Grand Theft Auto V’s Story Mode is 8 years old today! That’s right. First teased all the way back in October of 2011, with an ominous image of the GTA V logo and nothing else on the Newswire, with a massively hyped trailer released the week after on the 2nd November 2011, it was the best-selling game of basically all time, with some of the best reviews in gaming history at launch, and to this day, especially due to its Online component, it continues skyrocketing in popularity, being released on 2 whole generations of platforms thus far.
There was a lot to digest during the GTA V marketing period – from sudden announcements that broke the Internet, to extensive info droughts that brought the community onto their most desperate selves, to all having been worth it in the end. It all culminated even further in GTA Online’s launch in October 2013, which was rocky, but now manages to be one of the most successful online games out there, with continuous updates. As divisive as this subject might be for some of the hardcore fanbase nowadays, as a lot of people are just looking forward to the next thing, GTA Online has offered a lot of players a lot of content and many hours of fun, even with all the problems you may say it has.
Info droughts, launch hype, information drops, leaks and spoilers, in this article we will be telling our own history (in shorter words than the last Sound Off, don’t worry!) with GTA V’s launch, pre-release period, the characters and story, GTA Online and the community. Enjoy!
Our own launch experience
uNi: It has been a quite while since I have experienced a GTA launch just as a player, been part of a couple different fan sites over the years (GTAForums being the one I have stayed around the most, should be entitled to a pension by now, Tank).
The momentum had been building for a few years over at GTAF but launch was just out of this world, we had prepared for something big but GTA V just took everyone by surprise for how great it was, as much as we try there was certain times we lay back on the moderation kind of things simply because everyone was so hyped, including us. All in all nothing tops R* going 150% on marketing.
Spider-Vice: Because I’m primarily a PC player, although I accompanied the whole pre-release period (and was frustrated myself at info droughts, ha!) from 2011 to 2013, and helped clean up the forum of leaks and spoilers and spam by mass-reporting posts all the time (my first shiny GTAF award by none other than Kirsty), I could only play the game fully for myself in 2015. I had played it several times on friends’ consoles, but that was it. As a huge fan of virtual photography, this was my first ever GTA V PC picture in April 2015 on the Social Club.
Launch was a crazy period on social media and GTAForums, as not only there was a massive amount of spoilers, but everyone couldn’t stop talking about the game because of how much they were liking it and exploring stuff. I got the ending spoiled for me pretty early, at least the one where Michael dies, but that didn’t ruin the experience at all for me.
As for favourite topics, there were so many it’s hard to say. Before the announcement, we had some good old GTANet Shenanigans(tm) with topics like Genesis and Where is the Blue? (along with its sequel Find the Blue), during the marketing period there was just so much stuff, from major speculation topics, to frustration topics about Max Payne 3 releasing during GTA V’s marketing, etc. Let’s also not forget the impressive Mapping Los Santos topic, where a bunch of people literally got it almost right just from trailers and screenshots!
– GTA V First Screenshot and Q&A
– GTA V Trailer 2
– Max Payne 3 Easter Egg Hunt (due to GTA V images being in it, Cheekystar!)
– The series of promo screens every 2 days: Leisure / Business & Vehicles
– Epsilon Program Official Twitter
– Counting Down to Los Santos by Kirsty
– GTAForums Thread Simulators (most are unfortunately now privated)
– Ned Luke is the Main Character
(and many more including those linked in the article’s intro!)
Kirsty: GTAV is the first launch I got to experience with other players online, after I signed up for GTAForums. I hadn’t been into fansites before then, but the anticipation was palpable; everyone was going insane with no announcement, but after that big boom towards the end of the year I cemented my place in the community and here we are.
The pre-release hype and build-up is always so memorable, with all the speculation as information started to trickle out, the Game Informer blow out, the viewfinders. I was posting news for the GTANet website and moderating the GTAV subforum all while being excited for the launch myself; good times.
I went to a local midnight launch on my own and waited in line for about 3 hours, and even for my small town there was a huge line, so my poor mum and nan didn’t want me walking through the town that late at night and they waited for me in a Tesco car park the entire time! Bless them! Afterwards I got home and the first thing I did was set it to install and post on GTAForums about my prize; the GTAV Special Edition for PS3.
The Story Mode – characters and story
uNi: I did hate the fact we had three characters at first, but as the story progressed it grew on me, it was nice seeing the world from different perspectives. Quite enjoyed playing as Trevor, Franklin is still my favourite though. Still think I prefer IV’s story mode but it is hard to resist all the variety in V.
