Calling the lifespan of “Grand Theft Auto 5” impressive is an understatement. I first picked up the latest iteration of the open-world mischief machine in 2013 for the PlayStation 3 when I was living out in a yurt in Goldstream Valley and since then it’s continued to top annual sales charts while moving from one console to the next, bolstered by a well-supported online multiplayer mode.
My gaming group has just been burning through games lately, so we decided to take a good look at the online mode of “Grand Theft Auto 5” and after about two weeks with the game I get it. “Grand Theft Auto Online” is a veritable amusement park of activities in an open world that still stands head and shoulders above its peers nearly a decade after its debut.
With regular updates to the game, “Grand Theft Auto Online” has such an impressive amount of things to do, from highly orchestrated heists to one-off missions, races, battles and survival missions. The open world is also peppered with things to find and activities to find.
Smaller groups of players can split off the open world for crafted missions akin to the single player game where you’ll raid drug hideouts, repossess cars from dangerous criminals and have shootouts with enemies. But it’s not just crime and shooting, but a load of sillier activities like racing “Tron” light cycles against each other or mountain bikes down the mountain while trying to throw grenades at each other.
The online mode’s most showy activity, though, are the heists, a series of high-stakes jobs that require teams to do several smaller preparation missions: scoping out locations, stealing getaway cars, securing security passes and swiping an industrial drill to make a new path into the building. Much of the decisions about how you’ll tackle the job—whether you’ll go in sneakily or loud, what kind of disguises you’ll use, the getaway cars and even the take of each crew mate — is up to you to decide.
For us, our first mission had a steep but satisfying learning curve. Our first attempt saw us trying to sneak into a casino with pest control outfits that got us past the front door, but guards were quickly onto us and try as we might, we couldn’t sneak past every single guard on the way to the vault. The next time, we came dressed as the crew of an armored truck service with direct access to the vault but no easy way out. We had also miserably failed the mission to disrupt the guard’s gun and armor shipment, so our guns hardly bothered the guards. We’d eventually make it out after countless attempts over several hard-fought hours, but it made our second run where we passed every preparation mission and came loaded with our own fancy guns and armor that much more satisfying.
While the open world of “Grand Theft Auto 5” still holds up in many ways, there are points where you’re reminded that it’s a game from 2013. The cover system is frustrating, the movement system feels slow and the system of joining up with your pals online can be a headache. There are also parts of the game — the signature offensive and obscene stuff that “Grand Theft Auto” games make headlines for — that just feel deeply outdated today. Luckily, most of the worst of it — like some radio stations — can be ignored.
The world of San Andreas is still just as lively and immersive as it was when I first loaded it up, but it’s really something special to just race around the world with your friends. There are clothing stores, tattoo shops and hair salons where you can customize you character in loads of ways, and when you walk out, your brother can blow you up with a carefully placed sticky bomb.
Open worlds are best when it allows the players to make their own fun, and none do it better than this.
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer and gamer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
If You Play
Game: Grand Theft Auto Online
Rating: Five stars
Platforms: Playstation 3, 4 and 5; Xbox 360, One, Series; PC
Price: Currently on sale for $15
Internet usage: Required for multiplayer
Release Date: Oct. 1, 2013
ESRB Rating: Mature