Imagine you bought a Ferrari. It was amazing, it was better than even your wildest dreams. Let’s call it the Ferrari GTA V. You could drive it around by yourself and have more fun than you’d had in almost any other car in history. But eventually you want to share the awesomeness of your Ferrari with your friends, race it against their Ferraris and whatnot. Now imagine three times out of ten when you tried to get into your Ferrari to race your friends, you were fired out of the roof by an ejector seat. This, in an elaborate metaphorical nutshell, is Grand Theft Auto Online.
Or at least it was, before Rockstar patched it several times to remove most of the game’s instabilities. Unfortunately for Rockstar, the GTA Online community is made up of elephants and no amount of bribery will make us forget what a state the game was in when it launched. If you could manage to connect to the game at all, you were frequently disconnected randomly, usually in the middle of a mission at which point the game would tell you that you were a bad sport (we’ll come on to that mess of a system later). Other issues persisted after most of the connection issues were eradicated, including the loss of money, cars, properties and even your character.
A familiar site for many trying to access GTA Online in the early days
The latest patch has eradicated almost all of these issues (hopefully) but it’s been a bumpy ride for Rockstar. In all honesty, I’ve been pretty lucky and only had the disconnection issues, nothing major like lost characters. As a result, I’ve managed to get quite a bit of game time in and I now boast a mighty level 41 character. When I say mighty, I mean mighty for someone who wasn’t just farming races or broken missions for weeks. I played this by the books, no glitching and no exploiting, which turned out to be a good thing as it appears Rockstar are bringing the hammer down on anyone they find to have used an exploit.
Now I’ve been pretty negative about GTA Online so far and to be honest, I’m going to be a lot more negative down the line but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a bad game or that I don’t enjoy it. GTA Online is one of the greatest multiplayer experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. Everything that was so right about GTA V is here, but now with the added bonus of being able to run missions with your friends, race and fight against real people and customise your character to be whoever you want them to be. It’s because GTA Online is so great and so much fun that everything wrong with it feels so much worse, because it holds back.
GTA Online’s character creation system is one of the most needlessly roundabout things I’ve ever come across. Rather than just give you a series of sliders and options to customise your dude/dudette, you’re forced to play with genetics ala Gregor Mendel. You can pick what your grandparents looked like from a pool of presets, which in turn creates your parents features, which in turn decides what you look like…I know it’s bonkers right? Why on earth I could just decide what I look like, or even just decide what my parents looked like is beyond me.
Disclaimer: That’s not me.
The basic premise of GTA Online is pretty simple. Set before the events of GTA V, your character arrives in Los Santos looking for fame and fortune. You’re greeted by Lamar, who shows you the ropes, introduces you to a few people and gets you set up. After the Lamar tutorial missions, you’re dropped into the world and pretty much told to go nuts. You will receive periodic missions from the supporting cast based on your level. These missions are similar to those of GTA V and usually involve going to steal a car, kill a dude or kill a bunch of dudes. In addition to these missions, you can take part in races, deathmatches, sky diving contests, golf & tennis matches etc. All of these activities will earn you three things; Money, Reputation Points and Job Points. Money is pretty straightforward, you use it to buy things like guns, cars and apartments. Reputation Points are GTA Online’s version of XP and earning them levels you up. Job Points are…well actually no one knows what they are. It’s assumed they will play a role in the heists which will be added into the game at a later date, but for now they seem pretty worthless.
The missions are fairly hit and miss, not just in terms of gameplay but rather the reward you receive for completing them. Lamar, Simeon and Gerald all pay very poorly for their missions, sometimes as low as $1000. When medical bills for dying come in at $2000, it makes very little sense for me to do a mission only to spawn into a game world upon its completion and get killed by some random player who happened to be stood next to me when I spawned.
This is Gerald in the middle. He’s a bit of a douche but he’ll set you up with some work.
