- Developer - Rockstar North
- Publisher - Rockstar Games
- Formats - PlayStation 3 (tested), Xbox 360
- Price - £39.99 for Grand Theft Auto 5 disc
- Release date - Out now
Grand Theft Auto Online
GTA Online is great. But I think I like it for the wrong reasons. A lot of people, after getting around all the technical snafus, will be looking forward to GTA Online because of the anarchy. They'll want to play the deathmatches, crash the cars and annoy the other peoples.
And sure, you can do all that, and it's fun and cool and whatever, and I'll get around to talking about it later. But what I like about GTA Online is the peace and quiet.
Despite the 10 or so other players zipping around me, compared to the offline campaign it's practically tranquil. I find GTA Online relaxing. It reminds me, in a way, of Skyrim.
Let me explain.
In my review of GTA 5 I complained about the sexism, the racism and the homophobia. I said the humour was all toilet and the story was dreadful. But GTA Online doesn't have any of that.
Enjoy the scenery
The story is minimal (some of the co-op missions are given a little bit of context) and you never meet any of GTA 5's main characters, like Michael or Franklin or Trevor. There aren't any opportunities, really, for Rockstar to slip in misogynist jokes or painful archetypes - you're left to your own devices. And without that racket, that distracting, worrying, misanthropic noise, you're left to just enjoy the scenery.
Until I played GTA Online, I didn't realise how pretty Los Santos really was. I was never given the chance. In the single-player mode, I was constantly rushing between missions, sub-missions, meet-ups and character switches. I was rushed off my feet. And I was reluctant to explore deeper into the game lest I discover more dreadful, dreadful writing.
I don't have any of that to worry about online. I get to play at my own pace, without Trevor or Lamar calling me up every five minutes to complain about fake tits or something. I get to take it easy.
It almost seems like I'm supposed to. You can give your character these little emotes; you press R3 and L3 together to smoke, or swig a beer, or eat a chocolate bar. For role-playing weirdos like me, who like to pretend they really live in a game world, things like that are pure catnip.
It's why I'd compare it to Skyrim.
In Skyrim, I'd go for a walk, eat some soup then sit and read one of the in-game books. In GTA Online, I often drive down to the beach, stand on the end of the pier and smoke a Redwood while the sun goes down.
I love little moments like this, and without Rockstar's misogyny burping down my ears all the time, I'm free to enjoy them. GTA Online is the best way to see Los Santos.
As for the other stuff, the deathmatches, the races and the missions, that's all pretty good too. As you'd expect from Grand Theft Auto, the structure is loose.
When you arrive in GTA Online, you're a low-level hood with no money and no reputation. To boost your stats - to go up the levels, unlock new weapons and earn some real money - you need to complete jobs that are scattered around your mini-map. Some of these can be done solo.
Sometimes, an NPC [non-playing character] will call you up and ask you to, say, kill a bunch of drug dealers and steal their product for him. But other jobs are more like standard multiplayer games.
There are deathmatches, team deathmatches and races involving pretty much every type of vehicle. To enter them, you travel to the map icon, accept the job, auto-invite players then wait for the game to start. As per you can all vote on different maps and game types and the host can juggle settings like time of day, score limit and so on.
But although that sounds kind of plain, it all comes with a GTA-style twist. A deathmatch, for example, doesn't lock players down to separate, rule-bound arena. You can still steal cars. Pedestrians are still roaming around and might get caught in the crossfire. Though most of the action is contained in one central location, you can spread out.
A deathmatch I played was meant to take place in a series of alleyways down in South Central, but I ended up chasing one guy for about half a mile before I finally cornered him in a car park behind a 7/11.
GTA Online is like this. It's open and free and different to most console multiplayer games. It has more in common with World of Warcraft than it does Call of Duty. As Rockstar adds more maps, options and items to it, I'm sure that similarity will grow stronger.
As for down points, I'm not sure, really. I can understand how, while you're outside of a mission, getting killed by other players might be a pain. If you're carrying a lot of cash around and someone drops you, they can - and will - steal it all.
You can bank your cash and keep it safe by visiting an ATM, but quite often, rather than really co-opting with each other, GTA Online players will just frag whoever's around in case they have some dollar in their pocket.
But that's part of a bigger problem. People don't like to play nice online. It's not GTA's fault.
Living, breathing world
Apart from that, I can't help but notice that Los Santos is very bare when you play online. Presumably to handle the strain of so many people playing at once, and doing so many different things, the amount of cars and people on the streets is stripped down to a minimum. Sometimes NPCs will disappear completely, and you and the other online players will be the only people in the whole city.
Maybe that will improve as time goes on. I hope so. I want GTA Online to feel like a living, breathing world.
And that's not because I want to blow up cars or shoot pedestrians. It's because, like I said at the start, I really appreciate the little details Rockstar have added to GTA Online. I appreciate that, unlike the offline mode, it isn't bogged down by terrible writing. If you want it, there's a deep and fun online competitive game to be played in GTA.
Or, if like me you enjoy just walking around and looking at things, pretending for a few hours a day that you live in LA, instead of in your bedroom in Derbyshire, then GTA Online is for you as well.
Los Santos IS pretty. Offline that beauty is drowned out by all the so-called jokes but online it's easy to appreciate. I enjoy GTA Online for reasons I didn't think I would. It'll be a while before it's truly up-and-running, but even if you dislike the single-player mode, this is worth a try.
- Gameplay: 9/10 - I love games that just let you walk around and pretend you really live in them. Unlike GTA 5 proper, GTA Online lets you do that.
- Graphics: 8/10 - It's beautiful, but it's pushing the PlayStation 3 pretty hard and sometimes cars and pedestrians will completely vanish. When that happens, Los Santos isn't such a convincing place.
- Writing - There's not a lot of story in GTA Online for me to really grade, so I don't want to give a score. But it cuts out all the cruddy jokes and sexism of the offline mode, and that's a relief.
- Sound: 9/10 - Guns and cars both sound great and I've finally found a radio station I like - Mirror Park FM. It has all that cool, electro, hip music.
- Replay value: 10/10 - GTA Online is a massive, massive prospect already and there's still so much to be added. This could go on forever.
- Overall: 9/10 - It pains me to give this kind of praise to something which, in essence IS Grand Theft Auto 5. But I love GTA Online. Even if, like me, you dislike the main game, you should still give this a try.
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