We’ve seen a lot of negative fan reactions in 2021, but one flew under the radar. In September, Rockstar Games revealed that Grand Theft Auto V would be coming to next-generation consoles in 2022. Admittedly, the list of new features is pretty meek, with the trailer making vague promises like “improved graphics” and “seamless character switching”, but the negative response was surprisingly comprehensive. You probably would have seen a better reaction from fans if Rockstar had unveiled a line of NFTs based on Trevor’s stained underwear for GTA Online.
At the time of writing, the trailer has 299,000 dislikes and just over 64,000 likes. It’s not that Grand Theft Auto V isn’t great, or that GTA Online doesn’t get enough attention, but after eight years with no meaningful single-player updates people seem to be getting bored.
Growing up with Grand Theft Auto has meant meeting colourful characters, travelling to iconic cities that capture a moment in time, and, er, abstaining from violent rampages every time a parent enters the room. The relatively recent addition of GTA Online gives you the pen to write your own story through street races and epic heists, but after so many years it’s hard not to feel nostalgic for the joy of a new single-player adventure set in Rockstar’s criminal sandbox.
Expansions like GTA IV’s The Ballad of Gay Tony or The Lost and Damned – stories that continue a tale or show you the world from another perspective – have been overshadowed by the continual churn of GTA Online updates. Players are desperate for Grand Theft Auto 6, but I don’t mind sticking around in Los Santos if it means seeing more of its iconic antiheroes.
Rockstar only needs to look at the positive reaction to GTA Online’s recent The Contract update to see there’s a clear appetite for more story-driven content – less than 1% of the 2.4 million people who have watched the trailer have left a downvote. While Grand Theft Auto V’s supporting characters have cameoed in multiplayer adventures over the years, The Contract stands out because it gives you a proper glimpse into how life is going for one of the game’s three protagonists, Franklin.
Franklin has just started up a celebrity solutions agency, which aims to discreetly handle the problems of the rich and famous. Word of your deeds has reached his ears, so he wants you to sort out problems as he finds them. You start by helping some smaller dramas and then Franklin strikes it big by landing Dr Dre as a client. The hip hop icon has lost his phone, which had some unreleased music on it, so it’s up to you to steal it back before the tunes leak.
The Contract feels like it should be a part of the main story. Its missions are expertly paced and escalate like one the series’ classic character arcs. It’s the smaller details, though, that make the biggest impression. Visiting Franklin’s home gives you what you need to piece together how his life has changed since the conclusion of GTA V’s main story.
Tanisha’s name appears on the licence plate of one of the flash GTA 5 cars parked outside Franklin’s home, all but confirming the two got back together, and there’s a playset in the garden, so we can safely assume the two have started a family. Best boi Chop’s looking particularly jowly, too, giving you a sense of how much time has passed.
And yet, some things stay the same. You see plenty of Lamar Davis throughout GTA Online, but seeing him bicker with Franklin again reminds you of his place in this world – he might have the confidence of a major player, but Lamar’s never escaped the minor leagues. Once you complete Dr Dre’s missions, you can unlock special co-op quests that places you and a pal in control of Franklin and Lamar. Driving around Los Santos destroying rival drug stashes is just an excuse to sit back and let the pair’s bickering, trash-talking, and reminiscing fill your ears.
In another throwback to the main story, the quest ends with Lamar roasting Franklin because he won’t let him into his house. While you can see the passage of time through Franklin’s growing family duties and Chop’s age, Lamar’s constant mocking shows that some things don’t change.
The Contract is an excellent example of how new GTA Online content can embrace Rockstar’s knack for creating memorable characters. But there’s no escape from the feeling that these stories are better suited to offline play, where you can explore the world at your own pace, free from griefers, hackers, or having to compete against other players in open-world events. This new story about Franklin is great, but it would be so much easier to enjoy without a player called xX_GokuBLAZE_420_Xx harassing you from atop their flying superbike.
With GTA Online, Rockstar Games has kept up with the service games trend that continues to dominate the industry, but the studio can still tell great stories. All the threads are there for a great single-player GTA V expansion: the game has three potential endings, but the tiny bits of dialogue in The Contract point to a timeline where all three protagonists are alive. So, with no sign of Grand Theft Auto 6, and very little hope for a significant Read Dead Online update, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for some story-based DLC for GTA V in 2022.