The “remastered” Grand Theft Auto trilogy sounds like a complete rip-off…

The last couple of years have been a mixed bag when it comes to bringing back classic games. The likes of Resident Evil 2 and Crash Bandicoot have been remade from the ground up and released to critical acclaim… but then titles such as Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning and Mass Effect: Legendary Edition have been lacklustre at best, with minimal effort put into what basically amounted to a repackaging.

It’s in light of games like Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – which is one of the most disappointing titles of 2021 for me personally – that I look upon the clumsily-named upcoming title Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition. With the game seemingly quite close to release but nary a teaser video nor screenshot in sight, I can’t help but feel that it will be, at best, better described as a repackaging or a re-release… one with a hefty new price tag slapped on.

Three older games are getting the so-called “remaster” treatment from Rockstar.

When Warcraft III was “remastered” last year, the original version of the game was pulled from sale. Fans could no longer play the original Warcraft III, and that became a massive problem when the “remaster” ended up being absolutely atrocious. Promised features were missing, the game was riddled with bugs, and overall fans considered it an awful experience. With no way to return to the original version of the game, many fans were left stuck.

The reason I bring up Warcraft III: Reforged as an example of a “remaster” gone wrong is because Grand Theft Auto developers Rockstar have chosen to do the exact same thing with The Definitive Edition’s three constituent games. All three have been de-listed – industry slang meaning they’ve been removed from sale digitally – on all of the platforms where they had been available. As attention shifts to the remaster, Rockstar doesn’t want anyone to be able to purchase the original version of these games.

Warcraft III: Reforged is an example of how not to handle a remaster.

Why? That’s the obvious question. “Money” is part of the answer; Rockstar doesn’t want the renewed attention on these three games pushing people to just pick up the original versions of one or more of the titles instead of paying a reported $70 (£60-65 in the UK) for the new version. But if the remaster is anywhere close to being as good as it should be, that shouldn’t even be a concern!

In short, Rockstar’s decision to pull Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas from sale is the biggest and most clear indicator so far that they don’t have confidence in their own product. They’re already anticipating that the “remaster” is going to be savaged for making no changes or minimal changes to these three older games, so in order to force players to buy it and artificially inflate sales they’ve chosen to pull the original versions from sale – just like Blizzard did with Warcraft III. Despite Mass Effect: Legendary Edition’s many issues, EA and BioWare didn’t have the audacity to pull the original versions of the Mass Effect trilogy from sale.

Promo art for Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition.

I have happy memories of Grand Theft Auto. Scoring the original game in 1997 or ’98 – hot on the heels of press complaints about its violent nature and knowing it would irritate my parents – was a fun adventure and scored me bragging rights with my friends at the time! Someone I knew even got in a ton of trouble for buying the game before he turned 18! The three games from the early/mid 2000s that will be part of this remaster are also games I remember with fondness from that era. I picked up a set which included Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City for the original Xbox, then got San Andreas when it was released a couple of years later.

On the Xbox, it was possible to listen to custom soundtracks while cruising around Vice City or Los Santos. The Xbox allowed players to rip CDs to its internal hard drive, which could then be accessed in certain games – and the Grand Theft Auto titles were among them. When I lived with friends during that period, kicking back to play some Grand Theft Auto was a frequent evening and weekend pastime – and though I have no doubt I’m over-romanticising those memories (because damnit Rob, you always hogged the control pad and it drove me mad!) I still have very positive memories of these three titles as social games and as escapist entertainment with friends.

I have fun memories of playing all three games in this set.

I’m sceptical that Rockstar – a company which has spent much of the past decade milking one successful game and not creating anything new – has Grand Theft Auto’s best intentions at heart with this remaster. The price tag is already generating a fair amount of sticker shock, and rightly so, but I doubt the remaster’s issues will end there.

Where are the screenshots, teasers, trailers, and gameplay videos that we should expect to see for a game that’s supposedly weeks away from release? Having seen nothing at all except one piece of box art, I feel certain that Rockstar is hiding the game for a reason. And that reason is probably simple: The Definitive Edition will be better described as a re-release or repackaging than a “remaster.”

We’re still yet to see any screenshots or a trailer for The Definitive Edition.

The Definitive Edition – lacklustre or not – has been created for one reason, and one reason only: to get fans to shut up about the absent Grand Theft Auto 6 for a while. It’s a cheap and easy way for Rockstar to throw fans a bone while continuing to ignore the one thing that’s been requested over and over for almost eight years. Rockstar is unwilling to let go of Grand Theft Auto V and its lucrative online mode, but with fans increasingly agitated by the company’s antics – such as re-releasing the game yet again on the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X – they evidently felt that they had to be seen to offer something.

