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Like the rest of the gaming world, I’ve already spent a significant amount of time exploring the streets and back country of Los Santos, the latest playground from Rockstar. I’ve shot up rival gangsters, got into high-speed chases with the cops, and pulled off heists with my ragtag crew of criminals, and that’s with only a few hours of gameplay under my belt. Rockstar has successfully created another wonderful, fully realized world that feels alive and dense, but in the back of my mind, one question continues to nag me: Will GTA V be as loved in the future as the old Grand Theft Autos are now?
And you do love the older GTAs, am I right? I’d bet that the mere mention of Grand Theft Auto III, San Andreas, and Vice City brings back a flood of warm emotions to anyone who’s ever played them. Remember the first time you killed a hooker with a baseball bat to get your money back after you used her “services”? How about buffing up your character or eating fast food to the point of vomiting in San Andreas? Didn’t you have a blast activating the hilarious cheat codes in Vice City? For whatever reason, these three games share a certain nostalgic charm among GTA fans, which is remarkable considering they’re not even that old. Each of these games brought something new to the genre when it was still largely dominated by Rockstar. Now, while series like Just Cause and Saints Row aren’t as critically or commercially acclaimed as GTA, they’re still worthy competitors that dwindle the impact Rockstar has on the open world genre.
When I was a kid (and by “kid” I mean a mature adolescent with my parents’ consent), I was absolutely giddy to immerse myself in the world of Grand Theft Auto III when I first got a hold of it. If I wasn’t playing, I was yearning to simply grab a controller and explore the streets of Liberty City nonstop. Half of that longing may have been due to the fact that at that age I was more impatient than an illiterate drug addict at the DMV, but I believe part of it has to do with the fact that Grand Theft Auto’s prime was during this time period. Rockstar was leading the charge for sandbox games that followed in its wake, and now that those games have arrived, the series as a whole doesn’t “feel” as magnificent, even though everyone knows it is. What’s the first thing you think of when I mention Grand Theft Auto IV? Probably your annoying cousin Roman constantly calling you to go bowling or to a strip club. As great as GTA IV was, and as incredible as GTA V is, have they truly broken new ground, or have they paved beaten paths?
Don’t get me wrong; Grand Theft Auto V is amazing and deserves the praise it’s receiving. But will we have the same feelings of nostalgia for it in 10 years that we have now for last generation’s GTAs? Will we look at Grand Theft Auto V’s detailed and expansive map and recall how innovative it was for the time? Will gamers remember fondly the three protagonists and the ability to switch between them at will without the burden of a loading screen? Fans will never cry foul at these mechanics and features, but it seems to me that Rockstar’s earlier games had breakthroughs that, for whatever reason, felt much more special.
This discussion leads to a further question: Where can the series go from here? What can be added to make the next GTA even bigger and better? A larger map? A better story? Those things are nice to have, but they’re expansions on what’s already in place, not breakthrough ideas. Whatever happens, I’m sure it will be the best decision for the series. Will fans ever feel the levels of nostalgia for GTA V that players have for the older games? I don’t know. Time will tell. For now, I’m going to stop worrying about the future and enjoy Rockstar’s latest masterpiece for what it is.