Even as Grand Theft Auto V enters its ninth year of life, developers Rockstar haven’t so much as hinted at the existence of a sequel. The success of Grand Theft Auto V’s online mode is surely the reason why; it’s become one of the most profitable games of all time largely due to this mode, and as long as the money is still rolling in and folks are content to keep playing an older game, the attitude “why make a new one?” seems to be prevalent.
But surely there will eventually be a sequel. Though Grand Theft Auto V had been a stalwart on the charts since its release, scarcely dropping out of the top ten bestsellers in some countries and territories, recently it does seem to be slipping, and doesn’t feature in the most-sold games for last year or the first few months of this year. Perhaps those are signs that the Grand Theft Auto V juggernaut is slowing down, despite Rockstar’s plan to port it to new consoles.
Trying to guess when the next entry in the series will be revealed or released is a crapshoot. If you’d told me in 2013, when Grand Theft Auto V was released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, that we wouldn’t have even heard about a sequel by mid-2021 I’d have thought you were making it up! What I’m saying is that, even with E3 right around the corner, it’s hard to say when we might see the first solid indications that this game is in the works. It’s even possible that Rockstar’s next big project will be something else entirely – the company owns the rights to titles like Bully, L.A. Noire and Max Payne, for example.
Instead of trying to figure out if we’re going to see Grand Theft Auto 6 any time soon, today I want to focus on some possible options for its setting and time period. These are two of the biggest fundamental characteristics of any game in the series, and the new title has a lot to consider to say the least! As always, please remember that I don’t have any “insider information.” I’m approaching the subject as a fan of the series, speculating and considering different possibilities. Nothing more. With that out of the way, let’s get started!
Vice City, published in 2002, is inseparable from its ’80s time period. Grand Theft Auto V is likewise firmly tied to its early-2010s time period. We’ve seen games in the Grand Theft Auto series set in several different decades, and a time period can become absolutely iconic, either playing on contemporary themes and issues or using nostalgia as a lens.
Although Grand Theft Auto V has seen great success using a (relatively) modern setting, I’m not sure that its sequel should necessarily do the same. After such a long gap between games, Grand Theft Auto 6 has a strong need to differentiate itself from its predecessor, and being too samey could lead to negative reviews and a lack of interest. With Grand Theft Auto V being ported to next-gen consoles, Grand Theft Auto 6′s biggest competitor could be its own predecessor, so it needs to stand out and stand apart.
So what are the options? Nostalgia for the ’80s and ’90s is a big deal in entertainment at the moment, and with Vice City being almost twenty years old, and San Andreas being over fifteen years old at this point, a return to either of those eras could be on the agenda and wouldn’t feel too derivative. Television shows like Stranger Things and even Chernobyl, as well as games like Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War have all succeeded with a nostalgic ’80s vibe, and that would certainly be one way to go!
I’d also suggest that the turn of the millennium – i.e. 1999-2000 – is an era ripe for a deep dive. Such a setting could include elements from the ’90s and early ’00s, and recreate the party atmosphere of Millennium Eve! A pre-9/11 look at the United States would present a contrast to the present day, allowing the game to use that lens to look at modern issues in a way that’s understandable but still detached.
This era would also be familiar enough not to feel too out of place. Though technology has changed and things like internet access and mobile phones have become much more commonplace in the years since the millennium, those things all existed in this time period, so the game wouldn’t have to drop aspects like using a mobile phone for communicating with other characters and players, and so on.
Stepping back further in time, the ’70s is an era that the franchise has yet to really explore. There arguably isn’t as much ’70s nostalgia floating around today as there might’ve been ten or fifteen years ago, and such a setting would be riskier insofar as things like mobile phones and computers couldn’t be big features, which might complicate gameplay. But there’s no denying that a ’70s time period would let Grand Theft Auto 6 stand on its own two feet.
Location and time period are, to an extent, linked. Vice City’s Miami analogue would lose much of its charm were it not set in the ’80s and able to take advantage of a Miami Vice vibe. Certain areas and cities have distinct and recognisable eras all their own – New York City in the ’90s, for example, was more run-down and with more crime, before cleaning up its act in the years that followed. At least that’s the stereotype present in the cultural mindset!
I’m very firmly in the camp that says that Grand Theft Auto is a distinctly and curiously American phenomenon. Trying to translocate the next game in the series to Europe or South America, as some have suggested, would result in it losing much of what defines the series, as well as restricting the kind of satire that can be explored. Easy access to firearms and the criminal underbelly of America has been what the games have explored – at least in their modern, story-focused incarnations. So in my opinion, the series needs to firmly stay in the United States.
