By now most of us in the gaming community have seen the first official footage GTA V gameplay, but I would like to go beyond the usual listing of new features and discuss some of the narrative and gameplay potential this footage offers up. Obviously, the most novel change to the series is the addition of three protagonists and the ability to switch between them at will. Although non-press has heard about this feature before, this is the first time the public has seen it in action and it doesn’t disappoint. This new element seems interesting enough to change the flow and mentality of GTA combat, but also suggests new ways to experience and play as Rockstar’s latest characters.
Besides the protagonists allowing for interesting gameplay switches, these three demographically distinct characters enable Rockstar to conflate three different types of crime dramas under the umbrella of the heist genre. Michael seems representative of the white upper middle-class ex-gangster come back for one last job. Franklin is obviously from the tradition of west coast gangster films like Boyz N the Hood. Trevor seems like he’s rooted in the most unconventional generic heritage of the three: A hybrid of crime thriller with crime comedy. There is something disturbingly funny about Trevor stomping the decapitated foot of an ostensible victim into his feces filled toilet, a bit that evokes the moments of the dark comedy strewn throughout Breaking Bad. Each character represents a different aspect of the crime genre discourse. The “touch of voyeurism” that permits the player to catch glimpses of these character’s lives will undoubtedly highlight these differences. This amalgamation of three distinct versions of the crime drama gives Rockstar the opportunity to create something wholly original. To my knowledge no one has ever brought together these three criminal perspectives into one piece of media in a way that wasn’t overly farcical. It may be that this kind of fusion could only be effectively executed with the huge time scale and size of the virtually living city that Rockstar’s open world games provide. If there’s anything this trailer does show, it’s that the traversable game world is enormous and beautifully renders a satirized SoCal. The studio’s track record and evolution makes it certain that the “satirical reimagining of modern southern California” will also manifest as biting commentary on the tropes of the gangster story.
This three protagonist romp will not only undoubtedly generate a unique narrative, but also differing gameplay possibilities tied to each respective genre. It will be interesting to see how the lifestyles of these different characters will offer the player distinct ways to interact, whether it’s Michael partaking in the entertainment of the bourgeoisie, Franklin dealing dope on the streets of San Andreas, or Trevor inconspicuously ridding his home of incriminating body parts. The opportunity to perform the lives of a multitude of criminal archetypes should make for one grand crime drama.