Playing a new GTA means getting to dunk your head in the future. Only Rockstar operates at the highest heights without bending to the changing winds of shareholder and executive opinion. The company is unique in commanding the highest budgets and largest teams while retaining an authorial voice that enables it to lead the industry, rather than follow its trends.
When we finally play GTA 6 in 2025, we'll be treated to dozens of new innovations – some noisy, others subtle – that will catch Rockstar's peers off guard and leave the industry scrambling to catch up for many years afterwards. How do we know? Because that's exactly what happened last time. GTA 5 has lived as a contemporary game across three console generations because in many ways it was a full decade ahead of the curve. Here are just a handful of its smartest inventions.
Slipping into cutscenes
Welcome to Grand Theft Advent – a month-long celebration of Rockstar's enduring crime sim series. Be sure to check in on our GTA 6 coverage hub for more every day throughout December.
Back in 2013, GTA writer Dan Houser told The Guardian he hoped that Rockstar's technique had evolved over the years, and that they were treading ground that hadn't been trodden before. "I don't just necessarily mean as writers, but as technicians in terms of things like how we use the cameras to get you in and out of cutscenes," he said. "The seamless interrelation of cutscenes and the game."
It sounds like a dry point, but that seamlessness has been enormously influential. It's perfectly demonstrated in an early GTA 5 mission, Complications, in which Franklin repossesses a bright-yellow SUV from Michael's garage. As you drive the car to the dealership, a slight zoom brings Michael into focus as – surprise! – he sits up in the backseat with a gun, kickstarting a cinematic sequence without taking away player control. Soon afterwards, as Franklin, you accelerate straight through the glass window of the dealership – and a cutscene picks up the baton flawlessly, immediately demonstrating the comedic consequences of your actions via a performance-captured argument.
For a hat trick, Rockstar then smoothly transitions from back-and-forth camerawork into a fistfight with the dealership's owner. You barely notice you've switched character in the process. It's the kind of self-assured narrative smoothing that Insomniac's Spider-Man 2 regularly uses to usher in new missions while you're swinging through New York.
Switching between lives
While we're on the subject of multiple protagonists, where do you think Spider-Man 2 got its blueprint? GTA 5 hinged its entire story on the interplay between three lead characters – Franklin, Michael and Trevor. And Rockstar went out of its way to ensure that none of the three were simply on standby while you were off playing with other toys. Not only do other protagonists show up in missions unannounced when not controlled – they're often shown to be busy when you switch back to them.
Don't be surprised to find Franklin holding back childhood friend Lamar from yet another street fracas, or Michael leaving the cinema with a complaint about "American mainstream movie making" on his lips. And if Trevor appears to be patting down the last shovelful of dirt on a shallow grave out in the desert? Best not to ask questions. It's a suggestion of extracurricular activity that Insomniac draws on today – by having Mile Morales drop in on Peter Parker's crime busts, and vice versa.
Sim-ple driving pleasures
To this day, many open-world cities – looking at you, Watch Dogs: Legion – feel like flat transpositions of roadmaps. When most of your navigation plays out across a single plane, driving becomes an uninvolved exercise. Los Santos still feels like the exception in this regard, with its uneven tarmac and undulating lanes that threaten to throw you off balance. There's a level of physics simulation at work that ensures you notice whenever you mount a curb, or roll over a road sign you've just knocked horizontal. It's not SnowRunner, but it certainly keeps you awake during a street race.
Thankfully, Rockstar knows where to draw the line in a knockabout sandbox game too – allowing you to easily tip your vehicle back onto its wheels once it's flipped by pushing on the analog stick.
What about when road antics and storytelling intertwine, like a Banshee around a lamppost? Crash your car, during a conversation with an NPC in the passenger seat, and the game reacts artfully – pausing their dialogue with a stunned silence or short yelp, depending on the severity of the accident, before resuming the voiceover from the beginning of the interrupted line. It's a small detail, but one that goes a long way towards preserving the tonal sense of the game.
Even better are the subtle variations in dialogue that emerge when repeating tricky scenes – like the mission to save Michael's son, Jimmy, from a truck-mounted yacht speeding along the highway. Between reloads, "Anything happens, I got a piece in the glovebox, I'll cover you," becomes, "I got a piece in the glovebox. They give you shit, I'll take them out." These minor novelties are countless and help stave off the inevitable frustration of repetition – in crucial moments where you might otherwise give up on the game and go play something else.
The internet as lore codex
In a game world where everybody is their worst selves, GTA 5's internet is about as abhorrent as you'd expect – the screaming, unregulated underbelly of Los Santos. It's the home of the suggestive anime parody, Princess Robot Bubblegum, featuring a sensei named Master Hentai – and the Credit Card Consolidation Kings, who offer a "single low monthly payment that future generations of your family will be paying off for centuries to come". It's the place to join one of two spiritualistic pyramid schemes vying for your money and indoctrinated support. Yep: online, you can find the nastiest contortions in Rockstar's funhouse mirror reflection of humanity.
It's also a fantastic tool for worldbuilding. Those pyramid schemes give you an early warning about the cults operating in the city, who show up in side quests. And through LifeInvader, GTA's Facebook-esque social network, characters comment on the upheaval you've caused in recent missions, hinting at the wider ricochets of your actions.
It's an approach CD Projekt Red has embraced with Cyberpunk, which features a slew of in-game websites that optionally expand on the game's lore. And if GTA 6 is even half as influential as its predecessor, we can expect to see its best ideas crop up in 2035's hits too.
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