In GTA 6 City of the Week we stick to the country where the GTA franchise has reigned the longest, while in Foreign City of the Week, we look beyond the borders of the USA in order to find the ideal candidate as the setting of the next installment of Rockstar Games’ flagship franchise.
We kicked off our tour of the Caribbean with Kingston, Jamaica some time ago. At that point we already said we’d likely take a look at other cities within the archipelago, but would not do them back to back lest things get too monotonous. Well, it’s time to fly back to the sunny islands, and this time to the largest of the islands.
The capital city of Cuba is the largest city both by area and population throughout the whole Caribbean. While this claim is contested by many hailing from other nations in the island group, the city is widely considered the unofficial capital of the whole archipelago. Granted, it does have size going for it, as well as the fact that it is the largest economic, cultural and political center, as well as the one most visited by foreigners per year.
Havana today is the combination of Old Havana, the large Vedado district which can be considered a city on its own, and a number of newer, outlying residential districts. Old Havana is the historic city center of the capital which holds most of its landmarks as well as a general look reminiscent of what the city looked like countless years ago, and is a UNESCO Heritage site. Vedado is the modern part of the city, as well as its business center.
Havana is home to over 2 million residents, placing it even above many American cities we’ve looked at in the main article series. That said, it isn’t particularly large by area, due to the city’s notably high population density. The city also happens to anchor a large metropolitan area, which in spite of the city’s ranking as first, is only the third largest in the Caribbean.
Havana has great historic significance. It was one of the most successful Spanish colonies in the New World soon after its discovery, and was for a long time the main port for the Conquistadors. Most campaigns into South America launched by the Spanish set sail from Havana. It was also a main stop on the voyage between the Spanish homeland and their colonies.
The natural harbor around which Havana was built offered protection both from natural dangers and pirates, due to the narrow strait leading into the three-pronged bay. The area possesses admirable natural fortifications, thus turning it into a real fortress was not too difficult.
Nonetheless, the city was often stricken by the latter. In fact, it was the handiwork of a French pirate, one Jacques de Sores, who burned down part of the city, which lead to the construction of multiple forts and barracks throughout the city and its vicinity. The construction and expansion of Havana’s defensive structures was almost constant during the colonial era, the results of which are obvious even today.
In fact, up until the Revolution of 1959, throughout its history Havana enjoyed expansion, prosperity, wealth, development and fame. The collapse of the Soviet Union hit both the country and the city quite hard, and while Havana doesn’t quite have the same standing as it once did, it is still extremely popular with tourists, and has begun to climb upwards once more.
Havana doesn’t exactly have the high-rise metropolis cityscape we’ve gotten used to in GTA. That said, the newer business center of Vedado does kind of fit that particular bill, while the city-center of Old Havana offers a more serene, historic vibe. All things considered, the city is pretty varied, so you won’t get sick of it soon.
In fact, gamers may be pretty well acquainted with Old Havana – the city was, like Kingston, prominently featured in Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, which primarily took place across the West Indies. The city was the game’s largest – understandably – and the one that saw the most action, next to Kingston and Nassau, the latter of which we’ll look at in a future article.
The economy of Havana, and really, all of Cuba, has recently more and more began to rely on tourism. Since the country is still Communist, it suffers from all the disadvantages of a planned economy and the fact that the vast majority of businesses are state-owned. Foreign investment and exports are the only things beyond tourism that are effectively keeping the country afloat.
That said, Havana is also a major trading and transporting hub, thanks to its historic role as a port city. The historic harbor itself isn’t the bustling mercantile port it once was due to its size, however the city is still one of the biggest recipients of seafaring cargo in the archipelago.
Havana is also the industrial heart of Cuba, with much of the nation’s production occurring in the surrounding metropolitan area. Anything from food-processing, through the brewing of rum, the manufacture of vehicles and all the way to the production of tobacco products – most famously the Habanos cigars – is centered in the city.
