The realities of game development mean that sometimes, even with delays, when you have a game as expansive and as ambitious as GTA 5 a few corners simply have to be cut to make ends meet.
The game’s launch was pushed back a few times, Online was released separately and the ports also suffered delays, however the fruits of the wait are obvious. Grand Theft Auto 5 turned out to be one of the best optimized, most polished, least buggy game of the past three years, not to mention it has some of the most content among AAA releases.
But. And it’s a pretty big but. No game, no matter how polished, has ever reached the elusive status of “perfect” (let’s not get bogged down on an existential debate about whether or not perfection as a concept is even attainable or not, shall we?), regardless of how close it got. There is a reason why GTA V is still making headlines three years after launch. There is a reason why Online is among the most played multiplayer games today.
The cops aren’t that reason. In fact, the cops in GTA 5 are one of the few aspects that drew steady criticism from fans and the press alike. Many fans of the franchise who played older titles, notably GTA IV, were a tad baffled to find the cops in GTA V have devolved instead of evolved in spite of pretty much every other feature being improved.
Really, Rockstar, mate, we absolutely love your game, and it deserves every one of the countless awards it has won over the years. But the cops? Like, couldn’t you have at least lifted the system from GTA 4 and just patched it into 5’s code? The police in that game may not have been the toughest opponents, but they had search areas, they were dispatched to the scene of the crime and they employed tactics.
Replacing the relatively smart and realistic Liberty City Police Department are the genetically engineered, mechanically augmented super-soldier-wizard-demon fiends employed by the over-funded paramilitary group masquerading as the official police department of Los Santos. Or something.
Cops in GTA Online (we stress Online) follow the most basic pursuit programming, probably in order to lessen the resource demand on the systems being stressed by online play. Whenever the player commits a crime, police NPCs and vehicles are spawned nearby who know exactly where the player is all the time.
If you are out in the desert alone with some kidnapped PED with no-one else within earshot and you stab them quietly, suddenly a whole contingent of Sergeant Murderboss clones will spawn out of the ether. If you kill someone in an alley and speed away in a nearby super-car, the cops won’t even give two tosses about the corpse, but will descend upon your criminal ass with the fury of a thousand gods.
At all times, they will know where you are and will be programmed to go there and fill you with lead until you stop moving. That’s the other thing – cops in GTA V don’t know what it means “to arrest”. They probably exchanged their handcuffs for extra ammo or something. Even at just one wanted stars, the cops will automatically shoot to kill.
In single player things are better. Since the system does not need to worry about the additional load of multiplayer, the cops are given a better AI. For example, if you injure a cop in a shootout, another will try to drag the wounded behind cover to prevent you from killing them. When you’re in enclosed spaces they try to draw you out. In single player, they actually arrest you for minor crimes instead of killing you outright.
Even when things get ugly on the higher wanted levels, the cops display a better understanding of tactics and strategy. That said, they still retain their otherworldly capability to teleport to the player’s location. If you happen to be using some kind of mod (only in single player!) which allows you to teleport, you can test this yourself. Commit a crime on one end of the map and immediately teleport to the other – the cops will be spawning around you instantly.
Several other games have done police and crime detection in a better way, even in Rockstar’s own lineup. Red Dead Redemption had a witness system where the crime committed needed to have a witness to be reported, meaning that if no-one saw the crime being committed, you would not be linked to it. In fact, the exact same system used in RDR has been modded into GTA 5 precisely because players have been aching for a better wanted system.
A number of other mods have been made which also overhaul the wanted system, though these all carry the obvious issue of only being available for PC, and only in story mode. GTA Online’s extremely simple and violent police remain unchanged.
But how could this be mended in the future? Now, the limiting of the police AI during Online play is a measure that was brought about due to the hardware restrictions of the previous generation consoles. Incidentally, the previous generation consoles are no longer getting GTA Online DLC – can you see where I’m going with this?
The answer is simple: a police overhaul DLC. It could even fit into the lore. GTA Online technically takes place 6 months before the events of the story. What if a future Online DLC proposes that the proliferation of criminal activity in Los Santos, such as VIPs and CEOs getting rich off illegal jobs and goods, caused the local government to initiate an intensive training program for its police while also providing more funds.
This would be good grounds to tie an improvement of a game mechanic into the loose ‘narrative’ of the game. Hell, if they’re touching the wanted level code, they might as well even improve on the single-player programming too. After all, if Rockstar wants GTA Online to truly be active until 2020 and beyond, they’ll need to overhaul game mechanics sometime, right?
How would you improve on GTA 5’s wanted system?
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