GTA Online Heists Impressions – The Waiting Game
After more than a year of impatient foot stomping by the GTA faithful, Rockstar finally delivered on the promise of bringing multiplayer heists to Grand Theft Auto Online free of charge. These five missions are the most complex and interesting of the activities available to players, but at this juncture they are still undermined by inconsistent server performance.
As long as you have reached level 12 and own a high-end apartment in GTA Online, you are eligible to lead one of these against-all-odds missions that offer a big payday in the end. Provided you meet these requirements and have downloaded the update, Lester will call you to invite you to his base of operations. "I know you've been complaining, but you weren't ready," he quips as he sizes you up. After the initial meet and greet he sets up an operations center in your home, complete with a map of Los Santos, storage space for you heist gear, and a whiteboard that outlines the plans.
For all but the short tutorial heist (a small-time bank job with a nice payout), the leader of the heist is responsible for putting aside a sizeable amount of money to cover the costs of the setup. Leaders also don't get paid until the actual heist is complete, with the other players getting paid for each setup job.
Like the single-player heists, these missions have several moving parts that must be addressed before you get to the actual job. For the introductory Fleeca Job, for instance, you must scope out the bank, then steal a car from a Korean gang that will be used for the getaway car. Once these tasks are completed you can make a move on the safety deposit box.
Before the final mission, the heist leader can adjust the take each player receives and assign them to specific roles. For this particular job, the one player is responsible for controlling the bank crowd and driving the getaway car, while the passenger hacks the vault door and takes a drill to the safety deposit box. Players can also choose what outfits they want to wear from the heist. All the classics are there, with suits, jumpsuits, tactical gear, and a great variety of headgear including several different monster and goalie masks.
This two-person job starts with a drive to the bank during which the passenger hacks the vault door. This minigame, where the player must guide a line through a circuit board without running into any obstacles, gives the person riding shotgun something to pass the time during the drive rather than surfing radio stations. Once the door is unlocked it's time to knock down the bank.
Upon entering the bank the driver must shoot out the various security cameras and point the gun at the customers, causing them to hit the floor. While this is happening second player must locate the safety deposit box in the vault and drill through the lock. Drilling too forcefully causes the machine to overheat, wasting valuable time, so the player must find that sweet spot where the drill is moving forward at a decent pace without crossing that line. Expect some trial and error with the drill before you find the rhythm. Once the box is accessed, the players must make a getaway with the police in hot pursuit. Navigating through traffic, the driver must align the car under a cargobob chopper, which then grabs the getaway vehicle with a giant magnet and whisks the team off to safety. Pulling off jobs like this earns the players significant wallet boosters well north of $100K.
Unique bonuses exist for each heist job, and completing these elite challenges is a great way to pad your bank account. The biggest payday of all is the Criminal Mastermind Challenge, which earns you a cool $10 million for completing all heists in order with the same group of players without dying.
After this modest first heist, the stakes are raised significantly. The jobs demand for players to work in tandem to pull off feats that feel right at home with the single-player heists. Players can expect to steal high-end military hardware from Merryweather Security, bust a high-value target out of prison, procure sensitive files from a research project, lift a metric ton of drugs for Trevor Philips Industries, and a complete a huge bank job that nets the team a cool million. From the single-player level of production values and writing to the challenge of the actual missions (communication is key, and your team will need a diverse skill set), the heists are the crown jewel of the GTA Online experience. When they work, that is.
Like many popular online experiences these days, Grand Theft Auto Online is not immune to server and matchmaking problems. Disruptions were the norm over the course of the last week - I was unable to get online several times, and many times when I did get into my apartment the heist whiteboard wouldn't be active or the matchmaking system would stymie my plans to dive into a heist by failing to fill out the rest of my four-player group. The Social Club also experienced intermittent outages, preventing me from filling out the heist job openings with fellow Game Informer crew members. Rockstar is aware of these setbacks and is trying to address them, but as of today it's still a crapshoot whether or not you can get online and finish a multi-tiered mission.
In the event you do get into a heist, carrying over the same team from setup mission to mission can be a hassle. After each completed I was often kicked to the single-player mode, or I had to wait an inordinate amount of time to connect back to GTA Online. I wish there were a quickplay feature that allows the same team to jump immediately to the next mission of the heist instead of subjecting the team to this process, because by the time you get logged back in chances are someone has walked away from the game or jumped into another multiplayer experience. It's not uncommon for more than half of your actual game session time to be spent waiting to play the game.
I highly recommend you tackle these missions with friends, because you never know what you are going to get with randoms. You may run into selfish leaders who offer paltry rewards for helping them in a heist and impatient players who may quit after a failed attempt (of which there will be many as the difficulty ramps up in later heists), kicking you back into the tedious process of forming a new group.
Once you successfully complete a heist, you must wait for Lester to call you with a new opportunity. This should give you a chance to check out the new adversarial modes also included in the update or to peruse the new vehicles and clothing options that become available as you complete jobs. Highlights include the $3 million Hydra VTOL fighter jet and the $2.8 million Valkyrie attack chopper.
When you have a good crew and the servers are cooperating, heists are the best part of Grand Theft Auto Online. Hopefully Rockstar can get these connection issues sorted sooner than later, because working with four players to secure a big payoff in high-risk missions is something every GTA fan should experience.