Last summer, Rockstar Games announced it was shuttering GTA Online on PS3 and Xbox 360. The decision made sense: GTA 5 launched on the same hardware way back in 2013, and with the then-incoming PS5 and Xbox Series X iterations of the sprawling crime simulator on the cusp of release, closing the game's oldest version down in order to pool resources felt like a sensible move.
And so, on December 16, 2021, Rockstar permanently closed online servers for GTA 5 on PS3 and Xbox 360. Yet, should you fancy booting up GTA 4 and playing its online multiplayer component on PS3 or Xbox 360, you still can. The latter, in fact, still has a thriving scene. Who needs an official GTA 4 remaster anyway, right? "I run a community on Telegram, and we're still very active on the multiplayer scene," says long-time GTA 4 player and community leader EL Fuga. "Some of us have been around since it came out, which means we know the game pretty well because it's been well over a decade." El Fuga's community is so popular today, in fact, that lapsed and new players are actively buying PS3s to join in the fun.
LC state of mind
My memories of GTA 4 online are built around the game not long after launch. Its faux slant on New York City was a wonderful setting, and while there wasn't an inordinate amount to do in its gamified take on the Big Apple, simply being able to mess around in this world with other players was novel at the time. I couldn't have imagined something as fully-realised as GTA Online back then, with its scores of money-making schemes and illicit initiatives, but flocking to the airport runways of Liberty City to engage in bouts of Team Deathmatch was great fun enough in late 2008 and early 2009.
El Fuga describes this period as the "first era" of GTA 4 multiplayer, whereby between 2008 and 2012 players were split between auto-aim servers and free-aim servers. He says: "The multiplayer scene in GTA IV has had different phases throughout the years. There were several communities based on game modes and aim preferences (auto-aim being allowed/disallowed). The first era was 2008-2012 when modded games didn't exist so no one had to worry about it while playing in public lobbies. In the old days, people used to focus on one game mode specifically, whether that be Races, Team Deathmatch, Team Mafia Work, Cops n Crooks, Turf War or the Co-op modes."
El Fuga says the communities he played with always favoured free-aim, but there was no ill-will towards players who chose auto. There was, however, distinct opposition to players who installed mods and hacks – something which is infinitely frustrating in GTA Online today. El Fuga continues: "In mid 2012, the game was ruined due to the PS3 getting jailbroken and people then installing mods/hacks. Very few seemed to get banned for doing this, or at least Rockstar and PSN didn't put enough measures on it. Modders were allowed to play online and abuse others. This included activating God mode (where players are invincible), infinite weapons, and even freezing other players' consoles by collapsing their game graphics. It seemed Rockstar didn't care because at the time they were focused on releasing GTA 5."
For El Fuga, this flood of players breaking the rules and ruining sessions was enough to push him, and many other players who'd been around since day one, to the fringes of the GTA 4 online scene. It wasn't until the same players started chatting behind the scenes that they realised forming a stronger, more dedicated, inclusive community who played clean and fair was the only way to revive the game they loved.
In 2018, things kicked off properly when El Fuga and a raft of other GTA 4 online enthusiasts found themselves tired of other online games, and returned to the streets of Liberty City. Shortly after this, with the help of channels such as GTAForums, a flood of new players discovered GTA 4 online for the first time – who El Fuga says were amazed by the competitiveness of matches among expert players who knew the quirks of the game inside out.
At this point, the ability to spot modders became a crucial part of keeping the community alive. El Fuga says: "Some of them were undercover inside communities doing it subtly. I worked hard to detect them and make sure that each player was completely clean, with not even a mod menu installed. After some years of 'separating the sheep from the goats', the community became very strong and players loved the idea of having the fairest games possible. That's what kept them interested. After all, it's all about having fun in the end."
This modern love
Today, El Fuga is proud of the community he and his peers have helped foster, but said modders will always be a constant obstacle – especially for newcomers. While the GTA 4 online community has and continues to do everything in its power to help new faces avoid those out to spoil things, El Fuga admits some of it is down to luck, especially for those new players who aren't familiar with the scene as a whole. Still, El Fuga says many new players fit well with the current set-up, and are often invited into the community's active 50 member-strong group who meet on a daily basis.
"Today's GTA 4 Multiplayer has its good and bad points," says El Fuga. "The Underworld public games are sometimes ruined by unwanted modders who tend to bother a few random newcomers. These newcomers either have to be lucky or put some effort into finding legit games. However, a lot of them fit in well with our communities. We have a 50-member group with active players on the Telegram app, that's where we organize games daily, often starting at 7pm GMT. As for the game modes themselves, we mainly do Cops n Crooks, an endless fun game using the whole Liberty City map with car chases and team work to protect the boss."
"Almost every game is different from the others. Turf Wars can get very competitive with players hiding in interiors and roofs, having to kill opponents to grab the turfs. Team Mafia Work is about completing tasks against other gangs. Team Deathmatches are also done to warm up. Races from time to time to chill a bit from shooting. As you can see there's a lot of variety with different settings for each mode, like turning the radar blips off for turf wars."
El Fuga reckons the level of realism GTA 4 offers, even in 2022, is unsurpassed elsewhere. He cites the game's physics, the city's detail, the driving mechanics, and the user-friendly and simple matchmaking that GTA 4 offers as huge selling points for new players and old – the latter of which, he reckons, is few and far between these days. And, speaking of players old and new, El Fuga is always surprised when fresh faces join the clan, and is forever grateful when veterans reappear after years away from Liberty City.
He adds: "Some old players that heard about our multiplayer games decided to get a PS3 and start playing with us again. Imagine seeing some names I hadn't seen for about a decade, and then see them coming to play again in 2022! I gotta say, I'm also impressed there are still new people that come to the multiplayer scene every year and stick around. For a 14-year-old game, it says a lot."
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