GTA Online’s New Island Is Boring

GTA Online’s New Island Is Boring
Screenshot: Rockstar Games

After weeks of teasing and trailers, Grand Theft Auto Online’s latest update, its biggest ever, was released today. The Cayo Perico Heist update adds a new island and heist to the game, as well as 250+ songs, new weapons, and the proverbial “more.” But the star of the update is that new island, Cayo Perico, and its heist. And while I enjoyed some of the heist-related missions, I was disappointed by the island and how it’s used in the update.

To reach this heist and its new island, you’ll first have to stop by The Locker, a new underground dance club/bar located underneath the casino. There you’ll meet up with Miguel Madrazo, son of GTA V antagonist and GTA Online mission giver Martin Madrazo. His family is in a bad situation. Some rich arsehole who owns a private island has a bunch of damaging dirt on the Madrazo family and its less than legal dealings. So Miguel is tasking you with stealing back the damaging documents from the Cayo Perico private island. But first, you’ll need a submarine.

One of the coolest parts of the new update is that players can purchase, upgrade, and even drive a massive, Soviet-era submarine. However, cool doesn’t come cheap. Just the basic no-frills version costs $US2.2 ($3) million. That version lacks useful accoutrements, like a private helicopter or missiles. However, even the cheapo sub will grant you access to the new heist.

Screenshot: Rockstar / Kotaku Screenshot: Rockstar / Kotaku

Like previous heists in GTA Online, you don’t just simply head over to the island, shoot some dudes, grab the loot and leave. Instead, you’ll need to complete a series of intel and prep missions. These will unlock new possibilities during the heists, new tools, or different ways to escape or aid you if things go bad. All Cayo Perico heist planning is handled onboard the sub, which is annoying because you can’t fast travel quickly back to the sub, so you’ll need to use a boat or helicopter to reach it.

To gather intel you fly over to the island via a cutscene and explore the place while a party is being held on the beach, giving you some cover. Spread across the island are various tools, locations, secondary objectives, and points of interest. During the intel phase, you run around the island unarmed, dodging guards and collecting information that you can put to use during the heist. You might find some bolt cutters, which get marked on the map. Later during the heist, you can use these to open gates quietly, without explosions.

However, running around the island on foot and dodging guards isn’t much fun. In fact, it’s a giant slog and a pain in the arse. There are some vehicles around, but they aren’t very useful, as they can easily alert nearby guards. But at least you get to do this slog in a new area?

Screenshot: Rockstar / Kotaku Screenshot: Rockstar / Kotaku

I can’t stress enough how strange it is, after seven years, to be on a brand-new piece of land. GTA Online’s received some new areas in the past, like the casino, but they’ve always been fairly small, and often indoors. Cayo Perico isn’t a new hotel or store. It’s a whole new island. Sure, it’s much smaller than GTA V’s map, but still, it’s wild to be driving and running around new areas, filled with new plants and trees. But here’s the bad news about this new island: It’s boring.

It pains me to say that because I was so excited to have a new area to explore. But at least today in its current form, the new island is just a bunch of empty hills and roads with a few tiny areas to explore during the heist. And yes, you can only explore the place during the heist. (According to Rockstar’s patch notes, once you beat the heist you can revisit the beach party with some friends…but it doesn’t sound like the whole island remains accessible.)

And weirdly, a lot of your time before the heist won’t be spent on the island, but instead back in Los Santos. All of the prep missions take place in the city. Many of these prep missions are extremely useful to complete, like one mission that removes enemy helicopters from the island heist or another that makes enemies weaker by disrupting their armour supply. This means you’ll most likely be doing a lot of prep before the heist, especially if you’re trying to solo the Cayo Perico heist, in which case you’ll need all the advantages you can get to make it out alive. So a vast majority of my time with this new update wasn’t spent exploring a new landmass, but instead flying around Los Santos doing simple prep work.

In any case, once I had finished up enough prep and figured out a plan of attack, it was time to infiltrate and rob a private island fortress. And unlike every other GTA Online heist ever released, I had the option to run it solo. The game warns you that this will limit the amount of loot you can take, but you also don’t have to split the take.

Screenshot: Rockstar / Kotaku Screenshot: Rockstar / Kotaku

Spoiler: I didn’t complete the heist. I tried three times. Each time I failed. It’s totally doable though, I just need to go back and do some more prep and gather more intel. All of my failures came down to not having a great plan going in. But the idea of running around the island for another half-hour to get more intel sounds like the opposite of fun.

I mentioned this earlier, but yes, the island lacks fun free-roam activities and missions. It’s a baffling choice that might be due to technical reasons, or possibly development issues encountered while working from home. Whatever the reason, the lack of freeroam on the island is a huge wasted opportunity. Considering how many players don’t touch heists, locking this new landmass behind a big, complex heist seems like a mistake. Of course, Rockstar may have more plans for the island, and in a few months we might be blowing each other up upon its sandy shores. But launching a new island without anything beyond the heist is extremely disappointing, and will not sit well with fans.

I’ll be spending more time with GTA Online’s new update over the next few days and weeks, as there’s more on offer beyond Cayo Perico. Perhaps with more time, I’ll end up liking the island heist more. I’m not so sure. For now, I’ll be flying back over to Cayo Perrico to take another stab at robbing its owner, and hopefully not dying in the process.

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