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.
Sticking to Europe this week too, we’re going to look at a city which has possibly had a greater mark on ancient and medieval history than any other. While it doesn’t quite have the stature of being the capital of a massive empire spanning continents anymore, it is still considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world (with reason) and retains much significance in Europe. We are, of course, speaking of the city built on the seven hills.
The Eternal City is no stranger to being featured in media and popular fiction. Both the eras of the Roman Empire and that of the Italian Renaissance are extremely frequently explored in video games, movies, TV shows and literature. The rich history of the city reaches back over two and a half millennia, with the area having been inhabited long before the foundation of the city, making it one of the oldest settled areas of Europe.
However, this extremely rich, vibrant and infinitely interesting history has caused modern Rome to be pushed back in terms of media and fiction. Even Rome during World War II has gotten more pop-culture treatment than modern Rome. In fact, off hand I can only name one video game, Alpha Protocol, which takes players to a current-day Rome. I don’t doubt that there are more, however I can’t recall them – if you can think of any, feel free to write it up in a comment below!
That said, I’m pretty convinced Rome would be a perfect setting for a game with a modern-day timeframe. However, would a GTA game fit the city? To kick things off, Rome is a city of almost 3 million residents, a number which increases to over 4 million when looking at the larger metropolitan area surrounding it.
Rome is known as the capital of two nations due to the presence of Vatican City within its borders. This is the only example of a sovereign state presiding within the city of another. The Vatican also greatly boosts the city’s already overwhelming tourist appeal, by attracting innumerable pilgrims each year.
The city has acted as a capital for some nation or other ever since its foundation in 753 BC, making it the oldest city we’ve ever examined in a City of the Week post. Rome, though a sprawling metropolis and global city, isn’t your typical concrete jungle of towering skyscrapes wreathed in glass. Luckily most of the historical architecture survived the perils of history, resulting in a city which closely resembles what it possibly looked like during the Renaissance, while still retaining a modern touch.
Rome has retained its status as an international scientific and cultural center with countless institutes, such as the American Institute, the French Academy, the German Archaeological Institute and many others finding their homes here. The city is also filled to the bring with various universities and other educational establishments.
Rome’s economy developed in a way to completely lack heavy industry, manufacturing and such. Instead, the city is based around primarily intellectual industries, such as IT, aerospace, defence, telecommunications, and services. The two main industry that need to be named, however, are banking and tourism.
Now, they may not be the largest ones in terms of revenue, but they have the greatest cultural significance for the city. The very concept of modern banking is thought to have originated from Rome, during the renaissance (though a basic and preliminary system similar to it was utilized earlier, already during the First Crusade), making it the cradle of financial services as we know them today.
The other, tourism, speaks for itself, really. Rome is littered with landmarks with such density that even if you actively tried avoiding anything of significance, you probably wouldn’t be able to. Every two streets, there is a charming old church tucked between the houses. Every few blocks there is some major landmark, ruin, museum or gallery that has been listed in at least 100 travel book or blogs as a “must see” location.
From a geographical point of view, Rome fits GTA pretty damn well. Though the city itself technically isn’t coastal, the larger metropolitan area around it is, and the city proper itself is just a stone’s throw from the beach. The wilderness around it is a natural beauty, with rolling mountains, lush forests, a three large lakes to the north and more.
Italy is pretty narrow in this region, so taking into account the large area the map will take up outside the the city itself, meaning that the map could include the whole stretch of the country coast to coast latitudinally. Aside from Rome, the area is filled with charming little Italian towns which would act as great secondary locations, with somewhat larger ones like L’Aquila, Tivoli and Pescara being best for these roles.
Rome is separated into 15 distinct and diverse districts. The inner and mid-city is dominated by older, historical buildings, with most buildings reminiscent of the city’s historic roots. The other districts are much more modern, being dominated by newer industrial complexes, business centers, office compounds and residential blocks. Players are guaranteed not to be bored while driving around the streets of virtual Rome.
Speaking of driving, we come to a bit of a drawback. Rome is an absolute nightmare for people behind the wheel. With so much of the city still resembling its old self, many streets are narrow. Turns, bends, corners and dead-ends are common, with many streets being single-lane. The drivers in Rome are almost as “bad” as the roads. It’s customary to leave the handbrake loose unless necessary, as people usually push parking cars with their own if they can’t fit into a spot, or can’t leave.
