Architects part ways with guitarist Josh Middleton
Architects have announced the departure of guitarist Josh Middleton after six years in the band.
As Rockstar Games confirm the sixth mainline entry in their iconic GTA series, we consider the features it needs to reach that next level…
Nearly nine years since it first dropped, the absurd longevity of Grand Theft Auto 5 – soon to span three console generations – has become almost a running joke amongst the gaming community. With its ridiculously enjoyable (and, often, simply ridiculous) three-pronged single-player experience still to be convincingly surpassed, and the runaway commercial success of the GTA Online experience, it’s arguable there isn’t even a real urgency to move on. After all, how the hell is anyone supposed to top the priceless moments already seared into our collective memory: Michael tripping his way through an ‘alien abduction’; Franklin’s fateful choice; the bit where Trevor replaces the Live, Laugh, Love mural in his apartment with the immortal words, ‘Eat, Shit, Die…’?
Never a studio to rest on their laurels, however, we all knew that Rockstar Games hadn’t just been twiddling thumbsticks in the three-plus years since the release of their last masterpiece Red Dead Redemption 2. And, just a few months on from the, er… divisive release of Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition, a blog post on February 4, 2022 confirmed the news we’d all been waiting for: “With every project we embark on, our goal is always to significantly move beyond what we have previously delivered – and we are pleased to confirm that active development in the Grand Theft Auto series is well underway…”
So, what exactly do they need to achieve that lofty goal?
As with all great gangster stories, Grand Theft Auto has always been defined by the time period in which it takes place. So, will GTA 6 roar right up to date in the 2020s? Might we get a return to the Scarface-alike neon-streaked cityscapes and pastel fashions of Vice City? Could we be headed for a brand new moment in time? Having already nailed multiple narratives within one timeline, we reckon Rockstar should push further still with a story that bridges the decades à la cinematic masterpieces like Once Upon A Time In America, The Godfather trilogy or even Netflix’s Narcos. In the opening movement of GTA V, and Red Dead Redemption 2’s end-of-game jump from 1899 to 1911, they’ve proven themselves capable of such audacious storytelling, but to freely transition between cityscapes and criminal empires across the 20th/early-21st centuries throughout would be a real game-changer.
As much as we love Los Santos’ fictional reimagining of Los Angeles, we’re ready for a change of scenery in Grand Theft Auto 6. Thinking narrowly, that could mean a return to Liberty City’s alternate-reality New York or the aforementioned Vice City’s take on 1980s Miami. More exciting is the idea that the action could be relocated to a different continent, with the rumoured relocation to a version of Rio De Janeiro, Bogotá or Mexico City particularly tantalising. Hell, why not chuck in all three, or even jump between action north and south of the United States’ southern border, tracking the modern drug trade from origin to end-user? The real world is getting more connected with each passing day; there’s no reason this digital one shouldn’t do the same…
Speaking of specific eras and locales, the GTA series has always leaned on killer soundtracks – primarily dispensed through in-car radio stations – to ground things in a definite time and place. Who could forget Paul Engemann’s Push It To The Limit blaring as the franchise went explosively three-dimensional in GTA 3, Judas Priest’s You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’, Megadeth’s Peace Sells and Gary Numan’s Cars upping the ’80s cool in Vice City or Hall & Oates’ Maneater making a bold appearance in The Ballad Of Gay Tony? With a bigger budget than ever before and guaranteed pop cultural significance, GTA 6 should be able to command an even greater catalogue of bangers. Oh, and they should be sure to keep up the brilliantly bonkers between-song chatter, too…
The Grand Theft Auto series has had no shortage of memorable playable protagonists over the years, but the lack of even a single woman amongst them feels like a massive missed opportunity – particularly following GTA V’s three-headed, all-male narrative. Yes, the criminal underworld is a traditionally male-dominated environment, but that only makes the females who infiltrate it all the more interesting, be they the iron-fisted matriarchs of massive crime families, venomous femme fatales or scrappy survivalists who’ve learned to get their hands dirty to survive. In fairness, it feels like a safe bet that we’ll be stepping into the shoes of at least one anti-heroine next time out.
Okay, we get it: a game called Grand Theft Auto probably isn’t ever going to be a place to live out your fantasy of being a pastry chef, fashion designer or veterinary surgeon. But where previous games have seen the player filling the shoes of some version of the archetypical career criminal, wouldn’t it be fun – and massively open up the narrative potential – to get to play as a crooked cop, a Saul Goodman-type slimeball lawyer, or even a Walter White-like everyman who gets caught in the downward spiral of a life of crime? There’s always the potential to (temporarily) go full law-enforcement, too, donning the uniform of a policeman or DEA agent for a glimpse of life on the other side of the thin blue line.
With ever more photorealistic graphics and an increasingly immersive in-game experience, the world of Grand Theft Auto has become a great place to spend time even when not getting your virtual hands dirty. So it makes sense to give players more to do. We’re not advocating a return to the compulsory taxi service and babysitting missions of GTA 4, but the opportunity to go on dates, grab food in restaurants, work out at the gym and, ahem, hang out at adult entertainment emporiums have always helped even-out the gameplay experience and lent a sense of more grounded reality. Who’s to say we shouldn’t be able to get into competitive sports, take up birdwatching or volunteer at the animal shelter (with the reward of earning a furry companion) in between boosting cars and blasting fools next time out?