Remastering Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, and San Andreas was clearly seen as a way to do that without having to shift any development resources away from Grand Theft Auto V and its online mode. The wheels will come off that juggernaut sooner rather than later, though, as the backlash to the announcement of the game’s re-release on the latest generation of consoles showed. I hope Rockstar has been working on something more than The Definitive Edition for when that moment comes – because it’s coming soon.

I might’ve been tempted to go back and replay these three games, but it seems like The Definitive Edition won’t be the best option for doing so, especially not at the price that has been discussed in recent days. But fundamentally, what the Grand Theft Auto series needs is not a re-release of three older titles that are still perfectly playable in their own right, but a proper sequel. Rockstar hopes that The Definitive Edition will buy them some time. Maybe they’re right – but only if it’s any good, and nothing I’ve seen or heard so far has convinced me that it will be.

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition will be released before the end of 2021 for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. The Grand Theft Auto series is the copyright of Rockstar and Take-Two Interactive. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Imagining Grand Theft Auto 6 – what are the possibilities?

Even as Grand Theft Auto V enters its ninth year of life, developers Rockstar haven’t so much as hinted at the existence of a sequel. The success of Grand Theft Auto V’s online mode is surely the reason why; it’s become one of the most profitable games of all time largely due to this mode, and as long as the money is still rolling in and folks are content to keep playing an older game, the attitude “why make a new one?” seems to be prevalent.

But surely there will eventually be a sequel. Though Grand Theft Auto V had been a stalwart on the charts since its release, scarcely dropping out of the top ten bestsellers in some countries and territories, recently it does seem to be slipping, and doesn’t feature in the most-sold games for last year or the first few months of this year. Perhaps those are signs that the Grand Theft Auto V juggernaut is slowing down, despite Rockstar’s plan to port it to new consoles.

Grand Theft Auto V has had its day. Time to move on!

Trying to guess when the next entry in the series will be revealed or released is a crapshoot. If you’d told me in 2013, when Grand Theft Auto V was released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, that we wouldn’t have even heard about a sequel by mid-2021 I’d have thought you were making it up! What I’m saying is that, even with E3 right around the corner, it’s hard to say when we might see the first solid indications that this game is in the works. It’s even possible that Rockstar’s next big project will be something else entirely – the company owns the rights to titles like Bully, L.A. Noire and Max Payne, for example.

Instead of trying to figure out if we’re going to see Grand Theft Auto 6 any time soon, today I want to focus on some possible options for its setting and time period. These are two of the biggest fundamental characteristics of any game in the series, and the new title has a lot to consider to say the least! As always, please remember that I don’t have any “insider information.” I’m approaching the subject as a fan of the series, speculating and considering different possibilities. Nothing more. With that out of the way, let’s get started!

Time Period:

Could stepping back in time be on the agenda?

Vice City, published in 2002, is inseparable from its ’80s time period. Grand Theft Auto V is likewise firmly tied to its early-2010s time period. We’ve seen games in the Grand Theft Auto series set in several different decades, and a time period can become absolutely iconic, either playing on contemporary themes and issues or using nostalgia as a lens.

Although Grand Theft Auto V has seen great success using a (relatively) modern setting, I’m not sure that its sequel should necessarily do the same. After such a long gap between games, Grand Theft Auto 6 has a strong need to differentiate itself from its predecessor, and being too samey could lead to negative reviews and a lack of interest. With Grand Theft Auto V being ported to next-gen consoles, Grand Theft Auto 6′s biggest competitor could be its own predecessor, so it needs to stand out and stand apart.

Is there anything more “seventies” than a disco ball?

So what are the options? Nostalgia for the ’80s and ’90s is a big deal in entertainment at the moment, and with Vice City being almost twenty years old, and San Andreas being over fifteen years old at this point, a return to either of those eras could be on the agenda and wouldn’t feel too derivative. Television shows like Stranger Things and even Chernobyl, as well as games like Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War have all succeeded with a nostalgic ’80s vibe, and that would certainly be one way to go!

I’d also suggest that the turn of the millennium – i.e. 1999-2000 – is an era ripe for a deep dive. Such a setting could include elements from the ’90s and early ’00s, and recreate the party atmosphere of Millennium Eve! A pre-9/11 look at the United States would present a contrast to the present day, allowing the game to use that lens to look at modern issues in a way that’s understandable but still detached.

