I never expected to write a blog post about a game, but dammit, its GTA! =D
In the short term the future of Grand Theft Auto is very easy to see.
It doesn't need Mystic Meg to predict that there will be two more games using the same basic game engine, in the manner of Vice City and San Andreas. But what after that? What is the future of GTA and by extension the whole "sandbox" genre? Could it be the start of a genuine virtual reality?
Lets talk about the game itself first. I want to eliminate any fanboyism so if you are a hardcore Cow/Lem (if you dont understand what the hell I'm saying, be happy that you're normal :P) I want to make a few comparisons to the two versions on the Xbox 360 and PS3.
To any normal person there are essentially none. If you want to be picky though, the PS3 loads slightly quicker (after a 10-minute install) and has less texture pop-in and jaggies. Let me add that these differences are only apparent if you opt to play the game a meter away from the screen of a HDTV with a magnifying glass.
The Xbox 360 version is not without its advantages, namely the custom soundtracks and out-of-the-box rumble. What's likely to make more difference, though, is the prospect of extra downloadable content on the Xbox 360. From my knowledge they are two downloadable episodes that accumulate to at least another 10 hours + of gameplay.
Whichever version you play Grand Theft Auto IV is the current state of the art in virtual reality, not necessarily in terms of its graphics but in the sheer variety of things you can do and interact with. The game is essentially trying to simulate a whole life, albeit one of a game-friendly gangster. From that point of view it's possible to see it as the male equivalent of The Sims.
So many of gaming's most popular titles nowadays are consumed with the idea of offering a life away from life – from World Of WarCraft to Animal Crossing and Second Life, not to mention current gen entities like Oblivion and Mass Effect. It's hard to imagine Rockstar won't be close behind with their own game.
Future iterations will include ever more vast cities and varieties of vehicles but the number of non-violent activities will surely also multiply. If Grand Theft Auto VI begins to segue into an all-encompassing "everything" simulator it's because of the foundations being grounded today. The sheer prospect of this sounds very promising if R* manage to deliver, but hey, when haven't they?