Everything you need to know about Grand Theft Auto V's game world
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We've wondered whether GTA V will be too serious. We've looked at what the trailer tells about GTA 5's vehicles. Now we turn our attention to the Grand Theft Auto V game world and map, sieving through the finer details of the trailer and investigating the surrounds of the real world Los Angeles to bring you the definitive speculative article about what to expect from GTA V's environment, and how it will affect the gameplay.
Since the announcement of Grand Theft Auto V and the subsequent GTA V trailer, the internet has predictably been awash with rumour, speculation, analysis, pontification and proclaimation about what the new GTA will entail. In the words of Rockstar themselves, it’s been ‘internet lunacy’. Internet lunacy it may be, but I’m sure Rockstar were delighted at the attention it deflected away from the release of Saint’s Row The Third. Right, Rockstar?
Among the bampot theories and sensible suggestions, one thing stood out for me and triggered the need to indulge in some rumour, speculation, analysis etc etc of my own. Last week the below map was ‘leaked’ onto the net, enjoyed a few hours of fame and was then subsequently declaimed as being a fake.
This map surfaced last week, supposedly from the 360 version of GTA V. On the face of it, it's quite feasible but look a little closer and there's much to be very unsure about.
It’s fakery was ascribed to some internet app that analyses to what extent screenshots have been doctored in Photoshop. More pertinently, perhaps, was the position of the city in the top left corner, which given the GTA San Andreas map could only be San Fierro. San Fierro/San Francisco is of course a coastal city, not one that’s completely landlocked.
The suggestion is that this is taken from a GTA4 PC mod, which certainly seems plausible. It’s a helluva Photoshop job otherwise. Or it could be a genuine work in progress map from Rockstar, but this seems unlikely at best given the how the topography around Los Santos doesn’t tally in any way with what can be seen in the trailer, and then there’s the small matter of Rockstar’s announcement stating that GTA 5 will be set in:
“The city of Los Santos and surrounding hills, countryside and beaches in the largest and most ambitious game Rockstar has yet created… in a re-imagined, present day Southern California.”
Are you going to San Fierro?
This suggests (I’m loathed to say ‘confirms’ given Rockstar’s propensity for drip-feeding information about GTA games) that unlike San Andreas, GTA V will be a one-city pony. No Las Venturas and San Fierro for you, friends. Probably.
This focus on a single city makes sense for a couple of reasons. Revisiting San Andreas the other night for a quick mooch around, I was struck that San Fierro was as drab and dull a place as I remembered it to be. Last-gen graphics aside, San Fierro was pretty devoid of character and the beige and grey colour palette was only exacerbated by the frequent rolling mists. Unlike the vibrant, bustling city it’s based on, San Fierro is just not an appealing place to hang out in. Likewise, there’s not a great deal going on in Las Venturas save for the casinos and airport - much like its real-world counterpart, in fact, where most of the ‘action’ happens indoors, something that’s most certainly not GTA’s forté.
Revisiting San Andreas is not a happy experience for the eyes having played GTA 4. You couldn't fault its ambition at the time, though.
By expanding Los Santos to cover a wider area than it did in San Andreas, and cramming it with the high level of detail evident from the trailer, Rockstar will be creating a more vibrant and interesting urban game world for us to muck about in. As with L.A. Noire, we can expect a superior depiction of Los Angeles, one that matches the Liberty City of GTA 4 for depth.
Of course it is possible that Rockstar can also beef up San Fierro and Las Venturas to the same standard. I’d suggest the game’s budget would allow for the resources to make it happen but whether current-gen console tech is up to the task of holding together three large, finely detailed cities plus swathes of countryside inbetween is a different matter entirely. Sure, the worlds of Red Dead Redemption and Skyrim and Fallout 3 are massive but they don’t have three different living, breathing metropolises in them.
The other issue with having three cities is mission variety. Most gamers would agree that San Andreas felt a little flabby in comparison to Vice City’s tight structure. While size and level of graphical detail and so on is obviously important, it’s still a videogame, and games live and die by their gameplay. So on top of packing in the detail for the extra cities, Rockstar would also have to cram in an extremely wide variety of mission types to keep things fresh, and those missions would also need to knot together cleanly into the overarching narrative. Yes they’ve plenty of previous success in doing this and undoubtedly would have the talent at their disposal to make a good fist of it, but the spectre of repetition and dodgy plot turns would still loom large.