Maybe not quite this far back in time…

This era would also be familiar enough not to feel too out of place. Though technology has changed and things like internet access and mobile phones have become much more commonplace in the years since the millennium, those things all existed in this time period, so the game wouldn’t have to drop aspects like using a mobile phone for communicating with other characters and players, and so on.

Stepping back further in time, the ’70s is an era that the franchise has yet to really explore. There arguably isn’t as much ’70s nostalgia floating around today as there might’ve been ten or fifteen years ago, and such a setting would be riskier insofar as things like mobile phones and computers couldn’t be big features, which might complicate gameplay. But there’s no denying that a ’70s time period would let Grand Theft Auto 6 stand on its own two feet.


Let’s not re-do New York City!

Location and time period are, to an extent, linked. Vice City’s Miami analogue would lose much of its charm were it not set in the ’80s and able to take advantage of a Miami Vice vibe. Certain areas and cities have distinct and recognisable eras all their own – New York City in the ’90s, for example, was more run-down and with more crime, before cleaning up its act in the years that followed. At least that’s the stereotype present in the cultural mindset!

I’m very firmly in the camp that says that Grand Theft Auto is a distinctly and curiously American phenomenon. Trying to translocate the next game in the series to Europe or South America, as some have suggested, would result in it losing much of what defines the series, as well as restricting the kind of satire that can be explored. Easy access to firearms and the criminal underbelly of America has been what the games have explored – at least in their modern, story-focused incarnations. So in my opinion, the series needs to firmly stay in the United States.

Grand Theft Auto should retain its United States setting.

There can be open-world crime games set in other countries. Sleeping Dogs is a perfect example. But that game took a completely different approach by making the player character a police officer instead of a criminal, something that the Grand Theft Auto series couldn’t get away with and retain its own identity. Though Rockstar North – which develops the games – is based in the UK, Rockstar itself and the Grand Theft Auto series are both fundamentally American institutions, and it’s hard to envision a new game in the series abandoning its roots in this way.

Nor do I subscribe to the idea of a split map, with two cities connected by an airport or something like that – as I’ve heard some people suggest. Though I would like to see the game allow missions outside of its home city, if a convincing reason could be written, splitting the map into two smaller areas with one point of connection would be difficult to get right. Not only that, but in the popular online mode, one of the appealing things folks like best is that everyone on the server is exploring the same map and the same world.

Let’s also steer clear of a return to Vice City… it’s too superficially similar to Los Santos.

Revisiting a past location has been suggested as a possibility. But I have doubts here as well. Liberty City was the setting for Grand Theft Auto IV, the most recent entry in the series prior to the current game, so a return there would feel like Grand Theft Auto was just bouncing between the two settings. Revisiting Liberty City so soon might not be the best idea, then. The two other cities present in San Andreas would arguably be too similar to Grand Theft Auto V’s Los Santos, being set in the same region of the country, and I’d also suggest that revisiting Vice City – another sunlit tropical city by the beach – would have a similar issue. That basically rounds out the major Grand Theft Auto cities that we’re familiar with – so I think a new one has to be on the agenda.

So now that we’ve considered what wouldn’t work, how about thinking about what would?

Chicago was once the setting for Midtown Madness!

A city in the Midwest, perhaps based on Chicago, could be a good option. Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, and others in the so-called “rust belt” could make for a very interesting setting, looking at the rise of criminal gangs and gang culture, as well as commenting on the decline of America’s industrial regions and the associated fall in living standards. There are a lot of places in “flyover country” that are increasingly well-known due to their appearances in other media (Chicago, for example, was the setting for popular medical drama ER) and would be ripe for parody and exploration.

I also quite like the idea of a Washington DC analogue. Such a city could be the basis for a storyline looking at political corruption and excess, as well as potentially dive into shady government operations like espionage. There have been references to a “Capital City” in past Grand Theft Auto games, so maybe this will end up being the setting.

Single-player Character:

Or should that be “characters?”

In many ways, the game’s protagonist(s) can’t be crafted until the location and era are known. It would be very difficult to transpose any of the recent Grand Theft Auto protagonists out of their native environment; Franklin wouldn’t have worked in Vice City, nor would Tommy Vercetti in Grand Theft Auto V. They’re characters intrinsically connected to their city and time period.

