Grand Theft Auto V: The Making of a Great Heist Sequence

The three-protagonist structure of Grand Theft Auto V allows for the most complex, cinematic missions in the series' history.

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What makes a good heist sequence so exciting? Not the kinds of elegant, stealthy heists that you might see in films like The Thomas Crown Affair or that you might pull off in Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine. Think more along the lines of the bold, explosive heists that you see in films like Michael Mann's Los Angeles crime epic Heat.

Sequences like these often end up involving gunfire, but that's not what separates a great heist scene from an average one. What really pulls you in to a scene like this is the sense of planning that the criminals have put into it, the awareness of all the coordinated, moving pieces that have to work together to pull the job off successfully, and the tension of not knowing if things will go off without a hitch, or if everything will fall apart. This is the kind of heist sequence that GTA V aims to let you experience.

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In Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar wants money to be more important than it has ever been before in the series. Sure, you'll be able to get your hands on some ducats by holding up liquor stores, robbing ATMs, and engaging in all sorts of other small-time crimes, but the payouts for such activities will be chump change compared to the big scores available to you through the game's big heists. These missions require planning and decision making, and have you switching between Michael, Franklin, and Trevor as they work together to pull off these jobs. By having multiple protagonists, each with his own tasks to perform, Grand Theft Auto V can keep you focused on the most dramatic parts of the heist.

By having multiple protagonists, each with his own tasks to perform, Grand Theft Auto V can keep you focused on the most dramatic parts of the heist.

Though it's not one of the large-scale, full-blown heists that come later in the game, an early mission called Blitz Play was a promising taste of what might come later. Before you can pull off this mission, which owes more than a little to the armored car robbery that takes place early in the film Heat, you need to acquire some vehicles, outfits, masks, and other supplies, and park your getaway car in some isolated spot. The dramatic buildup of this preparation should, in true cinematic style, pay off during the job itself. (After all, the armored car job in Heat wouldn't be quite as exciting without the buildup of seeing De Niro steal the ambulance, Kilmer buy the explosives, and so on.)

Once all the preparations have been made, it's go time. As Trevor, you're a lookout, searching for an armored car and letting your cohorts know when it's approaching. As Michael, you park a truck across the road, forcing the armored car to come to a stop. As Franklin, you then speed down an alleyway in a dump truck and run the armored car down, knocking it over. You then plant a bomb on the rear doors of the truck and blow the thing open.

It doesn't take long for the cops to show up. Franklin, Trevor, and Michael must work together to get out of there alive, and you can switch between them on the fly to most effectively extricate yourself from the situation. From Trevor's lookout post, for instance, you can fire on the cops with a sniper rifle, offering support to Franklin, who the cops have hemmed in. Your counterparts can fend for themselves when you're not controlling them, but they'll typically leave the really exciting stuff to you. When an opportunity arises to shoot down a police helicopter with a rocket launcher, the game encourages you to switch to that character and do it yourself, rather than letting it happen offscreen.

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Instead of just playing through an action sequence that might remind you of a scene from one of your favorite crime films, you might get to do something closer to designing your own incredible heist sequence.

The Blitz Play mission provided a sense of the potential excitement that the three-protagonist structure can generate. The freedom to experience a coordinated plan of attack from the perspectives of three characters, each with his own parts to play, should allow for missions that are cinematic and layered in ways that significantly surpass anything the Grand Theft Auto series has been able to do in the past. The full-blown heist missions that come later in the game also let you take an active role in the planning, making decisions that will significantly impact how the heists play out. There might be multiple ways into a building, for instance, some being more stealthy and others being more confrontational.

For the bigger jobs, you'll also be able to build out your crew beyond just the three core protagonists, perhaps hiring additional drivers or other specialists who have their own skill levels and who take a cut of the overall score that's proportionate to their skills. Will you go with cheap help who take a smaller cut but might botch the job, or will you put together a costly but skillful group of seasoned professionals? Instead of just playing through an action sequence that might remind you of a scene from one of your favorite crime films, you might get to do something closer to designing your own incredible heist sequence. Eat your heart out, Michael Mann.

Want to know more about GTAV? Click here to read about the roles you can play while goofing around in the open-world sandbox.

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