Four years, thousands of Reddit posts and hundreds of millions of YouTube views later, we might – repeat, might – be about to learn the answer to one of gaming's greatest mysteries: what's hidden inside Mount Chiliad in GTA 5? The answer, we've long suspected, is nothing at all. At least until GTA Online: The Doomsday Heist, which threatens to take us inside gaming's most fabled mountain, via a hefty download if not a puzzle trail. It feels like closure for GTA's tin-foil conspiracy theorists and the culmination of a journey for GTA Online. The Doomsday Heist introduces eccentric tech billionaires, super villain-style lairs and Armageddon itself. For those who aren't still living the online thug life, the end of the road feels like the best time to get back into GTA Online.
Good news: we've played it. Better news: so can you. The Doomsday Heist is available to download right now on PS4, Xbox One and PC. It's free… although it's slightly more complicated than that. You'll need at least $1.25 million GTA dollars to buy one of the new secret lairs (IAA Facilities) that unlock the new heist. You might well have accrued that much cash, or much more, after playing the game over the last few years. But for those starting from scratch, the temptation to buy GTA Online $s with real ones – rather than earning them through 'grinding' – is clear. We explore more of the economic variables in this special episode of GTAVoclock, and why The Doomsday Heist is GTA at its best, where its most-explosive set-pieces intersect with thrilling, unpredictable absurdities.
Our play through of the first stage of The Doomsday Heist was illuminated by unscripted farce. One early highlight was hijacking an ambulance and shaking off a squad of police cars, using a split-second hand-brake turn across incoming traffic onto a narrow slip road. Feeling briefly elated that our pursuers could no longer jostle us… it dawned that we were on a railway track heading over one of Los Santos' longest single-lane bridges. There's nothing like the threat of a head-on train collision to get the blood pumping. You can hear much more about how the new heist works – and some nice easter eggs – in our video.
It's hard not to see The Doomsday Heist as a form of goodbye – or rather, an extended 'thank you' from Rockstar to its community. To be clear: there's no suggestion *at all* that GTA Online won't continue to be strongly supported with content updates and new missions. The size of its active user base, and the sheer volume of cash the game generates for 2K Games, makes that scenario even more absurd. However, it's hard to see where the explosive set-pieces and thrillingly ludicrous vehicles and weapons go from here. Orbital lasers, flying cars, jet packs, VTOL airborne *bases*… it makes The Fast and the Furious movies look tame. As the Marvel movies have demonstrated, it's hard to raise the stakes beyond the end of the world. This side of *another*, slightly inert, apocalypse, at least.
There's also the small matter of Read Dead Redemption 2 due… *sometime* in 2018, which will almost-certainly feature an online mode. Rockstar will face the challenge of running two vibrant multiplayer communities. The question isn't willing, or resource, but time, and surely some GTA Online players will migrate to Rockstar's next online playground. The Doomsday Heist's teasing nod to the long-running Mt Chiliad conspiracy feels like a fitting thank you to die-hard fans, as thoughts turn to Red Dead Redemption 2 and inevitably GTA 6.
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To repeat: GTA Online is here to stay, if not *quite* in its current incarnation as consoles shift generations and the world drifts towards 4K. Right now, however, The Doomsday Heist feels like the GTA 5 single-player DLC we never had, the online update we didn't know we waiting for, and just about the most fun four-player co-op experience available on console or PC. There's nothing like impending Armageddon to remind us of what we otherwise take for granted – and there's never been a better time to enjoy Rockstar's dizzying online world.