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Where Rockstar goes, the rest of the industry follows. That has been the case since Grand Theft Auto III first blueprinted the urban sandbox genre in 2001 and made the wrong side of the law an acceptable place to play.
So, in which direction will GTA V take us? It's not immediately obvious - and in this tricky post-announcement, pre-anything-else period, multitudinous dubious rumours swirl like dirty socks of pseudo-truth within the great washing machine of the internet - but the patchwork of clues point to a broader, persistent universe, picture.
Current stories claim many things. WWII fighter planes will be flyable. There will be advanced on-foot police tactics, including riot shields and tear gas. Real-time radio traffic reports will help us avoid congested roads during frantic chases. Los Santos will have a dynamic, fully functioning economy that we'll be able to contribute to...
Unfortunately, this latest batch of plausible-if-unspectacular reports (initially posted on the Gamespot forums, but later removed - see more here http://bit.ly/GTLaSj) also claim to have come from a friend of a disgruntled ex-Rockstar employee, now released from his obligations to secrecy. This does stretch the back story's credibility. Rockstar wouldn't let someone go without signing the kind of non-disclosure agreement that keeps their grandchildren from talking.
LOUDER THAN WORDS
But while rumours remain rumours, there are much more tangible clues knocking around as to GTA V's direction. And they don't just come from a guy on the internet. Instead, the answers come from Rockstar themselves, 'leaked' not by their words but by their evolving behaviour and design decisions over the last few years. In a slow-burning, roundabout way, Rockstar has been telling you the shape of GTA V long before GTA V was even announced.
Most recently and significantly, Rockstar have been talking a lot about narrative and multiplayer. It seems the company's new mission is to blend the two, maintaining the essence of what makes both campaign and multiplayer gameplay successful in their own ways, but blurring the lines between them in order to make each more satisfying.
We'll see Rockstar take the first official step along this path (and I emphasise the word 'official' because it isn't really the first step at all, as will be explained) with Max Payne 3's Gang Wars mode. The gist is that rather than providing the usual series of repeated team deathmatch rounds until an eventual winner is decided, the events of one round of Max Payne's multiplayer will inform the mode chosen for the next, with ongoing plot-threads tied to the main campaign running through every skirmish.