Despite that, however, I think we can begin to consider the fundamentals of the next protagonist. Or should that be protagonists plural? Unlike some critics of Grand Theft Auto V, I actually like the approach of having multiple protagonists whose stories intersect. Was it executed perfectly? Perhaps not, but it shook up the formula from previous games and allowed Grand Theft Auto V to look at several completely different aspects of American life: Michael’s attempt at upper-middle class family life, Franklin’s experience in a lower income inner city neighbourhood, and Trevor’s rural life far away from both. I don’t expect Grand Theft Auto 6 to retain this approach given the criticism it received, but in principle it’s a good idea that can be made to work.

Claude, the silent protagonist of Grand Theft Auto III.

Unlike in past games, I think a proper character creator – one with plenty of customisation options – would make a fantastic addition to the game. A lot of games, even character-centric ones with a strong focus on story, allow a degree of customisation, and being able to change the protagonist’s face, hair, and so on would be wonderful. If there are multiple protagonists, each could be customisable, and if characters have fixed characteristics like race, gender, and age, there’s still room for customisation within those confines.

Speaking of gender, the Grand Theft Auto series has yet to feature a female protagonist – so now’s the time to do that. Some so-called “fans” will attack a female-led game, as they always do, but most folks will be on board. There are plenty of examples across entertainment of excellent female protagonists, and it’s high time Grand Theft Auto followed suit. Better late than never, right?

So that’s it. A few possibilities for Grand Theft Auto 6… whenever it may come!

Hopefully we won’t be waiting too much longer for the next game in the series.

There are other things we could talk about, like whether gameplay should be first-person or third-person, or whether a top-down view should be included to get that “retro” feel! We could argue about whether the game should be linear or offer a branching story with side-missions, and so on. But until Grand Theft Auto 6 nails the fundamentals – time period, location, and character – discussions of such things are moot!

With E3 coming up, I can’t help but feel we might get a tiny tease or hint at what’s coming next from Rockstar. Even if we do, Grand Theft Auto 6 seems unlikely this year, and perhaps even next year too. It might be a full decade between games, then, if it doesn’t release until 2023. We’ll have to wait and see! I’ll keep my ear to the ground, and if there’s any major news I’ll be sure to cover it here on the website. Now, maybe I should finally play Red Dead Redemption II while I wait?

The Grand Theft Auto series, including all titles mentioned above, is the copyright of Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten games to play instead of Cyberpunk 2077

Highly-anticipated (and almost certainly over-hyped) role-playing game Cyberpunk 2077 releases today. If, like me, you don’t really have £50/$60 to spend on a single game this close to Christmas – or you don’t have a PC or console capable of playing it – I thought it could be fun to go through a few alternatives.

I don’t hate Cyberpunk 2077. It’ll most likely be a decent game, and I’m sure I will eventually give it a shot. But there are many fun titles out there that offer comparable experiences – and most don’t cost as much! Here’s ten options for those of us who aren’t indulging in Cyberpunk 2077 on day one.

Number 1: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic & Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords (2003; 2004)

Coming after The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones had left the franchise in a pretty disappointing place, Bioware’s Star Wars epic and its Obsidian-produced sequel were outstanding. At a time when I wasn’t enjoying Star Wars’ cinematic output, these games came along and did a lot to save its reputation. For around £15 (on Steam) you’ll be able to pick up both titles and enjoy two of the best stories in the entire franchise. The two games are significantly better than several of the Star Wars films, so if you’re even slightly interested in a galaxy far, far away but haven’t given either title a try yet, it could be a great time to do so.

Number 2: Deus Ex: Human Revolution & Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2011; 2016)

When I think about many of the components of Cyberpunk 2077 that people are most excited about – such as the ability to augment your human character, first-person gunplay, and different ways to reach objectives and complete missions – I’m reminded a lot of the Deus Ex series, especially its most recent offerings. Though a far more linear experience, for a lot less money you could play through a couple of solid stealth/action games that offer at least some of the same features as Cyberpunk 2077. It’s even set in a dystopian future where corporations are in charge!

Number 3: The Witcher 3 (2015)

The Witcher 3 was CD Projekt Red’s last game before Cyberpunk 2077, and it’s widely hailed as a masterpiece. Though the two games are certainly different in terms of setting, point-of-view, and the like, if you’re like me and haven’t yet got around to playing one of the generation’s best role-playing games, this could be a great opportunity to do so. The Witcher 3′s huge success and positive reception is a big part of why Cyberpunk 2077 has seen such a massive hype bubble.

