GTA Online's new Freemode events launch next week, in a free but significant update, allowing you to play as a super-powered wolf fleeing from an online-lobby of friends – or as a destruction derby driver fleeing the torchlight of a drunken god. Ok, that's not quite how Rockstar are pitching it, but we got to play a selection of the new events – over 200 in total, including all the subtle variants – earlier this week, and here's a selection of highlights.
Freemode challenges are a new way to dive into GTA Online missions without all the waiting around in lobbies, plus a fresh twist on some familiar themes. New events are deployed every 12 minutes (that's 5 an hour, maths fans), and you're given a five-minute warning in order to prepare the right vehicles and equipment – which is pretty essential when you're being asked to, say, record the fastest driving speed in a three-minute competition window. For the record, we called in a Pegassi Zentorno from our Mechanic, sped up to 127 mph through the Vinewood streets, narrowly dodging oncoming traffic – but finished the event in fifth place after exploding in a storm drain.
There are far, far too many game modes to list here, but everyone will be talking about Hunt The Beast, where players nominate to become the titular villain, who is hunted by the remaining players in the lobby. The beast isn't like Godzilla, but a faster and stronger 'normal' person in a wolf mask (with no relation to Teen Wolf, no sir), who runs around the map collecting giant coins at geographical landmarks across Los Santos. The wolf is free to drive cars, bikes or choppers – or wield weapons like an RPG – and doesn't appear on the radar, except very briefly at the start of each game, and every time he / she nabs a coin. It's as much fun as it sounds, and you can hear all about our experience of being the wolf – and much, much more – in this special episode of GTAVoclock below, our weekly GTAV show.
Penned In is another highlight, in which participants jostle in a vehicle of their choice to remain within a big circular zone on the radar – as if a drunken god was shining a spotlight onto the earth. The circle starts massive (easily enough for 40 vehicles), but slowly shrinks to the size of one car after about 10 minutes; all the while shifting direction while the pack jostles for position inside it. Easier said than done when your bike is wedged between two monster trucks, so vehicle selection is critical – even more so when you're weaving between the ridged earth and snaking trails of the Los Santos wind farms.
Freemode is the first GTA Online content update not to be made available to PS3 and 360 players, which will inevitably lead to some howls of frustration from players who can't be the wolf. As Rockstar were keen to point out, there was always going to come a point where it wasn't possible to support all formats, and two years of free GTA Online updates to this point doesn't feel like a bad return for our initial $60 / £50 investment back in September 2013. We suspect Rockstar have done the maths, and know exactly how many players have migrated to PS4, PC and Xbox One. All being well, this should liberate GTA Online's ambitions, with the first evidence being the console inclusion of the Rockstar Editor, that debuted with the PC version. This lets players build their own movies using flexible editing tools, with all-new features (also due on PC) like ambient audio, sound effects library and Snapmatic integration.
Sadly, no update on the single-player Story DLC – it's still a real thing, we're told, but there's no update on the release timeline. Until then, you'll find us the Galileo observatory, howling at the moon… with the engine running on our Truffade Adder. Just in case.