Saturday, October 26, 2013

REVIEW - Grand Theft Auto Online.

This is the only decent picture I could find of a black Declasse Sabre Turbo as represented in Grand Theft Auto V.  Not my baby at her best, but it'll do.  She's got cool, muscular, classic, swooping lines.  A broad stance, slightly skittery traction and a ton of torque. She can skid out just hitting the gas and turning the wheel.

I say my baby because my black Declasse Sabre Turbo with the classic hub caps, 10% armor panels, first-tier engine upgrade and tasteful hood choice is my car.  It's the car I hunted down and chose, the car I pay insurance on and had a tracker installed in.  It's mine.  I chose it.  I customized it.  I drive it every day, and I know how she handles every crest and curve in the road.

Grand Theft Auto Online grants a similar sense of ownership over the player's experience that Grand Theft Auto V's campaign does not.

That's my hood mod.  Right there.  Don't need no fancy blower, no sir.
I will spring for the underside exhaust pipes when they unlock.

In the weeks following its very awkward launch, Rockstar has smoothed out GTA Online's issues of connectivity and trustworthiness, and at this point it's a reliable bit of fun each night.  The login issues have disappeared, for me.  When my better half has fallen asleep I'll strap on my headphones, hop in my car and dash up the eastern highway to rob some convenience stores, slowly building my bank in the hopes I can buy a nice big apartment with a ten-car garage one of these days.  My character and car haven't disappeared again and I haven't lost any purchased items - but that may be because, in my pathological saving, I still haven't dropped so much as thirty grand on a small, shitty, two-car garage.

Simply keeping my character - a rough-and-tumble blond with an affinity for black leather with strange scars on her arms (no idea how they got there) and a large scar/birthmark thing under and over her right eye (no idea how that happened) - loaded for bear.  After a night of constant, soloed missions on Wednesday my bank balance had finally broken $150,000.00 - no easy task, in the days since Rockstar halved the payout for all missions you've played more than once (robbing convenience stores pays twice as much as some very tough missions, now - but don't complain, or they'll reduce what convenience store robberies pay!).

My plan was to get to $150K and save that amount for when Rockstar's first half of the "stimulus package" dropped, as that would get me to $400K and afford me the priciest apartment in the game, which comes with a heist room and a ten-car garage.

At this point I had hit level 25, so I stopped by Ammu-Nation to see if any new weapons had unlocked, and lo and behold, I now - finally - had access to an assault rifle.  For twenty thousand dollars.  Ugh.  Oh well - it's a worthy upgrade.  And really, if you buy the assault rifle you should buy the clip upgrade, and all the ammo you can carry.  And I really shouldn't wait until level 52 to get the highest-power sniper rifle - the entry-level gun would do, for now (another twenty grand), and if I get a sniper rifle I should put a silencer on it...

I walked out of that Ammu-Nation with $84,000.00.  Lot of work left to do.

My lady kinda' looks like this lady, but a lot less pretty, a lot more leather and a lot more badass. 

But Grand Theft Auto Online rarely feels like work.  There's one Lester mission in which I'm obliged to land a helicopter on a rooftop while a bunch of goons perforate me with small arms fire and no extra lives that I didn't much enjoy after a half-dozen attempts to survive it.  On the final attempt the helicopter stopped spawning, so I just gave up and started robbing convenience stores again - but, that notable exception aside, it's a helluva lot of fun.

Just cruising up a coastal highway lookin' for trouble is a simple pleasure all on its own, swooping around traffic in my big old boat of a muscle car, Worldwide FM on my radio.  I'll generally rob stores until an invite to a mission pops, and if it's not competitive - if it requires one-to-four players, not two-to-eight, or so on - I'll give it a whirl and see who I end up with.

Sometimes it's my brother, and he'll take me on a tour of high-risk, high-reward high-level missions (the level cap seems to be 150).  Sometimes it's a random idiot who'll yabber on about anything in his field of vision for the next ten minutes, die as soon as bullets start flying, spectate until I beat the mission and then exclaim "a girl?!" when he sees the mission passed screen.

Once it was a "yo yo homie" kid and a plain-talkin' guy who seemed to know each other.  We had to intercept a big rig hauling a tanker full of gasoline.  The semi would take the freeway up to the turnoff to the highway, head north a ways on the eastern highway and pull off into an industrial park a mile or so outside the city, where a ton of goons with high-powered weaponry (and cops) waited to put us down.

