Getting into the game? Finally, no longer a problem. Hooking up with friends for jobs and random open-world hijinks? Happening on a regular basis. But, now that the yearning for GTA Online to fulfill a basic set of expectations has been met, I find myself craving something else. Something bigger, made up of unpredictable randomness but still feeling like a linked set of sequences. You know, a big score. Some of the things I’ve done in the last two weeks have come close but nothing’s really scratched the itch.
Until I get access to fighter jets, I don’t think I’m doing any more damn races in GTA Online. I can get who-goes-faster gameplay in any number of other games out there. Yes, the scenery in Los Santos looks great and provides unique pathfinding/obstacle/terrain challenges. But I really want to feel a criminal camaraderie in GTA Online. The kind of bond you feel when the cops are closing in and you and your crew are depending on each other to get everybody out alive.
A brief tingle of that showed up during the rounds of a survival mission where I partnered with my colleague Steve Marinconz. He’d take up a spot and I'd find cover somewhere that was close enough to help him out if needed but far enough away to draw enemies into a nice, exploitable spread. Darting in and out of various positions was fun as we mowed down wave after wave of rent-a-cops but the motivation was lacking. We were only doing it because it was there to do. Where was the drama?
A few nights later, I got off to a good night full of skullduggery with random folks. In GTA Online, like loads of other multiplayer games, you suddenly find yourself relinquishing control over things that you usually have command. So, when one erstwhile partner was taking me and another player to a drug deal theft job, I wondered if the crazy jumps and careening screeches of his driving reflected on his personality. Was it because we were in redneck territory? Is he our Trevor? Is this dude going to run out like a madman and evaporate our one team life before we even get started? (He was cool.)
From there, not-Trevor and I paired up for about three or four consecutive missions. Granted it was in the clumsiest way—do a mission, both back out to Freemode and get a phone call to join in on a job—but I finally felt like part of a dynamic duo. It didn’t hurt that leveling up was a hell of a lot faster when playing as part of a tandem.
But the highest heights I’ve yet reached in GTA Online came, appropriately enough, on a raid on the Fort Zancudo Air Force base. One minute I’m answering the job call for the mission, the next I’m soaring above Los Santo’s valleys and streams. This particular mission only opens up past level 24 (if I recall correctly) and the fellows I found myself playing with were much higher-level than me.
As the enemies start to stream in, it’s do-or-die time. No prankish one-on-one deathmatches. No vulgarity-filled kart races.
Myself and the two other guys pounded our heads against the job for at least four or five times to no avail. Down to his lonesome, one partner came agonizingly close to completion. He blew up the three fighter jets that were supposed to be destroyed and only had to make it back to the plane that got us onto the base. But he fell down in a fusillade of bullets and all I could do was watch.
Failure aside, that run gave me some of what I’d been thirsting for. The mission starts with a tense, sometimes quiet flight over Los Santos’ gorgeous landscape and then arcs upward into even more tension as you approach targets. Do we split up? Stay together? And, as the enemies start to stream in, it’s do-or-die time. No prankish one-on-one deathmatches. No vulgarity-filled kart races. Just finding out what you and your partners-in-crime are made of. Being a lower-level player, I can only dream about grinding to open up that job again. But it gave me a taste of what I ultimately want from GTA Online. Maybe when Heists become available, I’ll be able to chase that buzz more effectively. Until then, I’m going to dream about beating that Fort Zancudo mission and flying away scott-free.
We'll be logging weekly impressions of GTA Online for about a month before we do a full, formal review. Check in next week for more. And join our crew!