Games of the Decade: GTA Online is multiplayer like nothing else
"Stop firing rockets at my house!"
To mark the end of the 2010s, we're celebrating 30 games that defined the last 10 years. You can find all the articles as they're published in the Games of the Decade archive, and read about the thinking behind it in an editor's blog.
Whilst now it feels like a foregone conclusion, back in 2013, GTA Online was an exciting gambit for Rockstar. The team had to design a world that players would want to leave the comforts of their legendary single-player narratives for. GTA 4's online mode was a success, but it still amounted to a lonely city with an airport warzone and some rudimentary deathmatches.
At first, GTA Online seemed too ambitious. Wouldn't too many RPG-wielding pre-teens spoil the proverbial pot? At launch, the sceptics were vindicated. In the game's first few weeks, the experience was a disaster. I remember the vapid missions, rampant griefing and random loss of character data that kicked off Rockstar's GTA Online reparations program, where players are still being gifted lump sums of apology money in exchange for putting up with bugs.
Teething problems aside, it became increasingly difficult to deny that Rockstar's sandbox still had something special to it, with its RAGE engine ragdolls and legions of helpless civilians. Log in and you can still lose hours tumbling down Mount Chilead with your mates, laying down sticky bombs and blasting police cars with alien technology.
As of 2015, players were able to buzz their friends up to their penthouse suites, pick roles and co-ordinate to earn their millions rather than mill the base depths of multiplayer with fleeting slapstick violence. With bank-breaking costs fronted by the heist leader, GTA Online finally started to demand commitment and care from a player-base that was focused on anything but. Friendship groups became archetypal units overnight with brow-glistening levels of responsibility. I've never known adrenaline or anguish like a misjudged parachute pull or a stray wing clipping a skyscraper costing four close friends millions in pride and in-game cash. Scheduled occasions for heisting after school (and later, work) became the norm, where the unpredictable, high stakes crescendos could be weeks in the making, with night vision raids to orchestrate, jet packs to pilot and banks to rob in broad daylight.
What a thing! At any one time, you can be booking real DJs at your seedy in-game nightclub, running guns from your mobile war machine and masquerading as a Sasquatch with a shotgun. I struggle to think of any multiplayer experience that balances such depth with absolute freedom. To play GTA Online is to live a second life rich in satire and chaos.