How GTA V Threatens to Own Two Holidays in a Row
Rockstar North has never been overtly smug about its success, despite having every reason in the world to be. Instead, the Edinburgh-based studio of just over 350 people is content to further improve its games rather than brag, be it via the well-received standalone DLC it often develops for its blockbuster titles, or the mere fact that characters in Grand Theft Auto V gingerly touch and push-off from every last stair in a lengthy, winding Los Santos patio staircase, for no functional reason other than “why not?” Detail is both the Edinburgh team’s finest institution and guiding star, and once an idea has been conceived, it appears as though the cerebral function of the typical Rockstar North employee has been hijacked, barring all axon terminals but those that deal in considering a particular challenge’s “how.” The issue of “why” no longer is one, and is answered before it is ever asked.
Sure, Rockstar and Take-Two have press releases and PR, but that’s parent-company stuff — North, all things considered, tends to keep to itself. That means no public trash talk, only occasional interviews, and most notably, no producers or directors getting themselves into trouble on Twitter. Perhaps it’s this odd, almost Jeterian calm and poise Rockstar possesses that so effectively strikes fear into the hearts of rival publishers and game-makers. This idea that as you sit and anxiously anticipate what it is Rockstar intends to do next, Rockstar itself isn’t considering you at all — rather, it is entirely focused on creating and perfecting whatever it is you’re terrified of. There are games that claim to be GTA-killers, but GTA itself doesn’t need to kill to be successful (ironic, I know). A master may consider existing works, but proceeds to create his own in a vacuum, and if any Western game-dev entity has captured this Ueda-like state of zen while creating video games, I’d say it’s Rockstar. And probably Thatgamecompany, for entirely different reasons.
Enough endless praise, though — I apologize if my brief ode to a longstanding titan of the industry caused anyone to shield their eyes or vomit from the mushiness of it all. If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with PlayStation, there is a direct connection — PS4 is where I (and more than half of next-gen consoles owners) intend to play Grand Theft Auto V’s souped-up remaster when it releases on November 18th. Before I delve into why I think PS4 will host the game’s definitive version, though, I’d like to quickly branch from my original topic. In short, major US publishers are more than likely wetting their pants right now.
Though it’s unlikely that Grand Theft Auto V will siphon competitor sales to the extent it did last year, the dread associated with its impending release may very well have increased. Mere months ago a next-gen version of the game had yet to be confirmed for 2014, yet here we are in October, just over a month away from release. I think Michael Pachter summed it up best last year when he politely described the GTA Effect as having “tapped a certain percentage of gamer holiday spending months ahead of time.” What he really meant is that it also “tapped a certain percentage of gamer holiday giving-a-shit,” of which there isn’t all that much to go around these days.
In some ways it’s a shame too, as releases like Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition deserve gamer attention in a perfect world. Unfortunately, going up against a juggernaut that has already sold 33 million copies (in the same genre no less) is like laying on a train track and waiting to be desecrated. Or worse yet, attempting to dodge the oncoming blitz, but being struck by paralysis instead. There is a saving grace this year, in that titles like DriveClub or The Evil Within are part of such distinct and pseudo-niche genres that the brunt of the assault may end up being reduced to a stinging wind as the train whizzes by. That said, I don’t expect typical blockbusters like Assassin’s Creed Unity, Far Cry 4, or even Sunset Overdrive from our pals at Insomniac will be so lucky. You can check out the handy GIF below for a visual aide.
I wish the big publishers luck this Fall, and for all we know Rockstar’s vortex may have lesser pull than I or anyone else is expecting. In the meantime, what is it that PS4 can bring to the GTA V experience? Quite a lot, actually. The nitty gritty can be found here, as can some very promising impressions elsewhere, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m far more excited for fully-rendered deer fur than any grown man ought to be. On the whole, though, a lot of what I feel will really shake things up this time around are next-gen capabilities that extend beyond graphics. Namely, simple streaming via Twitch, and easy sharing via the Options menu and SHAREfactory.
One thing I spent loads of time doing on my first GTA V playthrough (and subsequent freeroam) was setting down my controller to search YouTube and Google. Not necessarily to consult wikis or guides, but to look for specific information. Where in Los Santos does the Truffade Adder spawn? Where is the NOOSE building and how can I easily swipe the organization’s Buzzard Attack Helicopter? There are literally dozens if not hundreds of quick inquiries like these flowing in and out of my mind at any given time, and more often than not I’m too lazy to do anything about them.
On PS4, I’m envisioning two distinct solutions. The first (and least interesting) is to simply pop out of the game and go watch YouTube on your console, which can be done far more quickly and easily (and without the need to quit the game) on PS4 than on PS3. Alternatively, why not start amassing a library of useful video clips on your hard drive? This is something I actually intend to do from the moment I download the game. Anytime I discover something interesting or useful, I’ll save a video. I’ll label these videos accordingly for easy organization, and if I ever forget where the random gas station with a Sandking XL parked out front is, I can simply pause the game and check. YouTube is useful enough for obvious inquiries, but when it comes to remembering your own discoveries, a personal archive could prove indispensable.
Of course, this can extend to your friends list, and one of the first things I want to suggest to my peers also playing the game is that we exchange screens and videos over PSN regularly. I’ve yet to play a game on PS4 that has effectively encouraged this behavior, which is a shame because the infrastructure for doing so is solid. GTA V is a perfect excuse to start using some of the functionality that makes PS4 unique, and amass genuinely useful content in the process.
And then there’s Twitch. There have been so many incredible, hilarious Los Santos encounters that I wish I could’ve shared with more than the two people sitting in the same room as me, and both PS4 and Xbox One offer a solution to that. Interestingly, the feature could also be used to simply simulate standard, local GTA spectating rather than a mass-audience broadcast. A good friend of mine is away at school in New York, and would absolutely love to check out his favorite game on PS4 as I play it. Run a Skype call atop the whole thing, and it’s like we’re back in his basement playing on PS3 like we did during the summer. Except with realistic deer fur.
I don’t want to try and predict what else Rockstar has planned for November’s re-release; the fact that “new activities” is included on the list of official additions already has me frothing at the possibility of new heists, more to do when the story concludes, or both. Regardless, the train is coming, the engine is stoked with coal, and Rockstar North has probably been so laser-focused on improving the game itself that it has no idea what the new console generation really even looks like. If Grand Theft Auto V ends up being the most impressive thing we’ve seen this generation, then I’d bet it’s that very same trademarked, reverent Rockstar bravado we’ll have to thank.