It’s 16 September 2013. I’ve just arrived in Japan to cover the Tokyo Game Show. Before I boarded the plane, my life had been consumed for weeks by Grand Theft Auto V. I’d spent six days playing it for every waking second, written a review, and scripted and recorded a video review for IGN, where I was working at the time. The pressure was immense. I had not thought about anything else for so long that the lines between my real life and my virtual life in San Andreas had started to blur; I remember, on a short snack trip to the Co-op across the road from my old flat, vividly envisioning putting my elbow through the window of the Prius parked outside and driving away in it.
That review was published a few hours after I disembarked on the other side of the world. It’s the most popular thing I will ever write, read by more than 10 million people by the end of that year. In the decade since, no game has come close to capturing that level of fervour. From the second Grand Theft Auto V was announced in 2011 until its release, people ate up every scrap of information that Rockstar flung their way.
Now, here we are again. This week we got our first official look at GTA VI. The release of this trailer has not gone to plan; following a few years of inconvenient leaks, the entire thing leaked on Twitter on Tuesday night. (Amusingly covered in a watermark urging people to buy Bitcoin – is there anything crypto bros can’t ruin?) This forced Rockstar to release the official version of the trailer about 13 hours earlier than planned, which it will not have liked. I imagine its many lawyers are already working in overdrive to address the leak.
The trailer shows us sunbaked Vice City, Rockstar’s Miami, in all its neon sleaze, and its surrounding state of Leonida. We see monster trucks in the mud, a prison yard and bikini-clad posers at a rooftop party. We see footage of typically Floridian chaos on an in-game social media feed and gators turning up in unexpected places. We’re introduced to Lucia, the first female protagonist in the series, and her (as yet unnamed) partner in crime. It has sunsets and flamingos, fast cars and firearms (of course), beaches crowded with impressively realistic-looking people. Grand Theft Auto has historically been great at showing us the entirety of its American society, from the criminal underworld at the bottom to the white-collar criminal overworld at the top and we see flashes of everything here, from obscene wealth to tailgate parties getting out of hand. It might be light on information, but it is certainly a vibe.
Rockstar’s studio head Sam Houser offered: “Grand Theft Auto VI continues our efforts to push the limits of what’s possible in highly immersive, story-driven open-world experiences. We’re thrilled to be able to share this new vision with players everywhere.”
The most surprising thing in this trailer is the release date: 2025, not 2024 as we had all hoped and imagined. I’ve written before about why this game might have taken so long – the short answer: likely a combination of GTA V’s absurdly long-tail success, and Rockstar’s infamous perfectionism – but 12 years is an unprecedented gap between two entries in the same game series. And yet the long wait has made this trailer feel like a religious experience for some fans, the coming of a long-awaited messiah. It’s a 60 million views already on YouTube, and at the time of writing, it’s been less than a day.
There is a long road ahead (appropriately, Tom Petty’s Love Is a Long Road soundtracks the trailer). We will be fed carefully designed morsels of information every few months between now and whenever Rockstar decides to finally release this game (I’d bet on early 2025, before the end of its publisher Take-Two’s financial year). We’ve already been waiting a long time, but that won’t stop Rockstar from taking its time to build the hype.
What to play
Because I’ve played about a thousand video games, I usually know whether I like something within the first hour or two. But now and then, I end up loving a game I hated at first. This is what happened with A Highland Song, a challenging magical-realist trek through the Scottish mountains as a teenaged runaway.
Be aware that your first run at these hills will probably be frustrating, but the longer you spend getting to know the routes and the stories and the hidden secrets of the place, the easier things become. And every time I scaled a peak, I felt a quiet sense of awe. This is a beautiful love letter to the Scottish wilds, in all their austere beauty. And I promise, it does get more fun.
Available on: Nintendo Switch, PC
Approximate playtime: 5+ hours
What to read
The debut trailer for Amazon’s Fallout TV show is out, and you know what, it looks quite promising. It gets Fallout’s apocalyptic Americana tone, it doesn’t look over-serious, and I’m a fan of the irradiated bear and hellish axolotl.
One of the games I’m most looking forward to playing next year is Thank Goodness You’re Here!, a comedy set in a fictional Yorkshire village that’s channelling Viz and Adventure Time. Its developers describe it as “like an unnecessarily horny seaside postcard”.
Universal Studios is adding a Donkey Kong Country-themed area to the Nintendo theme park in Osaka that I visited recently, expanding its size by 70% – and, crucially bringing in new monkey-themed merch. (More on my visit is in this recent issue of Pushing Buttons.)
Rockstar alumni have been busy lately: studio co-founder Dan Houser’s new venture has announced a graphic novel and an audio drama series, and the first game from ex-Rockstar North honcho Leslie Benzies’ game studio, Everywhere, is going into alpha testing this week.
Lastly: Yorkshire Tea wants you to pay £150 for a branded Xbox controller.
What to click
Reader Simon is looking for some recommendations:
“I recently got a PS5 and am looking for two-player games on it that I can play with my 13-year-old daughter. We’ve got Sonic and are enjoying that. We played Lake together and she enjoyed it, but it’s single-player, so one person has to watch. Neither of us are into shooting or zombie games. She’s not into football, either. Any suggestions?”
Sackboy: A Big Adventure might look a bit kiddie but it’s a heck of a good co-operative platformer, bursting at the sewn-together seams with personality. It Takes Two is one of the best cooperative games out there, though the subject matter – a pair of warring parents on the verge of divorce are shrunk down to miniature size and must work together to save their marriage, or make their young daughter sad – might be a bit fraught. Chicory: A Colourful Tale, meanwhile, is an absolute banger. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is as good in split-screen now as it was in the 2000s. And they’re not appropriate for kids, but when your teen is older, horror/thriller series The Dark Pictures Anthology from Supermassive Games lets you and your fellow players vote on choices that dictate the fates of the characters.
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