I didn't know that, the first time we tried the mission, the three of us.  I had spawned in a tunnel and it took a few minutes just to get to my car as cohorts jetted after the semi tanker.

They caught up to it at the industrial park and promptly died.  Then, one of them respawned, and as the NPCs opened fire at them, the tanker blew up.

Try again.

This time, I caught up to the tanker ahead of the others, parked my car across two lanes of the highway and waited for the semi to come to a stop so I could jack it.

As my allies had been harassing the driver already, he wasn't prepared to take things easy, and flattened me. I respawned, we all caught up to the tanker together and they thought the best thing to do would be to shoot out its tires so it would stop.  And stop it did!  Then, the kid got in while the other adult and I tried to intercept the cops crawling all over us, popping tires and ramming them away from the tanker.  The kid took the tanker up the highway out of town - no idea why - but wasn't able to get very far without, y'know, wheels, and soon had the tanker jackknifed across an overpass, the big rig hanging off the edge of the overhang until again, crossfire hit the wrong spot and boom.

On our third attempt, I made myself a waypoint on the freeway just inside the city, got into my Sabre Turbo and dashed after our prize, leaving my allies in the dust. I came to a screetching halt just inside the city lines, where the freeway turns off onto the highway, got out of my car and started walking down the freeway as that big, looming shape bore down on me.

I raised my MP5 submachinegun.  Took a breath, held it, and aimed for the driver's seat.

Brakakakakakakak!  The lead fills up the driver, he collapses on the steering column, the big rig's horn calling out one loud, long sound as the tanker careens into the lane divider and comes to a stop.

I haul his carcass out, get in, and - for the first time in the round - speak into my mic: "Got the tanker - just drive away and don't bring the cops to me."  Then, I turn the rig into the city and down the first alley I find as the flashing lights fly past.

And there, I wait until the stars go away before I back out and deliver the gas.

Grand Theft Auto Online is thick with wonderful, individual stories like that. I saved the day.  I stood in the middle of a freeway and faced down a semi tanker that wanted nothing more than to flatten me.

The story of That Guy Whose Name I Can't Remember, who single-handedly defeated Wave 7 of a survival mission when the rest of us died way too early - choosing his cover perfectly, never risking too much of his lifebar, and belting out rounds on a heavy machinegun - that guy was awesome.

CarbonFire, a highlevel player who also frequents a message board I visit, who helped me win three races in a supercar so I could unlock that first engine upgrade for my Sabre - who later asked for a hand with a particularly nasty Simeon mission which requires the player catch two cars, one of which is a Coquette blasting around Los Santos's freeways like a bat out of hell.

The story of my brother, who shows me the ropes of crazy highlevel missions I may never, otherwise, get a chance to experience.

The story of the NPC that disliked it when I carjacked him and put a $7,000 bounty on my head, and the player who came after it.

Blasting up the eastern highway to escape the city (and maybe rob some stores), I pulled up my map and noticed a white dot barreling up the highway towards me.  Forgetting about a store robbery and now fully engaged in the idea that this guy should not get seven grand for killing me, I hit the gas - but it was too late.  Uzi fire splashed across my car, chipping away at my life bar.

I switched to the grenade, and popped the pin.  I blasted up the highway, swerving in and out of traffic, but he was on me like glue and never lost an inch in the chase.  The grenade in my hand began to shriek its warning, I glanced at the minimap to gauge his distance and dropped the bomb.

Boom - "Bad Sport!" the game tells me, "You have destroyed another player's personal vehicle!"

Yes I did.  And I'll do it again, to any motherfucker who comes after me.

And that's my story.  That's not a script Rockstar wrote, a linear sequence to be guided through - for while GTA Online has its structure, that structure is merely a latticework for players to monkey around in.  It is multiplayer GTA as it should be - a jungle gym for players to work together in, find solitude in, or just go nuts in.

My experience with GTA Online is unique in the precise same way yours is.  This is my character, my car, my stories, my adventures - an epic of our own making, that we can feel genuine ownership of.  GTA Online is one of, if not the, most engaging, enjoyable experiences 2013 has yet to offer gaming.


  1. And now, I slip a bookmark in to its virtual pages to check out how Batman's handled his transition to Warner Bros' Montreal studio. But I do really hope I'll be able to put more time into scarface leathergirl and her badass muscle car soon.

  2. Hey Chance, are you playing on the PS3? If so, would you like to be my first GTAO buddy?