The problems were inevitable. They were also inexcusable.
A victim of its own success, Rockstar had shipped over 15 million units of GTA V
in just three days. By the time it was ready to launch the online portion of the game many had finished the excellent single player campaign, some wanted to try out the online and others only bought it to cause havoc with their friends.
Many were disappointed when launch day finally rolled around. Servers crashed, players waited around three hours for their machine to connect before giving up. The sheer number of virtual hooligans was too much to handle.
Itís a shame that Rockstar didnít prepare well enough. Despite its massively publicised fortune the developer was unable to meet demand and like many before it left a bitter taste in rabid gamers' mouths.
I waited. I could foresee the problems early birds would experience and I wanted no part of it. I was still happily working through the main game and had no intention of letting what I was hoping to be a life changing experience spoil my other life changing one.
Then, on a cozy Sunday night as I watched the credits roll on my 30 hour romp through Los Santos, I could only think of one thing. ĎOnlineí.
It still wasnít stable and Rockstar was more than aware of that. The game is still littered with warnings from the developer pleading with its fans to avoid doing what the game asks of you in fear of you losing your character.
I was booted out into the main game after my first race. I was worried. But then, after my initial fears faded I got lost in the idea of social gaming within my game of the year.
Your first task is to create your character. GTA Online
asks you to chose your grandparents and parent to create your in game persona. Its slightly disappointing as character creation is more limited than what you would hope for. A nice smoke and mirrors trick that most will see straight through, but when youíre done youíre treated to a cut scene.
Thatís a strange way to start an online game. In fact most of what you experience online with this GTA
is different from the thousands of online games that have come before it. Your character lands in Los Santos, meets someone from the main game and the stage is set.
Although it doesnít let you simply run amok from that point. It asks you to take part in tutorials. I say 'asks', I mean 'forces'. This is where most of the server issues stem from. Forcing players through the same three missions at the same time caused a funnel effect that broke the beaker.
They hardly feel necessary either. All of them could have been performed in any of the GTA
games that came before it in solo mode. And they are far from helpful. All of the knowledge I gained over the next few hours of play had to be done by reading internet forums or by listening to podcasts. The tutorials at this point come thick and fast and barely teach you the basics.
Once you're let free the appeal of GTA Online
becomes more apparent. Although the world is now vastly less populated by NPCs and traffic, the fear of whatís out there is more prominent.
Within moments I was in a high speed car chase with another player who was honking and flashing their lights at me. No honour amongst thieves. After losing them off a cliff near the sea I thought the only way to get back to shore was by swimming around some large rocks.
As I swam I could see my assailant following me from the cliff tops, before going ahead to draw his gun and finish me off. As the sea washed salt into my wounds, I noted my first lesson; Trust No One.
This free roam mode offers a hub to the many activities that GTA Online
has to offer. From here I could go on missions, races, play golf, tennis and even darts. I could even rob stores with friends. There are opportunities to get some new clothes, change hairstyle and even upgrade cars. You feel free, just like you do in the main game.
I continued to live my life of crime for a few hours before I found my real love for the game in its racing.
Racing games have escaped me in recent years. Iíve found them dull and boring. It felt as though the days of Burnout
, Project Gotham
and Moto GP
were well behind me. GTA
has proven me wrong.
The racing mechanics might not be as refined as the big guns Forza
or Gran Turismo
, but the simple idea of it being set within the rules of GTA
makes it instantly more likable. The racing here is incredible. Itís funny, tense and feels like a game within its self.