Number 4: Shenmue I & II (1999; 2001; re-released 2018)

Though its story disappointingly remains incomplete, if you’re looking for a game with a truly engrossing narrative Shenmue could be just what you need. These two ambitious titles were originally released for the Dreamcast, sadly sharing the fate of that console and being underappreciated. Both were re-released for PC in 2018 as a single bundle, and if you missed them when they were new it could be a great time to jump in. Shenmue pioneered the idea of an open world before anyone even knew what that meant, and was the first game I ever played that felt genuinely cinematic. I think I’ll be recommending these games to people for as long as I live!

Number 5: Doom & Doom Eternal (2016; 2020)

If Cyberpunk 2077′s big draw was its first-person shooting, Doom and Doom Eternal could be great substitutes. If you want to feel like a total badass, kicking butt and taking no prisoners (literally) then there’s no better choice. The rebooted Doom series ditched the horror vibe of Doom 3 and went back to its roots – shooting demons in the face by the absolute boatload. The two games both have fantastic soundtracks that perfectly suit the fast-paced, explosive gameplay. And Doom Eternal introduces a grappling hook. Need I say more?

Number 6: Grand Theft Auto V (2013)

Because of the ridiculous hype bubble that’s grown around Cyberpunk 2077, a lot of players are going to be disappointed when they realise it isn’t “Grand Theft Auto in the future.” So why not play the most recent entry in Rockstar’s crime saga instead? It’s a huge open world, there’s plenty to do, and if you want the experience of running amok causing havoc in a densely-packed city, this is about as close as you can get right now. There’s even a first-person mode (except on the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3.)

Number 7: Titanfall 2 (2018)

A fun, futuristic shooter with mechs. That’s what Titanfall 2 is, and this underappreciated gem was sadly released at a very competitive moment in the first-person shooter genre. That led to underwhelming sales, but if you’re willing to give it a shot you’ll find a truly exciting, action-packed experience. Part of the appeal of Cyberpunk 2077 is its first-person perspective, and while you won’t find as many customisation options or a branching story, what you’ll get with Titanfall 2 is some of the best gunplay ever put into a game with weapons that have a realistic kick.

Number 8: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (2002)

One of the best role-playing games every made, and the high-water mark of the Elder Scrolls series in my opinion, Morrowind is packed full of fun and interesting quests, random NPC encounters, and a diverse set of locations and environments across its open world. Eighteen years after it was released there are quests I’ve never completed and whole storylines I haven’t seen; it’s just too big to fit everything into a single playthrough. Despite being released a decade earlier, Morrowind has much more going on than Skyrim – more weapon types, more factions to join, and even more NPCs to interact with. You just have to look past its text-based interface, which can admittedly feel dated in 2020.

Number 9: Pillars of Eternity & Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (2015; 2018)

Both Pillars of Eternity and its sequel have a decidedly old-school feel, thanks in part to their visual style and use of an isometric perspective. Each game takes 40+ hours to beat – longer if you play more side missions and take your time – so there’s a lot of role-playing to get stuck into. It’s hard to say much more without spoiling the experience, but if you’re looking for an in-depth role-playing experience with fun customisation and where your in-game choices truly impact the story, look no further.

Number 10: Halo: The Master Chief Collection (2014; 2019)

When I think about “futuristic first-person shooters,” one series springs to mind ahead of all the others: Halo. The Master Chief Collection brings together the first six titles in the series (or every game except Halo 5) for hours and hours of single-player or co-op gameplay. Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t offer co-op! The exciting tale of humanity’s war against an alien alliance known as the Covenant is detailed in these games, and although the quality of the series has waned somewhat in recent years, even Halo at its worst is still light-years ahead of many other games.

So that’s it. Ten games you could play instead of Cyberpunk 2077 while you wait for the day-one bugs to be patched out and for the game to drop in price! Or because you aren’t interested in one of the biggest releases of the year.

If nothing else, this was an opportunity to talk about some fun games and highlight them in the run-up to Christmas. Remember that the Steam holiday sale is likely coming up in a matter of days; it could be worth waiting to see if any of your favourites will be on sale. I highly doubt Cyberpunk 2077 will see even a 5% discount so soon after its release, but you never know!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Some next-gen ports are receiving a well-earned backlash

Whenever a new console generation kicks off, it’s inevitable that there will be some games that are released on both new and old systems. This is perfectly understandable in many cases, as games which are new and have had a lot of time and effort put into their development want to get the widest audience possible. Many titles in this category go unnoticed, or at most some reviewers will point out that the game may not be fully-optimised for new hardware. But some other titles are the subject of pretty heavy criticism, and I can fully understand why.

When it was announced that Grand Theft Auto V would be ported to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, many fans were upset. This was a game initially developed for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and it’s going to be ported again? Grand Theft Auto V has been a juggernaut this console generation after getting its start in 2013, but after more than seven years fans are itching for a new entry in the series.

