The Road to GTA V: Saying Goodbye to Liberty City
It's been well over a year since I stepped foot in Liberty City. For a while there I never wanted to leave; it was a playground unlike any other I'd ever been in. GTA IV's rich, dense world was really something else.
Sure, I played GTA: San Andreas for longer than I care to ponder. Once every bit of provided gameplay had been milked I set about losing days to other tasks. Weeks, perhaps. Who else experimented with how many tow trucks they could hook together, or the smallest gap they could thread the AT-400 through? And the cheats. No game has ever had better ones.
Still, GTA IV was different to its PS2 forebear – and yet I played it for even longer. The generation jump brought with it the ability to craft vivid, more believable worlds. The grittier, more grounded game we ultimately got in GTA IV was married perfectly to its far more realistic and more authentic environment, and I became hopelessly addicted to it.
Gaming moves fast, however, and after a huge amount of time sunk into messing about in Liberty City I eventually needed to move on. Like always, there are other games to play.
The past two months has been heaving with titles worth investing in but after the recent debut trailer for GTA V I took some time to revisit GTA IV and the city I spent a significant part of this generation a temporary resident of.
The most amazing thing about Liberty City is that, after all these years, it remains a fascinating place to be. The credibility and character of GTA IV's Liberty City still impresses; it has this remarkable ability to make one feel like a tourist. Emerging back onto an Algonquin sidewalk after all this time it feels like I'm returning to a favourite holiday location. I don't want to run; I want to walk. I want to absorb what's going on around me. I want to read the storefronts. I want to observe the hustle and bustle and admire the simulation of a living, breathing digital metropolis.
I stroll down into the grimy Hematite subway station, on Union Drive West between Hematite and Iron, admiring the painstakingly crafted filth. I take the first train down to Easton and emerge to take in The Triangle, before strolling back north to see Star Junction.
A man crossing the road ahead of me is clipped by a cab; he drags the cabbie out and a fight breaks out. There aren't any cops nearby but, while I could call some on my cell phone, the scuffle is over quickly. The taxi driver loses and limps off. I move the cab to the kerb and the traffic starts moving again.
I hail the next empty taxi I see and take it to Funland out at Firefly Island. The cab ride is long but I'm seeing this city at a pace I've never taken the time to do so before. The workmanship on every block is just something else. After all that time I spent here years ago I'm still seeing stuff I never noticed before. A piece of unique graffiti here. A quirky sign there.
It's a deliberately imperfect world; built from the ground-up and then aged, weathered and even vandalised to look like it's evolved over more than a century. The taxi crawls across the patchy bitumen, wallowing over hasty road repairs, past just enough hints of debris and decay to give the whole place a genuine lived-in feel.
If this trip back to Liberty did anything it encouraged me to be even more enthusiastic about seeing the full breadth of the new Los Santos Rockstar North is shaping now for GTA V.
The GTA V trailer may have only been just over a minute long but the signs are exceedingly good. The precise traits that made the GTA IV rendition of Liberty City feel so real and not only back, they're clearly amplified. The GTA V trailer hints at a city even more thick with detail and nuance than ever before.
This is a game that I'm ready to live in.
What is GTA V's reimagined Los Santos likely to do to what we expect from virtual urban worlds? Like Liberty City, Los Santos 2.0 will be a character unto itself – but it's likely to rewrite the rulebook entirely.
I can't wait to visit.