Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

GTA 6 Shouldn't Strive For Realism

Late last year, the gaming world was rocked by the sudden leak of hours of "Grand Theft Auto 6" footage. After years of keeping the project under wraps, Rockstar Games suddenly found itself scrambling to scrub the gameplay clips from the internet before too much of the sequel was spoiled. Even so, fans were able to glean a great deal of information from the leaked clips, including the updated graphics and the realistic recreations of familiar landmarks. Though some fans dinged the game for looking incomplete, most people understood that it still is, and that the released clips represented a work in progress. Others took this as an opportunity to once again ask Rockstar to put more work into making the game feel more realistic than previous installments. But would that really be the best move for this series?

As hype for the next "GTA" installment grows, we've heard rumors and leaks that have pointed to the next game in the series looking a lot closer to reality than ever before. We're not just talking realistic physics for things like driving and swimming, either; to hear some insiders tell it, "Grand Theft Auto 6" is being designed to make players feel like they're really a part of the action. 

Of course, we're in an era of gaming that has pushed the limits of what was previously possible. Video games feel incredibly immersive thanks to new developments in visual and audio fidelity, not to mention haptic feedback that nudges the player at every turn. But Rockstar runs the risk of ruining "Grand Theft Auto 6" if it leans too heavily on realism.

GTA's already been dinged for realism

One of the most common complaints about "Grand Theft Auto 4" — though it's still considered by many to be the best entry in the series — is its characterization of lead protagonist Niko Bellic. Simply put, Niko seems like a decent-enough guy, or at least he begins the game with the intention of leaving his violent past behind. When players meet Niko, he's genuinely trying to be a better man, only to find himself sucked into one criminal scheme after another. 

The problem here is that Niko is so well-written that players may find themselves reluctant to engage in some of the more unseemly side activities that are part-and-parcel with the "GTA" experience. It's hard to play as a guy expressing his desire to break the cycle of violence — only to then drive him around blowing up firetrucks and beating up adult entertainers for fun.

The writers on "GTA 6" would do well to keep this lesson in mind when crafting the protags of the new game. This isn't to say that these characters should be one-dimensional, but the inhabitants of a "Grand Theft Auto" game need to be more cartoonish and slightly out-of-step with reality if they're to thrive in the kinds of environments that Rockstar is so adept at crafting. One of the reasons why Trevor caught on so well as a lead character in "Grand Theft Auto 5" was that he already had both feet firmly planted to the left of reality. He's a terrible person, sure, but it's undeniably entertaining to see him go on a cartoon-level rampage. There's a clear separation between the players' world and the one Trevor inhabits, which makes the gameplay experience much more palatable.

Rockstar needs to remember GTA's roots

As we've seen recently with things like the gameplay demo for "Unrecord," it can give viewers a bit of an icky feeling to see hyper-realistic graphics in a video game dealing with crime and extreme violence. It's one thing to knock down the doors of an enemy base and start clearing rooms of baddies in a shiny first-person shooter like "Borderlands," but it's another thing entirely when your targets are real-looking human beings with their hands up in surrender.

In order to function as intended, the "Grand Theft Auto" series always needs to maintain a certain level of goofy surreality, no matter how advanced gaming may become. At the end of the day, video games are about escapism. As video games become more advanced — and therefore, much more realistic — Rockstar has to walk a very fine line to keep "GTA" from losing what makes it special and fun. One of the reasons why the series has continued to be seen as controversial is because of the ways in which it has occasionally overlapped with grim reality. Drive-by shootings, torture at the hands of government agents, and drug overdoses are all-too-real fears and concerns in the modern age, so "GTA" typically tries to approach these subjects with as much levity as possible.

No one is saying that Rockstar should avoid taking risks, but it would do well to remember the series' over the top roots when crafting "GTA" for next-gen hardware.