Update: GTA V has been officially announced by Rockstar, with a trailer set to debut on November 2. Earlier in the year we thought about what we want to see in the game. Will our wishes come true?
It's been a little over three years since the release of Grand Theft Auto 4, and with an official announcement for the next game rumoured for this summer, it surely won't be long before hard details surface. Here are our thoughts on what we want from the new game.
A new kind of playground
"We'll think of a city first, then the characters," said Rockstar vice president Sam Houser, speaking during a rare interview with the Times, back in 2009. Wherever a GTA game happens to be set, the city itself always feels like a principal character. This being the case, where do we want GTA 5 to unfold?
For us, the simple answer is "a new flavour of open world". Initial rumours, spurred on by imagery in the manual to Episodes from Liberty City, suggested that the next Grand Theft Auto might take us to Europe. At the time that was a hugely exciting proposition, but more recent evidence points towards a return to Los Angeles. It seems strange to think that Rockstar would go back to the city so soon after LA Noire, but bear in mind that it takes a while to make these games, and Team Bondi was originally due to finish its work in 2008. In any case, that casting call story looks pretty solid.
As it goes, a return to San Andreas would probably be welcomed by a lot of gamers, as it's clearly the most popular of the last-gen trilogy. Besides, there's an argument that GTA might suffer in a non-US setting, since satirical jabs at US culture have long been the backbone of the game's tone. Is there really enough to take the piss out of in Europe? Perhaps for other Europeans there is, but what this game needs is jokes that translate worldwide. Even if you've never been to the States, you're likely to be familiar with the people and things lampooned by GTA 4 - and that's why the satire works so well.
Regardless of where the game is ultimately set, what we want is something new in terms of the sandbox experience. GTA 3 set the model for 3D entries in the series, Vice City added empire building and a better story, and San Andreas... well, it went a bit mental with all the things you could do.
Rockstar doesn't have to reinvent the wheel with GTA 5, but it needs something to make it stand out as a subtly different experience to its predecessors. Ezio's villa and the restoration of Rome allowed the last two Assassin's Creeds to build a direct link between player input and the world you inhabit. Could GTA 5 do something similar?
Don't follow the Saint's Row series (but do give us co-op)
With San Andreas, it could be argued that Rockstar was a victim of its own success. The advances made with the last PS2-era GTA were so popular that many gamers felt they were missing out when Grand Theft Auto 4 took a more serious tone.
If it does turn out that the next game will once again be set in San Andreas, we'd hope that Rockstar would resist the urge to simply recreate its world from the 2004 game. Yes, everyone loved the fact that you could own an airfield, break into Area 51 and steal a jetpack and the like, but there's already a sandbox gangster series that delivers this kind of silliness: Saint's Row. Indeed, with its dildo-swords, bobblehead costumes and private jump-jets, it looks as if Saints Row the Third has already pushed the shtoopid factor as hard as it can go.
On the other hand, we'd definitely like to see GTA 5 borrowing Saints Row's support for co-op. Even if it's just a case of giving the second player a 'lackey" character (as per Fable 2), or else cloning the main character (as per most Capcom games), it would be a massive plus if you could buddy-up to work through the campaign with a friend. Aside from the fact that Niko's phone never stopped ringing, GTA 4's mate-dates felt lacking because you were going on them with the AI. No-one would have made fun of the bowling if they'd been able to go with a human chum.
Tighter on-foot controls, and more checkpoints
While some people didn't like the semi-realistic driving of GTA 4, we thought they struck a good balance between being demanding and rewarding - a slight shift towards a more arcade style handling model wouldn't be bad though. The out-of-car handling, on the other hand, could clearly do with tweaking.
In all fairness to the developers, Red Dead Redemption was a marked improvement when it came to the nuts and bolts of combat - especially in terms of the cover system. If Rockstar carries over what it has learned from last year's game, there shouldn't be too much to worry about. While we're on the subject, LA Noire employed a pleasingly economic setup for its on-foot chase sequences, borrowing a few touches from Assassin's Creed's free-running controls. A revamped variation of this could help GTA 5's antihero to be a bit more nimble than Niko Bellic, who occasionally struggled at gangster athletics.
With regards to checkpoints... well, what more is there to say? GTA 4 simply slipped up in this regard, dumping you way back at the start of a mission and robbing you of your guns and armour. This was a particularly annoying issue on longer excursions, like the bank robbery and getaway in Four Leaf Clover. Thankfully, this problem was more or less dealt with in the DLC expansions - The Lost and Damned, and The Ballad of Gay Tony - so hopefully we'll get them from the start next time.
Give us ambient challenges, and drug-dealing
Aside from improved controls and a proper checkpoint system, there are other more interesting things we'd like GTA 5 to borrow from its predecessors. No doubt lots of people would like to see the game pinching the MotionScan technology used for LA Noire, but we're not so bothered about that. Those ultra-realistic faces work in a comparatively straight affair like Noire, but the satirical GTA could easily get away with the slightly more stylised look adopted by both the last game and Red Dead Redemption. As it stands, it looks as if the tech may make it in after all: the casting ads supposedly demanded headshot photos to accompany all applications, and it's hard to know why this would be important if the actors are only being commissioned for voiceover work.
If we're talking about features from older Rockstar games, we'd rather the devs pinched a couple of others: the drug-dealing mini-game from the wonderful GTA: Chinatown Wars. Even after we finished the main game, we spent ages zipping about the city, selling our illegal wares; an expanded take on this could be a major time sink. The original Dope Wars, on which the mode was based, was as addictive as the substances you were supposed to be selling, and this could be as equally compelling. Think online leaderboards, with worldwide glory for the most successful pushers. If Rockstar can work out a way of fitting the mechanics into the game's multiplayer modes, so much the better.
Finally, we'd also like the next GTA 5 to pinch the ambient challenges from Red Dead Redemption. They were an excellent way to encourage players to explore their environment, and they had a neat difficulty curve - starting off with simple feats, and eventually daring you to take down grizzly bears with nothing but a toothpick (well, a knife). For all the flak its taken over the years, GTA 4's in-game mobile phone was an impressive accomplishment; the big problem was that it tried to force you into doing things. The ambient challenges in Red Dead appealed to your gamer's ego, offering neat rewards for your persistence. GTA 5 would do well to copy this approach.