GTA 6 – Should Rockstar Take a More Realistic Approach?

Grand Theft Auto 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2 set new standards for realism in open-world games, but how much farther can it go?

Posted By | On 11th, Jun. 2024

GTA 6 – Should Rockstar Take a More Realistic Approach?

When I remember my first time playing Grand Theft Auto 5, I remember the heists, the drama and the sheer scale of the world, from the vast mountains of Blaine County to the sunny beaches of Los Santos. However, amidst all of its highlights, the attention to detail hooked me. Sure, moving shipping containers in the campaign wasn’t fun. However, seeing light pollution in the city, making it harder to observe the stars, or perspiration staining a character’s clothes as they run for extended periods was mind-boggling.

Despite the technical limitations of console hardware at the time, Rockstar wrung out every last bit and delivered an experience still praised (and selling millions). This wasn’t smack dab in the middle of the console cycle either – the PS4 and Xbox One would be released in the same year. To say their launch titles had a tough job living up to Grand Theft Auto 5’s level of quality is an understatement.

Of course, there were jokes that the sequel would get too realistic, with detailed tire-changing mini-games or other day-to-day activities that players seek escapism. Part of the humor is that some didn’t think Rockstar could go that far, but also that if there was any developer dedicated enough to do so, then it could.

Though it’s still a ways off, launching in Fall 2025, the journey to Grand Theft Auto 6 has been long. It follows years of rumors about multiple protagonists and cities, of the franchise returning to Vice City but in modern times, of development being rebooted in 2020 and chaotic overall.

Though Rockstar hasn’t explicitly outlined everything we can expect, much less what’s going on beyond the lead pairing, its reveal trailer is rife with details. Some of these potentially line up with a report by Rockstar Magazine in October 2023. The latter noted real-time physically simulated water, which allowed for things like surfing, higher polygon counts for vehicles with more precise deformations, physics-based rendering, and more realistic textures and sunrises. Though the publication couldn’t 100 percent confirm if these features would make it in at the time, the trailer’s quality dispels some doubts.

Some of the things we didn’t see, like the reported real-time weather system, which causes waves on the beach or wind affecting vegetation and even impacts driving, also seem possible. It may seem unreasonable to take a trailer’s visual quality at face value, but it’s part of Rockstar’s pedigree. What you see is what you get.

grand theft auto 6

Ignoring all the technical feats, the sheer attention to detail is incredible to behold. From the pedestrians filling the streets to recognizable restaurants and buildings (like the Kaseya Center), despite brief glimpses of the same, Grand Theft Auto 6 definitely seems like a step up.

Even with more than a year before its launch, the hype is palpable. Yet the question arises, much like it did back in 2013 – is it possible to get too realistic?

Flashback to Red Dead Redemption 2 when it launched in October 2018. Though it gained extensive acclaim for its story, characters, visuals, and much more, complaints about the realism began to grow. Perhaps it was just the era of the time, but the tediousness of skinning animals that you hunted, caring for and managing your horse, or keeping protagonist Arthur Morgan in decent shape started getting to some players.

Despite being two different franchises, they still echoed concerns about Grand Theft Auto 5’s realism from way back when. And yet, to this day, fans are still discovering details that they missed on their first playthrough in Red Dead Redemption 2. Still, it is worth pondering what the endgame could be. How much more realistic can you get?

The initial scope of the project reportedly sought to go even further, according to a Bloomberg report from 2022. It was meant to feature large portions of North and South America but scaled down (with avoiding crunch being one of the core reasons). Rumors also discussed plans for three cities and four protagonists per Stephen Totilo in the same year, subsequently reduced to one (Miami) and two protagonists.

grand theft auto 6

Naturally, the question becomes: How sustainable is such realism in the long term? With a larger scale and rumored updates to add more cities and missions, will Rockstar continue down that path, even if it costs more money and takes more time? Amidst these concerns, I think it’s important to remember something that Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick said about Grand Theft Auto 6’s release window (before the Fall quarter was announced).

“We’re seeking perfection, and when we feel we’ve optimized creatively, that’s the time to release. And we’re all in this together. In terms of motivations and incentives, the financial incentives of everyone who works at this company are aligned with those of the shareholders. There’s inherent tension – potentially – between getting something to market and creating perfection, but this company errs on the side of perfection.”

Even after confirming and feeling “highly confident” in the release window, Zelnick later admitted that delays and slippage can still happen. While Rockstar continues to navigate development, especially in the wake of co-founder, head writer and VP of creativity Dan Houser leaving in 2020 and the pandemic, there’s the overarching sense that such dedication to realism defines its game development philosophy.

This is the kind of experience the team wants to make. It wants to create a venerable life simulator where players can get lost in the world, experiencing it as if they’re really there alongside these iconic characters. It wants to create an endearing narrative that plays on popular culture, satirizing but still celebrating it while providing enough details to keep fans digging into it for years.

This isn’t an approach that every player, longtime fan or otherwise, is going to love, but it doesn’t have to be. Not everyone picks up a Wild West game to spend hours walking through the snow and conversing. Then again, not everyone enjoys games from Bethesda or FromSoftware and so on.

grand theft auto 6

However, their unique approaches lend to their charms and fans – both old and new – wouldn’t have it any other way. A Bethesda Games Studios title without options to break the game, either in one-shotting final bosses or reaching the ending in the fastest time possible, wouldn’t feel the same. A FromSoftware game without its challenge and various idiosyncrasies to world design, characterization and plot is also an odd proposal. The same goes for Rockstar titles and their unwavering attention to detail and realism.

We won’t know how sustainable such an approach can be in the long term, especially as games get bigger, budgets balloon and technology allows for even more fidelity. Nevertheless, with reports of post-launch updates adding more content, Rockstar is seemingly taking steps to address that while keeping crunch to a minimum, so it’s a start.

Grand Theft Auto 6 is still a ways off. The sheer scale of its ambition has yet to be unveiled. It could be a lot bigger than we imagined or a bit smaller. Whether it sets new standards for realism or goes beyond the veil of what realism should be, there’s no doubt that it will be an immersive experience to remember.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.


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