On the gameplay front most of the missions are fairly fun if a little standard. The higher your level the more interesting the missions you’ll receive. However once you get to a high enough level, the game starts to use rather cheap tactics to increase the difficulty of the missions. Many of the later missions have infinitely spawning enemies, a system I thought we’d eradicated around the time we got rid of smallpox. Yes some games suit having infinite bad guys, but this isn’t one of those games. Not only do these enemies never stop coming, but their spawn points are fixed, so if you’re advancing to steal a van after having killed the guys guarding it, you’re in for a surprise as they all respawn three feet away from you and blow you to kingdom come. If you absolutely must make the enemies numbers infinite, at least make it so they spawn a little distance away from the fight so they come rushing in and look like reinforcements. As it stands, this is just lazy mission design.
Whilst we’re on the subject of cheap ass tactics on the game’s part, I have another complaint. GTA is not exactly a realistic game, but it does at least flirt with realism. When I shoot someone in the head with a sniper rifle, they should die. There is simply no excuse for an NPC being able to survive a high powered rifle round to the dome. So why on earth do the Merryweather agents on some missions to take 2-3 headshots to put down? They don’t even flinch or fall over, they just start coming for you like the terminator. Another cheap attempt to crank up the difficulty without putting in any effort.
Now yes I know I’m moaning that the enemies are too tough and that there are too many of them so it sounds like I’m just terrible at video games. That isn’t the case though, or at least if it is, it isn’t why I’m moaning. Missions feel like you’re trying to take on the T-1000 as it stands. You kill a load of dudes and they insta-regenerate right where they dropped. You don’t get a sense of progression. If the enemies came in from outside like reinforcements it would be fine, as it is it’s just infuriating.
A great cinematic shot, but these guys would be sooooo dead in an actual game.
Now most MMO’s have an anti-griefing system in place and GTA Online is no different. Given that you’re in a huge open world with other players, even with the 16 player cap chances are pretty high you’re going to run into someone and chances are equally high that person is going to be about as friendly as Trevor. So you have two choices; suck it up and fight them off or go into Passive Mode and mock them with your invulnerability. Passive Mode means that players can’t shoot you but you can’t shoot them. Sounds good in theory, but there are other ways to kill someone, like running them over for instance. You can avoid being run over by getting in a car yourself, but Passive Mode only works when you’re on foot. See the problem here?
Fighting them off isn’t exactly without its problems either. Regardless of who is victorious, they won’t have long to celebrate the other player will respawn within close proximity of where they died, leaving you both in a perpetual fight until one of you gets bored and does a runner. Add to this the insanely expensive medical costs (at least if it was set in the UK we’d have the NHS) and you come out in a situation where fighting other players is pretty much a lose-lose situation. Oh and god help you if your opponent is in his car, because then you’re definitely screwed thanks to the bad sport system.
You rent your garage from the same place Batman got his in The Dark Knight.
Destroy another player’s car and you’ll be warned that you are being a bad sport so stop it or you’ll be punished. So if I walk out of my house and some guy pulls up in his Patriot and starts filling me with lead, I can’t do much other than headshot him out of his car because if I blow up his car, I’m the bad guy. What is this nonsense? Cars can be insured so the player never loses them properly anyway, so why this system exists god only knows.
OK I’m done ranting now but I obviously can’t leave this review with just a load of bad points and then a good score. Everything I listed above is an annoyance, something that detracts from the experience but the experience itself is outstanding. GTA Online gives players the freedom to do what they want with who they want. Want to spend all your time racing super cars? Go nuts. Want to cap fools in deathmatches? Have at it. Want a quiet game of golf with your pals? Sure, we even cater to weirdos like you (I kid, I love a good round of golf). Pretty much everything in GTA V was a barrel of laughs and now you can do it all with your friends too plus even more.
Pro tip for plane races, use the Luxor.
The races are well designed, allowing you to choose what type of car everyone gets to pick from, including their own custom vehicles which means you can be level 5 and still be racing super cars around the city rather than sedans if you want to. The deathmatches are cool, with some more specialist ones stealing the show including one called the Battle of Los Santos which is an 8 vs 8 team deathmatch in fighter jets. There are also survival missions ala Gears of War’s horde mode which allow you and your buddies to team up against waves of NPC goons.
GTA Online is stable now and whilst we won’t forget the state it was in when it launched, we can forgive it. Not because Rockstar are throwing in-game money at us, but because beneath its flaws GTA Online is one of the most entertaining and addictive multiplayer games on the market.