Will GTA V Delay The Next-Gen?
Will Rockstar’s all-conquering open world series extend the life of the Xbox 360 for another year?
Following the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, critics hailed it as Rockstar’s magnum opus. Only the third incarnation following the series’ relatively recent transition to three dimensions, the game was praised for its sprawling world and almost unending distractions, not to mention the sheer technical prowess with which Rockstar North had carried it off.
San Andreas was nothing less than a watershed moment in the history of gaming, arguably more so than any Rockstar Games project before it – and yet, perhaps even more significantly, the game also marked the beginning of the end for the sixth generation of videogame consoles.
Now that Rockstar has officially announced Grand Theft Auto V, framing the next iteration deliberately as this generation’s answer to San Andreas, questions are certain to be raised regarding the publisher’s intentions towards the Xbox 360 and existing games hardware moving forward. Is GTA V another swansong to current consoles? Is Rockstar suggesting that, once again, it’s aiming for the pinnacle of the gaming medium? Does the fact that it’s a numbered sequel suggest a leap more akin to that made between the third and fourth GTA games?
The choice of title could mean more than we can currently appreciate – at the time of writing, GTA V has been left ambiguously, and purposefully, devoid of any platforms or timeframes which it might arrive. Some speculators have even suggested that GTA V might only roll around by the time Microsoft’s next console is ready to hit retail. Such rumours certainly don’t harm Rockstar’s early promotion of the game.
Without a doubt, the message intended through the glossy images of skyscrapers, beaches, wind farms, mountains and vineyards in the game’s announcement trailer is that gamers should expect not only a sophisticated, must- play experience, but one that’s more technically
accomplished than anything we’ve yet seen.
Edinburgh-based Rockstar North has been tasked with creating “the largest and most ambitious game Rockstar has yet created,” according to the publisher, and the superlatives don’t stop there, with promises of “a bold new direction in open-world freedom, storytelling, mission-based gameplay and online multiplayer,” while Rockstar founder Sam Houser describes the project as “another radical reinvention of the Grand Theft Auto universe.”
If Grand Theft Auto V lives up to its billing as the gaming event to end all gaming events, how do you follow it? The evolution of games hardware would be a logical place to start. While a release for the already-announced Wii U hasn’t even been confirmed for calender 2012, recent estimates have hinted at reveals of rival next-generation consoles sometime next year, ahead of launches in 2013. While that schedule and any specific details on new tech remain the stuff of rumour for now, GTA V releasing next year is not a foregone conclusion – certainly the GTA titles don’t come together overnight, and Rockstar’s last two releases, L.A. Noire and Red Dead Redemption, were both reportedly in development for six years apiece.
While Rockstar North no doubt has the creation of GTA games down to a fine art, it would only have begun full development on GTA V following the 2008 completion of GTA IV. Not convinced that a publisher would be cruel enough to tease a game so far ahead of launch? Look no further than Ubisoft, which just revealed its next Rainbow Six title, Patriots –already confirmed for 2013. Meanwhile, Agent, Rockstar’s supposed
Sony-exclusive espionage title, was announced back in 2009 and has remained MIA to date.
Historically, though, Rockstar tends not to release bespoke software for recently-launched platforms. The publisher’s debut game on current consoles was Rockstar Games Presents: Table Tennis, essentially a technical experiment for Xbox 360 and Wii. A port of Bully, followed by GTA IV and Midnight Club: Los Angeles all followed on 360 in 2008 – after the console had been on the market for more than two years.
Despite the GTA V trailer’s good looks, the scenes set in Los Santos bear all the hallmarks of the technology used to make IV: refined and evolved to realise the organic nature of the city’s surrounding countryside. It’s visually beautiful, yes, but certainly not an impossible feat for an Xbox 360 to conjure, especially given recent tricks of the trade, such as multiple discs or recommended installation.
If the launch of San Andreas tells us anything about GTA V’s timing in ushering in a new wave of console tech, Rockstar will expect its flagship series to enjoy a certain level of attention before it’s effectively superseded – as they’re potentially more privy than most to next-gen strategies following long dealings with both Sony and Microsoft over exclusivity deals. San Andreas launched initially on the PlayStation 2 at the tail end of 2004, arriving just five months before Microsoft first revealed the Xbox 360.
By the time Sony’s exclusivity deal ended eight months later, San Andreas finally appeared on the Xbox in June 2005 – just five short months before Xbox 360 became available to gamers. Microsoft’s transition between its debut console and the 360 may not have been conventional by any means – it pretty much dropped the original Xbox like a hot potato in favour of its successor, effectively forcing gamers to come along for the ride – but the fact remains that San Andreas still performed extremely well, with lifetime sales of around 22 million copies.
The majority, just over 17 million units in fact, were sold on PlayStation 2; if GTA V is to fulfill its potential it’ll do so without the threat of exciting new hardware – and the next-gen experiences that brings – looming over it.
Ultimately, Rockstar’s past form tells us that while GTA V is more than likely to launch on the Xbox 360, it’ll tap every possible ounce of power that the developer can squeeze out of it, and that once the dust settles and GTA V’s entered the gaming fabric, new consoles won’t be far behind.