GTA 6 City of the Week is a weekly article series here on GTA BOOM. Every week, we will evaluate a different city in the United States, gauging how well it would fit GTA 6 as a setting.
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Moving down southward after last week's foray into Boston, we take a look at a city which has had a more substantial role in humanity's history than most would think.
With other popular franchises taking to space, it should be appropriate that GTA 6 should be set in the city that houses NASA Mission Control. In recent years, the mainstream industry has taken a pretty sudden sci-fi turn, with popular franchises that had a grounded setting including wilder themes.
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We're speaking of the likes of Call of Duty, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell and a few others. We can imagine that most of you balked at the idea of a sci-fi GTA game (we did too), but a few years ago if someone told you that CoD would have exo-skeletons, augmentations, mechs and space-ships, they would have laughed in your face.
Despite the trends, however, taking GTA to the future might not fit the series' profile quite the way it did with the other AAA franchises that jumped on the futurism bandwagon. Then again, if with think about the "like GTA but sci-fi" niche, it is pretty underpopulated. Come to think of it, not one game that has similar gameplay to Rockstar's legendary franchise, but in a futuristic setting comes to mind.
In any case, having a game set in the city of Houston, Texas may be the closest the GTA franchise ever gets to going to space. Would this city serve as a small step for the players, but a large leap for the franchise, or will it end in "Rockstar, we have a problem"?
Situated on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Houston is the fourth largest city in the whole nation and the most populous in the South. Nicknamed Space City due to the presence of the aforementioned NASA Mission Control installation as well as the Johnson Space Center, the city has played an integral role in allowing humanity to unshackle itself from our home planet. The city is a major business and financial center. It is more than significant enough a location to enjoy the fame of a GTA game.
Despite being the largest city not only in the state but in the entire southern United States, Houston isn't the capital of Texas, or any larger denomination. It only servers as the seat of Harris County. However, the larger metropolitan area surrounding the city is home to over 6 million people.
With direct sea access and a multitude of rivers and bayous flowing through the city, it would be a simple enough matter to mold Houston into a GTA map. Rockstar has been pretty liberal with their representation of geography, however they would not need to deviate too much from reality to accommodate their typical island setting. The bayous also help section off the districts of the game map.
Houston's urban area has is considered by many to be unwelcoming to pedestrians, which in a GTA game actually turns out to be a positive. The city is marred with an unfortunate set of construction and real-estate laws and restrictions, leading to large urban sprawl and a rather disorganized city center. While this may leave the map somewhat hard to navigate, it would make the harrowing chases typical of the game that much more interesting.
However, due to the proliferation of sub-urbanization, the outskirts of the city aren't too varied. While you have a clear divide between downtown and the garden-city, there aren't any areas in close proximity to the city which are free of human construction. As we've seen in the maps of San Andreas and GTA 5, having areas that aren't populated form an integral part of the map. However, on the flip side, Vice City and VI show us that a city-only map also works.
Houston's varied architecture on the other hand, at leas in downtown, would facilitate a varied enough cityscape for it not to be boring. Either way, having a central downtown area surrounded by suburbs may not be ideal for a GTA map.
While Boston shined in the field of geography but lost points in crime, Houston is the opposite. Houston more than makes up for the disadvantages of the cityscape with a higher rate of crime. In 2010, the murder rate was 11.8 per 100,000, putting it pretty high on the national scale.
Add to that, Houston, due to it's location is a center for the trafficking of all manner of drugs. These include, but are not restricted to, cocaine, heroin, MDMA, meth and weed. The criminal underground links Houston with a several surrounding countries that have a penchant for drug production and exportation.
Houston is also the largest human trafficking hub in the southern United States. Human and drug trafficking are both topics that could be featured extensively in a GTA game.
Houston was also the scene of one of America's worst serial killing cases. Dean Corll committed what are known as the Houston Mass Murders in the area between 1970 and 1973. Granted, this occurred in the past, but it could be used as inspiration for one of the antagonists of the game.
Among the countless famous cities of the USA, Houston isn't exactly among the more iconic ones. While the city hall and the Johnson Space Center are unique enough, beyond a few famous landmarks such as the Galleria, which is the largest mall in all of Texas or the NRG Stadium, few buildings would be instantly recognizable.
Some of the important buildings in the city may be unique enough to base in-game locations on, however not many of them would be readily recognized by non-Houstonians.
Houston presents Rockstar with plenty of potential story threads or even individual mission plot-lines. The drug and human trafficking angle is an obvious choice, such as having the player dismantle a rival criminal organisation and take over the business (however human trafficking is still too controversial, even for Rockstar).
Including a militarized version of the Johnson Space Center to stand in as GTA 6's version of Fort Zancudo may pose interesting possibilities for hiding special vehicles (like a space shuttle the player can drive?), alien related easter eggs and infiltration missions. In fact, the story might even revolve around the involvement of the GTA equivalent of NASA with underground crime. One of the main characters who would take on a similar role to Lester could be a lead scientist working at the Space Center, giving the player missions which help his clandestine research.
Rockstar could also base an antagonist on the serial killer mentioned previously. They could possibly be an "imitator", a deranged fan of the original serial killer obsessed with replicating his murders. This could either be a side-quest or even one of the many central story-lines.
Pros: High crime rate and drug trafficking, plenty of story potential.
Cons: Urban sprawl, unvaried cityscape, not particularly iconic.
Houston more than makes up for its shortcomings as a game-map with its potential as a setting for a GTA story. However, the map itself is a pretty central part, pulling down the score.
Would you like to see a GTA game set in Houston? What other city would you suggest for evaluation?