[Review] Grand Theft Auto: Online

ESRB:M
ONLINE:Yes [1-16 Players]
INSTALL:39MB [Playstation 3]; 59MB [Xbox 360]
RELEASE DATE:October 1, 2013
PLATFORM:Playstation 3, Xbox 360
PUBLISHER:Rockstar Games
DEVELOPER:Rockstar North
ONLINE PASS:No

So, Grand Theft Auto: Online released a few weeks ago, and after a couple of days of issues, everything seems to be running pretty well now. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in connected Los Santos, and now I’m ready to give my opinion on my endeavors.

Story

There isn’t much of one, which, to be fair, I kind of like. It kind of helps you to craft your own narrative/backstory for your character. That said, those expecting a truly full-fledged Grand Theft Auto experience will probably be a little disappointed with this.

The online portion of Grand Theft Auto V takes place a few months before the exploits of Michael, Franklin and Trevor. That’s about it.

What you’re arriving in Los Santos for is completely up to you. You do get to meet characters from the main narrative – such as Trevor & Ron, Lester, or Martin Madrazo – and you get to do work for them, but there is no real storyline to speak of.

Presentation

While the game doesn’t look quite as good as the single player – which is to be expected – it still looks pretty damn impressive. It’s honestly hard to believe this is actually running on 7-8 year old hardware.

However – the online does suffer from a good bit more pop-in. I’ve also had moments where the world didn’t load up properly, leaving my character and car floating in mid-air for a few moments, hovering over gray-ish nothingness.

I can say that I’m not exactly impressed with the characters you create. For some reason, everyone looks like they just got out of rehab – it’s a little disheartening when you consider how good the models of the single player characters are.

In fact, the character creator was my biggest disappointment with this game. There’s no real customization here. I liked the idea – choosing grandparents to determine your parents, which then determines your look by adjusting sliders to look more like one of your parents – but I would have liked the option to perhaps tweak some facial features, more than just eye color and hair.

Everyone honestly looks like they just got out of rehab – they definitely aren’t up to the standard set by the main protagonists.

Thankfully, there are a lot of customization options outside of the character creation.

Gameplay

This is where Grand Theft Auto: Online truly shines.

Unlike its predecessor, GTAO is, for all intents and purposes, a genuine Grand Theft Auto experience, minus a fully realized, scripted story. In fact – it’s even more fully featured than the single player game, which is both impressive, and annoying at the same time.

It’s impressive because there is a lot to do in Los Santos/Blaine County – and I me a LOT.

Races, Parachuting, Darts, Tennis, Golf, Missions, Deathmatches, Robbing stores, selling cars, if you can think of it, chances are you can do it here. All of Los Santos/Blaine County is available to you from the start of your online career.

Everything you do in the game earns you RP – Reputation Points – which is the game’s form of experience. Killing an enemy, robbing a store, evading the cops, setting a lap record, winning races and missions – it all adds to your overall rank.

Gone are the days of needing money to rank up – money is now used the way it should be, as currency. Much like RP, you earn money for just about everything as well.

As you rank up, you gain access to new weapons, vehicles, missions, customization options as well as being able to call in favors from your various contacts.

Someone giving you a hard time in Freemode? Contact Merryweather Security to send a squad of mercenaries after them. Need a helicopter, plane or boat for a mission? Give Lester a call – he’ll locate one for you, for a small fee.

Your money really matters online – so you’ll probably want to protect it. Money you earn from missions, and what you pick up off of dead enemies [Or civilians, or players], starts out in your pocket – this is fairly dangerous as when you die, you drop a small portion of it [Around $100], but not only that, another player of a high enough rank could send a Mugger after you, and they could end up stealing ALL of your on-hand cash [Though you can kill the mugger and get your money back.].

So, to prevent that, you’ll want to deposit that money into your bank account, which you can do from any number of ATMs located throughout the map – or from any web browser in game – including your phone. Try to keep at least a little cash in your pocket, though – just like real life, not everything can be paid for with a credit/debit card – you’ll need a few bucks on-hand to pay for that cab ride…or that prostitute.

Races and Deathmatches have multiple variations. Races, for example, have both circuit and point-to-point tracks for a variety of vehicle types – land sea and air. There are also multiple modes of play. Standard races are just that – the first person to cross the finish line, wins.