Spider-Vice: By the time I got the game on PC, I had read all kinds of mixed comments about the game’s Story characters. People not liking Michael because he seemed to be a hypocrite, people not liking Trevor because he was far too crazy, or thinking Franklin didn’t fit in with the other two – and of course, the complete opposite.
One point of disagreement in the community was also how ridiculous the story could be at times, too action-filled, too goofy for some, but very fun for others.
I was on the fun spectrum, as in my opinion the game was indeed supposed to be a satire of Hollywood ridiculousness and I think it did a great job at that. A dysfunctional family, a crazy character like Trevor, a gangster living in the suburbs like Franklin, all getting together to blow stuff up and get involved with bad people. I’ve replayed it many times since and I still find it quite fun. I thought Michael was a relatively well written character, but I did think Trevor was rather over the top, despite being fun. I never minded the 3 characters thing, I think it was an interesting idea, but I do think a single character allows for deeper story development.
I really liked GTA IV’s gritty story mode, but I think there’s a time and a place for something like GTA V’s story too and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though if I want feels, I’ll probably go back to GTA IV, ha.
Kirsty: IV is probably up there as my favourite entry in the GTA series, and while Niko isn’t exactly personally relatable, he had great depth and an arc to his journey which connected us to him, something I was apprehensive about when it came to V having three switchable protagonists. Being set in the plastic society of Hollywood allowed V to take self-parody to the extreme, which did kind of take away from any potential grittiness the story could have that I liked about previous games.
Overall I think if you were rank GTA by story and protagonists alone, V would probably not be near the top of the ladder, as there’s a certain shallowness attributed to having more than one protagonist to learn about and get comfortable with. RDR2 achieved this perfectly, so I hope if Rockstar approach this style again that it goes much deeper than V allowed us to experience. Saying that, each of the protagonists are very memorable for the part they played, and everyone has their own reasons for who they like to stick with the most; their perspectives are totally different, making the experience of V’s story very unique and maybe the cancellation of SP DLC is why we’re left feeling like there’s something missing all these years later. I probably spent the most time with Franklin, he’s a respectable dude and nothing beats walkies with Chop; I wouldn’t say no to seeing him again as an ally in the future actually.
uNi: I was hoping for a new location but it turns out it was going back to Los Santos as it is very different, more mature and way more detailed and with so much to see. Even today after all this year is possible to find a few things here and there you have not seen before, I love that. Graphics wise I still cannot believe how good it look and that V was actually running on the Xbox 360, experiencing on PC is just totally different, even today with Vanilla, it holds quite well.
Spider-Vice: When the logo was first unveiled in 2011, speculation was rampant that it was going to be something like Las Venturas due to what seemed to be a money themed game. A lot of others guessed Los Santos, who were absolutely right, and others almost had a heart attack in the first trailer’s first scene that looked like Vice City. Wild.
I think going back to Los Santos was a great choice, because it was the most detailed city (even if not the most packed like Liberty City in GTA IV) Rockstar had ever done, and despite the desert and countryside areas not having much civilisation, they were very fun to explore and mess around with, all the way to the top of Chiliad, which was a nice call back from GTA San Andreas. The world was more alive than ever (and I still think it’s pretty alive for a 2013 game) with lots of diversity with the pedestrians, scenery, etc.
To this day I still love taking pictures around Los Santos and Blaine County, because it can still be very pretty at times. Perhaps the countryside and desert could have been a little more detailed, but it’s still a good map overall.
Kirsty: The map of V is something that is unmatched in the GTA series; no one can make a world like Rockstar. Like I said in the last question, I loved the grit of Liberty City, so the sunny expanse of Los Santos is definitely a different vibe. However, it just has so much to offer from top to bottom; the highways, the mountains, downtown. The world felt so alive on my first playthrough, like a place you could just spend every day in and not get tired of it with how much variance it had. All you have to do is check out the amazing virtual photography that still comes out of it to show it still holds up today as well.
The enhanced version of the game, E&E, that is coming next year has not had the best reception so far, but outside of the disappointment regarding the decisions surrounding that release, you can’t deny that V’s setting and map is the perfect host for an open world game, especially for all the crazy activities of the unstoppable GTA Online.
