Seven years and 135 million copies later, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V simply refuses to slow down. The secret to its success? It’s no mystery at this point. Despite starting life back on the PS3 and Xbox 360, GTAV’s single-player experience is still largely unsurpassed in the open world space – and its juggernaut multiplayer component, GTA Online
, has never stopped growing.
This week GTA Online expands yet again with the addition of a huge salvo of new content in what Rockstar has stated is GTA Online’s biggest update ever. The Cayo Perico Heist adds new vehicles, new missions, 240 new songs, and even a brand-new island to Rockstar’s monstrous multiplayer experience – an experience that, when it arrives on PS5 and Xbox Series X│S, will have spanned three separate console generations.
But what about players who have been craving more solo GTA content, like the much-loved expansions to 2008’s GTAIV: The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony?
Well, the good news is that Rockstar has actually been spending the last few years weaving more and more opportunities for solo player fun into GTA Online, and that’s reached somewhat of a crescendo in The Cayo Perico Heist – the first GTA Online heist players can do entirely alone, if they choose.
It may not be a like-for-like replacement for a traditional single-player expansion, but adding a heist to the growing list of things players can tackle solo in GTA Online is a promising sign that Rockstar is serious about continuing to create new ways for GTA fans to… play with themselves.
And for the series that brought us Hotel Vank Hoff, BAWSAQ, and the Liberty City Cocks, that feels comfortably on-brand.
GTA Online Cayo Perico Heist – 26 New Screens
“I feel like we’ve been moving towards this for years,” says design director Scott Butchard, noting that while the original heists were locked into a design that required a quartet of players to complete different tasks, subsequent heists have become a bit more flexible.
For instance, The Doomsday Heist saw prep work for the heists moved into Freemode where players could handle elements of it alone if they wished.
“Players like doing this by themselves, same way they can do the business stuff by themselves,” says Butchard. “So we thought, ‘Well, we should do the same there.’ And then that evolved into [The Diamond Casino Heist], where the majority of the prep work was now in Freemode. So we want to retain that.”
Allowing players to tackle The Cayo Perico Heist by themselves “felt like the next step,” explains Butchard.
“I mean, I think we put a lot of work in the early days to the Organisations and the MCs to acknowledge players who want to play together in a group,” he says. “But definitely as we’ve moved on, community feedback’s been a lot more focused on, ‘I’d like to do this co-op, or I’d like to just be able to do this by myself.”
“We’ve also felt ourselves, as we’ve been making content, we’ve just been more aware that we want to make sure that Online can also just feel like this single-player experience.
“I think the feedback on the contact missions that we drop – Simeon stuff, Gerald, Martin – they were quite positive for us. Although there were like six or seven co-op missions, you could still play them solo. And I think that was quite a positive thing we got from that. Definitely carried that forward as well. I mean, we’re not ignoring MCs and gangs and stuff; we still want the content to be played two-player as well, or three-player, or four-player. So we’re just trying to balance it to all player types, really.”
“Every player type’s covered,” adds GTA Online director of design Tarek Hamad. “There’s a lot of community feedback over the years requesting content that can be played solo, can be played with two players, or three, or upwards right up to supporting a full MC.”
“It’s the choice, right?” says Butchard. “We want players to be able to play this alone, but also encourage players to play with their friends as well. So we’re not going to ignore any group.”
The opportunity to tackle the heist solo raises some interesting questions, too. Opting to go it alone means you don’t have to worry about a potential useless crewmember burning through your team lives, for instance. And then there are the… financial considerations.
“If you bring [a] crew with you, you’ve got that decision, like, ‘Oh, do I want to bring someone with me and split my cut? Or do I want a hundred per cent for myself?” says Butchard.
“Which is risky as well, because it’s going to be hard to get away with that hundred per cent,” adds Hamad. “And even harder if you’re solo and you want to start going after optional loot.”
The Cayo Perico Heist marks the first time Rockstar has taken the GTA series outside the USA since 1999’s regularly-forgotten Grand Theft Auto: London 1969 (for PC and the original PlayStation), and Butchard explains doing so “feels huge for us.”
“It’s just awesome,” he says. “Like, when we finally changed the casino – that casino that was on the map closed for so many years – it just felt like such, such an amazing feeling to finally say, ‘It’s open.’ And we could take down that opening soon sign. So changing the map like that felt amazing.”
“And when we were coming up with ideas for the packs beyond that, we were just thinking that the map is so dense with content, we’re like, ‘We need to find somewhere else. What else can we do beyond Los Santos?’
“That’s when the idea came up: music. And then we came up with ideas of islands, and music on islands. And then that’s when it moved to the idea of this heist on this amazing tropical island.”
“It just felt really logical to take it off shore,” adds Hamad.
Rest assured, however, that Los Santos remains a fixture of the GTA Online team’s plans going forward: “I don’t think we ever want to forget Los Santos,” says Butchard. “Because the game is Los Santos.”
7 New Vehicles in GTA Online’s Cayo Perico Heist
Seven years on and still steamrolling its rivals, the scale of GTAV and GTA Online’s success is almost without precedent – certainly this side of the likes of Minecraft, or Tetris.
“I’m still amazed myself,” admits Butchard, quizzed on the witchcraft behind the achievement. “I sometimes still play the game, and I’m just like, ‘I can’t believe we’re still here at this point.’ Especially [as] we kind of got off to… I’ll say a little bit of a rocky start when we first released GTA Online. If you went back in time and looked at that to what we’ve got now, it’s crazy how different Online is.”
“Yeah, and there’s lots to come,” adds Hamad.
“Maybe it is witchcraft,” laughs Butchard. “I’m not sure. It’s just been fun pack after pack, just to be doing things that we think will be fun for players, taking the community feedback and tailoring what we’re doing to satisfy that as well.”
“Yeah, and mixing all of that up in a pot and making sure that we’re pushing boundaries every single year,” says Hamad before being light-heartedly corrected.
“In a cauldron,” jokes Butchard. “Witchcraft cauldron.”
“You’re right,” grins Hamad. “Not a melting pot; a cauldron.”
Luke is Games Editor at IGN’s Sydney office. You can find him on Twitter sporadically @MrLukeReilly or in GTA Online obsessing over his collection of fake movie cars and achieving very little else.