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2013 preview: Grand Theft Auto V

Why Rockstar's sequel could be the first next-gen game - but powered by current-gen consoles

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We'll also see how secondary characters react differently to the main protagonists: what happens when Trevor or Franklin stumble into Michael's mansion-lined district? Dan Houser says the story is really going to play on these fish-out-of water scenarios. It's also clear that the relationship between the three hoods is going to be central to the action.

GTA IV got you to hang out with a whole roster of gangland scumbags. Here, it seems to be about this central threesome, although Michael has a wife and kids, and it looks like these will be providing the comic relief Character is the focus, not plot.

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Deep Heat

Indeed, the whole sense of linearity is being broken down. GTA V doesn't build toward a single climax, it is structured around a series of major heists, with sub-missions leading up to and feeding off them. You get the feeling that while Vice City looked toward the dot-to-dot hyper-violence of Scarface and Miami Vice, GTA V is much more like Michael Mann's Heat, a deeper, more nuanced experience - but with a whole bunch of shooting thrown in for good measure.

And here's an important thing; while Niko's story was about killing, GTA V is about cash, about greed and adrenaline, and that changes the tone and the mission design. Speaking to IGN, Dan Houser said these guys are focused much more on money and robbery.

"They can do the robberies in different kinds of ways and have a lot of choice over the things they do." Again, this is a glimpse at how game design is likely to mature, taking us away from the signposted corridors of Uncharted and on from the more thoughtful arenas of Dishonored and Far Cry 3.

Verticality also seems to be much more important in this game. You've always been able to access rooftops and clamber up hillsides in GTA, but now, perhaps inspired by upstarts like Batman and Assassin's Creed, GTA V is more subtly layered than its predecessors.

The mission press have seen involves Michael being lowered from a chopper and rappelling down the side of a skyscraper for a raid on a government agency. And then we also have a mountain range, miles of sky to fly through and an explorable ocean. Will there be a submarine mission? It's unlikely Rockstar would have modelled the sea floor just so players could go scuba diving if they felt like it.

"While Niko's story was about killing, GTA V is about cash"

Space Exploration

But then, doing things when you feel like it is a vital element of the GTA experience, and Rockstar knows it. Here you'll be able to play golf and tennis, ride quad-bikes, do a triathlon. Explore, live. "Games are very geographical," said Houser to The Guardian.

"They present space almost better than they present time, and we try to use that, to showcase variety between different landscapes. It's this idea of a digital holiday: being able to explore spaces that don't really exist is one of the things that's fascinating about open world games. It's not just about doing the activities we've set, there's also a sense of being there".

Quite possibly, hidden among all this talk about freedom are some subtle clues about the online modes in GTA V. With Red Dead, Rockstar introduced its concept of Free Roam multiplayer where players could get together in gangs and explore the whole environment. GTA V will surely build on this. It's almost certain we'll see co-op heists, maybe against other players as security guards.

We're sure there will be elements of EA's Auto- and Battlelog social systems, allowing players to make connections between each other's game worlds. But the big things are likely to be persistence and scope.

Next-gen games may move on from the limited Team Deathmatch format of current online modes; GTA V might suggest that, allowing small squads of players to engage in longer form quests and narrative adventures. Houser hinted at something in his Guardian profile: "This game, if we get it right, will be a step toward some kind of organic living soap opera." Perhaps that ambition will inform multiplayer too.

Zoom
Franklin and Michael survey the Los Santos city sprawl

The next generation of gaming will be less about formula and structure and more about freedom and personalisation. GTA V is not there, of course, it's still sitting in this generation - even though its very possible that, as at least a new Xbox is due at the end of 2013, an updated edition may well be released.

Even if it isn't, with its emphasis on multiple characters, a less linear story, and a freer environment, it has things to say about the future. And what it says is this: the future of game design isn't about us, it's about you.

The final issue of PSM3 is on sale now. You can buy the final issue of PSM3 online or on iOS here (UK).

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