A few weeks ago, the 9th September to be precise, I got a phone call from Rockstar Games inviting me to New York to play GTA Online early along with many other webmasters from the usual premier fansites. Obviously I couldn't say no to that, so I didn't. Fast-forward to 24th September and I find myself on a plane flying out of London Heathrow, arriving 8 hours later at JFK International. There were five of us webmasters on the flight, two of which were attending their first event, and their additional excitement for being first-timers seemed to be contagious.
Due to the UN General Assembly taking place in New York this week, the vast majority of hotels were fully booked. This meant that unlike at previous events we were spread out across three hotels in the city. I stayed at The Nolitan, along with about a third of the other guys. After getting checked in and dumping our bags in our rooms, we met up in the bar (would be rude not to) and chatted about GTA and other random things over a few drinks. Later, we made our way up to the Hotel on Rivington. Those of you who have been following us for while now may recognise this one, that's because we stayed here back in 2008 for the GTA IV fansite event. And like that event, Rockstar had got the penthouse suite all kitted out for us to play GTA Online the next day.
At 8:30 PM we all met at DGBG for dinner. This is when I realised just how many more people Rockstar had invited this time round. I saw many new faces, a number of which I recognised from their online persona's, but never got the chance to properly introduce myself or even speak to (sorry guys!), largely due to the fact we occupied three huge tables. DGBG was a nice place but it was completely packed out and the music was playing at club volume, meaning we had to shout at each other the whole night just to converse. Also, I was still on UK time, meaning this 8:30 PM dinner was more like 1:30 AM, so I was pretty tired. The fact it took the waiting staff over an hour to serve us made things worse, but luckily I was sat next to my friend Nick (from RockstarResource) and we passed the time making jokes about awkward conversations that may or may not have happened.
The next day we met downstairs in our lobby, then made our way over to Hotel on Rivington's lobby where we sat around with all the other webmasters. At noon we made our way up to the penthouse suite, where it became clear that Rockstar had not yet finished setting up all the systems. Classic Rockstar. No problem though, while Rockstar finished setting up downstairs we got drinks and headed up on to the roof to chat, enjoying the fantastic panoramic views of New York City. A short while later we were told to come downstairs where we were given a brief overview of GTA Online just to refresh our memories, before each sitting down at a console and TV.
I should point out that we actually played an early build of GTA Online on Xbox 360 consoles. We did not play the final version of GTA Online that you will all get to play on the 1st October. As such, we did experience a few little bugs and glitches here and there, it wasn't perfect.
As you may have already read in the previews that came out recently, GTA Online starts with you creating your character. Rockstar have taken a truly unique approach to this, whereby you choose the appearance of your four grandparents, which in turn generates your own character's look. You can of course customise this, with options such as your skin colour, hairstyle, your age, and various stats. Once you're done with this, you're treated to a cutscene introducing your character to the world of GTA Online. As this ends, you start the first mission, which allows you to familiarise yourself with how Online works, and the sort of things you'll be doing.
After completing the introductory mission, you're free to do what you want with any other players in your server. There are many missions and jobs you can do to earn some money, as well as standard multiplayer modes such as Deathmatch, Race and GTA Race; all of which can be set as a free for all or a team based event by the host player. Unfortunately for us, Social Club was having network issues at this time, meaning it failed to download the mission/job data. My immediate thought was that this is bad, there are going to be millions of people online next Tuesday and there will undoubtedly be problems like this simply due to the sheer number of people trying to access it at once. I was pleasantly surprised to find out this doesn't completely break the game though. The rest of the game world is still open, you still have other players in your server too.
Most of us went our separate ways (in-game) and decided to rob some stores. This is a simple action. You simply enter a store and aim your gun at the clerk, he will then take money from the till and put it into a carrier bag, then throw it on the floor when the till has been emptied. This takes around 10 seconds to complete, but if you're wearing a headset you can shout into it (or just make any kind of noise really) and the clerk will feel more intimidated and get the money out quicker. After picking up the bag of cash, you can then walk out of the store and lose the cops. Be warned, this is America, many shopkeepers carry pistols and will begin shooting at you as soon as you grab the cash, so you better be quick. One time I was shotgunned out of the door!
