GTA Online Short Trips has given Rockstar a framework for future story DLC

GTA Online Short Trips is a masterstroke. That’s not to praise Rockstar without cause – I think the fact we’ve not seen paid-for single-player DLC for GTA 5 going on nine years, despite it being promised early doors (opens in new tab), is a bit of a travesty. But to finally deliver on extra story mode content through the lens of two of the game’s most beloved and charismatic characters, in a GTA Online co-op mode, off the back of GTA Online’s most ambitious complimentary update yet, and ahead of its push towards the incoming and somewhat preemptively maligned (opens in new tab) Expanded and Enhanced edition on PS5 and Xbox Series X, is a smart and welcomed move from the developer. 

Having recently acknowledged the development of GTA 6 in earnest, the process through which Franklin and Lamar’s Short Trips has been made accessible, for me, has set a precedent for how story mode content could, and should, be delivered to Grand Theft Auto in future.

Story time

GTA Online

(Image credit: Rockstar)


GTA Online

(Image credit: Rockstar)

GTA Online The Contract interview: Shawn Fonteno on returning as Franklin and reuniting with Dr. Dre

Fans of GTA 5 have been calling for story content for years, pretty much since Franklin Clinton’s mainline narrative concluded at the climax of the base game’s Story Mode. Alongside Michael De Santa and Trevor Philips, Franklin is, of course, one of GTA 5’s playable single-player protagonists, who is often helped and hindered by childhood pal Lamar Davis. In the early days of GTA Online, Lamar enjoyed a small but distinct presence in Los Santos, first welcoming the player to the live-service sandbox and then offering a total of 17 low-level missions (nine originally, with a further eight introduced in 2015’s Lowriders update). Franklin, on the other hand, reentered the fold for the first time in eight years via last December’s The Contract update – much to the delight of players and Shawn Fonteno, the voice of Mr Clinton himself

In doing so, it was nice to see Franklin and Lamar reunited, and great to see eternally good-boy Chop the dog still chewing a bone while sporting a shock of stately grey hairs. Gamified versions of music legends Dr Dre, DJ Pooh, and Jimmy Iovine were pretty sweet too, as was Short Trips – a trio of Story Mode-like ventures starring Franklin and Lamar that, once activated, let you temporarily ditch your customised GTA Online avatar to fill the shows of the gruesome twosome in two-player co-op. Given that Short Trips could only be unlocked after completing Dr Dre’s multi-tiered string of VIP contract missions, Rockstar had in essence slipped in a story-driven expansion at the very end of an already stellar and free-of-charge update. 

At the tail-end of last week, approximately two months after the launch of The Contract on December 15, 2021, Short Trips was made available to all players, meaning the requirement to work through Dre’s map-spanning set-pieces in order to reunite with Franklin and Lamar no longer stands. Players can now jump into Franklin and Lamar’s capers as they storm Vagos drug warehouses, literally burn down the competition, and drive a van composed of actual weed whenever they please. 

GTA Online

(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

“Story-driven added content for GTA 5 once felt like matter of when and not if.”

Which is a pretty big deal. In a Newswire post dated December 9, 2013, Rockstar reflected on GTA Online just a few months after launch while looking to the future. Under the heading ‘Coming in 2014’, the developer said it had “big plans for substantial additions continuing Michael, Franklin and Trevor’s action” for those players “ready to jump back into the story of Grand Theft Auto 5”. Following the success of GTA 4’s single-player expansions – The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and Damned – a few years earlier, story-driven added content for GTA 5 felt like matter of when and not if

And then GTA Online took off. With record-breaking player counts recorded after every substantial update, a seemingly unshakable spot on most-played and top-sellers charts across the board, and untold revenue streams gleaned from Shark Cards – in-game items that grant players in-game money, purchasable with real-world cash – the notion for single-player DLC, on the developer’s side at least, was promptly parked. In a 2017 interview with Game Informer, then Rockstar design director Imran Sarwar said skipping a GTA 5 story expansion wasn’t a conscious decision, but said upgrading the game’s visuals for next-gen consoles in 2015 took a year to complete, before Red Dead Redemption 2 swallowed resources further still. “We did not feel single-player expansions were either possible or necessary,” he said.

The fact that you can now boot up GTA Online and access Short Trips via the game’s Jobs Menu without completing Dre’s VIP missions – access to which demands a minimum in-game spend of $2million on an Agency property – almost contradicts what Sarwar said five years ago, or at least suggests that attitude behind the scenes has changed in the interim. Short Trips isn’t strictly a single-player expansion, it’s accessed through GTA Online and takes the form of two-player co-op, but in GTA terms, it’s as good as one. At the time of writing, matchmaking with a partner is essentially an instantaneous process, and, opting to play as the host (Franklin) or the guest (Lamar) will ensure you assume control of the same character every time.

San Andreas love 

GTA Online

(Image credit: Rockstar Games)

“Rockstar is an expert in hype – a skill it’s spent 25 years refining; the pinnacle of which saw Dr freaking Dre release six never-before-heard tracks as timed-exclusives in GTA Online.”

This, surely, is the best of both worlds for both GTA’s playerbase and Rockstar moving forward. The latter is an expert in hype – a skill it’s spent 25 years refining; the pinnacle of which saw Dr freaking Dre release six never-before-heard tracks as timed-exclusives in GTA Online – and yet, as the backlash against the Trilogy’s Definitive Edition last year showed, it is by no means infallible. It could be argued that Rockstar’s recent acknowledgment of GTA 6 being in active development, something it surely did not need to do, was a gesture of goodwill. Looking at it more cynically, however, it could also be argued the reveal was designed to drum up publicity for GTA 5’s incoming Expanded and Enhanced edition, due on March 15 – the GTA 6 nod featured in the same E&E-focused Newswire post, after all. 

Ultimately, I don’t think it matters either way, though, because it feels like Rockstar has set a new precedent for how it handles story-driven add-ons and how they’re introduced. Don’t get me wrong: I’d love to see standalone expansions in the vein of The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and Damned for GTA 6. But a far more likely outcome is the staggered approach pioneered here by Short Trips – where content is rolled out within the bounds of a big-budget (free to the player if they own the base game) Online update, before being drip-fed to the masses down the line. 

Like Fortnite, PUBG Battlegrounds, Warzone, and Apex Legends, GTA Online proves gaming’s live-service trend isn’t going away anytime soon – and, given its success, it’s unlikely that Rockstar’s fascination or interest with it will do so either. But that shouldn’t mean Rockstar’s scope for telling great stories should suffer in turn. With Short Trips, it feels like the studio has found a home for both, which bodes well for the next Grand Theft Auto and whatever shape its online component takes. 

Here’s How to play GTA Online Short Trips for co-op adventures with Franklin and Lamar. 

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