Just a month out from the release of what appears to be one of the most ambitious video games ever, Grand Theft Auto 5 makers Rockstar have something else to show us. The developer revealed the first details of Grand Theft Auto Online today, and in essence, it's an entirely new game running in the GTA 5 engine. Cautious this company is not. Grand Theft Auto is one of the most recognizable names in gaming, and the developer appears to be trying to redefine its flagship franchise to keep it running for a long time.
An extensive Gamespot preview describes the game as a balancing act between the curated experience of a single-player campaign and the mayhem that is an online game (or just sandbox GTA). From the video, posted here, it looks every bit as convincing as the main game. In a nutshell, Grand Theft Auto Online takes place in a 16 player sandbox. You play a hood making his or her way towards building a criminal empire via all the usual methods – robbery, parachuting, arm-wrestling, shooting people, etc. You can fight against or with your partners in mayhem, or you can participate in the wide range of diversionary activities. It all gets you money, which you use to buy guns, cars, apartments and cornrows.
Most interesting is the persistent, expanding world that Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar are promising. While this first video isn't clear on specifics, it hints that we're going to see ongoing NPC narratives and world events – the sorts of things that have been MMO staples for years. Doing that sort of thing on Rockstar scale, however, is quite an undertaking.
Right now, it's unclear to me how this is all going to work. Can Rockstar avoid making making repetitive missions, something it's struggled with even in the more structured confines of a single-player campaign? How does a 16-player world function, exactly? Will there be some kind of in-game real money economy to justify continuous content, or is Rockstar just banking on the game's ability to sell more retail copies? A few answers lead to a lot more questions. One thing is certain: like the rest of GTA 5, this game is promising us the world, and will be one of the defining games of this generation if it can deliver. If.
We've yet to see the breakout console MMO to rival PC juggernauts like World of Warcraft, but the industry is clearly itching for one. At E3 we not only saw full-fledged MMOs like The Division and Destiny, but nearly every game at E3 had some kind of persistent online element, whether "driveatars" in Forza 5 or shifting missions in The Crew. Grand Theft Auto Online won't be an MMO, so to speak, but it's making an attempt to bridge the gap between single and multiplayer console games in the living room. I have a feeling that these sorts of experiences are where we're going to see the most innovation in both the current and next-gen consoles, and it looks like it could start with Rockstar.