review will be published after more significant playtime.
Most people are now aware of the - somewhat understandable - problems surrounding GTA Online. Hopefully by the time you read this these issues will have been resolved, but even if they persist in the short term, those who do persevere are in for a treat.
A lot has been made of what you can and can't do within GTA's massive open world in those first hours online. There is seemingly so much to do that trying to find some sort of structure can easily pass you by. Thankfully, there's always something to grab your attention.
After you arrive in Los Santos and get picked up by Lamar - who you'll recognise from the offline portion of the game - GTA Online starts to show you some of its cards. You're instantly thrown into a car and told to race, in this case, against a group of random players who are also inhabiting your universe. Winning, or losing, only affects your bank balance - the real joy is what happens directly after.
Acting as a sort of tutorial bot, Lamar proceeds to introduce you to Gerald, one of the characters exclusive to GTA Online. He has a simple mission for you to do - go and acquire some drugs - but your 'crew' in this instance are the people who you've just raced. While you'll be more inclined to team up with real friends for a more comfortable experience as you progress, having the opportunity to take on a job with strangers opens up a whole realm of possibilities. You can, naturally, go along for the ride, being a 'good' criminal, or you can run amok among them, shooting whoever nabs the illegal stash at the last minute before legging it to the marker on the mini-map. Do it right and you'll get a bigger cut.
The impulse to do such a thing can be so sudden and overpowering you may even feel a little guilty, but it's hard to deny how entertaining it is. With the mission now complete, Los Santos opens up entirely, after a touch more hand-holding to remind you about vehicles, clothes and how to access more jobs. From here, it's up to you how to spend your time. More trinkets - such as how to buy buildings - come up in due course, but there's a wealth of content to, if nothing else, be intrigued by. Being this is GTA Online, though, it's never that simple...
Any job you do with other individuals allows you to see who your current running buddies are. Double cross them like I did, however, and you'll potentially have a vendetta on your head, even though you may not know it. Welcome to my initiation into Rockstar's arena.
Understandably annoyed that I ruined his introduction, one particular member of my very shortly-lived gang hunted me down... and made me pay. Aside from chasing me around the map and killing me at least five times, it highlighted another side of Grand Theft Auto Online that makes it utterly unique.
Much like the single-player, the LSPD won't stand for people trying to break their laws. Considering this predator was now a bonafide killer, when I returned to the scene of the last crime (to retrieve my car) I found dozens of cops surrounding the area trying to bring this notorious villain to his knees. Calmly getting into my vehicle - now riddled with bullet holes - and speeding off to avoid getting in harm's way, I witnessed my nemesis overrun by police and brought to his own unhappy end. Schadenfreude indeed...
It's here where the genius of GTA Online lies. You can be casually browsing for a new jacket when a getaway car flies past the window followed by a barrage of police. Los Santos has even more life over Xbox Live or PSN because of how unexpected and insane events can get.
This variety is apparent with the missions on offer too. From holding up convenience stores at gunpoint - where the cashier can be hurried up by shouting into a microphone - to your standard Team Deathmatch, you never know exactly what you're getting yourself in for. Even the latter, the most expected of all modes, separates itself where GTA is concerned. With the usual concerns - namely not being shot - you're burdened with the added anxiety that you could get run over by a passing car if you're not careful. I, sadly, was not, and my health was reduced significantly. Cue having to opt for a far more stealthy approach than was originally the plan.
These emergent highlights can happen at a moment's notice, and they also stretch out to the more structured elements. A particular spot of joy came when entering one of the blue job markers and finding out what was required: half the allocated players would be attempting to destroy a limo with precious cargo, while the rest would be protecting it. Falling very much into that 'Cops & Robbers' vibe, chasing multiple vehicles cross-country became almost Wacky Racers-esque, albeit with a mature rating: cars crashing, bodies dying, and bullets flying through the air.
Rockstar continues this variety with co-driven missions. With one player in the driver's seat, it's only the passenger who can see where the race markers are. Directions are passed across via a headset or, if you don't have one to hand, placing arrow icons on-screen by pressing left or right on the D-pad. It's a good system to implement, mainly so anyone caught unaware will at least have a back up. If you do opt for the latter, though, it's not the easiest method of navigation meaning while interesting, this is one of the more fiddly modes to get involved with.
There's literally hundreds of icons residing across the whole map, however: if one aspect doesn't tickle your fancy there'll be something, usually within your eyesight, that will. The choice is almost overwhelming. This boils right down to the cars available. By putting a 'tracker' on a vehicle it becomes your online property, marked on the map and always ready to be impounded by the cops should you get into a spot of bother or just abandon it on the side of the road. Insurance can be purchased too, so if you ever need to call in a new ride after totalling another you can do just that.
VideoGamer.com will keep you updated on our GTA Online progress over the next week or so with a score to round this coverage off, but I can already safely say the most enjoyable moments will come from those that are unique to the indivdual. Be it stealing someone else's car after they enter an outlet store to buy some clothes and watching them run out to try and stop you as you tear off down the road - which I definitely did - or the ridiculous games that will be invented by the always-imaginative community, the scope for what's possible is massive.
Let's just hope more people can get on sooner rather than later...
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