I've always found the concept of writing feature wish-lists like this a little strange, mainly because there's no way that any developer is going to be reading the ramblings of often rabid fans on the internet, and then tweaking the game experience accordingly. In that respect, it doesn't really achieve anything except setting up the writer for inevitable disappointment. And yet here I am, writing just such a wish-list for Grand Theft Auto V, the upcoming addition to Rockstar's most celebrated franchise. My change of heart stems from recently returning to Grand Theft Auto IV, which I have no hesitation in declaring my favourite game ever. Despite having a great deal of love for that game, though, I'm not completely oblivious to its flaws - flaws which, on playing through the game for the third time in four years, are even more apparent than I remembered. That's my impetus for deciding to put pen to paper (or should that be fingers to keyboard?) and compile this list - to highlight some of the problems I had with GTA IV, and suggest ways in which they could potentially be addressed in GTA V.
Oh, and a small disclaimer for anybody who comes into this blog expecting "MORE EXPLOSIONS! MORE CUSTOMISATION! MORE DILDOS!" - you won't find any of that here. Sorry. With that said, let's move on to point number one...
A Better Characterised Protagonist
The Grand Theft Auto franchise is renowned for bringing us brilliant characters, and GTA IV was no exception. Who could ever forget characters like Little Jacob, Vlad Glebov, and Phil Bell? And then there's the man at the centre of it all, Niko Bellic, and the story of his rise from 'rags to slightly better rags', as I believe Rockstar themselves put it. One thing that's always bothered me about Niko, though, is that the game handles the development of his character so poorly. We weren't made to feel like Niko's progression from "I promised myself I wouldn't kill people here" to "I'll rip your fucking heart out" was a natural one - it simply happened at some point, without the game letting us know about it. A side-effect of this was a tangible disconnect between who the player thinks Niko is, and what he's being asked to do. Whoever we turn out to be playing as in GTA V, I hope that their personality is properly developed and above all, justifies their actions. Progression from reluctant petty criminal to psycopathic assassin is fine, Rockstar. Just try and explain it a bit better next time around.
A More Vibrant City
Just as I prefaced the previous point by saying I loved GTA IV's characters, I want to preface this one by declaring my love for Liberty City. It's without a doubt one of the best open-worlds I've seen in a video game to date - roads clogged with traffic, pavements bustling with residents, and remarkably sophisticated levels of interactivity. It's pretty damn hard to criticise a game world in which I can run someone over, call an ambulance, and then watch as the paramedics I've just summoned get to work reviving the victim of my reckless driving. That being said, my one small problem with Liberty City is how drab everything is. I realise it's a dense urban environment, but it becomes a drag driving down nothing but grey concrete corridors. Even the theoretically beautiful parks dotted around the city seem to have adopted washed out colour palettes. Thankfully this seems like something that GTA V will definitely address, its Los Angeles-inspired setting providing a perfect opportunity to bring dense suburbia and the glitz of Hollywood together. The colours that we saw in the first trailer are confirmation enough for me that Los Santos is going to give us much brighter and more varied environments, and I for one couldn't be happier.
A Wider Variety Of Distractions
If there's one major criticism I want to level at GTA IV, it's that the game doesn't really give you enough stuff to do when you want to take a break from the main story missions. This was one of the big strengths of Vice City and San Andreas, games which literally had optional content packed onto every single street and in dozens of different forms. Comparatively, GTA IV takes place in a larger game world, but opportunities for distractions seem scarcer somehow. GTA V's new setting and more varied environments seem to lend themselves to all manner of mini-games and side-missions, though, so I hope Rockstar North take advantage of that and populate Los Santos with a lot more things to do outside of the main campaign. I think it's worth noting that GTA IV did succeed in translating some of the old Odd Jobs to the new generation, most notably the Taxi Driver and Vigilante vehicle missions. I'd love it if they were able to give the Paramedic and Firefighter missions the same treatment for GTA V. I also think it could be interesting to implement some procedural events, like the ones in Red Dead Redemption, to keep the player engaged and on their toes even when they're not doing anything in particular.
