GTA Online still blows my mind. And, given the fact the GTA 5 multiplayer offshoot celebrates its ninth anniversary later this year, that alone, I think, is reason enough to recommend that you should play GTA Online in 2022.
I'll dig into the specifics of that claim below, of course, but I guess the main reason I continue to explore San Andreas after all this time is because it still keeps me guessing. The high-speed car chases, thrilling bank heists, stand-offs with the LSPD, and mile-high dog fights between missile-equipped MK 2 Oppressors and flying Deluxos – these set pieces are all great fun and have come to define Grand Theft Auto as we know it today. But it's the more nuanced moments, deep within a virtual city that's evolved alongside its player-base for the best part of a decade, that really keep me coming back for more.
Well, that and the fact Rockstar somehow managed to coax Dr. Dre out of retirement to feature new music and his likeness in-game. As someone raised on old school GTA, G-funk, and the 2001 album, that's infinitely cool and yet another reason I have kept playing into the new year.
Nuthin' but a GTA thang
GTA Online The Contract interview: Shawn Fonteno on returning as Franklin and reuniting with Dr. Dre.
To the latter end, the legendary west coast rapper-meets-business mogul appears in GTA Online The Contract, a complimentary update that landed in December 2021, marking the return of GTA 5 story mode protagonist Franklin Clinton. Without spoiling too much plot-wise, Dr. Dre has lost a cell phone that's loaded with new, exclusive and otherwise unheard music, and it's up to you, Franklin and a computer whizz named Imani to track down the misplaced hardware. Doing so leads to a series of break-ins, firefights, and fisticuffs all over the city before the Good Doc is reunited with his tunes and you're hailed a hero.
From the second you're introduced to Dre at the Los Santos Golf Course – flanked by record exec Jimmy Iovine, and esteemed music guru and long-time Rockstar collaborator DJ Pooh – to the moment he departs San Andreas by helicopter, The Contract is a ringing endorsement of the best of GTA Online in 2022. Its action set-pieces are bold, brash, and ballsy; its business-focused elements are refined and streamlined; and its spectacle is off the charts, underpinned by a pop culture icon's presence and his new and exclusive music, that was otherwise unavailable in the real world beforehand.
When tracking said tunes, one mission sees you infiltrating a casino penthouse party. As you step out the elevator into the hotel hallway, you hear the muted swell of bass and Dre's tenor from the other side of the door, and, after bursting through, the music rushes out to meet you. You then wander through the party, nodding your head to the beat in-game and in reality, before tracking the host, your target, and taking him out. The latter part of the mission is GTA Online as we know it, but the former is subtle and wonderful – a nod from Rockstar as it builds excitement and drama beyond the obvious.
The same can be said for GTA Online's 2018 update After Hours, which featured real-world DJs in Solomun, Tale of Us, Dixon and the Black Madonna. Each superstar musician comes with their own set of missions, and an exclusive set of tunes performed within purchasable nightclubs. The missions are fine, but as a longstanding lover of techno music, there's something so simply enjoyable about dancing on the make-believe dance floor of your make-believe party venue.
It's these pensive moments which have let GTA Online sink its hooks into me over time. To date, the sprawling crime sim has been treated to 38 complimentary updates of varying sophistication and size, and boasts an exhaustive array of customisable weapons and vehicles – including the Back to the Future DeLorean-aping Deluxo and Batmobile-styled Vigilante – all of which, again, can be accessed free-of-charge. As far as shop windows go, then, the fact that GTA Online's most alluring material goods can literally whizz past you on the street adds an extra layer of credibility to a world already brimming with character. And while purchasable Shark Cards exist for players who wish to part with real-world cash in exchange for in-game currency, they're never required.
Weekly events offer a 25% discount on specific items and rides, with Double GTA$ (in-game currency) and experience points assigned to certain game modes. The same bonuses are in turn added to specific Adversary Modes – player versus player ventures with preset rules – which invariably sees otherwise sparse lobbies re-populated with players at any given time. Add this to a catalog of player and developer-made missions, as well as the aforementioned update content, and there's always something going down in Los Santos and beyond. Those of you playing on PC might even fancy checking out the ever-growing unofficial roleplay scene, should you wish to fill the shoes of a murderous trash collector or simply play the guitar while the world burns within a sort-of stable 1,000-player server.
In 2019, GTA Online's Diamond Casino update let us live out our best Ocean's Eleven-inspired fantasies. In 2020, the Cayo Perico update gave us a desert island to explore at a time when we couldn't freely roam beyond our doorsteps. In 2021, The Contract set a new standard in blockbuster and spectacle terms for the long-standing crime sim. With its imminent arrival on PS5 this March, who knows what's in store for GTA Online in 2022. But if it's to go one better again, I'd leave space in your diary for yet another city break.
All throughout January, GamesRadar+ is exploring the biggest games of the new year with exclusive interviews, hands-on impressions, and in-depth editorials. For more, be sure to follow along with Big in 2022.