The Grand Theft Auto franchise represents the pinnacle in mainstream gaming. The release of the long-awaited online heist game mode for “Grand Theft Auto V” on Tuesday, March 10, ends the journey of the biggest title in one of the best family of games in history.
It has been a long wait for heist mode, which allows teams of “Grand Theft Auto Online” players to tackle long, complicated missions similar to those found in classic caper films like “Ocean’s 11,” “The Italian Job” and “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.”
It all started back on Sept. 16, 2013. I expected good things as I stood in line outside a Game Stop on the uncharacteristically chilly night — back when Fresno still had seasons. My fellow gamers and I were herded like cattle into a dozen rows of about 15 people each. We were allowed to enter the store only after the clock struck midnight on “Grand Theft Auto V” release day. As one of the last to line up, I had the especially dubious task of watching 100 or so other punk kids come flying out of the shop with their huge collector’s boxes and small bags.
I survived the longest midnight release wait in history only to find out that the game would take several hours to download and update properly on my PlayStation 3. I spent the next few weeks furiously pounding through the masterful solo campaign until the release of “Grand Theft Auto Online,” an open-ended multiplayer world developed as a free compliment to the “Grand Theft Auto V” single-player game.
It was a complete disaster.
“Grand Theft Auto Online” was broken. It took weeks, into October, for Rockstar North to get it working properly. But when they did, I fell in love —though I was disappointed that it didn’t have the promised heist mode.
I created my character — a grungy, Johnny Depp-looking sleazeball who looks as if he may have a weird smell and maybe even an odd, filmy texture to his skin — and set about dispensing mayhem. I even forgave Rockstar after they gave me a cool half-million in in-game currency, which I used to purchase a luxury apartment, two new cars and an arsenal that would make Tony Montana weep with joy. I was a gangster after all — money fixes everything.
Fast forward to Tuesday. After dozens of hours and more than a full year, the waiting came to an end with the official inclusion of heist mode.
The heists are exactly what we were all waiting for. They combine all of the Grand Theft Auto franchise’s greatest strengths: animation, solid writing, mind-numbing violence and hilarious dialogue. The meticulously planned heists are about 5% finesse and 95% B-grade action movie, but that fits the franchise perfectly.
My first bank job was a piece of cake. My friend’s character and scumbag Johnny Depp — rather, his beautifully rendered PlayStation 4 clone — began the heist by running surveillance on the small Fleeca bank branch. We ran into a few snags while stealing the armored car recommended for the getaway — I blew it up with a rocket launcher once, and my running mate drove it off the four-story parking garage instead of taking the ramp down.
Armored car in tow, we raced to the bank. I cracked the security from the passenger seat, and we donned insane cartoon masks. The wheel man destroyed the security cameras and kept the nervous teller in line by pointing his machine gun at him and screaming — yes, actually screaming into his headset — to keep him intimidated. I drilled through the safety deposit box and snatched the goods. Then we simply had to evade 100 or so cop cars and get picked up by a giant magnet attached to a helicopter.
This brash, over-the-top scenario managed to take everything that made the last 15 years of Grand Theft Auto single-player modes great and successfully transfer it into an open online experience.
With the final announced feature of “Grand Theft Auto V” finally out in the open, gamers can close the book on one of the most successful games in one of the most successful franchises in history. If I were to construct a gaming Mount Rushmore, I don’t think it’s too early to say that it would include Mario, Master Chief from the Halo franchise, an Orc from “World of Warcraft“ and Trevor from “Grand Theft Auto V.”
Whatever your barometer — critical acclaim, sales figures, pop culture staying power or, even, public outrage — Grand Theft Auto is at the top of the heap.