If there’s one franchise that could and should prove to be the ultimate virtual reality (VR) sandbox, it’s Grand Theft Auto. Ever since Rockstar Games revolutionised videogames with 2001’s Grand Theft Auto III the series has remained a consistent example in how to let players run free in the world and have fun the way they want to. Imagine transporting those open worlds and countless activities to the world of VR.
No doubt future installments of the series will find a way to mock the technology to some degree, but if Rockstar Games truly embraced VR it could prove to be one of the Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus’ standout experiences. Players could truly become one of the citizens of Liberty City and beyond, stepping out into the bustling streets and walking among other people as they go about their daily lives.
Of course, then you decide you need a car and things get a touch more violent.
Admittedly not every aspect of Grand Theft Auto feels suited for VR. Many of the series elements such as action aren’t as focused on immersing players as other types of experiences. There’s also the issue of perspective. Not that the series’ traditional third-person perspective is a barrier for VR, but to really feel part of one of these worlds a first-person view would be essential. But Grand Theft Auto has never been a first-person franchise; what issues might it encounter in the transition? That said, it’s hard to deny the potential for high-speed cop chases to thrill when jumping off of buildings and swerving across streets in VR.
Many of the elements introduced in Grand Theft Auto IV, in which the series made a deliberate effort to get players to truly assume to role of protagonist Niko Bellic, would also translate well. Many dream of authentic, living environments realised in VR; in Grand Theft Auto IV players can do anything from visit restaurants and play a round of bowling to watching TV and going for a night on the town. Grand Theft Auto V only carried on that tradition with more activities, expanding the opportunities for an immersive VR experience.
Moving into the more extreme side of things, there are plenty of the series’ more standout moments that would be amazing VR experiences. Facing off against the army as your wanted level raises to six stars, carrying out intense Heat-style heists and competing in lawless street races are all tasks we’d love to try with a head-mounted display (HMD).
If Rockstar Games got it right, Grand Theft Auto could prove to be the true realisation of the VR experience, living out someone else’s life by simply slipping on a HMD. It’s an ambitious concept, but this is a team that raises the bar or ambition with each passing videogame. Let’s hope that GTAVR sends the series to new heights.