But it also has heists, and heists are some of the absolute best things in any online game – so it is Wireframe-o the Great donned her top hat and went striding back into the world of GTA Online. And this time she brought friends.
Over three hours into the session, we were finally able to start a proper heist. It had been a series of ups and downs – mainly downs – and while some fun had been had, this was the entire point of the Sisyphean task we had unwittingly engaged in. It was time. The heist was here. Three known quantities plus one random hanger-on would first head out to steal an aeroplane as the first part of a handful of stages in putting together a Heat-worthy crime. Three hours and 17 minutes into our session, on the road for our first proper heist, and GTA Online crashed for two of the team. I gave up.
You see, GTA Online is a broken hellscape of cheaters and endless content drops that only the most dedicated of players will make head or tail of – and on top of that, it’s also the least friendly online game for a bunch of chancers to jump into and play about in it. Whereas other games rely on wild concepts like ‘using a menu’ to sort out your games, GTA Online demands steps before you can crack on. To unlock heists, you have to be level 12 or higher. You need to own a high-end in-game apartment, costing at least 200,000 in-game dollars (£3.19 real money, if you want to skip earning it). Then you need to get to your apartment to kick the whole thing off.
As GTA Online’s lobby – of a sort – is the main open world, this means running the gauntlet from wherever you are to said apartment. And as GTA Online’s lobby is lousy with cheaters, this means risking engaging with random idiots who feel the need to ruin everything for everyone else just because they think they’re in tune with the Joker or some such silliness. More than once, we were unable to make it to the mission start areas thanks to hacking sorts exploding us, or putting massive bounties on us, or otherwise getting in the way. Do you know what would fix this? A menu system. They exist for jumping into jobs and heists with other people, but our particular experience this day was marred by the stop-start nature of things, the endless array of cheaters and – to get back to what was mentioned earlier – crashes.
That’s something I didn’t expect from GTA Online: flat-out crashing. No warning, no instability, no error message after the fact. On five separate occasions in the three-and-a-bit hours of play, it just up and crashed to desktop, forcing a restart and sitting through the excruciatingly long loading screen (which may be fixed by the time you read this, thanks to a regular member of the public telling Rockstar how to sort it). The slog of setting things up I could handle. The challenge of getting through the game world without being the victim of hacking gits, I could navigate. But it all being topped off with inexplicable, complete crashes that utterly ruin any fun you might have eked out? Like I said: I gave up.
In limited groups, where there’s little to no chance of interaction with cheaters, and you’ve a focused mission at hand – that’s what makes GTA Online shine. For all we – well, I - wanted Grand Theft Auto to make the leap into the multiplayer world back in the PS2 era, it turns out the wildness of the open-world… world doesn’t work very well. Also, just to reiterate: cheaters. But playing a heist distils things to that purer form, and makes for an experience that is – especially with a known group of chums – up there with the absolute best. It doesn’t matter if you get it right, it doesn’t matter if you come out as the best performer, if you even get to the mission area without understeering around a corner and hitting an explosive gas tank – it’s fun. It’s thrilling, and over the top, and difficult to parse in all the right ways – but it’s fun. But to get to that enjoyment, first the bloody game has to work. Ah well, back to the drawing board.