While we love GTA V for its scathing writing, dense world, and endless modding potential that has helped the game endure for many years since its release, it has to be said that it had a pretty poor story. The decision to split everything into three separate characters, who mimicked the heroes of GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas, was ambitious, but it didn’t work out so well, and now it looks like Rockstar is backtracking from that format for GTA 6.
With the latest reports suggesting that Rockstar decided to reduce the initial number of four playable protagonists to just two, ostensibly a ‘Bonnie and Clyde’-type pairing, it seems the studio has learned that piling up the protagonists creates pacing and story complications that they just aren’t worth it. The ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ story framework suggests that the main couple will cause carnage together from the beginning of the game, rather than having poorly developed stories that later converge into a narrative.
This is almost certainly for the best, because Rockstar knows better than anyone that it is not easy to build a story around multiple protagonists with the same weight. It’s one thing to have flashback sequences like, say, in The Witcher 3 when you’re controlling Ciri, because it provides vital context for the current narrative. Ciri is in grave danger, and playing as her and seeing things through her eyes heightens that sense of danger. Simple.
Resident Evil is another interesting case study of multiple protagonists, as the series has implemented them in various forms over the years. In Resident Evil 1 and 2, your story is slightly altered depending on which of the two playable characters you choose at the start of the game, while Resident Evil 7 does a good job of utilizing flashbacks within the singular main story. In Resident Evil 6 you get four stories of a similar length, and that was one of the weakest narratives in the history of the series. A bit like GTA V, the focus was stretched too far to make it easy to invest in any of the stories, and they became distinctly unmemorable as a result (to be fair, Rockstar’s writing far exceeds that of almost any Resident Evil game) .
This doesn’t mean that the split-story format is inherently weak, but it’s an awkward fit for the slick but rather shallow world that nearly every GTA game has been set in. The series is not famous for its deep thought. or complex characters (perhaps Niko Bellic from GTA 4 notwithstanding). Developing the series’ quirky and quirky cartoon cast has often relied on a fairly linear story progression that allowed those characters to build up a bit of narrative momentum. Obviously, in GTA’s open worlds there’s always a risk of getting distracted by side activities and losing track of key story threads, but that problem was exacerbated in the fifth entry when the story was split into three parts that you could easily forget to change Among. For example, it would be a bit jarring to go back to psycho Trevor (which I really didn’t care for) after spending hours with Franklin and his story, a bit like going back to an RPG you haven’t played in a long time.
It was hard to jump between the stories of Trevor, Michael and Franklin without feeling like you were just bouncing off caricatures of ‘typical GTA protagonists’: entertaining, sure, but not emotionally engaging like, says San Andreas CJ Niko Bellic, or Marston or Morgan from the Red Dead series. Franklin was the likeliest character of the bunch, but coming from the South Los Santos area as CJ from San Andreas and not having much screen time to shine, he was always in the shadow of his spiritual predecessor (and in fact there are a few references in GTA V to the fallen greatness of the Grove Street Families, highlighting the strong legacy of CJ).
A ‘Bonnie and Clyde’-type storyline, which suggests you’ll be playing as a dynamic duo, robbing banks, going on a criminal spree and (perhaps) falling in love, it will be the first time Rockstar has introduced a leading pair that you can freely switch between. While that comes with its own narrative challenges, it means the main couple’s story is likely to be more intertwined, with more common quests and perhaps even the ability to do some of the same quests. There is less room for jarring jumps in the story and more room to build the characters together.
Having four playable characters suggests that GTA 6 was going to revolve around a gang or posse of sorts, which would have made for a dynamic not too dissimilar to Rockstar’s last game, Red Dead Redemption 2. Seeing as we just had that ( and it was done so well), it will be interesting to see Rockstar narrow the focus to a more compact group (or pair) of characters. We’ve had a lot of gang-based crime games over the years, from Red Dead 2, to Mafia 3 and the Saint’s Row series, and a ‘me and you vs the world’ type story (which quite possibly goes up in smoke). ) could be just what the genre needs.