(Above: from left to right: Franklin, Trevor, and Michael.)
The latest issue of Game Informer has first full details on Rockstar North’s upcoming Grand Theft Auto V, the developer’s biggest game to date.
Grand Theft Auto V is set in Los Santos, a city whose exteriors and interiors together are greater in size than the worlds of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Red Dead Redemption combined. Its story is centered on three protagonists – Michael, a retired bank robber living lavishly in the witness protection program, Trevor, a former war vet and longtime friend of Michael’s, and Franklin – who come together in pursuit of the almighty dollar.
Players are able to switch between all three protagonists at any time. According to Rockstar, the concept was similar to Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes from Liberty City. Multiple perspectives have clear advantages. But rather than playing as a single character for five missions, then switching between to another character for five, there will be constant switching involved. This allows Rockstar to create a far more ranging style of lead protagonists, and tie certain behaviors to certain characters. And on the gameplay side, this will allow players to see more of the world far quicker, as the characters live apart.
Michael, the retired bank robber, is in his early 40s, lives comfortably on the Grand Theft Auto V Beverly Hills equivalent Rockford Hills, and could be considered an upper-class citizen economically. The idea, according to Rockstar, was to create an older, successful character who gets pulled back into the crime game.
Game Informer’s demo opened with Michael, resting comfortably in a pair of flip-flops next to a pool. In this distance, his private tennis court can be seen, and in the horizon, downtown Los Santos.
Michael isn’t content with his life. His shopaholic wife Amanda spends all of his money, and he doesn’t know how to communicate with his teenage daughter Tracey, or his 20-year-old pothead son Jimmy. In the demo, Tracey is seen playing a Just Dance-style game, telling her dad he should exercise more. And Amanda is shown exiting the house, getting in her Sentinel XS sports car, and heading off on another shopping spree. ‘If you want to know where I am, check the credit card statements,’ she says to her husband as she speeds off. Michael hops on a bicycle and rides down the street, revealing Rockford Hills’ “manicured lawns, sprinkler systems, rolling hills” and luxury cars.
It is here that the Rockstar tester demonstrating the game calls up a menu to switch characters. The camera zooms out in a Google Earth-style pan, and drops the player into a “ramshackle trailer” in a desert region of the map.
Trevor enters the demo in the bathroom, dropping a biscuit on the toilet seat. He heads outside, hops in his Bodhi (a Jeep Wrangler JK-esque truck), and drives down the road. As he drives through Blaine County (where he lives, we reckon), we see it is a region filled with bikers, meth heads, and walks of life who live on the fringe. Trevor continues to drive, parks, and flips off a group of loiterers hanging around outside a building. Rockstar suggest you do this in various situations to see different peoples’ reactions.
Here’s where the havoc begins. The tester proceeds to grab a gasoline tank, douses the parked truck, and pours a trail of gas leading away from the vehicle. He then drops a lit zippo and watches the flame travel – first towards the truck, then to the tires, then to the chassis, and finally to the gas tank, causing the vehicle to explode.
Franklin is the next and last switch. He’s found cruising Vespucci Beach (the Grand Theft Auto V equivalent of Venice Beach), looking for a car to repossess for his boss. Surrounding him is a waterfront filled with activities. There’s even a muscle beach gym. Franklin finds his target, a 9F (think Audi R8), gets in, drops the top low, and rides off. As he drives through town, we see that some familiar locations have returned, like Ammu-Nation.
Each character has their own personality, motivations, and set of skills. When you’re in control of one character, the other two are going about their own daily business. According to Rockstar, you’ll be surprised what situations you’ll find them in when you switch back to check up on them.
“The contrast between three different experiences, geographies, and vibes to everything should be really strong, and I think it’s something that gives the game a unique feeling when you’re visit these people’s lives and seeing what they do,” said Rockstar boss Dan Houser. “Within the story, you’re going to know information about a character before they know what the other people know when you play as them.”
In terms of missions, Grand Theft Auto V peppers several “complicated” and “multitiered” heists in vein of Grand Theft Auto IV‘s popular “Three Leaf Clover” mission across its narrative. Because people love bank jobs, especially when prepared, heists are a big theme. Rockstar is addressing mission diversity to leverage different pairings of the protagonists. It aims to move from having one character in a mission to having two to having three. This makes missions more distinct, as in, high in action and different in tone, depending on who’s on each mission.
To demonstrate how character switching works within a mission, Rockstar played out a demonstration. First in the boots of Franklin, the player meets up with Trevor and Michael, who have already reunited, to perform a “snatch-n-grab” mission to get the FIB off their case.