GTA Races are a bit more fun. It’s still about crossing the line before everyone else – but now weapons are involved. This mode plays like Midnight Club’s multiplayer + a GTA twist, with various power-ups placed on the course [Rockets, Boost and Repair] – pick up a rocket power up, and then hit L3 to fire the rockets straight in front of, or behind you, to try and destroy one of your opponents. Use a boost to give yourself a quick burst of speed to try and overtake your opponents. Repair does just that – repairs any damage to your car.

What’s nice about this mode, is that at any time, you’re free to get out of your current vehicle and jack another. Any car you see in traffic can be used.

The last race mode is Rally – and this is a very unique mode compared to the others. As before, it’s still about beating everyone else – but now it’s a co-op race, with one player acting as the driver, and the other acting as the co-driver, in a rather authentic rally setup.

The driver will be unable to see any checkpoints, and they’ll have no use of the mini-map. Instead, they must rely on their co-driver to navigate them through the course. The co-driver has use of everything – the minimap and checkpoints all appear for them. He/She can use the d-pad on the controller to give an indicator of where to go for the driver – as well as use a headset to call out the direction and location of the next checkpoint.

It requires teamwork, and I definitely recommend having a headset as it can definitely save a lot of headaches in this mode. Or try to have a driver who knows the track pretty well.

On the more combative side of things, Deathmatches make a return – like races, these come in a variety of flavors – Standard, Team and Vehicle.

Standard Deathmatches are every man/woman for themselves, up to 16 players. The team variant is the same, but for two teams of up to 8 players each.

I haven’t had a chance to try out vehicle deathmatches yet – but I’m guessing they aren’t too different from the other modes – just with vehicles added to the mix as well [Although, the other variants also feature vehicles in some of the maps.]

The maps that I played on were all pretty decently sized – they’re ripped straight out of the main map with no special tweaks made to them, other than spawn points for players and weapons. They all feel pretty good – much better than the maps in GTA4.

A new mode to GTAO is “Last Team Standing” – similar to Team Deathmatch, but each player has only 1 life. Once you’re killed – that’s it. Once one team has all of its players downed, the match ends.

Survival was probably my favorite mode – despite it’s simplicity. It’s just a horde mode, but it’s a pretty fun and challenging thing to do – and it pays pretty well, especially if you complete all 10 waves. Try to play with friends – it’s a lot more fun.

Darts, Tennis and Golf return from the main game, and remain unchanged for the most part – though Golf now allows you to choose how many holes you’d like to play. Making its way to GTA from the Red Dead Redemption world, is Arm Wrestling – in which you compete against another player, trying to pin one another’s arm to the table.

Your different contacts will have various missions for you to do – though these can get a bit repetitive. For example, Gerald [A new character to the game], will have various drug deals he’d like to you hijack. Simeon will want you to repossess various vehicles, or hurt his competition. Martin often wants you to take out a target for a varying reason.

The only contact so far that I feel has truly varied missions, is Lester – he’s had me leading the cops on a chase by destroying their property, hijacking trailers, stealing military hardware, etc.

This is where things start to get a little shaky. The work to payout ratio doesn’t seem all that fair. A Mission from Gerald, for example, might last 5-10 minutes, but only pays $2-$3,000, while a short race that lasts less than a minute might pay out an easy $2,500.

Add to that the fact that, as of the recent 1.04 update, missions now payout HALF of their original amount to players who’ve already done them – they aren’t exactly worth doing until much later [Some of Lester’s, or Trevor’s missions, for example, still pay pretty well, even after the 50% cut.]

I understand that there’s an economy here, and that you don’t want people making too much money too fast [Although there are already people in the multi-millions now, due to exploiting various glitches [That have since been patched.], but the pay cut for missions that already don’t pay that well kind of hurts.

I have to say, though, that despite that issue – it is a lot of fun playing online with friends. Running around town, robbing various convenience and liquor stores, then escaping the ensuing police chase is quite enjoyable. Breaking into the military base, Fort Zancudo, to steal fighter jets and then dogfight is some of the most fun I’ve had in an online game.

It’s certainly an improvement over GTA4’s disappointing endeavor – and it’s the closest you’ll come to a true GTA MMO other than Kye’s San Andreas multiplayer mod for PC.

As for why it’s annoying? Well, it makes the single player look pretty shallow in places. For example – the garage system. In the main game, each character has 1 garage that can house up to 4 cars, and another garage attached to their safehouse that can house 1 or 2 more. [Note: I’m not including Hangars, Helipads or Docks here, as those work pretty well offline.]

Any car that you park in these safehouse garages is not safe if you drive it away and swap to a new car for whatever reason. Only their personal vehicles stay around.

