Defining a Genre: Grand Theft Auto and Open World Games

Defining a Genre: Grand Theft Auto and Open World Games

Video games come in different genres and most of us are very lucky to have experienced these different types of games.

And on some occasions, a certain video game can in itself represent a genre and pave the way for how games of the same genre will be developed in the future.

For instance, if one were to think of RPG games, Final Fantasy would most likely immediately come to mind. Ever since the first Final Fantasy was released back in 1987, the franchise itself has spawned many sequels and spin-offs due to its success.

Consequently, this has resulted in more immersive-styled RPG games to emerge like Octopath Traveler and Shadow Madness.

But today, we are not going to talk about RPGs but instead, we’ll be discussing Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and its influence on the open-world genre.


Open World Games


Let’s Talk About Open-World Games

For readers who don’t know, open-world is a game genre that basically gives the player free rein on their gameplay and actions in a game.

This concept of course shares similar elements to simulation games like The Sims or Harvest Moon, but open-world centred games have non-linear gameplay and their game settings or locations are not limited.

This means that players can have unlimited exploration hours without having to face invisible walls.

The first open-world game was Jet Rocket, released by SEGA in 1970 as a flight simulator that although, lacked many open-world elements today, was still very ahead of its time.

This is because SEGA developed the game and structured it with a non-linear playthrough that allows players to navigate in a 3D landscape, discovering different landmarks and places—no other games did this back then.

And soon, the potential of open-world games was unleashed and more developers and players began to appreciate the charm of a non-formulaic game. The release of Courageous Perseus and Hydlide in the mid-80s were all obvious signs for more open-world games to come.

As open-world games grew in fame and popularity, so did technology. When we were about to reach the early 90s, open-world games were now being developed in 3D like Arys Software’s Wibarm and Star Cruiser.

That said, open-world games have not peaked yet. It was during late October 2003, where Rockstar Games released its titular title Grand Theft Auto 3 that would hold the torch for many open-world games to follow.


GTA and Open World Games


Grand Theft Auto and The Open World Genre

Let us backtrack a little and take a peek at previous instalments of the Grand Theft Auto series; prior to the third instalment.

Before GTA 3, the Grand Theft Auto games were focused on a fixed plot with very arcade-ish gameplay.

The graphics were of course, in its time not very advanced. Players would play in a top-down view of the city they were in and there were extremely limited interactions with the environment.

Hence the game has almost zero replayability, once you’re done with the story, the game is pretty much done and dusted—which admittedly is the case for most single-player games—but Rockstar Games made a huge change in its franchise that would soon set the standard of their future GTA games.

GTA 3 was the first step for Rockstar Games, venturing into the open-world genre. Its breakaway from the arcade-ish concept was a risk as the previous 2 GTA instalments were pretty well received, and the adage ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’ is still sound.

Rockstar Games made the leap and it paid off hard. Grand Theft Auto 3 is widely acclaimed and has been listed often as one of the greatest video games of all time.

Barring controversies like sexual and violent references, the game and its spiritual sequels were era-defining.

Why the games were so well received might not solely be the open-world gameplay of course. The art direction and plot are extremely praiseworthy, filled with characters that you would love wholeheartedly or hate passionately.

So, the question is, how are the modern GTA titles so influential and different from other open-world games?


GTA Setting Standards


Setting Standards: How GTA Separates Itself From Other Open World Games

As we mentioned earlier, we believe that Grand Theft Auto is different from most open-world games and its success has been the benchmark for most open-world titles.

So here are some of the few elements that GTA did better than most open-world games.


Grounded with Reality

Most open-world games like Genshin Impact or the Fallout Series are based on a dystopian or fictional universe.

While we can see the charm in these settings, it just doesn’t hit quite as hard when you have places that actually represent the real world like San Andreas.

Interacting with things that you would normally interact with in real life does have a unique touch to it when you can actually bend reality and live the way you want to live—no rules barred.


Multiplayer Option with Consistent Updates

Of course, many modern open-world games nowadays have a multiplayer option available but only a few of them are as consistently updated as GTA 5

The only titles that come to mind with refreshing updates are perhaps, Genshin Impact, MapleStory and Valheim.

And GTA 5 being released in 2013, is still receiving occasional content updates which are super commendable.


An Environment That Makes Sense

Open-world games tend to follow a rule which is their attempt to make the game’s environment as immersive as possible.

While this seems to be a good approach, sometimes developers go overboard and they begin to under-develop the interaction the player can have with the universe they are in.

GTA 5 avoided this conundrum really well as most of its environment has an effect on the gameplay and is not there just for the aesthetics.

For instance, when you damage your car on a freeway or scratch it from a lamppost, you are required to repair the car using the in-game mechanic. 

Basically, everything you do has a consequence, hitting a pedestrian or taunting NPCs will also result in different reactions.


Upcoming GTA 6


What’s In Store For GTA 6

There have been rumours in the wind that the upcoming GTA 6 might have a change in its ‘open-world direction’. Of course, there are still no official sources confirming this and since the game is to be released in 2025, there is still an ample amount of time for the developers to change their minds.

Although, change has not been all that bad, especially when you see the amazing effect it has on the GTA franchise when they branch out to the open-world genre.

But, change is always a mystery—a hit or a miss—and either way we, like most GTA fans, are keeping our hopes up for what the next instalment will present us with.