Grand Theft Auto V was originally released in 2013 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

In 2014, when Grand Theft Auto V was re-released on current-gen consoles, it was barely a year old. No one at the time begrudged Rockstar the chance to port the title to new hardware because there was an understanding that the game had been a big undertaking. As the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 era drew to a close, it made sense to bring some new titles to the new systems.

But that was six years ago, and in that time Rockstar has developed and published precisely one new game – Red Dead Redemption II. There are arguments to be heard that the pace of game development as a whole has slowed, and I don’t want to ignore the reality that developing an open-world game on the scale of Grand Theft Auto V is a colossal undertaking. But that doesn’t excuse what seems to many fans to be the company taking shortcuts.

Red Dead Redemption II is Rockstar’s only game in seven years.

What’s worse is that the time and effort spent on creating a next-gen port could arguably be better spent creating a new title. Even in a studio with the financial resources of Rockstar, porting existing games does take time, resources, and personnel away from other projects. So it’s not just a case of corner-cutting – fans feel that the company is wasting time.

Practically every current-gen title is going to be “forward-compatible” with new hardware anyway. What that means is that any Xbox One game should work on the Xbox Series X, and any PlayStation 4 game should work on PlayStation 5 by default – including titles like Grand Theft Auto V. So there’s no need to spend time and money reworking a seven-year-old game for new hardware; existing versions will work just fine.

Both next-gen consoles will be backwards-compatible with current games by default.

If the upgrades were going to be free, allowing players who own a current-gen copy of the game to experience the tweaks and changes on new hardware, I don’t think anyone would mind. In fact, players have praised companies like CD Projekt Red, whose 2015 title The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is receiving such a free upgrade. But Rockstar – and other companies too – plan to re-release their old games and get gamers to shell out more money for the next-gen version. It feels decidedly anti-consumer.

Even though I’m not a big online multiplayer person, I recognise the appeal that Grand Theft Auto V has as an online experience. But after seven years I feel that online experience has run its course, and most players will be ready for a new challenge. Those who want to stick with what they already have can either continue to play on Xbox One/PlayStation 4 or can even bring their existing copy of the game to the new consoles; there’s no need to buy it all over again.

Grand Theft Auto V is getting a next-gen re-release in 2021… eight years and two console generations later.

Another company that has been roundly criticised for its approach to next-gen is 505 Games, publisher of Control. This is a game I’ve been looking forward to playing, as it has great reviews, but it’s another example of next-gen upgrades being denied to existing fans. The only way to play Control will be to buy it again on the new consoles, and to many fans the small upgrade seems like a big expense.

The Last Of Us was similarly criticised at the beginning of the PlayStation 4 era for being re-released in a “remastered” state less than a year on from its PlayStation 3 debut. At the time I was genuinely shocked by the gall of developer Naughty Dog; how can a game less than a year old be remastered already? But The Last Of Us sold very well on PlayStation 4, cementing this business model in the minds of executives as one that works and will rake in cash for comparatively little effort.

The Last Of Us was re-released on PlayStation 4 mere months after its PlayStation 3 premiere.

At the end of the day, that’s what this is all about. Money. Re-releasing a game with a few minor upgrades and hardware-specific tweaks is relatively inexpensive and offers companies huge financial rewards. It should be no surprise to learn that a big company wants to make more money, and I get that we live in a society where profit and growth matter. It’s just that it feels so anti-consumer, and even big companies need to be aware of their reputations. It’s easy to dismiss criticism and backlash as coming from just a whiny minority of hardcore fans, but companies like Electronic Arts have found – to their great cost – just what can happen when they push players too far.

It’s only in the last console generation that the idea of cross-generation releases has been such a big deal anyway. In the days of the SNES and the Nintendo 64 the idea of a game from one system being ported wholesale to new hardware just didn’t exist. There were ports, but they tended to be things like Super Mario All-Stars, which was a compilation of several games instead of a single title, and offered players good value as a result.

There weren’t many ports in the SNES era, and those that did exist were bundles like Super Mario All-Stars.

But if you’d told me in 2005, when the Xbox 360 was launched, that the original Halo game was just going to be straight-up ported to the new system and that players would be expected to “just buy it again” I’d have been absolutely gobsmacked. What a nonsense idea that would have been even as recently as 2005! We’ve come to accept some of these things in the fifteen years since, but even by today’s standards, some of the proposals for next-gen re-releases are drawing well-earned backlash.

