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First look: Rockstar takes GTA Online

By Daniel Dawkins on Thursday 15th Aug 2013 at 2:01 PM UTC

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We're given a brief glimpse of The Feed. It's like GTA Online's version of twitter, which appears on screen to relay all your emails, texts and messages from Social Club. It's a bit odd that GTA Online doesn't seem to link to actual Twitter - for example, to share an in-game pic taken with your smartphone - but Rockstar seem determined to focus on their Social Club website.

Before the demo's final mission, one player leaves to drop money off at the Maze Bank ATM. If you get killed holding all your cash, a portion will spill onto the streets. It's important to keep cash for your daily activities, and deposit the rest in the bank. Or wager it on races. Or invest in the stock market... as we said, it's complex. You can even attack listed companies and damage their share price. At one extreme, you might need a bodyguard to make drops at the bank.

We're taken to a luxury apartment. There will be loads of property to buy at different prices, according to their views and location. You can use your in-house CCTV to spy on people at your front door, or take showers, surf the net, change clothes and watch the game's many TV channels. We glimpsed a 1930s animal detective show (quite), Moosehead Investigations, before the channel was changed to Weasel News. From the safety of your house, you can watch people within your 16-player game being chased by the cops, just like Police Camera Action.

Even more surreal, you can look out of your window and see the police speed past your house, moments after you've seen them on TV. Hey, perhaps you could call in a chopper and gatecrash the show? The player buzzes the rest of his team up to his room, and they start to plan a heist - a simplified version of GTAV's tentpole missions.

You need to recover a Titan cargo plane from the Los Santos airport on the southern tip of the city. Rockstar's demo team organised into a group of four, stopping off at AmmuNation before the heist. GTAV map aficionados will recognise it as the large AmmuNation store by the Mile High Club skyscraper from the trailers. One player went inside to buy a familiar variety of SMGs, shotguns and assault rifles (they also sell parachutes), as another player landed a chopper on the store's helipad roof - a cute touch.

Within minutes, all four players are in the chopper. "We're going to the airfield and gain some altitude", says the pilot, "Then you guys can jump out". As the chopper hovers over the airfield, the players pick out targets and set a waypoint - yes, you can set them from the air. "Get ready guys. 3... 2... 1... Jump!" shouts the pilot, as the other three parachute into the airport. It's thrilling stuff, with a real feel of team co-ordination.

As the team scrabble to the waypoint, the chopper spots obstacles from above. "I can see the hangar. There's patriot cars either side (of the Titan), lots of guys... wait, there's a truck blocking the path of the plane!" In no time, the team attack and bullets are flying, with AI-controlled Merryweather guards (GTAV's equivalent of military contractors) pouring in left and right. "Two... no, three guys on the left... one from behind" barks the pilot.


Eventually, one player jumps in the Titan and starts to move, while another player frantically runs to keep up, blasting guards as he goes. It's all very frenzied, and in no time all the team are in the Titan... but there's barely any runway left.

"We need to pull up! Pull up", someone cries... and right on queue the Titan roars into the air. It might be staged, but it's a real stomach-rush moment ripped from a Hollywood action movie. You can even see the landing gear being manually retracted. Madness.

The Titan makes its way along the southern tip of Los Santos, heading west past Del Perro Pier and Vespucci Beach. Half way up the west coast, we glimpse a previously unseen industrial complex / small town, before we branch along the Zancudo river and land on the Sandy Shores airstrip south of the Alamo Sea.

$30,000 gained and 2120 RP. We query the route with Leslie Benzies later on and while a Rockstar rep claims they aren't talking about certain locations yet, Leslie laughs and confirms, "You guys really know your shit".

That's it. Except that isn't it. In 50 minutes we've seen only a glimpse of GTA Online - and what it might become. We didn't see any sports events like the shooting range, tennis or golf; nor the extensive customisation options for your vehicles, weapons or characters. The demo focused on co-op events versus AI opposition, so we're yet to see deathmatches or crew vs crew playlists.

The Creator tool offers tantalising longevity, allowing players to create and share their own missions and activities via the Social Club cloud. Other players can beat your target times and scores, then rate your mission. You can even choose which creators you want to follow and curate your favourite missions.

Leslie Benzies claims that Los Santos is only the beginning. The volume of creator tools, missions and items will grow, but at some stage GTA Online will head into new locations. He suggested they were sitting on a lot of content, and it doesn't take a genius to speculate what it might be.

Fancy taking your Los Santos crew for an away day in Liberty City? What about a retro-themed GTA Online spin-off in Vice City, but with deliberately old-school graphics like Far Cry: Blood Dragon? Leslie Benzies confirmed nothing, but suggested that old content was one route... simulating the world and different countries has always been their long-term goal.


Will GTA Online really host 16-player sessions without compromise or messy matchmaking? Rockstar's demo was seamless, but the real world is far from a controlled environment. Will cash-flushed 'Whales' and nihilist morons ruin the experience? Rockstar promise rank-based matchmaking and extensive policing, but that's a tough claim for a game that could potentially rival Call of Duty's levels of popularity.

The floppy-eared, trunk-waving, quadruped in Rockstar's online penthouse, of course, is the advent of next-gen consoles. GTA Online begins life on PS3 and 360 but 12 months from now, the world's gaze will be firmly on PS4, Xbox One and PC. Rockstar isn't blind to this, but given the imminent release of GTAV on current consoles, there's no way it would confirm, or even hint, at its next-gen plans.

At the same time the studio's denying nothing, and Leslie Benzies' responded with textbook diplomacy to our next-gen questions. Bottom line: if GTA Online is a persistent service, it has to appear on PS4/Xbox One in some form, sooner or later.

"The Creator tool offers tantalising longevity, allowing players to create and share their own missions."

A key question is how Rockstar is going to charge for all this, because if you're expecting them to provide a free, ever-expanding, online service *for all time* for the one-off cost of GTAV, well... you don't do you.

Rockstar is saying nothing, but we'd expect it to trial a mixture of microtransactions, plus more substantial 'packs' of new content. You'll certainly be able to play GTA Online for free within two weeks of Sep 17, and there'll be no shortage of things to do.

Indeed, we're not sure that many people are going to wait for the opportunity to fly ten of their friends into a co-op assault on a Los Santos skyscraper, all wielding customised weapons and sporting dayglo sports tracksuits - to imagine one hypothetical, but quite achievable, scenario.

Sure, the headline is that we'll have to wait two weeks for GTA Online, but that's not the story when 2013's biggest game is launching an online universe. A persistent online experience that potentially spans console generations... with dreams of recreating not just Los Santos, but maybe the world, in the cloud.

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