Grand Theft Auto Online is Brilliant, When it’s Working.

I’ve just left my apartment in West Vinewood. I want to show my brother Sam my new motorcycle. It’s orange, and, thanks to the money I spent upgrading it, it bobs and weaves through the Los Santos streets effortlessly. When I finally catch up to Sam, he’s standing in the middle of the street, a half-destroyed car behind him. He immediately jumps on the back of my bike, noticing that someone else in the city has a $5,000 bounty on their head. He tells me to go after the guy; we can figure out how to split the money later. I make my way to the Del Perro freeway, going in the direction of Los Santos International Airport, where we think the guy is. As we’re driving, I notice another car coming up fast behind us. It’s another person like us, and he could be doing any number of things–going home to his apartment, running from the police, or bounty hunting, like we are. We must have annoyed him, because he drives up along side us, shoots Sam off the back of my bike, and speeds off. I pull off the freeway and stop. I’ve gotta wait for Sam to respawn, after all.

Grand Theft Auto IV was the first game in the series to have multiplayer. To be frank, it wasn’t very good. Rockstar shipped the game with a ton of modes, but they were undermined by the game’s wonky multiplayer shooting mechanics and the feeling that, if you were gonna play deathmatch, you may as well boot up something else. The only mode my friends and I played wasn’t a mode at all–it was the multiplayer lobby, which put you and your friends in Liberty City, ostensibly to set up a match of some kind. In practice, my friends and I hung out in the lobby, where we wasted time stealing helicopters, jumping cars off the end of a runway and trying not to kill ourselves on motorcycles. GTA IV‘s lobby was fun because it felt like GTA–spontaneous, random, ultimately pretty stupid.

promotional photo courtesy Rockstar Games
Promotional photo courtesy of Rockstar Games.

Grand Theft Auto Online, which was released last Tuesday as the multiplayer component of GTA V, takes these lessons to heart. The focus isn’t on multiplayer modes any more–though they are there–but on the core GTA free roam experience. After creating your character and completing a short tutorial, the game throws you into Los Santosand  and tells you to do whatever. Go race, play team deathmatch, complete single player style missions, buy an apartment or upgrade a car. It’s an entirely persistent system, so you keep whatever you buy, much like in an MMO. There’s even a level system tied to “reputation points,” which you can make doing pretty much anything. All of this adds up to multiplayer that really does GTA justice. In just a week, I’ve got about a million stories to tell like the one above.

Unfortunately, right now it’s pretty hard to actually create those stories. GTA Online has been fraught with problems since it launched–users reported everything from struggling to get the game to load up the first tutorial mission to having entire characters deleted. Personally, I experienced the former. It took my about two hours to get the game to work, and one of my friends only got in over the weekend. Rockstar released a title update that purportedly fixed many of those problems, but the losing characters problem is definitely still around, and there’s a lot of work left to be done.

Still, GTA Online is a triumph. It’s fun, dynamic and interesting. It feels like GTA multiplayer done right. You just have to get it working first.



About Burk Smyth

Burk Smyth is a music writer for The Quad. He is from Baltimore, Md. and enjoys punk, indie, black metal, baseball, Magic: The Gathering, Everton Football Club and being terrible at Dota 2. Follow him at @burksmyth, where he tweets about Trent Reznor, Leighton Baines and dotes, mostly.

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