This wasn't how we were supposed to see GTA 6 for the first time. Under normal circumstances, Rockstar's games are unveiled with a level of finesse and fanfare that only few studios with similar stature and spending power can deliver. There's a mysticism about the whole ordeal, where hype meets years of unseen hard work behind the scenes, and then the countdown from reveal to that much-anticipated release date begins. Last weekend, this process was turned on its head as a hacker illegally accessed and published over 90 in-development screenshots and videos from Rockstar's long-awaited open-world crime simulator – which later prompted the developer to officially acknowledge what the internet has since billed as the GTA 6 mega leak.
The GTA 6 leak is perhaps the biggest in the history of video games, and, for me, the whole thing is disappointing for a number of reasons. But if you think this will negatively impact the prestige of the eventual GTA 6 reveal, I reckon you should think again. If anything, there's now even more pressure on Rockstar to go bigger than ever – and if history has taught us anything, it's that this studio has a talent for delivering above and beyond our expectations.
The future's bright
Rockstar may have nonchalantly confirmed that GTA 6 was in active development back in February, but, despite this being the first official communication regarding the next Grand Theft Auto series entry, the admission was hardly breaking news. GTA 5 and its multiplayer component GTA Online are now over nine years old, making this the longest we've had to wait between GTA games. First-party resources would have been redistributed to create 2018's Red Dead Redemption 2, but, as confirmed by the developer itself in July of this year, the studio has been "steadily moving towards the next entry in the Grand Theft Auto series" since.
The off-the-cuff statement about GTA 6 being in active development, then, flies in the face of Rockstar's record for big-hype reveals. If we cast our minds back 16 years, we had Microsoft's Peter Moore on stage at E3 2006, lifting his shirt to reveal a fake (I hope) tattoo of GTA 4, and saying: "[This is] a franchise that generates more excitement than just about anything else out there, not just in our industry, but in all entertainment, with a fanbase that hangs on the mere mention of the next chapter… few franchises have had such a profound impact on our industry as Grand Theft Auto."
After this, a series of groundbreaking, jaw-dropping television commercials followed. We had the orchestral "Things Will Be Different" spot, which was part arthouse film, part tourism advert; the gritty, Hollywood blockbuster trailer-aping, "Looking For That Special Someone"; the tongue-in-cheek, "Move Up, Ladies", that played to GTA 4's lighter side; and that wonderful jump-cutting, scene-swapping short that had protagonist Nico Bellick walking toward the camera to the tune of LCD Soundsystem's 'Get Innocuous', before breaking the driver's side window of a parked car, hotwiring it, and speeding off towards Liberty City's NYC-mirroring skyline.
Just a few years later, GTA 5's official unveiling started with a hashtag and a tweet, a link to Rockstar's website, and then, one week and one day after that, delivered one of the most influential and well-orchestrated video game reveal trailers of all time. In something akin to a promo video for a Martin Scorsese movie or a prestige HBO crime drama, Michael De Santa, one of GTA 5's co-protagonists, spoke of moving to the sun-kissed Los Santos to retire, to live a comfortable and quiet suburban life, where he'd raise his children and relax. And then, without warning, we were shown the harsh reality of the LA-style city, of its rampant crime and police chases, gun violence and fist fights, homelessness and bank heists – with Michael himself front and center of it all. It was a masterstroke in cinematic storytelling and scene-setting which, while prevalent in the film industry, hadn't been seen in video games since, well, GTA 4 several years earlier.
To see GTA 6 now being picked apart by the internet, based on the rough-edged, unfinished snippets brought to light by the recent leak is disheartening. I've played Grand Theft Auto since DMA Design's 1997 top-down action-adventure, and part of what I love about this series is the omnipresent hype that surrounds it. I love the self-indulgent, self-referential hedonism of its themes and execution, its satire, in-jokes, and, of course, its larger-than-life reveals – not just because they tap into that innate excitement Peter Moore underlined on the LA Convention Center stage back in 2006, but because they can showcase the pinnacle of video games in that moment, often to an international audience.
Personally, I'm gutted about the GTA 6 leak. From a human perspective, I feel sorry for the devs whose unfinished work is now being unfairly scrutinized by so many people online. I feel sorry for Rockstar employees on a wider basis, and the amount of undue stress an event like this will inevitably cause individuals and their families. And, perhaps selfishly, I feel sorry for prospective players like myself. I am certain that this is not how many players wanted to see GTA 6 for the first time.
As outlined in its social media response to the leaks, Rockstar says its work on the next Grand Theft Auto "will continue as planned". And, no matter when the curtain is officially lifted on GTA 6, if anything good is to come from all of this, I'm certain the developer will now be doing everything it can behind the scenes to go bigger and bolder than ever before. So do yourself a favor and ignore the leaked screenshots and videos, and wait for the first official GTA 6 trailer – if Rockstar has taught us anything over the years, it's that it'll be worth the wait.
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