GTA Online, at 9 years old, is a terrific criminal theme park

With no requirement to serve the time

I don’t need to introduce you to Grand Theft Auto Online; it’s like asking someone if they’ve ever heard of the director Steven Spielberg. “GTA” is a household term, used by both bored teenagers and anxious media experts. We’re still waiting for official word on Rockstar’s forthcoming story campaign in Grand Theft Auto 6, but GTA Online serves as a convenient method to engage in all things GTA.

Over the years, Rockstar’s criminal franchise has shifted dramatically in scale and tone, from grounded, small-time drug robberies to wild, hilarious, satirical characters that enjoy cocaine and murder. GTA Online makes every effort to provide all of this. The player initially enters with a tiny sum of money, an automobile, and a mugshot. They then link with the city’s south side and work their way up to being a multimillionaire tycoon who commits high-end auto thefts and celebrity robberies.

Rockstar has designed a mixture of open-world activities and organized game modes that effectively allow users to build their own flavor of Grand Theft Auto — at least until they’ve settled in and unlocked the different modes. You can certainly mimic the scheming, cigar-smoke foggy ’80s ambiance of Vice City, or the days of punching in cheat codes and equipping a rocket launcher to fire at the hapless residents of San Andreas.

GTA Online, at 9 years old, is a terrific criminal theme park

GTA Online’s concept is to provide a theme park that serves as a simulation of the modern world. Your phone may ring with mission invitations; a random incident on the street may challenge players to commit the most property damage or to race into oncoming traffic without being hit (for as long as possible). This San Andreas still seems like a dynamic open world — if a culturally antiquated one — nine years after its release, and there’s always the simple delight of crashing with motorcyclists on the highway to watch NPCs ragdoll over your Ferrari.

If you don’t want to play a sky-high version of Hot Wheels or watch armored vehicles battle to the death in the Thunderdome, there is more grounded stuff to try. It’s difficult to grow bored in GTA Online if you have everything unlocked. I may play a mini-campaign based on a robbery at the Diamond Casino, or I can just goof about with my pals in a Tron-like game mode. Single-player loops such as stockpiling a warehouse with costly automobiles or gun-running across the state are available in the companies and enterprises.

GTA Online, at 9 years old, is a terrific criminal theme park

In the sandbox, some of Rockstar’s narrative has evolved, both in contrast to GTA 5 and the early missions from GTA Online. Lester, a minor character from the campaign of GTA 5, is also one of the protagonists of GTA Online, and it’s lovely to see him receive his own love story in the online version. The silent protagonist in GTA Online deals with weird, fundamentally damaged characters who can’t break off the treadmill of capitalism.They’ve generally spotted a good criminal opportunity and want you to either undertake it for them or stop their opponent from destroying their enterprise. Regardless of the quality of the written characters, NPCs on the street are in desperate need of an update – their whining about selfies, social media, and kale smoothies is becoming old in 2022.

There’s also the issue of how to get all of this information. Jumping into GTA Online in 2022 means sorting through an infinite number of upgrades to unlock, items to purchase, and task tiers to unfold. Some of this is to be expected given what is fundamentally an expanding platform, but regardless: so much fantastic stuff is buried behind an absurd quantity of dull stepping stones.

As a player who has been grinding since the Xbox 360 days, I can walk in with pockets full of in-game cash and pay for new expansions the day they are released by Rockstar. If you want the hottest apartment, the coolest town, and the most thrilling tasks, you must uncover resources and reinvest them in successful businesses. There’s also the issue of commercialization. If you don’t want to spend millions of dollars on fully equipped arcades with all of their additional gaming features and missions, you could just… buy a Shark Card. On consoles, you could also buy a monthly subscription.

Overall, there’s not much to complain about GTA Online in its present condition, especially since many of the later campaigns have smoothed out flaws and included nice companions. The issue is that hell is other people, and simply being in San Andreas exposes you to the game’s player community. While invite-only sessions are feasible, missions with sufficient risk and reward necessitate public sessions. The other players may leave you alone at best, but at worst, they might be bullies who destroy your day.

GTA Online, at 9 years old, is a terrific criminal theme park

A session in San Andreas may seem like the Stanford jail experiment at times, with gamers ready to spawn camp you indefinitely and tanks or orbital cannons assuring that there’s no escape other than exiting the server completely. Other gamers on PC don’t even require in-game tools to be a nuisance. I’ll join in only to find myself in a prison, teleporting into the sea, or watching hundreds of spawning, unpiloted planes fall from the sky in a matter of minutes thanks to mod tools. On general, I wouldn’t expect to make friends in GTA Online if you don’t already have a committed group of them.

But there’s a reason GTA Online persists, producing social media memes and maintaining private role-play servers. It’s a theme park that’s not afraid to give out prizes, and it’s not especially concerned with establishing a feeling of reality. The set-pieces are fantastic, and the campaigns are thrilling, cinematic adventures. The companionship of fellow players may not be fantastic, but the show has kept me entertained for almost a decade.

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