There can be open-world crime games set in other countries. Sleeping Dogs is a perfect example. But that game took a completely different approach by making the player character a police officer instead of a criminal, something that the Grand Theft Auto series couldn’t get away with and retain its own identity. Though Rockstar North – which develops the games – is based in the UK, Rockstar itself and the Grand Theft Auto series are both fundamentally American institutions, and it’s hard to envision a new game in the series abandoning its roots in this way.
Nor do I subscribe to the idea of a split map, with two cities connected by an airport or something like that – as I’ve heard some people suggest. Though I would like to see the game allow missions outside of its home city, if a convincing reason could be written, splitting the map into two smaller areas with one point of connection would be difficult to get right. Not only that, but in the popular online mode, one of the appealing things folks like best is that everyone on the server is exploring the same map and the same world.
Revisiting a past location has been suggested as a possibility. But I have doubts here as well. Liberty City was the setting for Grand Theft Auto IV, the most recent entry in the series prior to the current game, so a return there would feel like Grand Theft Auto was just bouncing between the two settings. Revisiting Liberty City so soon might not be the best idea, then. The two other cities present in San Andreas would arguably be too similar to Grand Theft Auto V’s Los Santos, being set in the same region of the country, and I’d also suggest that revisiting Vice City – another sunlit tropical city by the beach – would have a similar issue. That basically rounds out the major Grand Theft Auto cities that we’re familiar with – so I think a new one has to be on the agenda.
So now that we’ve considered what wouldn’t work, how about thinking about what would?
A city in the Midwest, perhaps based on Chicago, could be a good option. Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, and others in the so-called “rust belt” could make for a very interesting setting, looking at the rise of criminal gangs and gang culture, as well as commenting on the decline of America’s industrial regions and the associated fall in living standards. There are a lot of places in “flyover country” that are increasingly well-known due to their appearances in other media (Chicago, for example, was the setting for popular medical drama ER) and would be ripe for parody and exploration.
I also quite like the idea of a Washington DC analogue. Such a city could be the basis for a storyline looking at political corruption and excess, as well as potentially dive into shady government operations like espionage. There have been references to a “Capital City” in past Grand Theft Auto games, so maybe this will end up being the setting.
In many ways, the game’s protagonist(s) can’t be crafted until the location and era are known. It would be very difficult to transpose any of the recent Grand Theft Auto protagonists out of their native environment; Franklin wouldn’t have worked in Vice City, nor would Tommy Vercetti in Grand Theft Auto V. They’re characters intrinsically connected to their city and time period.
Despite that, however, I think we can begin to consider the fundamentals of the next protagonist. Or should that be protagonists plural? Unlike some critics of Grand Theft Auto V, I actually like the approach of having multiple protagonists whose stories intersect. Was it executed perfectly? Perhaps not, but it shook up the formula from previous games and allowed Grand Theft Auto V to look at several completely different aspects of American life: Michael’s attempt at upper-middle class family life, Franklin’s experience in a lower income inner city neighbourhood, and Trevor’s rural life far away from both. I don’t expect Grand Theft Auto 6 to retain this approach given the criticism it received, but in principle it’s a good idea that can be made to work.
Unlike in past games, I think a proper character creator – one with plenty of customisation options – would make a fantastic addition to the game. A lot of games, even character-centric ones with a strong focus on story, allow a degree of customisation, and being able to change the protagonist’s face, hair, and so on would be wonderful. If there are multiple protagonists, each could be customisable, and if characters have fixed characteristics like race, gender, and age, there’s still room for customisation within those confines.
Speaking of gender, the Grand Theft Auto series has yet to feature a female protagonist – so now’s the time to do that. Some so-called “fans” will attack a female-led game, as they always do, but most folks will be on board. There are plenty of examples across entertainment of excellent female protagonists, and it’s high time Grand Theft Auto followed suit. Better late than never, right?
So that’s it. A few possibilities for Grand Theft Auto 6… whenever it may come!
There are other things we could talk about, like whether gameplay should be first-person or third-person, or whether a top-down view should be included to get that “retro” feel! We could argue about whether the game should be linear or offer a branching story with side-missions, and so on. But until Grand Theft Auto 6 nails the fundamentals – time period, location, and character – discussions of such things are moot!
With E3 coming up, I can’t help but feel we might get a tiny tease or hint at what’s coming next from Rockstar. Even if we do, Grand Theft Auto 6 seems unlikely this year, and perhaps even next year too. It might be a full decade between games, then, if it doesn’t release until 2023. We’ll have to wait and see! I’ll keep my ear to the ground, and if there’s any major news I’ll be sure to cover it here on the website. Now, maybe I should finally play Red Dead Redemption II while I wait?
The Grand Theft Auto series, including all titles mentioned above, is the copyright of Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.