So let’s call it and move on: no San Fierro and no Las Venturas in GTA 5.
Before considering the “surrounding hills, countryside and beaches” part of Rockstar’s statement, let’s look at Los Santos. You don’t need to be a genius to realise from the trailer that it’s a bigger place than it was in San Andreas. From the snippets shown off, it stretches from Vinewood in the north to Santa Maria in the west and Ocean Docks in the South (respectively Hollywood, Santa Monica and Long Beach in real world LA) while the ‘scrapers of the Downtown financial district forever loom large in the centre. How far to the east it stretches isn’t really clear and I’ve never been to east LA so I wouldn’t like to make a call on a natural easterly end point for the city.
Here are those settings from the trailer:
The docks area of LA is just south of Long Beach in Los Angeles. You'd think there were nicer spots for some jetski fun.
Verona Beach, with Santa Maria beach and pier in the background in west Los Santos.
Sunset strip, a few blocks down and across from Vinewood. That's the Standard hotel on the right with The Sunset Tower hotel behind it.
So the Los Santos of GTA V is a pretty substantial re-imaging of Los Angeles, then. There are heaps of buildings and locations in the trailer that can be married to the real world, but rather than go through them here you should check out this forum, where the folks have painstakingly gone through the trailer frame by frame and illustrated the game’s locales with photos from the real Los Angeles.
The big problem with basing a game in modern day Los Angeles in my opinion, even if it’s a parody of the city, is that modern day Los Angeles is for the mostpart a complete dump. I’ve been there many times and it never fails to strike me how mismatched the Hollywood-created perception of Los Angeles is with the reality. I’d suggest that a game spanning the entire sprawl of the city and its outlying urban areas would be terminally dull.
However, for their interpretation Rockstar can of course cherry-pick the more interesting locations – Santa Monica, Sunset Strip, Hollywood Boulevard (which to be fair is only one very scruffy block), Beverley Hills, downtown etc etc and cut out large areas of the LA basin where there only seems to be great swathes of housing and small businesses and warehouses and not much else.
Perhaps I need to experience more of the city, but this is certainly the impression I got on my hour-long train ride from downtown to the airport, and indeed from the lengthy bus journey from downtown up to Sunset. (Both trips while at this year’s E3, since you ask. No cabs for Made2Game!)
One hill of a town
Now it’s time to fire up the Specul-o-tron 2000 machine and turn to the most puzzling element of GTA V, that of the ‘surrounding hills, countryside and beaches’.
Firstly, this from the official statement: “the largest… game Rockstar has yet created.”
I wasn’t able to discover the exact area size of previous Rockstar games, but this from a poster on the Digital Foundry forums seems about right:
Liberty City Size: 6.5 Square Miles
L.A.Noire Size: 8 Square Miles
San Andreas Whole Size: 13.9 Square Miles
Red Dead Redemption Size: 28 Square Miles
So if GTA V is to be Rockstar’s “largest game yet created” then it would have to outstrip the size of Red Dead Redemption’s game world. That, folks, is a LOT of game world. Here’s the Red Dead Redemption map:
Imagine Los Santos taking up the entire area of Great Plains, Tall Trees and Hennigan's Stead. You're still left with vast spaces of game world.
For arguments sake, lets say that the GTA V game world is 30 square miles, and that Los Santos makes up 10 square miles of that. That still leaves us with an extraordinary amount of world for Rockstar to populate. Rendering the actual countryside itself isn’t an issue, we know this from Red Dead Redemption. However, this is modern day California not the Wild West, so what can Rockstar be planning in terms of actual gameplay here?
