“Why did I move here? I guess it was the weather…”
If, like me, you were one of the millions who were firmly aboard the GTA 5 hype train, those words are probably permanently etched across your psyche. You probably can’t read them without hearing Ned Luke’s voice and without having some memories of your first glimpse at the fun on offer for you in the long-awaited follow-up to GTA 4.
You might not remember what Michael De Santa muttered just after that, as the game’s first trailer - released on November 2, 2011 - really begins to roar into life.
“Or the… ahh, I don’t know, that thing… that magic.”
De Santa was, of course, referring to the magic of Hollywood (or Vinewood in GTA-speak), that drew him to choose Los Santos as the setting for his retirement, and subsequent un-retirement, from the life of a stick-up man. But for the hordes of would-be players hanging off his every word, the magic was in what they were having teased before their very eyes. Because, while I may occasionally bag on it for getting a bit unnecessarily overindulgent with its storytelling - here’s looking at you, the final few chapters of RDR2 - if there’s one thing Rockstar can do, it’s a great trailer.
To be fair, in that initial trailer, it was the world I was seeing for the first time that did a lot of the work in stoking up excitement and making the hairs on the back of my teenage neck stand up. It only offered glimpses of a bright, colourful paradise. It blended together the perfect mix of scene-setting shots showcasing what looked to be a pretty dynamic environment and the traditional flowing action sequences that have to be in there or someone’ll say it looks boring.
It looked vibrant and fresh, like something that revelled in its efforts to depict modern life. That’s not to say that GTA 4 doesn’t do the same, but the array of desaturated browns and greys that make up a lot of its urban metropolis - while regularly lending Liberty City exactly the kind of Koyaanisqatsi-esque gravitas that game’s own first trailer was going for - don’t quite pop the same way San Andreas’ kaleidoscope palette does.
Besides, GTA 4 was something I came to once that original magic of release had worn off, having been only nine when it came out and been made to prove I could handle Red Dead Redemption before I was allowed to play it, once I hit my early to mid teens.
On the other hand, when GTA 5’s marketing machine really hit full stride in 2013, I was there. I remember watching the trio of protagonist-focused trailers Rockstar put out that April tens of times over, absorbing every detail they had to offer about the lives of Michael, Franklin, and Trevor, each of whom represented a different little slice of San Andreas. Sure, my tiny mind was utterly blown by the fact that there were now three protagonists, but as I dissected the details to the same degree that others had for the first two trailers, it was the silly little things that really made me giddy.
Stuff like being able to head out into the countryside in a GTA game, ride a bike, or fly a plane felt revolutionary to me, simply because I’d cut my teeth in GTA 4 and hadn’t had a chance to try San Andreas or Vice City yet. Then there were the wishlist items that’d spread through the couple of forums I frequented like crack.
Was that a car with custom parts that didn’t look like the stock bodykit on the famous Sultan RS hidden near the ruined mansion in northern Alderney? Would we finally be able to actually pick a colour to respray a car with, rather than having to repeatedly drive in and out of a Pay n’ Spray - like a drunkard who’s forgotten his keys and is trying to summon his wife to the door by engaging in a hellishly loud reversing ritual? Were all the big missions going to be like that one bank robbery with Packie McReary’s gang that we all loved?
All of the answers could still be yes. The world hummed with pure, unfiltered optimism and opportunity, teamed with an undercurrent of exasperated tension that all I could do was sit in limbo waiting for the big day to finally arrive and change my sad little life.
I know GTA 6’s trailers won’t quite be able to stir up quite the same cocktail of emotions within me. I’m at a different point in my life now, I’m a lot more cynical, and I’ve got a much wider array of games to be excited about, rather than hyper-fixating on just one.
All they really need to accomplish is one thing - making other people feel desperate to move into the game’s world to the same degree that I did Los Santos.