Grand Theft Auto V Preview

  • In Feature
  • 14:35 on 31st Dec 2011
  • By John MacdonaldJohn Macdonald

Today is the final day of 2011 and this is traditionally a day when you reflect on the year that has passed as well as looking forward to what the future holds. With many rumours about casting calls and a project codenamed ‘Rush’, anticipation was growing throughout the year that a new GTA game announcement was imminent. Rockstar Games finally unveiled Grand Theft Auto V to the public with the debut trailer in November. The coming year will almost certainly mark the release of the next instalment in one of the most successful series in video game history which has already sold more than 114 million units. So what better time to look back, to take stock of what is known about GTA V and how we got to this point.

On October 25th Rockstar Games officially announced Grand Theft Auto V via their Twitter account, which pointed to the home page of their website where the game’s logo was revealed as well as the date when the first trailer would be shown. This confirmed that the next numbered game in the series wouldn’t be reserved for the next generation of consoles which had been the case with GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas.

The trailer was roughly a week away but it didn’t take that long for the theme or even the location of GTA V to be narrowed down. It quickly became clear that the ‘V’ logo itself held important clues. Comparisons were drawn between its design and that of some older United States banknotes and in particular the font used for ‘FIVE’ and the design of the Roman numeral ‘V’. Eventually consensus emerged that a very rare banknote issues in 1899 appeared to be the best match. Some people even believed that the one time a Native American Indian appeared on a US banknote might hint at the background of the main character in the game. While this is an improbable leap of reasoning, it would have contrasted well with Niko Bellic who was an immigrant in GTA IV looking to find the American dream.

The banknote speculation also closed the door on the wishful thinking by some who thought the next GTA game would take place outside of the United States perhaps returning to London. Some people noticed that the ‘V’ logo also contained what appeared to be a black spade from a playing card in the background which could be a hint at card games and gambling. All the evidence pointed to a United States location with the pursuit of money being the theme for the game.

On November 2nd the trailer was released and it confirmed a return to the city of Los Santos. The trailer was a big departure from the downbeat “life is complicated” reveal of GTA IV’s Liberty City and main character. Instead, fans were treated to a Los Santos where anything seemed possible. It was a generous trailer that showed a wide variety of locations and vehicles. The voice over was almost certainly from the main playable character in the game since he shared the same wish to escape a life of crime that previous GTA protagonists had. He spoke of moving to Los Santos to capture “...that thing, that magic” which reflects what I believe Rockstar North is attempting to recapture by returning to this location. The gritty realism of GTA IV was welcomed by some but others thought the game had lost something in the process. The trailer for GTA V combines the laid back vibe of Vice City with the variety of possibilities that San Andreas had to offer.

To those new to the series Los Santos is Rockstar North’s fictional version of Los Angeles, the distinction being that it gives the developers freedom to create the essence of the city, its landmarks and neighbourhoods without them having to make an exact recreation of it. Los Santos in Spanish means ‘the saints’ which is similar to the real life city of ‘the angels’. Los Angeles is home to Hollywood while the Los Santos version of it is called Vinewood and so on. Rockstar North have always tried to create cities and locations with a great deal of diversity between neighbourhoods, between the rich and poor, between those who are living the American dream and those for whom that dream is well and truly broken

Out of the three cities in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004) I think Los Santos was the most complete and well realised. It was a big city with distinct and diverse neighbourhoods that seemed like they all belonged to the city as a whole. It had poorer districts with competing gangs vigilantly defending their home turf, while also having more prosperous parts of the city and of course Vinewood where the super rich and famous lived. The fictional State of San Andreas from the 2004 game also had large areas of countryside which introduced a city and countryside dynamic to the GTA formula.

Following the trailer Rockstar Games issued the following press release.

“We are very proud to officially announce that Grand Theft Auto V is in full development.

Developed by series creator Rockstar North, Grand Theft Auto V heads to the city of Los Santos and surrounding hills, countryside and beaches in the largest and most ambitious game Rockstar has yet created.

A bold new direction in open-world freedom, storytelling, mission-based gameplay and online multiplayer, Grand Theft Auto V focuses on the pursuit of the almighty dollar in a re-imagined, present day Southern California.”

This press release quelled speculation that maybe GTA V would include the entire State of San Andreas including the cities of San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas). But then Game Informer magazine did an interview with Dan Houser, the vice president of Rockstar Games which included a question about the new game:

Q: You just released the GTA V trailer. Can you talk about that project in any respect? Obviously, it looks like it's going back to San Andreas.

A: I've got to be real careful here, or they will drag me through the office and whip me with barbwire. I will stick to exactly what's in the press release. It's Los Santos and the surrounding countryside - and a very big map.

In an attempt to not say anything controversial or reveal too much about the setting of the game Dan Houser managed to add fuel to the fire once again. It seemed like the press release had explained it well enough but the way he addressed the location of the game made readers think that there was a lot more about the location he wasn’t telling people.

