With the recent announcement of Mafia 3 putting a dent into the possibility of New Orleans being the setting of the next game in the GTA series despite the city’s great attributes, we figured it’s time to look at a city less likely to soon be featured in a video game.
With an overwhelming ratio of games with a setting on our planet are set, even partially, in the United States, it becomes increasingly difficult to find cities which aren’t as prominently featured and over done. Poor New York City seems to be the one most frequently attacked and devastated both in movies and game, not to mention that even non-apocalyptic high-violence games rack up high kill-counts of New Yorkers.
GTA has already ticked NYC off the list with Liberty City, along with a handful of other well-known American cities. The challenge here is that one needs to find a location which is prominent enough to be the setting of a major game, but still mostly untapped. What better way to do that than to pick one that’s only recently risen to enjoy great popularity?
The city we’ll be assessing for its adequacy to be a GTA game today is none other than the city of roses, Portland, Oregon.
Following last week’s “Murder Capital”, continuing with something named after a floral symbol of passion might be a bit jarring. No wonder, most people probably don’t think of Portland when they hear “GTA”. Portland and the surrounding metropolitan area is the largest in the state and third largest in the Pacific Northwest region. The city is relatively new, having only been founded in 1845, which is mirrored in an overwhelmingly modern cityscape. There are districts which have preserved an older style, but they are significantly fewer than in the older cities of the country. The city is nestled in a valley, with the Willamette River flowing through it and the Columbia River forming one of its borders.
The city and the surrounding area isn’t particularly diverse, though the metropolitan area is divided into five districts which are somewhat unique. The Willamette river separates the western and eastern sides of the city, providing a boundary of social levels as well, to some extent. Northwestern Portland is home to the Pearl District, which is the most luxurious of the five, while Southwestern Portland is mainly comprised of the downtown business and commerce area. On the other hand, On the eastern bank of the river lies North Portland, which contains the poorest district of the city. While this provides Rockstar with the regions necessary for a sectioned GTA map, there isn’t too much difference overall.
Another issue is that Portland is one of the “greenest” cities in the USA. Now, on first glance this isn’t too big of an issue, since other GTA games featured plenty of outdoors sections. However, Portland’s inner city has also moved more in the direction of public transport, walking and bicycling. Naturally transport via car is still facilitated throughout the city, however there are quite a few no-drive zones which would make it less adequate for a game with “Auto” in its title. As a side effect of this, the city is considered particularly peaceful – something uncharacteristic of a GTA game.
While the locals are undoubtedly extremely happy about this metric, the fact that Portland is the 3rd safest city in the USA doesn’t make it a shining candidate for a GTA game. With a murder rate of 2 per 100,000 people, if the game sought to be realistic, the player would only be allowed to kill very few NPCs – simple PEDs might even need to be made immortal. It’s not only murders that are few, though. Violent Crime in general is sparse in the city, with even acts of assault or battery being few and far between.
On the other hand, Portland has an ill-gained reputation for being something of a “pornography capital”. The city’s free-speech laws (which are otherwise admirably enlightened) allow all forms of public nudity (spawning the annual naked bike ride event) and Portland has the highest number of strip clubs in the entire country. It also has some issues with human trafficking involving child-sex-slaves. That’s territory so controversial even Rockstar wouldn’t tread upon. A vigilante story of serving justice upon the traffickers doesn’t fit the GTA theme, and there is absolutely no bloody way Rockstar would make players control one of the traffickers.
Portland isn’t particularly known for being too iconic. As the city is generally more on the modern side of things, it has yet to develop a fully rounded personality of its own. Regardless, some of the older neighborhoods have a few recognizable buildings and the city is famous for its many theaters. These include the Avalon, the Hollywood and the Laurelhurst among many others. Several famous breweries have their headquarters in the city, the buildings of which have become fairly iconic. The White Stag Sign is also an instantly recognizable icon.
Considering how arid of crime the city is, there isn’t much Rockstar could do with the setting. One possibility is that they set the story two-three years in the future, such as the early 2020’s where the player character is trying to establish their own organised crime syndicate in Portland. Since the city isn’t “claimed” by any known large syndicate, it is open for conquest. The story would detail a race between the player’s organisation and other rivals who also see opportunity in the city to secure the criminal throne first. There could be some returning factions, such as the Lost and Damned, trying to get a foothold in the region. This would fit the typical GTA stereotype of beginning the story with the protagonist, a former criminal, arriving or returning to a city where they will once again be criminals.
Another option would be to have a story similar to that of The Ballad of Gay Tony, one of GTA VI’s DLC. The difference would be that instead of a nightclub, the business in question would be a movie theater which is a front for illegal activities. The player character wouldn’t be an aide to the owner like Luis was, but rather the owner. Several other rival theaters would also be fronts for other criminal groups. Missions would include trying to secure exclusive rights to popular films by blackmailing or bribing officials, or stealing and destroying the equipment of rivals. It could still work as a GTA story with less violence to fit the setting.
Pros: Clearly defined districts, story potential
Cons: Low crime rate, not particularly iconic, peaceful, more geared towards public transport and bikes than cars, restrictive in terms of violence
Portland just seems to be too nice a town to be a good setting for a GTA game – something that is more of a compliment, all things considered. While it might be interesting to see the city in a virtual rendition, it won’t be done by Rockstar.
What city would you want us to grade next week?
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