More Varied And Complex Mission Structures
As I'm sure anybody who's powered through GTA IV's story in pursuit of the Liberty City Minute Achievement will attest to, the game's main story missions get pretty damn repetitive. Sticking to the main missions means you're in for twenty solid hours of 'go to this place, shoot these dudes, pick up this item, and bring it back to this location'. As one of an apparent minority who loved both the driving and the gunplay in GTA IV, this wasn't too much of a big deal for me, but even I was beginning to feel a bit of errand fatigue towards the game's end. I'd definitely welcome some different styles of missions, or even alternative mission strands along the lines of Vice City's business-specific threads. I'd also like to see Rockstar employ more complex mission structures in GTA V. One of my favourite missions in GTA IV was Three Leaf Clover, an elaborate bank heist split into multiple stages. More missions of that complexity in GTA V would make me a very happy gamer.
More Stuff To Spend Money On
It's pretty clear based on previous GTA games that money is going to be a big deal in GTA V - perhaps an even bigger deal, given the game's stylized logo. If that's the case, then I hope the game gives us more opportunities to spend our hard-earned dollars than GTA IV did. That game threw a lot of money at the player, but didn't really give them any opportunity to throw it back into the game. Sure, we could buy food, clothes and guns, but that was pretty much it - very far removed from the limitless things to spend it on in previous GTA games. The good news is that the West Coast setting seems like a perfect backdrop for lots of spending opportunities. Given our potential protagonist appears to be a family man, perhaps there will be chances to buy up some real estate, just like in Vice City and San Andreas. Or, after successfully implementing some cool gambling mini-games into Red Dead Redemption, perhaps Rockstar will offer us the opportunity to whittle our money away at a more modern poker table. Whatever way it could happen, I just hope it happens. No point earnin' it and not burnin' it!
Tweak The Friend System
While I didn't personally have any issues with Niko's buddies in GTA IV, I know a lot of other gamers did. The regular calls from acquaintances suggesting a trip to the comedy club, or pool hall, or bowling alley, probably disrupted the experience for a lot of players. On the flip-side, though, I felt like the friendships in GTA IV added a lot to the game, both in terms of longevity and depth. Getting to know characters like Little Jacob, Brucie Kibbutz and Packie McReary was a lot of fun for me, and the in-game rewards for doing so proved very useful over the course of my time with the game, so I really don't want to see that side of the game disappear altogether. As a compromise, I'd like to see Rockstar keep friendships in GTA V, but make them pursuable entirely at the player's discretion. Don't force social interactions down the player's throat by bombarding them with calls, and don't punish them for ignoring that side of the game. Instead, just let the player choose when and how they want to interact with NPCs. It leaves that side of the game intact for those of us who want to experience it, without penalising players who don't - a win-win situation.
Borrow Some Mechanics From Chinatown Wars
Early last year, I played the PSP version of GTA: Chinatown Wars. While a lot has happened between then and now, I can still remember being completely captivated by some innovative aspects of its design that I still hope and pray will make their way into future console GTA games. The drug dealing side missions would fit right into the Los Santos setting - the breadth of the economic spectrum within the city could even possibly pave a route for some kind of ranked progression. More than anything, though, I want to see that game's police evasion mechanics make their way into GTA V. For anybody not familiar with Chinatown Wars, the only way you can shake off your wanted level is by forcing pursuing police cruisers to crash. It made for some dynamic, cinematic car chases in that game, and I'm convinced if it was properly implemented, it would do the same for a console GTA game as well. We'll obviously have to wait and see what changes Rockstar North choose to make (if any), but this is the one I've found myself longing for the most.
Well, there you have it, a little list of my wants and desires for Grand Theft Auto V. None of these are exactly deal-breakers, I know, but that's probably because at the end of the day, I just love me some GTA. Unless something goes very wrong between now and the speculated 2012 release date, I know I'm going to adore GTA V regardless. These are all just things that would make me adore it that little bit more, I guess. I'll sign off by opening up the wish-list and handing it over to you - what changes would you like to see Rockstar make to the established formula? I look forward to reading your thoughts. Thanks very much for reading guys, I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Grand Theft Auto IV (X360)