Grand Theft Auto Online’s latest update, The Contract, is a great reminder of just how much time has passed since GTA V’s 2013 release. Now, over eight years later, Franklin is an older and richer man running a Los Santos company dedicated to helping the rich and famous with their problems. And he needs your assistance to help his first big client, Dr. Dre, find his lost phone. But be prepared for problems that might derail your enjoyment, because while GTA Online is set in the present, it’s still very much an aging game with some very frustrating problems that befit its near decade-old status.
Since around 2017’s Gunrunning update, GTA Online has stopped being a prequel and has instead become a narrative that continues to grow, with each new update moving time forward. So that’s how, in 2021, Franklin is eight years older and–thanks to his successful heists and dirty work in GTA V—a much richer man.
It’s wild to think how much has happened since 2013, with your GTA Online character becoming one of the richest and most powerful criminals in the entire city. Even Lamar, who’s also settled into running his own business, mentions in an early Contract cutscene that he remembers when you first showed up. Lamar is the whole reason any of our GTA Online characters are even in Los Santos. Getting to see an older Lamar and Franklin living life, hanging out, and interacting is genuinely one of the best things in this update, with the cutscenes featuring writing and acting as good or even better than anything seen in 2013’s GTA V.
But the big star of GTA Online’s The Contract is Dr. Dre. This isn’t the legendary rapper’s first appearance in the game, as he made a brief cameo in the Cayo Perico Heist update from last year. However, this time around Dre is a star player, showing up in numerous cutscenes and phone calls. In fact, the entire setup of The Contract is built around Franklin and your GTA Online character helping Dre find that stolen phone filled with new and unfinished music, some of which you get to hear in the game. Yep, they’re premiering exclusively in this GTA Online update.
As is often the case when starting out a new expansion in GTA Online, you’ll need to buy a new business, this time a “celebrity solutions agency.” At this point, most folks probably have the $2 million needed to jump into the update’s new content, but the entry fee’s something to keep in mind if you’re coming back to GTA Online for the first time in years just to check out the missions and Dr. Dre’s new music.
Once you’ve bought an agency, you’ll be able to participate in basic contracts for rich but not very famous folks, like software CEOs and highly paid lawyers. Most of these missions are fairly standard GTA stuff, having you drive someone somewhere, steal back something for your client, or travel to an area to kill people. None are too hard or time-consuming, but they also don’t involve Dre or Lamar, so aren’t nearly as fun to play. Even so, you’ll need to complete a few of them to embark on the main Dre questline, which is a phrase I never expected to write in my life.
Compared to the random contracts, Dre’s missions are generally more complex and fun. One early mission has you and Franklin commandeering golf carts to chase and intimidate annoying golfers who got on Dre’s nerves at the local links. Another mission involves The Ballas and Grove Street Families coming together to help the famous rapper, and you fight a rival gang over some of his unreleased tracks. If you’ve played GTA San Andreas or GTA V you know well those two gangs (don’t) mix, so seeing them come together to help Dre is a fun moment.
What’s frustrating is that all of this new, cool story content isn’t found in a single-player expansion but instead a GTA Online update. So that means you have to put up with its aging bullshit.
For starters, I had a few issues just getting a mission to load and play out. Instead, I got stuck in the game’s infamous loading screens. Another annoying thing is that all of these new contracts that feed into Dr. Dre’s questline (there’s that phrase again…) can only be undertaken in a public session as a CEO. However, in GTA Online public sessions, only a certain number of players can be a CEO at any given time, so I spent far too long hopping from random lobby to random lobby trying to find one that wasn’t filled with other executive psychopaths. And even when I finished contracts, sometimes the next Dre mission just wouldn’t drop. I waited nearly an hour last night for the next chapter of the Dre saga to unlock before giving up and going to bed.
Of course, if you’ve played GTA Online none of this is news. But as we enter 2022, it’s getting harder and harder to ignore all this archaic shit. Even if the new updates are great, and the last few have been, if I can’t play them, does it even matter?
Perhaps GTA Online making the jump to PS5 and Xbox Series X next year will help, but I’m not holding my breath. And even though this update brought about some really nice quality-of-life changes—like limiting how often characters text you, and lowering maintenance bills on properties—the biggest problems of GTA Online seem too old and intertwined at this point to be fixed. But with GTA 6 nothing but a distant, far-off dream at this point, it’s likely I’ll be playing GTA Online for, at the very least, a few more years. If future updates continue being this good, I’ll both be happy to jump back online, and continuously frustrated by fighting ancient code just to experience the newest expansion.