Voices: I am a Grand Theft Auto diehard – but the latest edition is set up to fail

Voices: I am a Grand Theft Auto diehard – but the latest edition is set up to fail

When I was a kid me and my friend used to play Grand Theft Auto all the time. This was the first and second GTA, mind you, for the original PlayStation – where you played from a top-down perspective, and everything sort of looked like Frogger.

We used to talk about how cool it would be if they ever made a sequel in 3D – impossible, obviously, because you’d need some kind of supercomputer to run a fully 3D open world game that allowed you that kind of freedom. Smash cut to 2002, when my friend got a PlayStation 2 before I did and swore blind that his mum had bought him GTA 3, and it was the game we’d always wanted. I didn’t believe him, obviously (we didn’t have easy access to the internet back then), and we got into a pretty serious fight about it. In my defence, what he was saying really did seem impossible.

Smash cut to today, and Rockstar Games has finally announced a release date for GTA 6, saying that the long awaited sequel will release in the autumn of 2025 – a full 12 years after the previous instalment.

The trailer for the game, which was released in December of last year, doesn’t give much away, other than the fact that it seems to take place in a new setting inspired by Florida, and at least one of the protagonists is a (gasp) Latin American woman.

The previous instalment, GTA V, is one of the most financially successful entertainment products ever made, with a loyal fanbase that still plays it to this day, keeping the game’s online economy afloat in the form of digital in-game currency and microtransactions. The irony of the new game’s delayed development is that Rockstar probably would have made it a lot sooner if they weren’t still earning close to a billion a year from the last game. Those same fans who have been clamouring for a sequel are the same people who have been propping the old game’s ecosystem for the past 10 years. Good job, guys.

I can’t really blame them, though. If me and my childhood friend could see the state of modern GTA we’d probably die on the spot. Not only is it in 3D, but the maps are enormous, you can play with your friends, you can meet strangers from all over the world – hell, you can pretty much live in the game if you want to. Many people do, that’s why it’s so popular.

It’s also why the next game might be in trouble. While nothing in the series has matched the leap the series made from 2D to 3D, each instalment has done a good job of outshining the one that came before. GTA 4 was a huge technical upgrade over 3, 5 let you play as multiple characters and really nailed down the online gameplay, and 6 is going to… what, exactly? Let you play as a woman? That’s pretty good, I guess – not sure why it took us six mainline games and about 15 spinoffs to get here, but okay. I’m not sure it justifies the 10-year wait though.

Do you know which feature I see requested more than any other in conversations about a GTA sequel? It isn’t VR capability or a richer online ecosystem. It’s cars that run out of gas when you drive them.

In video games, cars have unlimited fuel, because of course they do. Why would you want to pull into a gas station halfway through a breakneck chase against virtual cops? Well, if you’ve been playing the same video game for the past decade, the answer is simple: verisimilitude. People have spent so much time playing these games that the last great frontier isn’t a big graphical upgrade or gimmick – they pretty much just want to live inside the game. They want it to feel as “real” as possible, even at the expense of what you might traditionally identify as “fun”. They want Second Life, but with guns and South Park humour.

People want to be able to enter every building in the game. They want their character to get hungry and need to shower. They want NPCs to stay dead when they kill them, and maybe even influence the plot of the game when they do so. The wish list for this game makes it sound like fans just want to live in the Matrix.

I’m sure the game will do well – it’s almost guaranteed to sell a trillion copies on its first day and break every obscure video game record – but at this point there’s no way it can meet the expectations of those diehard fans. Short of allowing you to upload yourself into the game and become an actual crime boss, this game is destined to disappoint.

Or maybe I’m wrong, just like I was wrong to punch my friend in the mouth when I thought he was lying about a 3D GTA sequel. In my defence, it did sound pretty implausible.