Though it wasn’t possible to predict the impact of the coronavirus pandemic even a few short months ago, the changing situation in the world should be something companies take note of. There’s a good chance that many folks are going to have less disposable income at least in the short-term, and being asked to re-purchase a seven-year-old game on a new console is definitely not something that should be considered under current circumstances. Even were it not for the pandemic, I think this practice would still be inappropriate and anti-consumer. But given where things currently sit, it’s even worse.

This is the kind of practice that can start big companies on a slippery slope to reputational damage and more widespread criticism, and I would advise them to tread carefully. Rockstar – or any other company engaged in a similar practice – could garner a lot of goodwill today by announcing that the next-gen version of whatever game they’re working on will be free to anyone who currently owns it. Or, on the flip side, they could continue to draw criticism and ire for their greed and lack of care.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Grand Theft Auto 6 speculation

Grand Theft Auto V came out in September 2013 on PS3 and Xbox 360. It has since been released on current consoles as well as PC, and it would be an understatement to say it’s made developers Rockstar a metric fuckton of money. For a six-year-old game to continually be among the most-played games and in the sales charts across all three platforms is no mean feat, and repeating GTA 5’s success will be a challenge like no other.

So how to go about it?

Grand Theft Auto 6 will need to step out of its predecessor’s shadow.

There’s been a lot of speculation going back several years about what form a future Grand Theft Auto title should take. I don’t have any sources, this is just my opinion. So take everything from this point with a grain of salt.

The formula for GTA 5’s success was based on its online mode, and that’s been where the real money has come from for Rockstar. Online has kept people interested and returning, and most importantly, spending money on in-game cash and items. But Grand Theft Auto games weren’t built on multiplayer, and even in the case of GTA 5, it wasn’t what hooked people in in the first place. The core of any GTA game has, and always should be, a great story. It wasn’t until Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that the series even featured a multiplayer mode, albeit a very limited one which was a bit of fun but nowhere near the scale of GTA 5.

The story for any GTA game needs several key elements to come together: character, location, era, and destination. Each element influences the others, as characters become defined by the era and location they reside in, and the destination they strive to reach changes depending on who they are and where they came from.

The setting and era need to be nailed down first. GTA 5 has done exceptionally well with a modern setting (or modern-ish now, given the game is into its seventh year of life). But previous entries in the franchise have used the recent past – the 1960s, 1980s, and 1990s. It would be tempting to suggest that an historical setting, even a recent decade, would cause the game to find more of a niche audience, as players who want their games firmly rooted in the modern day might drop out. But the success of Red Dead Redemption II, while admittedly not on the same scale as GTA 5, should show that historical settings can play very well when there’s an interesting world with lots to do and some great characters.

There’s a lot of nostalgia flying around at the moment – especially for the 1980s and 1990s – and Rockstar could absolutely tap into that. Doing so would not only open up the game to the significant market which exists right now for a nostalgic setting, but would ensure GTA 6 would stand apart from its predecessor and not look like simply an updated version of what people have already been playing for the last few years.

Differentiating itself from GTA 5 will be a big task, and the physical location will be a part of that too. I’ve heard “rumours” (which, let’s be honest, are 99.9% bullshit) that there might be a return to Vice City on the cards. But to me that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Vice City is Rockstar’s version of Miami, where Los Santos (the setting for GTA 5) is their version of Los Angeles. But LA and Miami are both cities on the coast, with beaches, in a sunny, tropical part of the country. The look and feel of those cities is different, but not radically so. Not as different as, say, New York or Chicago would be. Given that Rockstar’s New York analogue, Liberty City, was the setting for GTA 4 I think that’s an unlikely candidate. I’d be wary of another tropical setting if the game is to truly step out of GTA 5’s shadow.

Practically everyone speculating on GTA 6’s location has been looking at past settings, thinking Rockstar might take the series back to one of its prior locations. But games should, where possible, try to push forward, and the United States is far bigger than California, Miami, and New York. It would be great to see a Midwestern city like Chicago or Minneapolis parodied in the next game, or a version of a city with history like Philadelphia or Boston. A city based on Washington DC could be a great choice too. It could even go to one of the big Southern metropolises like Atlanta, but I think after a game set in the balmy, sunlit California (sorry, I mean San Andreas) it would be interesting to have an autumn or winter setting somewhere to the north, where players could see snow.

A setting based on Detroit, for example, could highlight the decline in former industrial areas of America. And with Detroit having major crime and gang problems in the real world, it would be an interesting setting. A Washington DC analogue could focus more on decadence, elitism, and political corruption. And a setting with a Chicago theme could tackle the Mafia and organised crime. There are dozens of potential US cities which could serve as settings that would be different from what’s come before, but not so different as to be offputting to fans.