The trailer shows a number of scenes from around Los Santos but it also reveals the vast amount of countryside in the game including scenes with a wind farm with hills in the far distance and a scene in front of a large mountain which is presumably Mount Chiliad. If you were to use the previous San Andreas map as a very rough guide and draw a semicircle around Los Santos that included Mount Chiliad you would have a map that encompasses almost all of the countryside in San Andreas and even without San Fierro and Las Ventuaras this would be a very large open world for the player to explore.

There is also one scene in the trailer that shows some road signs and one of these is for the Los Puerta Freeway heading north with the Interstate 5 symbol next to it. I-5 in real life California runs north/south for the entire length of the State and though it doesn’t directly go to San Francisco it is noteworthy that the trailer focuses on this sign. One of the other road signs is for Little Seoul which is a strong indicator that there will be Korean district and gangs in Los Santos. The trailer definitely illustrates that diversity I mentioned with expensive houses contrasting with the slums of the poorer areas and even groups of homeless people living rough on the streets.

The trailer showcases the variety of vehicles including cars, golf karts, bicycles, motorbikes, jet skis, police helicopters, a crop duster plane, seaplane, passenger aircraft and even a military fighter jet. With the inclusion of the countryside, “a very big map” and the wide assortment of transportation it is almost certain that there will be a variety of checkpoint races in GTA V including street racing, cross country/all terrain/dirt bike challenges as well as the likely return of Pilot School. Although this is merely speculation it is difficult to imagine creating such an expansive game world, including a wide array of vehicles and for these features to not be included in the full game.

The inclusion of exercise equipment within homes, an outdoor gym in the trailer and even somebody wearing a t-shirt promoting another gym strongly hints at the return of the fitness/exercise game mechanic that was in San Andreas. It was used to stay in shape, increase strength and decrease body fat so perhaps consuming food and other character customisation gameplay is also returning.

In one scene a ‘For Sale’ sign is being hammered into the ground outside a house which looks surprisingly similar to the Grove Street location, the same cul-de-sac where CJ (Carl Johnson) lived in GTA: San Andreas. Some people have speculated that the proximity of the ‘For Sale’ sign to the numbering on the curb of ‘2405’ might be a clue to a possible release date. While I don’t wish to completely rule this out it is in fact an Easter egg that has appeared in GTA games before and represents Dan Houser’s birthday - not that releasing a big game like this on your birthday isn’t a possibility.

It would be easy to look at other parts of the trailer and make predictions that golf could be playable; the appearance of laptops might mean a fully functioning Internet or the inclusion of the docks pointing at the possible return of the import/export vehicle collection side mission. These would seem logical conclusions but they would be pure speculation.

There is one other piece of speculation I would like to address which appears to have merit. There is a strong possibility that the assumed protagonist of GTA V will be voiced by the actor Ned Luke. As you can see the real life actor shares an uncanny resemblance to the man featured in the trailer and he also sounds like the same actor. Have a look at Ned Luke’s demo reel for examples of his work. I can appreciate why Rockstar North would choose the actor for this type of role as he seems more than capable of playing a family man and somebody with a darker side. Apart from being featured in the scene from the trailer here, the character presumed to be in his 40s is also seen driving a vehicle more than once in the trailer. Speculation about Ned Luke started when an actor named Jimmy Taenaka tweeted about his friend “Ned Luke is the lead voice and profile in the upcoming game by Rockstar, Grand Theft Auto 5! Way to go Ned!” The character could be named Alberto De Silva which is a common Brazilian name but there is less confidence about this than Ned Luke’s likely involvement.

Since the debut trailer it has been relatively quiet with very little new information surfacing about the game. It has become tradition for Game Informer magazine to exclusively reveal the details of new Grand Theft Auto games in print and they haven’t had the cover story for it yet. Until they do it is unlikely that any substantial information will emerge giving the lowdown on the new game except speculation and analysis of the first trailer.

Game Informer’s next cover story will be revealed on January 5th but GTA fans shouldn’t get their hopes up. Andy McNamara has provided some clues via his Twitter account about what the cover story will be. It will be for a game that has not yet been announced and from an unexpected developer - neither of these matches GTA V. Consequently, it is unlikely any new information will be available for at least six weeks. This in turn probably makes a spring release for the game unlikely and my best guess would be October.

I think Rockstar Games have learnt a lot from GTA IV, not just about making the game too serious but Liberty City was so big that they could add new episodic content to it without having to design a whole new city. I think you will almost certainly see multiple DLC episodes each telling a different story, from a unique perspective using the canvas of Los Santos (or southern San Andreas) as the backdrop. GTA IV set the template for this and making a big game world like GTA V will only expand the potential for adding DLC stories to it. In addition, the experience gained from making Red Dead Redemption will undoubtedly have helped in bringing a more realistic looking countryside environment to the current generation of GTA games.

You can expect more features on Grand Theft Auto V from The Digital Fix during 2012 as more information about the game becomes available.


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