The trailer shows that Los Santos is surrounded by very sizeable hills, and indeed the below screenshot shows some happy campers (the character and his family?) in the foothills of a mountain – Mount Chiliad? Clearly these hills will account for a significant proportion of the GTA V map, but, well, they’re hills. Mountains even. Mount Chiliad, with its downhill bike race and opportunity to fling yourself off the edge on a motorbike with a parachute strapped to your back was a fun distraction but hardly the stuff of legend. It’s difficult to imagine how Rockstar will utilise all of this very hilly terrain and keep the gameplay fresh.
Mount Chiliad? Could be. That's one epic climb to undertake on foot in a GTA game. Chopper taxi for three, please!
Will there be missions where you assault survivalist camps? Will there be running gun battles in the woods or chases around narrow mountain paths on quads and scramblers? Or perhaps, given the “I want to be… a good guy for once, a family man” quote from the GTA V trailer, you’ll be hiking and hunting and fishing and bird watching and picking flowers with your wife and kids. Hmmm.
(National) Park life
Los Angeles is surrounded by National Parks so beyond the hills of Los Santos and whatever they may hold in terms of missions and sundry gameplay, I expect to see lakes and rivers and forests and large towns and small towns and gas stations and lonely outposts and opulent private estates and so on. Much like San Andreas, in fact, but this time it’d be nice to have them as more than just mostly there for decoration, right?
A few clues can be gleaned from the trailer as to what business pursuits there might be in these areas. A wind farm is featured, as is an oil well and a vineyard – just the sort of business opportunity a GTA ‘hero’ might be looking to gain control of during the course of a game.
The wind farm from the trailer - simple scenery or a company's assets awaiting a hostile takeover? Given GTA's propensity for parody, the energy provision business could well be a theme.
Another clue as to what might be in store comes in the form of this blink-and-you-miss-it shot of a Hydra fighter plane whizzing between skyscrapers:
There it is. In the middle of the screen there. You might have to squint a bit.
Messing about in choppers and planes has always been my favourite part of GTA and with, as the evidence suggests, such a large area to fart about it in, the possibilities for airborne-based frolics are endless, be it ferrying dodgy cargo about or embarking on raids and bombing runs or just lengthy air races. There’s bound to be one or more military installations knocking about the place – marine camps, Air Force bases, Naval bases and secret installations have all featured in previous GTAs and all have contained serious treats. How many hours did you spend in San Andreas flying about in a Hunter chopper? A lot, if you’re anything like me.
As to sundry activities: The below shot shows the number 5 freeway signposted. In the real world, the 5 runs through hundreds of miles of countryside as it winds its up towards San Francisco. Intriguingly, it passes by the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area. If this doesn’t sound like prime GTA fodder then nothing does.
How far will the Los Puerta freeway run? To the hills, no doubt. Where's Los Puerta anyway, huh?
Here's the 5 running through a load of countryside. I think this backs up my argument, right? RIGHT?
In terms of beaches, away from Santa Maria and Verona beaches in Los Santos itself, you’d imagine the game world to wind its way up the coastal highway towards Rockstar’s interpretation of Malibu. As to how GTA V will utilise the actual beaches in terms of gameplay, again there are sundry leisure activity possibilities aplenty but for proper missions it’d be pure guesswork: Smuggling? Clandestine meeting places? Quad bike chases across the sands? Who knows!
Speaking of sand, will the desert feature in GTA V? I’m no student of geography but I don’t think you can class desert as ‘countryside’ but the fact remains that there’s a sizeable chunk of it just east of LA – Death Valley and the Mojave – and Red Dead Redemption has shown just how incredible a desert setting can look. If variety is the watchword for GTA V, you certainly wouldn't bet against plenty of desert settings, especially given the number of bodies that are buried there in Hollywood movies.
Dreams of Californication?
Obviously all the above might be a load of old pony and GTA V will not only feature San Fierro and Las Venturas but also the cities of Burbank and San Diego and the countryside will just be a couple of hills and a few shacks. But somehow I doubt it. After the solely urban-based GTA 4 and the runaway success of the rural-based RDR, it seems a no-brainer that GTA V should see a mix of the two styles and Rockstar will indeed present us with a very different and supremely varied open world to what we’re used to in the series.
To do otherwise would be lunacy.
Words by Nick Ellis (Twitter: @nick_gamestribe)
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