Online – any car you place into a garage is fitted with a tracker and can become a Personal Vehicle. This vehicle will never vanish unless you replace it yourself. Your vehicles can also be insured – so if it’s destroyed, you can pay a fee to have it replaced with an identical car [Mods and all].

You can purchase trackers and insurance from any of the various mod shops around the city. Cars that you purchase through the ingame web browser are automatically insured and fitted with trackers.

It also doesn’t matter if you hop in another car – your personal vehicle won’t go anywhere. It’s marked on the map so you know where it is at any given time. After missions, it usually spawns pretty close to you. You can even go into your garage without the car, and switch to another vehicle that you own – and the former vehicle will be teleported back to your garage, safe and sound.

To top it all off, there are multiple garages and safehouses around the map that you can purchase, and they all hold a varying amount of cars – from as few as 2, to as many as 10 for the higher end ones.

This is how the garage system should have worked in the main game.

That, added on to the fact that there is just more to do overall online, really makes it feel like their focus was more on this portion of the game than anything else. It’s also easier to make money online than it is in the single player – other than the big Heists that pepper the story, there aren’t very many ways to easily earn money – which is slightly annoying when there are businesses that have costs in the 10’s and 100’s of millions – and the most money you’ll have at the end of the story, if you didn’t exploit the Stock Market, is probably around $40M.

Now, this all said – some of the stuff online costs a LOT more than it does in the single player. Things like car and weapon mods cost quite a pretty penny. Want a suppressor for your Sniper Rifle? Prepare to drop $12K+ on it. Turbo for your Dominator? $40K+.

I myself kind of like it – as it means you have to work for the stuff you really want, but I can see how it might be frustrating for some. And when I say work, I mean work – things like Transmission upgrades must be unlocked by winning races in that class of car. Color schemes for your weapons are earned by getting kills with that class of weapon. Everything else is Rank based.

Replay Value

Extremely high.

Hundreds of different races, missions and activities to take part in, the entire map of Los Santos/Blaine County to play in, and a great, non-frustrating leveling system that rewards you constantly with new upgrades and unlocks. This is sure to last you quite a while, even if you aren’t big on multiplayer – a lot of the content can be accessed on your own, though rewards are sometimes limited – for example – doing a race on your own will only earn you RP, no cash. You also won’t be able to take part in some missions or activities, like Tennis, Arm Wrestling or Golf [Darts can be soloed – but what fun is that?].

The 16 player lobbies offer just enough players to make things fun, without being chaotic [ though some players can be massive cocks. Seriously, there was at least 1 person in almost every session I ever joined who just wanted to kill other players for no reason, not to mention the people who play races as if the game was Burnout.]

It’s definitely better with friends, like most online games.

Still in the pipeline for Grand Theft Auto: Online are Heists and a Content Creator, which should add even more playtime once they’re released and are going to be made available via free patches later on down the line.

On the trophy/achievement side of things – this is nowhere near as bad as GTA4. Reaching top rank isn’t anywhere near as bad as you would think – rank ups come pretty steadily as long as you actually do stuff in the game like missions. Level 100 isn’t even the top rank it seems [I’ve seen a few people at level 120+]

These are all certainly doable – though they might be a slight grind.

The Verdict

The verdict? Rockstar have definitely managed to create a genuine GTA experience, online. It has it’s flaws – there are still some server errors here and there, and a few people have been having issues with the latest patches, not to mention the lack of any real story – but overall they’ve done a fine job.

Plus, Rockstar are constantly working on it to try and fix the problems, and it looks like they will continue to support it with new content for at least a little while.

I don’t know about any DLC, but I’m sure it’s likely. Rockstar have hinted that they have plans to expand the online world – which could very well mean new islands to explore. Perhaps a full recreation of San Andreas eventually?

I’d also like to see the casino open up – not just to gamble, but for Heists as well.

This is definitely something worth checking out if you own GTAV already.

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PROS CONS
  • As close to a full fledged multiplayer GTA game as we've ever gotten.
  • Lots to do.
  • Can be a lot of fun when playing with friends and like-minded individuals.
  • Trolly players online can make things difficult for you.
  • Can be difficult to rank up and earn cash.
  • FINAL VERDICT
    Click here or on the verdict image to the left for full disclosure of what these ratings mean!

    About James Headrick

    James is an aspiring game reviewer that plays primarily on the Playstation 3 & 4. He also works freelance as a graphic designer, doing print and branding based design.

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