GTA Online Review
Absolute mayhem. Lots to see and do (eventually). Great with lots of friends
Endless grinding. Clunky matchmaking. Repetitive missions (at first)
After a very shaky start, GTA Online has finally reached a stage where it could be considered stable enough to play for long periods of time – and it was worth the wait.
Although there’s an article on its own in the troubles which plagued the release of Rockstar’s eagerly anticipated multiplayer add-on for GTA 5, I’m going to focus on the action as it is now.
Accessed through the radial ‘switch’ menu of GTA 5, GTA Online is a sandbox crime-fest which is loaded with potential, but is occasionally let down by poor design.
After choosing your sex and racial characteristics, Online opens with your nobody-crook flying into Los Santos to make his millions. Picked up at the airport by single player regular Lamar, the new arrival is quickly entered into a street race, then a deathmatch – the basic activities on offer as a level-1 criminal.
Afterwards, you’re dumped in the middle of crime-ridden Los Santos, and left to your own devices.
Bump n’ grind
Initially, playing in GTA Online can feel like a severe grind. Low-level players are restricted to races or shoot-outs, accessed through walking into a glowing portal on the city streets, or your in-game phone.
The jobs on offer, however, are all rather similar at around level ten – fetch-quests to recover Simeon’s stolen cars, or drug-busts for a gang boss in the slums.
It’s only at around level 15 that the jobs become far more interesting – once again requiring a considerable investment of time in grinding on low-level missions.
However, as distasteful as I found the lack of variety early on, the nature of GTA Online‘s excellent multiplayer abilities makes up for it in every sense.
Whether you’re bombing around town in a stolen bus or trying to hijack a train, once you add a few friends to the living, breathing world of GTA 5, Online comes to life.
This makes the initial grinding somewhat more enjoyable, as carrying out a boring mission is much less dull when your friend is by your side, flying the bird to every police officer you see.
Indeed, a lot of the fun of GTA Online is found outside the missions and challenges on offer.
The GTA 5 sandbox is a fantastic place to spend your time – especially when 10+ other players are there too. You can hold-up liquor stores for a quick buck, engage in firefights with the police, or hijack a fighter jet from the US military.
Earn enough money and you can invest in an apartment, buy new cars for your collection or even purchase aircraft to make getting around easier – but earning money requires you to put the footwork in, so more grinding awaits.
If you have a thing for modding your cars you can fit them with trackers, insurance and invest in a garage to keep them safe. You can even have them delivered to you when you find yourself out in the sticks after a mission – a common occurrence.
Higher level players often find themselves marked by bounties open to the first person to kill them, and banking your in-game cash is a regular pain in the butt, as any money you’re carrying at the time of your death is open for other gamers to grab.
It’s this unpredictability that makes Online so enjoyable – you can spend time zooming across Blaine County in an impromptu race against strangers, accept an invite to a co-op mission, then jump into parachuting, jet ski racing or even tennis – it’s a true sandbox. Just… with guns.
In fact, aside from the endless grind, my main beef with Online is the occasionally shoddy matchmaking – and the long loading times.
Despite regular patches after the initial snafu of Online’s launch, the game will often fail to keep parties in the same Online ‘overworld’, and regularly splits up groups of two or more into different lobbies.
This is infuriating, as when you’ve assembled your group of eight friends to pull off an assassination mission, getting split up at the end and having to re-invite them all is irritating.
This is especially true since GTA Online takes pains to make creating your own clans – symbols and all – simple.
Overall, GTA Online is a brilliant collection of fun mini games and missions, pasted on top of GTA 5‘s already stellar gameplay. As a free addition it’s well worth a go, but be ready to grind your way up the levels and endure hours of dull deathmatches before the missions become even vaguely interesting – and worthwhile to earn your wage.
Whether Online will endure without regular DLC (the Beach Bum pack was just released) remains to be seen, but there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
Grab your friends and hit the streets, you won’t regret it.