GTA Online has a Quick GPS feature. Holding down the Back (360) or Select (PS3) button brings this menu up, allowing you to quickly set a waypoint on your map, or toggle various other Online only features. You can set a waypoint to the closest ATM where you can deposit your cash. Rockstar have made it clear that GTA Online is all about making money, and if you're killed, other players can take your on hand cash, so it's a good idea to deposit often. Something I noticed was that when I killed other players, they would always drop just $100, regardless of how much they actually had on hand. It's possible this was just a limitation of early build we played, it may well be in the final version that you do indeed drop all your cash. If you do get killed, you're able to initiate a one on one deathmatch with the person who killed you, this is another feature that doesn't require Social Club. I did this quite a few times, it's definitely a good fun way to get revenge.
After a while we took a quick break and wandered up to the roof again and ate some food, and discussed our thoughts on the game so far. At this point, Nick seemed to be more concerned with starting an impromptu photoshoot, insisting I take a photo of him looking pensive over the city. After such fun and games, it was back to business. By the time we got back downstairs, the talented Rockstar server hamsters had clearly recuperated as Social Club was back online running smoothly. I decided to get started with a few missions, which I completed with other people in my server. I also got involved in some of the standard multiplayer game modes. I got completely owned in the few deathmatches I played, but they were pretty fun. I really enjoyed the Race and GTA Race modes. I enjoyed them in GTA IV too, but for some reason they seemed a lot more fun in GTA Online, perhaps I just prefer the map. I was able to dominate in the first GTA Race we did. It was actually a team GTA Race, which meant I had another player in my vehicle. I was the driver, my passenger was riding shotgun. Literally. Unfortunately the race was probably a bit boring for him, as I demonstrated my superior driving skills and got so far ahead he had nobody to shoot at. The next few races didn't bring me the same luck, though. I seemed to have a knack for getting taken out just a few corners into the race, and then having to fight my way back through to the front, I don't think I actually managed to win another race all day, but they were still great fun. For those interested in earning a little extra cash, you are able to bet on a winner of a match before it starts (I liked to bet on myself... confidence you know). If your bet is correct you'll win more money at the end.
A new mode for races which I didn't personally try, but did watch others play, is Rally. This is a team race, one of you is the driver, while the other is the passenger acting as co-driver. You will need a headset for this as communication is key. Here's why: the driver has no directions on his screen, the co-driver gets arrows (left or right) popping up on his screen when a turn needs to be made. The co-driver must tell the driver which direction to go. It has the potential to be a pretty fun game mode, but I have a feeling it will only be good for those of you playing on Xbox 360 where you are guaranteed to own a headset. I've found on PS3, the vast majority of players do not use a headset, making this mode almost pointless for them as it will be more or less impossible to play without one. If you don't already own one, it might be worth purchasing a bluetooth headset, they're ridiculously cheap these days anyway.
Awards can be viewed from the pause screen. These are just your standard multiplayer achievements you'll find in pretty much any game, for getting X amount of kills with a particular weapon, winning X number of times in a certain game mode etc. Completing these challenges will give you extra points, helping you to level up quicker.
Unfortunately we didn't have access to the content creator, so I can't say anything about that, other than the fact it will be available at launch, and we're very interested in what people create with it. It certainly has a lot of potential.
On Thursday, the final day of our trip, we had the morning and early afternoon to ourselves. Since our flights all left at different times, we split into a number of smaller groups. In the group I was in, we ended up wandering around NYC to pass the time, taking many photos along the way, and eventually returning to our hotel for lunch. An SUV picked us up later and took us to JFK airport to catch our flights back home.
Once again I'd like to express a huge thanks to everyone at Rockstar and Villain who helped organise this event. It was great getting to meet you guys again and also meeting webmasters of other fan sites, and of course getting to play the game before everyone else! This time we had people from as far away as Australia and South Africa attending, with others from the Netherlands and Italy, as well as the usual suspects from USA, Canada, and the UK. This is the sixth fansite event Rockstar has set up for us, the fifth I've been able to attend, and as usual I had an amazing time there. I look forward to seeing everyone again in the future.
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