The outer districts, being newer, do not suffer from the poorly planned (or simply not planned for cars) roadplan of the inner city, however the driving mentality remains. Some renovation and construction in the inner city has made things better on frequented routes, but the “many small short bendy streets” profile is still prominent.
We’re a bit conflicted in our grading of this category. To start things off, the homicide rate in Rome is really low. Like, really low, way below most other European capitals, and below literally every US city we’ve examined in the main City of the Week article series. Violent crime of all forms is very rare to the point of practical nonexistence. But.
The Mafia. The Mafia originates from Italy, and though organised crime is most prevalent in the southern regions of Italy, it is present everywhere in the country. Corruption, bribery, smuggling, extortion, black market sales, prostitution – you name it, they have it.
While Rome’s murder rate is low, as is the murder rate of the entire country, the influence of the Mafia can be felt through relatively frequent high profile assassinations of anti-crime officials and the like. Politicians are often mixed up in one controversy or another, such as the pretty major scandal involving former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and others.
As such, Rome would be a perfect setting in terms of an organised-crime oriented GTA instalment. While the murder rate is not exactly befitting a GTA game, it’s not like any city we’ve examined has the kind of rate that would realistically reflect the behavior of the average GTA player. But.
Yes, we have a second “But”, which is what makes this whole thing a tad complicated. The Mafia happens to be the main theme and plot element of another open-world crime adventure series which acts as a semi-serious take on the criminal life in a fictional version of the real world published by Take-Two Interactive.
Literally called Mafia, the 2K franchise has always been compared to GTA. With the newest game in the series, Mafia 3, nearing release after a very high-profile marketing campaign, many have taken to calling it the “GTA Killer”, even though it seems Take-Two is purposefully handicapping the game to prevent just that.
However, even though it is clear the higher-ups prefer the GTA franchise over Mafia due to wider mainstream recognition and higher profits, it is doubtful that they would allow Rockstar to tread on 2K’s turf, so to say. This means that while GTA: Rome would be a veritably awesome game, it will never ever exist. Unless the Mafia franchise is axed as a whole. Which it won’t.
I mean, this is pretty straight forward. We’re talking about freaking Rome. The Coliseum, the Pantheon, Vatican City, Forum Romanum, Trevi Fountain, Castel Sant’Angelo, the Baths of Diocletian, the Temple of Hadrian, the Column of Marcus Aurelius…
I could go on, probably for another thousand words or so simply listing all of the notable landmarks, ruins, temples, forums, baths, sculptures, museums and more. This is an internationally instantly recognisable city. Even if you’re not familiar with most landmarks, the Coliseum alone would be enough to identify the Eternal City.
And then there is the Vatican, technically a separate city. The center of the Roman Catholic church is visually and architecturally fascinating and unique. Whatever your views on organised religion, or religion in general, everyone has to admit that from a architectural point of view, the city-within-a-city is a true marvel. Both Christians and non-Christians flock to the historic area, understandably.
The obvious route here would be making the protagonist a Mafia foot soldier, doing jobs and missions for the Cosa Nostra. The opponents would be the other Italian crime syndicates, and the story would revolve around a struggle for power in the capital. It could be concerning an upcoming election, which each syndicate sees as a chance to put someone they control into power, with all of them supporting a different candidate. You’d be tasked with the assassination of key figures and the sabotage of the opposing campaigns.
Alternatively, if Rockstar didn’t want to pick the obvious route, they could have the prologue set in, say, the USA, where a non-Italian protagonist – possibly involved in organised crime from the get-go, but not with the Mafia – suffers at the hand of the Mafia’s American branch. Maybe the Mafiosos kill the protagonist’s family or something like that. The local leader is recalled to Italy, and the protagonist follows him.
Arriving in Italy, the protagonist is tasked with building up a reputation in the Roman underground while undermining Mafia dealings. The end goal would be to track down the man who ordered the hit and exact revenge.
Pros: Geography, organised crime, story potential, recognition
Cons: Low murder rate, the Mafia series exists
In spite of the low murder rate, we had to give Rome a glowing score due to the positive nature of the other factors. Everything besides that one small caveat clicks into place perfectly, making this one of the best possible locations for a foreign GTA game possible.
Too bad it will never, ever happen because of Mafia. Thanks, 2K…
Would you like to see a GTA game set in the Italian capital?
What do you think? Sound off below!