Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series is arguably the most important gaming franchise of the last two decades and it’s seen a lot of innovative features come and go in that time. From the open-world anarchic action and instant infamy of the original game’s premise of getting points for crimes to the more recent technical marvels and social satire that have continued to push the boundaries of digital entertainment and bad taste, the series has been a lot of places and done a whole lot of things.
By the time we see another proper GTA title, it’ll have been over twenty years since the first game was released, so now seems like a good time to look at past games and some of the more interesting features that have come and gone in that time as the franchise continually evolve and consider which ones would combine into the ultimate GTA experience. Here are my picks for the best non-standard features to combine into the perfect open world crime game.
In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, RPG mechanics were introduced for the first time, allowing players to build up their character’s abilities by engaging in activities. You could also build up your social credibility based on the way you dressed and your physical appearance changed based on how much you ate and stayed in shape. You could even learn new fighting styles from various in-game gyms.
Grand Theft Auto V brought the concept back after a conspicuous absence in GTA IV, giving its three characters various strengths and weaknesses and the ability to improve, although with more emphasis on skills and less on appearance. It seems likely that this feature is here to stay, but hopefully the next game in the series will steer character customization back towards more advanced and individualized choices to expand player immersion and consequence rather than just traditional leveling up.
Grand Theft Auto II was my first experience with the franchise and remains one of my favorite games from the original PlayStation era. Its best feature was the ability to accept jobs from several different crime factions and build reputations and relationships with each. With many of the factions being rival gangs, working with one could cause you to lose standing with the others, offering the player the choice between balancing their reputation to attempt to remain in decent standing with all groups or to go all-in with one against the other.
With each faction having its own turf, losing standing with a gang could make the game harder since members would attack you on sight if your rep was too low. But on the other hand, the player could use turf warfare to their advantage by leading pursuing enemies into rival gang territory, instigating a street war in the process. This was what part of what made GTA II such a joy to play. GTA III perpetuated the concept somewhat, but by Vice City rival gangs were dictated primarily by story and recent games eliminated this aspect altogether. I’d say it’s time to bring it back.
One of the biggest additions in Vice City was the ability to purchase property and complete missions to improve the profitability of your acquired assets. This was carried over to San Andreas, dropped for GTA IV, and brought back as an afterthought for GTA V. What V had going for it here was a stock market feature allowing players to make investments and even influence their chosen stocks through in-game actions to an extent.
First, the real estate aspect needs to be fleshed out again and made more a more profitable endeavor for the player (preferably something resembling the Fable games) because it wasn’t really worth the time in the last game. Secondly the stock market aspect has a ton of room for improvement so it’d be a shame to see it abandoned in the next game. In-game currency is a necessity and giving players more fun and diverse ways to earn is always a good idea.
Grand Theft Auto is renowned for having some of the best-developed open virtual environments in digital entertainment. Every game seems to out-do itself with massive, detailed worlds that consistently set the standard for open world gaming. Grand Theft Auto IV was a major turning point in the series because it went beyond the environments themselves and did a better job than ever of making the world feel inhabited.
With a variety of programming on television, an in-game internet to surf, and a smartphone interface that allowed you to contact anyone at any time, Liberty City was something to be experienced as much as explored. It’s one thing to have a cool place to blow stuff up, but populating the world with characters you could contact and hang out at the locale of your choice was a particularly inspired advancement. GTA V paid some lip service to the feature, but throughout most of the game almost nobody answered their phone, which made the world feel kind of lonely outside of story missions.
San Andreas introduced dating as an activity and it was featured in GTA IV, but V sadly did away with it, leaving the only ways to interact with the opposite sex as prostitution, stripper fondling (although if you fondle one enough, she’ll go home with you), and random acts of violence. Come on, Rockstar. It should at least be possible for a player to respect a woman in-game.
Out of all the features Grand Theft Auto V brought to bear, the most fun was definitely the heists. Previous games had featured heist missions, but V really took it to another level. Assembling a team by juggling competence and cost, building relationships with contacts, and carrying out multi-stage robberies was like pure distilled video game joy. My biggest complaint about the game was that there weren’t more; just a handful of story missions.
It’d be great to see the heist system of the last game expanded on rather than abandoned in the next game. In a perfect world, there’d be plenty of open-world targets with various challenges for you to hit at will and really take advantage of the team-building features.
It’s probably a testament to the enduring excellence of the series that each game gives me countless hours of entertainment from dozens of activities and yet I keep demanding more. Rockstar continues to innovate with each new game and every little wrinkle they add seems to open up even more possibilities to make the Grand Theft Auto franchise even better in the future. It’s still a long ways off, but it will be very interesting to see what old features get revived and revamped and what new features show up when Grand Theft Auto VI rolls around.