First Impressions: Hitching a Ride in the Stalling Grand Theft Auto Online
Posted by Robert Ramsey
Grand Theft Manual
Unless you've been hiding away from the federal government for the past week, you'll have no doubt heard about Grand Theft Auto Online's rough start. Connection problems plagued the highly anticipated multiplayer addition to Rockstar's opus, as the title's servers crumbled within minutes of it going live. Even if you were lucky enough to gain access, numerous serious bugs awaited you: the very first mission could cause consoles to lock, while some users lost their progress on a regular basis. One patch later and things are certainly smoother, but unfortunately, proceedings are still far from perfect.
As we've already detailed, this troubled launch was entirely expected, but that doesn't excuse it from happening in the first place. The whole farce is worsened by the fact that the single player portion of the game is so incredibly well crafted, and after all, the promise of slumming around San Andreas with homies by your side is enough to make any fan giddy.
Thankfully, Grand Theft Auto V's multiplayer can be a blast when it actually decides to work. Driving around at high speeds with a friend riding shotgun as you're hounded by the police is just as fun as it sounds, and there's a great sense of progression since everything that you do helps to increase your rank. Whether you love speeding through traffic or gunning down gang members, your experience bar will gradually fill as you live out your virtual life, unlocking new weapons, mods, vehicle customisation options, and items of clothing.
Unlike the single player's trio of distinctive personalities, your online avatar is very much your own creation, and you're free to make your mark on the world in whichever way you like. However, to forge a name for yourself, you'll need to be prepared to commit a lot of time and effort to the experience. While increasing your rank isn't particularly difficult, getting started and working your way into the flow of the gameplay can take some time. This isn't quite the narrative driven experience that some expected, but there's still a lot of content to wrap your head around.
It doesn't help that for the first hour or so, the title does its best to be as tedious and unintuitive as possible. We've already talked about how bad the character creation system is, but it's worth reiterating here. Instead of sculpting your appearance using a host of sliders, you'll need to filter the defining features of your face from parents and grandparents. It's a clever idea that falls completely flat in execution, and it's another in a long line of examples where developer Rockstar's stubbornness ends up hampering the experience.
To make matters worse, once you've fumbled your way through the avatar building process, you'll need to endure a barrage of cinematics and tutorial missions. Starting with a cutscene that introduces your creation to San Andreas and all of its activities, it's clear that a lot of effort has been put into making these online escapades as grand as possible, but if you've already spent over thirty hours with Michael, Franklin, and Trevor, chances are that this slow opening will promptly begin to grate. Next, you'll need to compete with neighbourhood troublemaker Lamar in a relatively short race, but even this opening scenario can be brought to a standstill as you're forced to wait for other players to join. All in all, it just feels like poor design – throwing newcomers straight into an unavoidable online match-up is bad enough, but imagine having to do it numerous times if your profile happens to be deleted.
When you eventually make it into the vast open world, the map will be canvassed with little blue icons. These markers represent designated areas that, when travelled to, place you into competitive gunfights or races. Neither option is particularly exciting or new, but both appear to offer relatively enjoyable ways to rake in the cash that you'll need to buy upgrades. That said, deathmatches suffer from the same issues that have detracted from previous Rockstar releases, with the vast majority of players utilising auto-aim to score some very easy kills.
Outside of matches, you're free to roam with strangers, friends, or alone. It should be mentioned, however, that diving into San Andreas without a plan will often lead to frustration in public rooms. In just a few short hours, we encountered more abusive players than we thought possible, and this social mishap was amplified by the fact that passive mode – a menu option that's supposed to stop other users from harming you – simply doesn't appear to work. We therefore recommend playing with friends until you've got your hands on some decent weaponry and a reliable set of wheels.
Of course, all of these issues, big and small, will hopefully be rectified in time. With the promise of a constantly evolving game world, it's clear that Grand Theft Auto Online will only get better as it matures, and the often horrendous technical issues are ironed out. Until then, though, it's hard to really recommend Rockstar's ambitious but flawed multiplayer attempt. We reckon that you should wait until the multiplayer mode's fixed before moving into Los Santos on a more permanent basis.
Have you managed to play any of Grand Theft Auto Online yet? What are your initial impressions on the multiplayer mode? Let us know in the comments section below.