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    Grand Theft Auto V Online

    There are moments in Grand Theft Auto Online where, without even realising it, you stop playing and just watch. in one mission a friend and i were trying to take down some thugs exchanging ‘merchandise’ in a dry riverbed. it kicked off, my mate kicked the bucket and respawned a short distance away, leaving me pinned down by 20 gangsters.

    I shouted over comms for him to get back, panicking we were going to lose the score. twenty seconds later his 4x4 flew down from the road above them and slammed into the cluster of crooks and cars setting off a chain reaction of explosions that left nothing alive. except me. for about 30 seconds i watched the flames, the secondary explosions, and the debris settling. then i walked over, scooped up the loot, and my partner in crime turned up to drive to the drop-off point. 

    Almost every mission in GTA Online involves driving, and this is my favourite part. there’s already an atmosphere in los santos, but when you’re in a car with buddies and the amazing original soundtrack starts to pick up... well. it feels like nothing less than your own movie.

    It doesn’t even have to be a mission. some nights me and a friend get together and just cruise: getting into police chases for the fun of it, going to the seaside, driving on the train tracks. GTA Online doesn’t feel like a multiplayer game so much as a place, a hangout.

    There are missions, of course, enormous amounts of them. there’s a split between more traditional multiplayer modes deathmatches, races, competitive team battles and co-operative missions where you work with a small team to take down a score. the former are okay, but they take a back seat to the crime capers.

    These missions are an endless source of fun. they all involve more or less the same thing drive here, shoot this but the slightest rearrangement of the pieces makes everything change. Plans go wrong, friends die, reinforcements appear from nowhere, 4x4s fly over the horizon to take care of business. and the tiniest detail, like taking a wrong turn or having a tyre blow, forces you into quick-thinking teamwork that can craft the incredible emergent narratives.

    The only downside to the game is the loading times and the occasional disconnect. some loading is fair enough, because of the enormity of what Rockstar is accomplishing. but you can’t chain together story missions (only deathmatches and the like) and so setting up another is a drag. there are also occasional issues with lag, which can completely derail a perfectly planned heist.

    but fuggeddaboutit! GTA Online is leagues ahead of most other multiplayer experiences, not only in offering so much to do but in how it creates a place to hang out with your buddies. every mission in it has a dollar value. but sharing the ride and the thrill of success with your friends? that’s priceless.

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