In the next few days GTA Online gets its 17th (!) update - the Freemode Events update - which should make an already amazing sandbox even more entertaining. This time it's not just new rides and outfits on offer, as Rockstar are giving us a free roam mode. It's not just a chaotic lobby for the many multiplayer modes, but also the place to show off you rides, to hone stunt skills, or slip into absurd busdriver fantasies. And of course, not least of those, a place to shoot other recreational crooks, blow them up, or otherwise drive them insane.
The new update supplies Online with a variety of events that randomly pop up automatically every twelve minutes. The way this works is similar to the green cars that Simeon would like delivered to the port, or with random box drops. You can ignore all this and still repaint your car neon-green in peace once more, or you can drive up to the event on offer and get ready for some company.
One of the truly entertaining events is called "Penned In". Our illustrious group of a dozen editors, staff from Rockstar Munich, and a handful of developers from Rockstar North, start in vehicles sitting at the wind farm facing the direction indicated by a yellow-circled zone. If you leave this moving zone for longer than just a few seconds, you'll explode. The arena is moving slowly towards the freeway and at first it's almost impossible to push one of the players out of the safe zone. But then the arena starts to slowly get smaller and steep slopes, rocks, and the barriers that hug the highways start turning into deadly obstacles. Soon you'll hear the first cries of anguish from careless drivers. And then a huge freight train rushes through the already small arena - for what feels like infinity - but is actually only seconds, and then the complaints get really loud.
In the event called "Kill List Competitive" we have two teams sitting in a helicopter fighting off oncoming Merryweather troops to score the most kills. Again, it quickly gets very loud, when everyone yells at their pilot, hoping to get a better firing position and thus more kills. The poor pilots really have their work cut out for them in this mode.
Something that delves into Evolve territory is "Hunt the Beast". One of the participating players is a beast, sort like a Teen Wolf. The Beast will not appear on the radar and is much stronger and faster. They'll have a limited amount of time to reach ten checkpoints, which are distributed throughout Los Santos, if they're going to win. After reaching a checkpoint, the beast is visible to all players for ten seconds - and this period of time increases with every additional checkpoint that's hit. If one of the hunters is closer than 150 meters to the Monster, an audible hiss serves as a warning. For the hunter team communication is the key to success. A few helicopter pilots in the air as reconnaissance, and rapid reactions from those on the ground, are essential in the hunt, and if it's found it's best not to lose sight of it again. We thought this a wonderful and extremely tense new mode.
The team modes are joined by all sorts of challenges where one competes against the rest of the online lobby in achieving high scores. Who can reach the highest speed or inflict the most costly damage over a set amount of time? Longest wheelie or jump, the most stolen cars? The list is long and there's something in there for everyone.
There are two new variants of the adversarial modes introduced with the Heists. One of these is partially asynchronous multiplayer and it's called "Hunting Pack". Here it's important for a team to bring a rather solid vehicle (such as the fire truck) to a destination. The catch: much like in the movie Speed, your vehicle is fitted with a bomb, and if you stay put too long or drive too slowly, you will explode. One player is the driver, the rest are divided into attackers and defenders and either try to push the vehicle or provide escort. The mode is quite nice, but the experience doesn't really offer anything new.
On the other end of the spectrum you've got "Cross The Line". At first glance it's a simple Team Deathmatch mode, which quickly becomes an extremely entertaining mix of Duck Hunt and American Football, where team tactics play a huge role. Two teams of four face each other in a corridor-like area. Each team stands behind a coloured line. Between them is a hundred-yard-wide neutral zone with boxes and smaller buildings for cover. The team that manages to get the most number of players to cross the enemy line alive wins. With good positional play you have to try and move forward together and keep your formation, so when killed players can move up quickly and don't lose too much ground. If there is no winner once the timer runs down, Sudden Death kicks in and the first player to reach the enemy zone will win the match. A very tactical and intense experience.
The update also finally brings the Director Mode to consoles, something that was previously only found in the PC version. This is a decent and very popular tool that lets you exploit the world of Grand Theft Auto V, allowing users to let their imaginations run wild. It's a shame that there's no support for PS3 and Xbox 360, because players on old-gen will be left empty handed for the first time. The new update will be exclusively available on PS4, Xbox One and PC. Rockstar explained that this has to do with the limitations of memory, but we're surprised that they haven't even offered a stripped down version of the content.
GTA Online gets a lot of interesting new content with this update, and best of all it's free. One must appreciate the studio for using this model and supporting their game. Of course, many players have already bought GTAV twice, and that is very much a testament to the great support they've been getting from Rockstar.