Leaving the United States entirely isn’t something I think would do well. GTA is, in a peculiar way, a distinctly American entity, not least with its huge emphasis on firearms. Placing the next title in Europe or South America might seem interesting, but I think it would lose too much of what makes a game “Grand Theft Auto” – as opposed to a generic action-shooter. Watch Dogs Legion (due out sometime before April 2021) is supposed to be set in London, so if Rockstar released GTA 6 any time around or shortly after that, it would draw immediate comparisons – and perhaps some criticism – if it were to use the same or a similar setting. Certainly since GTA 3 in 2001, the series has so wonderfully parodied the United States that leaving that behind entirely seems unthinkable.

But perhaps a split setting or a dual setting could work. In a way, San Andreas tried to accomplish this with its three cities. There were missions which took players from one city to another – across what was for the time an absolutely huge map – but generally, most missions took place within one city. In GTA 6, there could be two major locations – one in the United States which would serve as the player’s home base, and another in Europe, Asia, or South America which the player could visit for part of the game. Attempting something like this, and particularly finding a way to transition smoothly between two large open environments, would be ambitious, but it should be something next-gen hardware could handle.

While a split setting might work well from a story perspective, one thing players have enjoyed about GTA 5’s online mode is that there was one map, one open world, which everyone was traversing. If GTA 6 has two separate – albeit linked – locations, that potentially raises challenges when it comes to the online mode, and while these challenges could be overcome, anything which risks narrowing or splitting the playerbase ultimately carries a risk of reducing the mega-bucks Rockstar has been making.

Personally, I really liked GTA 5’s three-protagonist approach. Being able to switch between characters on the fly was great, and the interaction between the characters gave the story more depth than it would’ve had if we were just seeing the others as NPCs. So it would be great if GTA 6 could retain that idea, at least in some form. Certainly two playable characters could work, and it would potentially allow for co-op play. And yes, making one of the protagonists a woman, or giving players the ability to choose their character’s gender à la Mass Effect, would be a nice touch. I guess that’s not essential, but there’s no reason not to.

Finally, the character’s destination comes into frame. What’s their story arc going to be? Where are they going to end up at the end of the campaign? In past games we’ve seen players building a criminal empire of sorts, buying up business interests, earning more and more money, and essentially becoming the kingpin of their virtual city. There’s no need to stray too far from that formula, but some changes again to help the game stand out from its illustrious predecessor would be good. San Andreas dealt with street gangs, GTA 4 saw players tackle Russian/Eastern European organised crime, and GTA 5 most recently saw heists and corruption. Other entries in the series also saw heavier involvement of the Mafia. Organised crime is a theme running through GTA, but so is corruption. In a Washington DC-themed city, players could deal with corrupt politicians and a corrupt government, and that could be a fascinating parody of our current times. There could also be an exploration of drug cartels, or of Asian organised crime syndicates. In short, there’s a lot of organisations the game could explore without retreading too much old ground.

Here’s the thing: there’s no conclusion to this article. Until the game is officially announced and we know the rough outline of its setting and protagonist, there’s not much more to say except to fantasise about my “perfect” GTA game. The map should be big, but not so big it becomes a chore to drive from place to place. It should be diverse, with a city but also rural areas to give some variety. I’d really like to see a brand new setting, one that GTA hasn’t explored before. A Washington DC-themed city would be my first choice if I had to pick, but there are so many great options for cities to parody across the United States that almost any could be exciting. Time period-wise, I think the 1970s, 80s, or 90s would work well – it would be modern enough that players wouldn’t feel overwhelmed, but distinct enough to ensure the game wouldn’t be viewed as just a copy or iteration of its predecessor. But at the end of the day, if the writing is good, if the story is engaging, and the vehicles and guns are fun to play with, the game will be great.

From a purely financial point of view, I think an awful lot of people who enjoyed GTA 5 are going to jump into its sequel just to see what it’s like – and to get something new after a long time playing in the same sandbox. In that sense, almost anything Rockstar produces should be profitable. It would be up to them to turn that around and reproduce what GTA 5 managed, but I think with careful management of GTA 6’s online mode, that’s certainly a likely prospect.

Whenever it comes out, I’ll definitely jump in and see what they have in store!

Grand Theft Auto V is available on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. All Grand Theft Auto titles are the copyright of Rockstar Games and Take Two Interactive. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.