VBG: GTA Heading Back to London?

London Crime

As much I’m impressed by Microsoft’s all-out push with Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost & Damned, for the money they paid I’d expect nothing less. I guess what most impresses me is that gaming is big enough for downloadable content to validly be advertised on television, and that exclusive DLC is significant enough to drive console sales. While I tend to not buy much DLC because it’s often overpriced – I’m looking at you, LittleBigPlanet costumes – I’m tempted to lay down pennies to spend some time with The Brotherhood. Also, controversial full frontal dong? Sounds like the perfect graphic image to terrify some curious, unsuspecting friends with.

Resulting from the ongoing discussion on GTA IV’s DLC, its dongs, and so forth, has been consideration of where the series will go next. If The Lost & Damned has a high attach rate, it’s probable that Rockstar will continue to add onto the game through digital downloads , but how far could they go down that route? Is it feasible that larger areas like Vice City and San Andreas could be added through DLC? That seems unlikely given the restrictions of current technology, but maybe that signals the postponement of bulky retail expansions while Rockstar explore their options with DLC.

This further discussion has gently resurrected murmurings of Rockstar taking their flagship series abroad, arguably for a well-deserved vacation from satire of modern American culture. I’ve enjoyed every GTA game since first visiting Liberty City, but is it time to explore new areas? The counterargument is that GTA’s primary quality is exactly what would be lost by leaving America; its humorous take on the world’s most powerful nation. Surely the boys and girls at Rockstar can do a good enough job of mocking another country into the ground, and I’d love to see them try. Possible mockable candidates that have cropped up include Barcelona, Tokyo, and Paris. All of those are excellent choices, but if you’re looking for a globally recognisable city with a crime scene frequently featured in the media, you need look no further than my glorious home of London, England.

It wouldn’t be the first time GTA has visited London town; two GTA: London mission packs were released for the original game in 1999. They were great, but they don’t compare to the quality of the GTA III series, understandably so given that they were 2D and didn’t have the level of cultural commentary found in later incarnations. Three years later, Sony released their own GTA-esque game in the wake of GTA III’s success. It was set in London and called The Getaway. I haven’t played it, but from what I understand it was a reasonable if somewhat clumsy GTA clone. It pertained to then recent Guy Ritchie films featuring London-based crime like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and it brimmed with profanity from start to finish – well, it sounds like a GTA game to me.

While a couple of trusted friends liked The Getaway, a couple of others were very disillusioned; one said he couldn’t get past the first mission because the car chase was too fast, while another said that “stealing a Routemaster bus was the only real highlight”. OK, hijacking public transport is fun, but that doesn’t sell me on  the game, especially since the sequel was all but universally panned by critics.

So, was it Sony beating Rockstar to the chase with The Getaway that put them off returning to London?  Well, around the time of Vice City and San Andreas there was definitely interest and some rumours rumbling of a GTA: London, but clearly Rockstar wasn’t interested. Maybe it wasn’t just The Getaway getting in the way, but the Guy Ritchie films being too recent in memory. After all, the GTA III games referenced recognisable modern culture that hadn’t featured too heavily in recent mainstream media, most notably with Vice City that harked back to ‘80s TV series Miami Vice. Another example is GTA III’s Liberty City, which was full of references to early ‘90s crime films like Goodfellas and Scarface. It’s just a theory, but maybe Rockstar don’t want their games going up against modern mainstream media representations of the cities and cultures they’re spoofing.

Now that Guy Ritchie’s films are out of fashion – RocknRolla earned a Metacritic score that rivals that much appreciated Getaway sequel – maybe it’s time for Rockstar to bring it back home with the next Grand Theft Auto installment. Rockstar North, the hub behind GTA,are based in the UK, and they have a London division that could be doing better things than putting together average games like Manhunt 2 and Midnight Club: Los Angeles. Besides, London’s culture and crime scene is far deeper and interesting than represented in Ritchie’s films, and it would take a game with the scale of GTA IV to truly do it justice. Plus, there’s tons of controversial areas that they wouldn’t be afraid to explore. In particular, the ethnic fragmentation that’s given the city an air of uneasiness since 9/11 and the Tube bombings. To me, the timing is perfect and the location is perfect, and I’ve got a sneaking hunch that GTA: London is in the cards – and you know what that means?

That’s right: British dong, INC.

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