What’s already happened: Niko Bellic came to America, hung out with his cousin, worked for a lot of bad people and learned the hard way that the American Dream is just as unattainable in Liberty City as it is in the Balkans. Meanwhile, biker-gang captain Johnny Klebitz barely survived as the temptations of modern crime tore his old gang apart. And Luis Lopez kept his boss alive and his head above water after Liberty’s criminal underworld threatened to destroy their nightclub business. And at the center of it all was a little satchel of diamonds that – despite being bitterly fought over by no fewer than six different factions – eventually made a homeless drifter rich. And none of it, going by GTA’s track record, was really a setup for any kind of sequel.
What’s coming next: Assuming the next game is even titled GTA V (another GTA: Location Name seems more likely, if we’re talking about the current hardware generation), don’t expect it to be set in Liberty City. Don’t expect it to feature any of the same characters, either, unless they’re just sort of drifting through the background. Anyway, the coolest thing about getting a new GTA isn’t seeing what happened to the characters in the last one – it’s getting a new area to explore. And so far, we’ve gotten exactly one hint in that vein.
In the manual that came with GTA: Episodes from Liberty City, there’s a tiny ad in one of the page margins for a play at the Seagull Theater, called “Liberty City, It’s Over!” followed by the words “NEXT STOP.” After this, there’s a torn-away image that seems to show a mountain landscape, with a little blurb down at the bottom that says “OPENS MARCH EVERYWHERE.”
Now, this might be a legitimate hint, telling us that GTA is done with Liberty (for now) and is heading off to (literally) greener pastures. Or it might be a red herring; after all, the road leading up to seemingly every GTA sequel has been littered with mountains of speculation that proved to be groundless. If we were to take the bait, however, we’d point out (along with a big chunk of the rest of the internet) that the landscape seems to hint at a return to the California-inspired state of San Andreas, specifically Mt. Chiliad. And with Rockstar currently using Red Dead Redemption to experiment with wilderness that doesn’t suffer from GTA: San Andreas’s “emptiness,” that certainly seems like a safe bet.
Of course, if years of working with Rockstar have taught us anything, it’s that the company loves to buck expectations. There’s no reason to believe that the series would necessarily return to a place it’s been before; if this is really a hint, then the next GTA could be set anywhere you’d see pine trees and mountains. It could be in a place inspired by the American Northwest. Or Canada. Or Colorado. Or it could even, as some have insisted, be a reference to a wall hanging found in Vice City. At this point, we can only guess at what the next GTA will hold. And experience tells us that all our guesses, educated though they might be, will probably be dead wrong.
What’s already happened: After inadvertently activating a powerful artifact known as the Ray Sphere, bike messenger Cole McGrath was granted a host of electrical superpowers, but in the process managed to devastate large chunks of Empire City. Over the course of the next several weeks, he worked as a vigilante wild talent to either protect the ruined city or bring it under his own brutal control, depending on decisions made by players. And at the end of it all, he confronted and killed Kessler, the man who had caused all the devastation and suffering, only to find that Kessler was actually an older version of himself. He’d come back in time from an alternate future, the ending revealed, specifically to toughen Cole up for the horrors that lay ahead.
What’s coming next: Those future horrors will arrive in the form of The Beast, a destructive entity responsible for destroying much of Empire City, as well as murdering Cole/Kessler’s future family. Thanks to Kessler’s intervention, however, Cole will be prepared when Kessler wasn’t. But while we’re pretty sure we know what he’ll be fighting, the “how” part is a little more nebulous.
As long as we’re speculating, we’d say that a sequel might pick up some months or even years after the first game, enabling players to experience a rebuilt – and therefore different – Empire City. And because of the difficulty in reflecting the effects of Cole’s choices on the city (the first game ended with him ready to either defend Empire or take it by force), we’re betting that – whether he’s shut himself away for training, gone into hiding or been captured by the government – there’s going to be some reason he hasn’t been active in its development during that time. (That, or the developers will just pick a "canon" ending for the first game and have done with it.)
Either way, we’ll likely begin with a hero who’s now in full control of his superpowers, and a city that’s mostly recovered from a cataclysmic disaster. And as any comic-book fan can tell you, that’s a scenario that’s practically begging for an extradimensional monstrosity to come roaring in and start stomping everything to pieces. Expect it to bring armies to conquer the streets. Expect the government - which will probably have its own Ray Sphere at this point - to march in super-powered operatives to bring you in. Expect to once again work alongside the city’s police and emergency workers, or against them. But most of all, expect to see Empire City get shredded in new and interesting ways while you try to defend it – and expect to make some difficult moral choices. Kessler hinted there would be harsh decisions ahead, and we’re hoping that means your options here won’t be quite as cut-and-dry as the first game’s selfless-vs-selfish quandaries.
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