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What We'd Like To See In GTA V

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Posted by: Mike Rougeau

If there's one franchise that's engendered more attention than any other, it's Grand Theft Auto. With good reason, too - despite the controversy, or maybe thanks to it, each new title in the series has become the benchmark for open world games and video game narratives.

Grand Theft Auto IV was no different. In its predecessor, San Andreas, Rockstar expanded the formula to include three huge cities and all the highways, forests and deserts in between. When it came time for the series' debut on modern consoles, they chose to pare the experience down to its core elements - shooting, driving and story - and create a smaller, but much more detailed, environment. It was tighter and more focused, and most fans agree it was a triumph. Expansions like The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony further fleshed out the now infamous Liberty City.

Now it's time to start looking toward the future. Rumors about the inevitable fifth chapter have been scarce. Whispers about Hollywood and Los Santos, the fictional version of Los Angeles featured in 2004's San Andreas, surfaced over the summer, and a supposed tester for Rockstar claimed he was playing an early version of the game around the same time.

San Andreas was great, but I can't help but be slightly disappointed at the prospect of another entry set in southern California. While I don't doubt it would turn out great, the fact is it's been done before. And other Rockstar games, like Red Dead Redemption and the upcoming LA Noire, have explored much more intriguing settings (the dying Wild West and early-20th century detective pulps, respectively).

The heart of any Grand Theft Auto is the city, but that doesn't mean it has to be set in New York, LA or Miami. Past GTAs have explored Eastern European immigrants, black gang culture in LA, bikers, the 80s drug trade, and more. Why not branch out to other countries? GTA: Tokyo, London, South Africa or Sicily all have a nice ring to them. I'm sick of laying waste to the same cities over and over, and besides, the location scouts from Rockstar would get to take some fantastic "business trips."

While the city is the cornerstone of any GTA game, the characters and story are equally important. Without the signature satirical narrative, GTA V would just be another Saints' Row title. But characters like GTA IV's Brucie - a muscle milk-chugging juicer - have got to go. Niko and his cousin, Roman, were complex and sympathetic, hard but with a sense of humor. Brucie was a gag character stretched out across a dozen or more missions. He was incredibly annoying, and he wasn't the only GTA character that should have been left on the drawing board. If anything, a more consistent cast would make their satire even more effective - let the situations and writing speak for themselves, and give us characters we can relate to.

GTA V needs to be bigger and better than its predecessor. The enormous San Andreas was developed using Criterion Software's RenderWare engine, the same used for GTA III, a game that debuted in 2001. GTA IV, on the other hand, was Rockstar's first entry on the Xbox 360 and PS3, and the first entry in years to utilize a new engine. Three years later, they should be able to take advantage of the GTA IV engine much more effectively. They're going to have to give us a bigger, more detailed city, more vehicles and enemies, and better graphics.

Most importantly, though, they're going to have to make a choice between two very different paths: linearity and player choice. Supposed moral choices are all the rage in modern gaming, even though most choices in games amount to little more than trivial decisions between different items or other rewards. Few games actually challenge players to question their own morals, but if any developer can pull it off, Rockstar can.

GTA IV flirted with the idea of players shaping the plot at certain key moments in the narrative, but GTA V could easily veer in either direction. Last year's epically disappointing Final Fantasy XIII proved what happens when an established franchise gets too caught up in its own mythos to allow players to shape the world around them. It's a mistake that Rockstar needs to avoid.

The best thing they could possibly do would be to surprise everyone. It would be simple for the next entry to once again take place in Liberty City, but I hope they avoid such familiar routes. To unleash something totally unexpected would be a true accomplishment. Aspects of San Andreas should definitely return, like territory wars and the player-owned airfield, but for the game to take place in Los Santos would be disappointing. Likewise, a direct sequel to GTA IV would undoubtedly sell well, but it would be nothing short of a cop-out.

All this talk of narrative and setting has almost made me forget about the gameplay, but I've got a few ideas. For one thing, the Red Faction and Bad Company franchises have made destructible environments a reality in the last few years. Picture this: You wreck a building with a rocket launcher or a motorcycle. The next time you load the game up, the same building will be draped in scaffolding. The time after that, it's fully rebuilt. The city would feel that much more alive, and you'd really feel your effect on the game world through the visual results of your carnage. But there would be no permanent or potentially game-breaking damage.

And they need to include the tank from the start. There's nothing like decimating an entire city block full of pedestrians and innocent bystanders with a 70-ton Army tank.

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