Being the primary port of the country, Havana also sees to the bulk of Cuba’s shipbuilding activities, with the largest shipyard of the country located here. This close tie to the ocean also resulted in a significant fishing industry having developed in the city.
As stated before, the vast majority of businesses are state-owned. However, since 2011, privately owned businesses were once again authorized in an attempt to revitalize the nation’s economy. Unfortunately these efforts mostly failed, as private businesses were not able to compete with state-owned ones.
In terms of geography, Havana fits the GTA formula perfectly. Now, Cuba is too large to be entirely included as a GTA map at the level of detail seen in the series – in Assassin’s Creed 4, much of the mainland could not be accessed, with only the coast, certain areas, and the proximity of the city being accessible – meaning that a bit of Cuba’s western edge needs to be sliced off and turned into an island of its own.
Once the procedure is complete, we’re presented with an all new main island, as well as a few additional, smaller ones. You’ve got everything you need: wilderness, difference in topography, a jagged coastline, interesting geological formations, secondary settlements like San Cristobal and Nueva Gerona, and the additional islets add the bonus of encouraging the use of water vehicles.
We’re a tad stumped here, as the Cuban government does not release crime statistics, and what reports there are can be… questioned. In any case, if the reports are to be believed, Havana has a low murder rate compared to international averages, and extremely low rate of gun crime, high rates of drug trafficking and smuggling, and a moderate organised crime presence.
Now, this offers an odd concoction of both good and bad aspects. The smuggling, drug trafficking and syndicate presence all speak in favor of GTA, whereas the low levels of murder and gun crime both fly in the face of what makes GTA, well, GTA. Namely, murder and shooting.
Of course, Rockstar could just use the excuse of the report very likely being whitewashed to jack up crime in the game, but it still may put Havana at a disadvantage. These are both aspects that are prominent in GTA games, for understandable reasons.
Historic significance and a high level of tourism both benefit Havana in this category. If the general architecture and the location wouldn’t be a dead giveaway, there are a number of landmarks which would allow for any player to instantly identify the city.
Naturally, the most readily identifiable landmark is none other than the Havana Cathedral. Other major historic landmarks include the Morro Castle, the Governor’s Palace, and the Plaza Vieja.
The Capitolio and Museum of the Revolution are also notable locations, as is the Great Theatre of Havana. Another building that you’re likely to recognize is the FOCSA residential skyscraper, which is the tallest building in the nation.
Knowing Rockstar, there is no way they’d jump into a Cuban setting without making communism the butt of most of their jokes. No doubt the story would revolve (no pun intended) around the establishment as well.
In fact, they might go as far as coming up with a storyline so depraved, that it would feature an ambitious syndicate leader who wishes to topple the Communist system and usher in a Capitalist one, since it is better for business.
Then again, that would be the first instance of “the state” being the primary antagonist in a GTA game, as the franchise usually pitted the player against other criminals. These would be untested waters for Rockstar, but who if not the most controversial game dev should experiment?
The game would start when a member of a syndicate operating out of Havana is smuggled back to the city from, say, Los Santos after meeting with local crime lords to gain support. The Havana underground has made deals with several powerful international gangs, wherein they would lend support in a coup in exchange for a slice of the resulting new market of Cuba.
With the already existing drug trade, and both the commodities of sugar and tobacco ripe for corruption and smuggling, Cuba is an untapped goldmine for people with black-market interests. The game would feature missions where you’d need to recruit new gang members, arm them, help the incoming foreign crime syndicates to establish themselves, all the while interfering with government activity and eventually overthrowing it with a puppet head of state.
If that isn’t over-the-top enough for GTA, then I don’t know what is.
Pros: Geography, recognition, story potential
Cons: low murder rate, almost nonexistent gun-violence
Havana gets so much right that we feel sorry for not allowing it into the “A”s, however that low level of murder and even lower level of gun crime is really quite troublesome for GTA. That said, the city scores perfectly in all other categories.
Would you play a GTA game set in Havana?