The hyper-successful behemoth – GTA Online
uNi: There is a ton of content I am not really a fan of, or just not interested, but treated as a sandbox environment to play with a couple of friends, it still is amazing and just a ton of fun. All things considered, it did received a lot of content poured into it and has managed to survive until today, got to give R* credit for that. Some Youtube videos from back then: [ 1, 2, 3, 4 ]
Spider-Vice: October 2013 was the release of something I don’t think even Rockstar expected to become so big. Plagued with server issues and data losses at launch, as they didn’t expect such a massive amount of players to join (and granted, maintaining any brand-new live service is very difficult), it transformed itself after a rough patch, after the release of Heists, and to this day is one of the most played and sold Online games ever.
Nowadays, the existence and persistence of GTA Online can be a divisive subject for hardcore fans, but it still doesn’t change how successful and fun (for most!) it still is. Absolute crap tons of content packs over the years, brand new locations and heists, activities, many things to do, there really isn’t a shortage of content in GTAO nowadays.
Back then, it was mostly a sandbox where you could spend money on things like cars, and prices were more accessible, but as the player count grew, people got/bought more money and more content was added, the economy was adjusted as expected. Although it can be kinda difficult for some people to have it all without grinding, it’s still in my opinion an extremely fun experience with the right people. I’ve been able to buy most things but currently I’m going to have to try and rob El Rubio silly a few times to experience future content!
Kirsty: How can you put into words the success of GTA Online, at this point. I don’t think anyone expected the journey it has had so far – I mean it is Rockstar, so we know the standard they set, but at the same time it has become a beast of it’s own with a giant playerbase and a seemingly endless stream of profits for the business folk. It is also the greatest cause of concern for some people, who feel it is the reason we don’t have GTA VI in our hands right now, but that’s a topic for another day.
The sheer amount of content put into GTA Online over the years has scored it a very dedicated playerbase, so you can only offer Rockstar kudos on their feat in that regard. Personally, I’m not a regular Online player myself – I just don’t have the time or can’t afford the motivation to grind for hours each day, so I’m definitely not the audience they’re aiming for, but I’m fine with that. In the early days it was a lot “easier” to find your place in the economy, and that has definitely expanded and enhanced (teehee) since the beginning and my in-game balance is constantly low! If you just enjoy some casual shenanigans however, then nothing beats it. Updates are still insanely hyped after all this time, and I always enjoy how well received they are amongst the community. I’m very curious about how it will evolve from those day 1 server disasters, to its place in the future of the series.
How did the community evolve?
uNi: The community definitely changed a lot since the game was originally released, it was a different era as well with new platforms being introduced: Youtube, Reddit, Twitter. The community also seen a whole new and younger generation of players coming, it took actually while to adjust but it is stable-ish these days, I think the maturity of RDR2 helped a lot in that regard. There is also so many smaller and niche groups/communities out there nowadays too, it is great to see that all the available platforms today provide that freedom to players all over.
Spider-Vice: This one would probably require a big answer if I were to be fully detailed about it, but I think the “changes” we’ve seen over the years have a lot to do with newer players coming into the series. It makes some of us feel quite old when people don’t know too much about GTA games before GTA V, but it is the natural evolution of things.
When GTA V was announced, there was still a lot of the crowd who knew the older games from the back of their hand, by the time it was released there were a lot of new and existing fans playing it, and as GTA Online evolved, more and more new fans came in. It’s just how it is, even if sometimes some of the newer community can be much harder to deal with than the older community! Quite a few from the old guard are still around, but there’s a lot more newer fans as well, as said before, also from other platforms like Twitter, Youtube, etc. Everyone’s welcome and I can’t wait to see the next evolution for the next GTA game.
Kirsty: With such a big audience, there are definitely both good and downright awful things you could say for this question! From trolls and toxicity, to the kindest and most generous people, I think the GTA community has it all, and I’ve met so many different people that have become friends.
It has definitely changed over the time since I first joined GTAForums a decade ago; expectations have never been higher and patience has never been tested so finely. There are all sorts of communities within the space each with their own cause for dedication, such as roleplayers and virtual photographers, “famous” YouTubers, mod creators and more; some entirely new to the franchise with V being their first game since they were too young to experience the others at the time! As an observer of social media, everything is so fast-paced with a dozen different opinions in every direction, so if you’re actively amongst these circles it can sometimes be a very draining experience.
That said, I love being a part of it all, and there is no other community I could follow as closely; it is surely going to evolve once again in its own way beyond the next GTA instalment, not only with new players, but with everyone else just getting older!
And that’s it from us and our “GTANet old folks memories”! To this day, GTA V continues to be perpetual in everyone’s minds, from the newer fans, to the casuals, to the hardcore fans who are, as of right now looking forward to the next thing, and other rumours…
Join us in our GTAForums discussion topic where we will be asking you about your own memories about these subjects and your opinions on each!