While GTA 6 City of the Week looks at one location in the USA and evaluates it as a possible setting of the next installment in Rockstar Game’s popular open-world action adventure franchise every week, Foreign City of the Week, as the name suggests, looks beyond the borders.
In this week’s Foreign City of the Week, we turn our sights to Central Europe, to the capital of my own home country. I mention that up front for the sake of full disclosure, but I’ll try to stay impartial as much as possible.
The Pearl of the Danube, as it is sometimes referred to, has a population of a little under 2 million making it the 9th largest city in the EU. The country’s capital, Budapest is a major political (though turbulent), economic and cultural hub for not only Hungary but the larger region around it – a claim I’m pretty sure many people will contest, owing to age-old national tensions between countries in Eastern Europe.
Nonetheless, Budapest is often cited by various travel magazines as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, which is attested by the 4.4 million tourists who visit every year, making it the 6th most popular tourist attraction in the whole of Europe. In the introductions of these articles, we often list or cite the given city’s “mosts”, which in the case of Budapest include the second oldest metro line in the world, the second largest synagogue in the world (and largest in Europe), the world’s largest thermal water cave system, and the third largest Parliament building. The city is also home to a whopping 18 universities.
Budapest is classified as an “Alpha-” world city due to the large economic significance it has for Central and Eastern Europe. Longitudinally it is the largest economic hub in a pretty large area, and is considered the main link between Western and Central Europe, and Eastern Europe as well as countries further eastward, beyond the EU. Granted, this has also lead to certain issues historically – and recently – however more often than not is served as a boon.
In terms of economy, Budapest is among the top 100 cities in the world in terms of GDP performance and is one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. Banking and finance are major industries, as is tourism, manufacturing, logistics, IT, insurance and even fashion. Retailing is also pretty major, with both the biggest and second biggest shopping centers of both Central and Eastern Europe located here.
Budapest has also recently risen as a major start-up hub, especially in the tech industry. The city is seeing an influx of foreign investors and young entrepreneurs, and the presence of several globally acclaimed universities add to this effect. The city has gone through extensive modernization in past years – that said, some buildings still have bullet-holes in them back from ’56.
From a geographic point of view, Budapest isn’t too ideal for a GTA map. Hungary is entirely landlocked, and Budapest doesn’t even happen to be on the coast of Lake Balaton. Thus, turning Budapest and its surroundings into an island would be entirely beyond the point of realism. To make things worse, while Budapest itself possesses many hills and mountains within its bounds and close by, the map wouldn’t be composed of just the city and the immediate surroundings. However, the countryside of Pest county is pretty flat, leaving no natural borders.
All that said, even if the city is chosen regardless of its poor geographic features, we’d suggest the inclusion of Lake Balaton and the areas to the west, mostly. Other, smaller cities like Székesfehérvár and Siófok would work as secondary locations, while the countryside in between Balaton and Budapest would provide the wilderness part of the map.
The city itself, separated into 23 districts, is highly varied. The Buda and Pest sides and extremely distinct in terms of architecture, atmosphere and style. Sometimes a the differences between districts is so apparent that a complete newcomer could nail down the street acting as a border. Many have retained their historic buildings, while the outskirt districts are a mix between formerly independent settlements having been gobbled up by the growing city and entirely new, modern, planned business and residential blocks.
Budapest is a mixed bag in terms of crime. Small time felonies like thievery, pickpocketing, tax-evasion and such are rampant, far higher than in most other European capitals. That said, homicide rates are extremely low. The national average measures lower than Canada, and Budapest has one of the lowest murder rates among all European capitals.
On the other hand, Budapest is something of a logistical hub for international organised crime, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Money laundering and contraband tobacco are major illegal industries in the city, and is something of a “negotiating table” for international criminal kingpins.
While the low murder rate does not benefit GTA, the prominence of organised crime does offer a solid base for story. All GTA games ramp up violence and murder, however they usually don’t pull criminal relations and outfits out of their asses.
Anecdote time – I lived abroad pretty much my whole life, switching countries and schools pretty much every three years. While the fact that usually half of my classmates didn’t know of my home country was a tad depressing, it cemented in me the idea that Budapest is pretty much unknown to all foreigners.
Having educated myself in Hungarian history since moving back, I now see that this has been far from the truth historically, and is still far from it today – as proven by those 4.4 million annual tourists. Even so, chances are many GTA players would not be able to identify the city based on landmarks alone.
That said, there are plenty of landmarks which are pretty telling. The parliament building is world-renowned, as are the several historical bridges (which have been rebuilt since being blown up first by the Nazis then by the Soviets), Gellért mountain, the New York Café, Andrássy street, Margaret Island, the Buda castle and the castle district, the Danube corso, Hero Square and much more.
The whole organised crime angle is a great direction to take the story. Budapest, serving as a negotiation hub for international crime syndicates, could be “hosting” a summit of kingpins. The player character would arrive to the summit as a bodyguard of some crime boss, however during the supposedly peaceful meeting, violence erupts and unidentified assailants attack, killing several leaders including the one the player was supposed to attack.
Seeing as the attackers were independent mercenaries, it is unknown which of the surviving crime bosses ordered the hit. They stay in Budapest in order to exact vengeance, with the culprit being forced to stay and keep up the act as well, since fleeing would incriminate them.
The player would then have the chance to take on missions from all of the surviving crime bosses in order to try and determine who is the real betrayer. While such a direction would be entirely new for GTA, this could include RPG and roguelike elements. Basically, at the start of the campaign, you select one of several syndicates which you represent. Each campaign randomizes which crime boss orders the hit, and also randomizes which bosses die in the prologue, offering a great measure of replayability.
Doing missions for some bosses would make you lose out on missions from others. Each would trust some of their counterparts and accuse others, forcing you to take bias into account alongside evidence. Eventually you would be forced into picking a suspect, and whether or not you chose correctly would determine the ending.
Pros: Story potential, recognition, organised crime presence
Cons: Poor geography, low homicide rate
Budapest shapes up as a city that might make a good GTA setting, however some liberties must be taken in order to enjoy its benefits. The city being landlocked and the low crime rate both make it a tricky business morphing it into the playground of psychotic mass murderers, however the possible tale that is to be told might be worth it.
And damn, is Budapest a fine fine city or what?
Which foreign city should we look at next week?
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