Players meet at a helipad to pick up a civilian chopper. Everyone hops in, and Trevor, whose war days have given him pilot experience (this, by the way, will allow players to fly a plane at anytime without having to wait until the end), pilots the plane to the IAA headquarters (Grand Theft Auto V‘s version of the CIA). Franklin readies himself with a sniper rifle at a nearby building. Trevor hovers the chopper overhead. At this point, players become Michael.
Michael rappels down the side of a skyscraper, trying to locate the correct office of their target. As he goes down, he can see into every office, where people are going about their business. The music ramps up as he progresses. After locating his target, Michael smashes threw the window, grabs and holds him hostage, and points his gun at the interrogators who’ve come in. Here, an icon appears to switch characters.
Players can now either chose to switch to Franklin and take out the interrogators from his sniping position, or remain Michael and wait for Franklin to do it on his own. The tester opts to switch, and snipes the targets after a smooth transition. Trevor then picks up Michael and Franklin, and a helicopter chase begins.
During the chase, players can choose to either fly the plane as Trevor, snipe the other pilots as Franklin, or fire the assault rifle from the back of the chopper as Michael.
The World of Los Santos
The idea in creating Los Santos was for a proper Los Angeles. With Hollywood, the porn industry, marijuana, the immigration battle, gated communities, luxury pockets, homeless people, and the bankrupt government, there are plenty of topics for Rockstar to parody with their signature style.
Some of Los Santos’ environments include: beachfronts, wine country, large wilderness area, Salton sea region, military base, suburban hulls, urban center. You can even put on your scuba gear and explore a detailed ocean floor, which Rockstar says is just as detailed as the city itself.
You’ll find more vehicles than any Grand Theft Auto game to date in Los Santos. These include: BMX bikes, mountain bikes, road bikes, dirt bikes, a huge amount of cars and trucks, helicopters, planes, ATVs, and Jet Skis.
Cars better hold their ground in Grand Theft Auto V. Not “big and boatlike [such as] in Grand Theft Auto IV,” according to Rockstar. More physics have been added, and make driving feel more like a racing game. In fact, Rockstar reckons that it’ll scratch the itch for a racing game.
In Grand Theft Auto IV, time-killing activities included bowling, strip clubs, live stand-up comedy, internet cafes, and TV shows. Grand Theft Auto V will further expand with a grater degree of variety, including different side-missions and more sophisticated mini-games. These will makes use of each character’s unique lives, like Michael’s family or Franklin’s crazy friends.
Each protagonist will have their own unique hobbies only they can participate in. “One or two mini-game activities per character” to separate one from another, according to Rockstar.
Here are some other bits:
- Customization: Customization like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is not possible in Grand Theft Auto V Due to the characters, but you can change their clothing.
- TV: Television will make a return with “funny new stuff that’s pretty odd to do in a game.”
- Outdoors: Outdoor activities include yoga, triathlons, jet skiing, base jumping, tennis, full golf game on full golf course.
- Romance: Because of each character’s nature, there will be no romance elements.
- Friends: Each character has their own cast of friends – Lamar is Franklin’s crazy friend; Kimmy is Michael’s lazy, pot-smoking 20-year-old son; Ron is Trevor’s best friend and a paranoid conspiracy theorist; Amanda is Michael’s wife who he can’t stand.
- Familiar Faces: There will be returning characters, but don’t expect Niko or anyone from the PS2 era of games. According to Rockstar, they’re nonexistent in this world.
- Economy: The economy is “very vibrant and fun.” There is no property-buying, but there will be many other things to buy.
- Cell Phone: The concept still remains, but don’t expect calls from friends all the time. The phone will surface some of the activities, but its use will be more contemporary. Like for surfing the net.
- Pedestrians: Players will occasionally bump into pedestrians to interact with. In the demo, Franklin encountered a Jesus-looking preacher character dressed in white, who had ‘more to offer than a one-liner’.
- Dynamic Missions: Players will encounter various happenings throughout Los Santos. For example, you could be driving around and see a broken-down car or hitchhiker on the side of the road. If you chose, you could pull over and see where it goes. Or, if you encounter a cash van, you could steal it and make a quick score. Or, catch the mugger who stole grandma’s purse.
- Multiplayer: It’s there, but the reveal is coming later on. Rockstar is pleased with its direction, though.
Los Santos is an alive world. Clouds roll over the sky, helicopters fly about, birds soar the skies, cars drive the streets, pedestrians hang about, dogs jump against fences when you walk too close, sprinklers wet the grass, puddles gather around car wash hoses, neighbors lie in the sun by the pool, dodgy guys hang around the outside of shops, and the inside of 24-7 stores are detailed down to the products on its shelves.
Grand Theft Auto V is due for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in spring 2013. For the full preview, which includes a plethora of new screenshots, pick up the December 2012 issue of Game Informer, available now digitally, physically next Friday, and to subscribers within the next two weeks.