Although many Grand Theft Auto games have taken place in the present day, the series might be better off going back to the past after the sixth installment.
The overwhelming response to Grand Theft Auto 5 gave fans confidence that Rockstar Games would develop another installment in the series shortly. The studio appears to be putting all of its attention on Red Dead Redemption and GTA to the exclusion of its other franchises, such as Max Payne, Bully, and L.A. Noire.
Now that the former has been so well received, all eyes will be on the developer’s most cherished franchise as it enters its sixth mainstream chapter. Grand Theft Auto 6 has been the subject of much speculation, and recent leaks have only added gasoline to the fire. Despite the apparent abandonment of Vice City’s signature neon-infused ’80s style, the city’s setting is expected to make an appearance.
Both Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and San Andreas benefited greatly from their respective eras in terms of setting and the themes they were able to explore. Both PlayStation 2 games have received appreciation for the narrative and atmospheres they’ve been able to build, for different reasons. Tommy Vercetti’s journey through Miami-inspired streets and CJ’s homecoming to the sunny West Coast in a fictional ’90s city are two prime examples. Since Grand Theft Auto 6 brought players back to the present day, the next game in the series should follow the same formula as its predecessors and be set in the past.
Period Pieces Provoke Great World-Building
Similar issues plagued the version of Los Santos seen in Grand Theft Auto 5. Even though it’s the same playground that was given to players in 2004, it had to be updated for 2013, and as a result, it lost a lot of what made Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas enjoyable to play and exist in the first place.
Since the game’s tone, world-building, characters, and story were all so intrinsically tied to the late 19th century, setting Red Dead Redemption 3 in New Austin in 2022 would destroy everything that made the game great. This is also true in Grand Theft Auto. Any future games would benefit from taking place in a different period, and it would be interesting if that period wasn’t present.
Mafia Makes Use of The Past and GTA Could Too
Even though Grand Theft Auto has never gone back further than the 1980s for its stories, Mafia: Definitive Edition demonstrates that the past has a lot of presentation value and narrative possibilities. Lost Heaven’s setting in the Prohibition era is oozing with style, and the game’s mechanics are heavily influenced by the resources accessible to players at the time.
Weapons are less effective and numerous, making each kill throughout the main campaign feel more meaningful, while cars are slower, making chases more stressful rather than fast and flashy. Hangar 13’s upcoming 2020 game is more akin to Red Dead Redemption than Grand Theft Auto due to its reduced focus on gore and violence.
Since Red Dead Redemption already exists, it’s unlikely that Grand Theft Auto would ever set a game in the American Old West, but that game’s success proves that putting players in a specific period can lead to richer, more emotionally resonant experiences.
When compared to the road traveled by GTA 5’s trio of undesirables, Arthur Morgan’s long, resentful ascent to enlightenment is far more interesting, and even taking time away from the game feels more satisfying. The 1899 setting does a fantastic job of accomplishing this, and like Mafia: Definitive Edition in 2020, it makes the final result that much more atmospherically fulfilling.
Grand Theft Auto Excels at Social Commentary
Putting a new Grand Theft Auto game in the swinging ’60s or the turn of the 21st century would make the game’s unrepentant humor and frank social criticism more grounded and less likely to become dated in a few years. Since no one is likely to modify their minds about the 1980s and 1990s, the game’s tone will suffer if set in that era. If a future Grand Theft Auto game is set in the past, it will endure because it will fully immerse itself in that period rather than pandering to modern tastes.
This wouldn’t be a problem if Rockstar Games released new games more frequently, but Grand Theft Auto 6 is still a ways off. Since it appears like the magnitude and lifespan of Grand Theft Auto will only continue to grow, it will be impossible for any single game in the series to accurately reflect the dynamic nature of modern life. The franchise would be best served by returning to its roots as a period piece as soon as possible.