Grand Theft Auto 6 is arguably the most anticipated video game in the world, even beyond the practically abandoned Half-Life 3 that Valve never seems to write off officially. It's numbered as the sixth entry, but the series heritage spreads further than five games. GTA is almost 26 years old, with most of its games gaining the status of blockbuster megahits.
The technology advanced with each sequel, and the games grew in scope and usually in scale. Spending years with these open-world race 'n' chase simulators from one of my first-ever PC games back in 1997 to the monstrous cash cow that is GTA Online, for some reason, I barely feel a spot of excitement for the recent tease of an upcoming announcement about GTA6. So, what changed: its developers, the industry, or myself?
Not the Rockstar Games I knew and loved
Above all, the most likely suspect for my melancholy is the departure of several key staff members responsible for developing the most popular and successful Grand Theft Auto games. Co-founder Dan Houser left his former Vice President role at Rockstar Games in 2022. He started his involvement by signing the original game's developers as its publishers, migrating from its New York-based predecessor, BMG Interactive.
His role as writer, producer, and executive producer expanded with each GTA entry, notably the defining '3D trilogy' containing the genre-defining Grand Theft Auto III alongside its followups Vice City and San Andreas. With such ingrained involvement in my personal favorites and further influence in modern titles like Grand Theft Auto V, the second-best-selling video game ever made (behind only Minecraft,) his absence forms part of a void left by departed old heads.
Many staff I recognize from my favorite GTA games exited Rockstar Games on terms ranging from unusual to downright hostile.
Looking to Rockstar North's development studio, original music scored in all entries by audio director Craig Conner came alongside his production of the iconic in-game radio stations until his departure in 2014. Producer Leslie Benzies took the reigns of every game from Grand Theft Auto III to GTAV until a messy split from Rockstar Games in 2016 regarding unpaid royalties, subsequently reuniting with Connor in a new studio, Build A Rocket Boy.
Departures alone aren't a reason to suspect a video game development studio should suffer any real downturns in quality. People in the industry shift careers for numerous reasons. Still, many staff names I recognized from each of my favorite GTA games exited Rockstar Games on terms ranging from unusual to downright hostile. Rockstar's behavior as a publisher in modern times feels more like copyright aggressor Nintendo than a plucky punk-rock studio.
Hijacking the cash cow vehicle for all it's worth
Besides the low-hanging fruit of griping about GTA Online and its vicious 'Shark Card' currency microtransaction culture, Rockstar Games has quietly exhibited a secondary wave of troublesome behavior. Since it runs parallel to a track record of creating borderline-perfect titles like Red Dead Redemption 2 (albeit with painful levels of developer crunch that other AAA studios see in their nightmares), my secondary concern might seem like hyperbole to some.
Disappointing events came in the form of ruined nostalgia and hopes for the future when Rockstar Games catastrophically underdelivered on the Grand Theft Auto: Definitive Edition re-releases and axed the potential of story-based DLC for GTAV to focus on GTA Online.
Not to discredit the potential for fun in the sprawling online multiplayer mode, but the hard pivot towards a 'profit above all' attack feels eerily similar to how I had to realistically give up hope of seeing a conclusion to the Half-Life series due to Valve's overwhelming success with the Steam platform for PC game sales.
It was a two-pronged attack against the Grand Theft Auto name as a brand that left me wondering if GTA6 could excite with the potential to change the gaming landscape as its predecessors so often did. Will it expand into the latest technology to push the Xbox Series X|S consoles to their limits, or will it be a carefully structured environment designed for multiplayer, leaving the story-driven campaign as an afterthought, much like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3?
A tired and outdated design
The final nail in the coffin is that I can't honestly get excited over the prospect of repeating the tired mission structure of Grand Theft Auto games. For Red Dead Redemption 2, the novelty of spending my spare time roaming the beautiful wilderness in a rarely-utilized 'Wild West' setting felt like an acceptable substitute for otherwise moving through a majority of boring story missions interspersed with its enthralling story.
Each chapter generally has a cinematic conclusion that sees you taking on the role of an action movie star. Still, the potential for any player agency is stripped down to the point of following points on a map and waiting for the cutscenes to play out. The same applied to Grand Theft Auto V, with any possibility of fun activities added as DLC for the trio of story protagonists snuffed out by GTA Online's absurdity, forever benched as floating race track footage pasted underneath trending social media clips.
But let's be honest; you can't realistically ignore Grand Theft Auto 6. I'll inevitably play it, but it might last no longer than my fleeting romps with multiple open-world snoozefests that fail to hold my interest with an uninspired gameplay loop. You can wrap up tired mechanics with all the shiny luxuries of modern graphics, but I really can't be bothered to drive a tow truck or follow another train. Here's hoping Rockstar Games delivers something fresh and exciting in December.