The lights are on
With each edition of its phenomenally popular Grand Theft Auto series, Rockstar has raised the bar for the open-world genre. Beginning with GTA III, which brought its 2D template into three dimensions, and culminating with the epic Grand Theft Auto IV in 2008, the series has redefined the experience of video games and had an impact on a wide range of genres.We don’t know when the next Grand Theft Auto is coming, but somewhere in the hills of Scotland we expect that the wizards at Rockstar North are working on the next game the franchise. So, where should Grand Theft Auto go from here? The Game Informer staff recently discussed this topic amongst ourselves, and came up with a list of gameplay, features, and – most importantly – settings that we think would make for a great GTA game.Settings:Russia, 1990s: The fall of communism and the Soviet Union saw the loosening of the tight reins that had held Russian culture in check. Along with a new flowering of freedom came a flowering of organized crime. In the epic Russian mafia wars of the 1990s, criminals like the one-armed Vladimir Barsukov (who allegedly has ties to Russia’s prime minister Vladimir Putin), engaged in violent battle with rival gangs throughout an incredibly bloody decade. These gangs, plus their ties to the wreckage of the communist regime, would be a rich subject matter for Rockstar to tackle. Plus, cities like St. Petersberg and Moscow would offer large urban areas filled with both beautiful architecture and grim, crumbling Soviet-era constructions.Colombia, 1980s: While some of these topics were touched on in the ‘80s setting of Vice City, the madness in Miami was nothing in comparison to what was happening in the cocaine-processing center Columbia during the decade of blow. While U.S. mafia bosses did their best to control parts of certain cities, Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar basically controlled an entire country through graft, bribes, and brutal executions. By 1989, he was so rich he offered to pay off Columbia’s entire foreign debt. Real-life sagas like this are the stuff that brilliant Grand Theft Auto games are made of.Mexico/Texas border region, present day: If you follow the news, you’ve no doubt read some of the stories happening in Mexico’s ever-worsening drug wars. The warring drug cartels, and the political fallout that’s happening along the U.S./Mexico border, seem like perfect fodder for Rockstar. Along with all the usual crime, it would also allow the Housers to touch on hot-button issues like international politics and illegal immigration. While it would be controversial, perhaps it would also be a chance for the company to make some real, poignant commentary on current day events. In addition, it would be a bit of a spiritual return to the same type of landscape that John Marston roamed in Red Dead Redemption.The Midwest, late 1950s: The ‘50s has a wholesome image, and is frequently cited as the time when the “real” America thrived in familial, hardworking bliss. That’s exactly the type of hypocritical hokum that Rockstar loves to expose as a complete fraud. We’d love to see a game starring a young, leather jacket-clad hoodlum – think Marlon Brando in The Wild One – who gradually moves up the ladder of crime in the Midwest during the close of the decade. With vintage bikes, hot rods, and 17-foot-long Detroit cars, the automotive side of GTA would be covered in high style. Instead of focusing on one city, we’d like to see Rockstar North attempt to recreate a whole region, with multiple cities, like fictionalized versions of Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and our own beloved Twin Cities.Germany, Late 1960s: We’d love to see the series take on another European setting. Berlin in the late 1960s would be an extremely interesting choice. For one, the divide between East and West Berlin, and the attendant Cold War tensions, would provide a searing backdrop to your criminal adventures. Add in gorgeous architecture and the beginnings of the violent student protest movements that ended in terrorist cells like the Baader-Meinhof Group, and you have a recipe for an amazing open-world game.London, 1969: Before the series went 3D, GTA was a niche title that offered some of the same complex missions and open-world structures in a top-down, 2D format. The London,1969 expansion pack for GTA 1 & 2 featured a great atmosphere, with great “Swinging London” period vibes and a plethora of great Cockney gangsters. Obviously, the game is pretty archaic today, but there’s a lot that could be done in this time period. This brief chapter in the GTA saga is one that would be well-worth revisiting.Steampunk GTA, In The Weird Victorian Past/Future: This is Joe Juba’s idea. It’s clearly one of the stupidest ideas in the history of video games, but I wanted to include it as a little indication into how my colleague’s brain operates.Gameplay Features:More Impactful Choices: While you’ve always been free to pursue the missions and side activities in whatever order you want, in reality the GTA games are still largely linear story experiences. GTA IV gave us more real choice than we’d ever had before, and we’d like to see Rockstar North tackle it in a more meaningful way. Series like Fable and Mass Effect have shown the way to make your actions count, and there’s no reason why story- and world-altering choices can’t be made a part of the GTA formula.Story Co-op: While GTA IV offered some great multiplayer experiences, including some co-op, we would love to see Rockstar include full story cooperative play. Going through a lengthy GTA saga with a friend would me amazing, and would also open some unique storytelling opportunities for Rockstar. Perhaps incorporating the dynamic of shifting, uneasy alliances that Kane & Lynch had would be a good direction.Be The Kingpin: Most of the GTA games have shown players go from rags to riches, but – much like in Fable III – we’d like to see a greater emphasis being placed on what happens when you reach the top. Owning property and the like is a good start, but we’d like to be able to have more tools to manage a criminal empire. Controlling territories like in Saints Row or incorporating the drug dealing system from GTA Chinatown Wars are two features we’d like to see GTA incorporate.Multiplayer Creation Tools: The free-roaming GTA multiplayer lobby gave many players the opportunity to create their own games like bridge “jousting” with uzis and motorcycles while killing time between matches. We’d love for Rockstar to include a way for players to create and edit their own multiplayer game modes and share them with others. The openness of GTA has always been its strength and, like in LittleBigPlanet, we’ve seen what can happen when you empower the audience.Persistent Gang Structures for Multiplayer: In The Lost and Damned you could roll around as a bike gang, which got us thinking about how cool it would be if you could form gangs (like clans or guilds) in GTA multiplayer. All your multiplayer matches would add to your money, which would allow you to buy territory on the map to control on your server. While we don’t expect the next GTA game to be a full-on MMO, taking some tips from that genre would definitely make things more interesting.