While absolutely no-one can fault the scale of GTA V, with its map bigger than three of the previous games’ combined, there is a valid argument for greater density. One of the easiest ways to make an open world feel more detailed and lived-in is to add the ability to get inside the buildings that fill it. While the number of interior locations has been increasing game-on-game, there was still the potential to open up hundreds or thousands of virtual homes and businesses to poke around and raise hell in. Imagine the potential for weird and wonderful fun going Die Hard in an office block, sitting down to catch a movie in the cinema or dropping your shopping cart for a gunfight in the supermarket. Building said world from dynamic destructible materials (surfaces and objects that can literally be broken down by gunfire and vehicular chaos) would add yet another layer of visceral realism – and outrageous fun.
If you’re going to build that more detailed world, you need to fill it with (non-player) characters that really bring the place to life. While we understand that creating a detailed, evolving narrative for each face in play simply isn’t feasible, there is surely the potential to further flesh out significant supporting cast members so that they follow a real routine in the game world even when they’re not directly involved in the mission at hand and can be checked in on throughout your play-through. In terms of the more anonymous individuals you meet on the street, why not randomly assign aggression, cowardice, intelligence and attitude to help them stand apart from each other, or take a leaf out of Skyrim’s book, at least sketching a backstory that fits with how they interact and where they go? One little old lady might cower in fear when you pull your machete on her, sure, but wouldn’t it be more interesting if the next yanked a Glock out of her stroller and started blasting?
The Grand Theft Auto experience might’ve been truly three-dimensional since GTA 3, but aside from landing your helicopter on top of a skyscraper, laying down covering fire from a low-rise rooftop or, indeed, flying one plane right inside another in GTA V’s outrageously brilliant Minor Turbulence mission, the vast majority of action has been kept at ground level. With franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Uncharted, Spider-Man, Tomb Raider and Ghost Of Tsushima showcasing what climbing mechanics and real verticality can add to the action in open (or semi-open) worlds, it’s an area in which GTA has real room to raise itself up.
If you’re going to add verticality, you may as well supercharge it. Has any item in GTA history been cooler than the jetpack from 2004’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas? We’d argue not. Stolen from an in-game Area 51 (dubbed Area 69, lolz) during late mission Black Project, it allowed the player to literally ascend out of any kind of trouble they found themselves in – while dual-wielding Uzis, if the mood took them. While there was a slightly shonky sense of weightlessness back then, there’s potential to give it a sense of real heat and heft with modern game design, and maybe even to transform the whole gameplay experience as the addition of a grappling hook did in 2021’s Halo Infinite. It doesn’t exactly lend itself to gritty, grounded storytelling, of course...
For all its immense variety and detail, the basic act of taking on an enemy with your boots and bare knuckles in Grand Theft Auto has always been an underwhelming experience. Between the basic controls and lack of any real bludgeon, its something that’s actively detracted from the feeling that you’re playing as a bona fide badass over the years, and which has made getting into fights feel downright boring at times. Rockstar have already addressed the issue in Red Dead Redemption 2, with the ability to carry and tackle enemies in fist-fights, but there’s room for far more options, and even to creatively wield clubs and blades, for even more satisfying brutality.
As wildly successful as the free-roaming chaos of GTA Online has become, it’s clear that game mode has long-since outgrown its original design, with the abundance of add-ons and improvements bolted on nowadays leading to multitudes of messy menus, and an often unwieldy, inconsistent experience. Almost a decade down the line, GTA 6 offers an opportunity to build a new, streamlined service from the ground up – designed with systems and structures to support a constantly evolving, expanding online world. It’s also a chance for the developers to address issues with matchmaking delays, player trolling and the general unapproachability for newcomers. To be completely clear, though, we’re absolutely not advocating for online-play to be overly integrated into the single player story mode, as that could compromise the self-contained magic with which we’ve been in love for all these years.
Grand Theft Auto has always thrived on – and, occasionally, over – the borderline where banal “video games incite violence” discourse spills into authentic bad taste and moral outrage. Back in 1997, developers DMA Design actually paid notorious PR guru Max Clifford to stoke a tabloid campaign against their original ‘crime simulator’, and on every release since there has been some sort of outcry over the sex, violence and deviant behaviour contained within. Controversy makes for big business. Crucially, however, these games have never really wallowed in grottiness for grottiness’ sake, instead preferring to use their edgy product as a vehicle for socio-political satire and twisted commentary on American capitalism. With the current – entirely valid – criticism of growing toxicity in gamer culture, there could be fresh temptation to file down GTA 6’s more abrasive edges, but Rockstar need to be allowed to keep pushing the envelope and touching nerves as long as long as their (dark) hearts remain in the right place.
Architects have announced the departure of guitarist Josh Middleton after six years in the band.
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