Before it had even launched, Rockstar admitted that GTA Online may well face some teething problems, but surely nobody at the company quite predicted the magnitude of the issues to come. Within hours of launch, players worldwide were struggling to even login, and those who did faced a world of deleted characters and even glitches in their single player games. However, I’ve managed to get online and stay online for the past seven days, and here are my impressions so far.
Firstly, there’s the character creation mechanism. Possibly the most ridiculous I’ve ever seen, in any game. GTA Online forces you to choose your maternal and paternal grandparents from a fairly limited selection, then derives your parents and ultimately you based on how much you resemble your mother or father and they theirs. God only knows who came up with that atrocity. Fortunately, once you’re in the game there are all the usual tricks to modifying your character: changing clothes, getting a haircut or miraculously growing a full beard while visiting the barber shop.
Anyway, once you’ve ‘created’ your character, you step into the same world of Los Santos that you find in the single player games, and once you’ve battled through a short cameo appearance from Lamar – Franklin’s friend in the single player campaign – you’re free to roam around and do as you please. Join a crew, start a deathmatch, rob a convenience store or go and find yourself a fast car.
The beauty of GTA Online shines in the sheer variety of content and activity. You’re free to develop your own stories, with friends or without. Race around the streets to earn cash to buy bigger guns and better shoes. Other online players are marked on the map, you can find them and start an impromptu race with them, or just run them over, though it seems all too easy to wind up in a petty grudge matches, re-spawning and hunting them down all over again.
The crux of the online gameplay though, appears to be the missions that appear all over the city. You can host or join missions and face similar styles to those you’ll find in shooters like Call of Duty. Deathmatches, capture the flag missions etc. all with a street crime flavour. You can place wagers on the missions and earn more money, or you can just buy cash with real money through Xbox Live or PSN. However, while we’re on the topic of money, spending your own hard earned cash doesn’t automatically open you up to a world of wonderful weapons and cars. You still have to earn that right within the game by levelling up your character and qualifying for the better gear. So if your character is still level 2 or 3, I wouldn’t go rushing in and depositing your weekly wage in the hope of buying a minigun for those tougher missions, you still have to put in the man hours.
So really it all comes down to this, the culmination of years of development from the stale and rather limited multiplayer in GTA 4. What GTA Online does brilliantly is take the expanse and the variety of a dedicated MMO, and blend it seamlessly with the action of games like Call of Duty, but all the while stays true to what has made the GTA series so enjoyable for so long. Free roaming gangsters going for the big gangland wars, or the petty criminals looking to make a fast buck by making a shopkeeper cry and fleeing the police. If you can get past the really quite messy launch, and avoid Rockstar killing off your character before you’ve reached level five, it makes for quite a game, subscription free and almost guaranteed to keep you occupied with fresh content for hour after hour.