While GTA 6 City of the Week looks at one location in the USA and evaluates it as a possible setting of the next installment in Rockstar Game's popular open-world action adventure franchise every week, Foreign City of the Week, as the name suggests, looks beyond the borders.
Having written about Rio last time, riding the hype around the Olympics, we were a bit stumped as to which city to pick this time. For Foreign City, we wanted to look at cities which are currently in the news - but pretty much all the news these days is negative. Maybe next week there will be some kind of scientific breakthrough achieved in Tokyo or Sydney or something so we can look at a city with a positive media footprint.
In the meantime however, we're going to look at:
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The Russian capital is a true behemoth of a city to behold. The largest city in all of continental Europe, categorised as an Alpha Global city, the ninth most expensive city in the world to live in, the northernmost and coldest "megacity" on Earth and among the fastest growing tourist attractions in terms of popularity. It is the largest and most populous landlocked city in the world. It is home to the tallest freestanding structure in Europe and the tallest Skyscraper in Europe. It is considered to be the economic, political and scientific hub for not only Russia but the entirety of Eastern Europe. Now, this last statement does depend on where you draw the border of "Eastern" Europe, but it mostly holds true.
The city has acted as the center of Russian culture throughout history, having been the capital of pretty much every nation that ever encompassed all of or most of what is today the Russian Federation. It is home to a wide array of famous buildings, notable for their architecture. This includes the Kremlin, which is the seat of power in the nation, housing the State Duma and Federation Council, as well as (one of) the residence(s) of the President.
Moscow, being such a monstrosity of a settlement, needs a strong transit system to rely on. Between four international airports, nine railway stations, countless bus and tram-lines and a monorail system. Add to this the largest, deepest and most famous metro system in Europe, servicing over 200 stations which has been featured in popular post-apocalyptic fiction extensively, and you have a public transport system large enough to make travelling through the city viable without a car.
Geographically, Moscow has some benefits and some disadvantages. The Moskva river cuts the city in two, and the large, broad Soviet-era avenues clearly dice up the city into districts, making area unlock boundaries easy to set. This is also helped by the circular setup of the city. The Kremlin is the center, with progressively larger and larger rings around it growing outward denoting areas of the city.
However, there are some drawbacks. While there is enough wilderness around the city for a non-urban area, there is quite a bit of wilderness in the city too. Moscow is one of the "greenest" cities in Europe. Add to this that the river is pretty much the only body of water in the area, and you've got a city that is practically impossible to turn into an island while retaining realism.
The architecture is varied and there are plenty of unique neighborhoods to prevent the setting from getting dull and monotonous. As the capital of the Russian Federation, Moscow is more than prominent enough a city to be featured as a main GTA setting. It's size is another boon, as there is something of an arms-race going on among AAA open-world games pertaining to map size, though Just Cause seems to be winning on that front.
While Moscow is relatively safe for tourists, there is plenty of crime to go around. Russia as a country has some pretty serious issues with drug, human and most notably arms trafficking, and Moscow serves as a hub for all of these. Not only the seat of the government, Moscow also serves as the capital of the Russian underground element, with most organised crime groups being "headquartered" here.
Well over half - more like nearing three quarters - of illegal arms across the whole world originate from Russia. The easily maintained, manufactured and used Kalashnikov weapons are of Russian design. The AK-47, the most popular and numerous rifle currently in service is also part of this line.
Drug trafficking is another major issue. The many smaller scale conflicts following the fall of the Soviet Union, coupled with lax border control made the massive country a prime location for the drug trade to flourish. Moving contraband domestically is easier than over the border, and Russia connects three continents physically, and also allows easy sea access to the Americas.
Organised crime groups in Moscow mainly work with drugs, as weapons and people would be harder to conceal in the heavily policed capital, though of the two, weapons are more frequent.
Moscow is also famous for - or infamous for - corruption and white-collar crime. I'd rather not elaborate too much on this, lest the modern equivalent of the KGB silence me, preventing any further "GTA 6 City of the Week" articles from being written. Let's just say that large sums of government money tend to up and disappear, or are used for construction projects that never begin, or are donated to charities that don't exist. You get the picture.
As for homicide, Moscow sits in the precarious position of being lower than the rest of Russia but higher than most of the United States. However, in spite of the very active criminal underground, statistics collected over the years indicate that the majority of murders in the city are committed by random intoxicated individuals as opposed to gang-members.
Seeing as we're evaluating the city as a setting for a GTA game, it is important to mention that and average of 50 cars are stolen in Moscow every day. While geography might not be the best, these crime statistics add up to a perfect GTA setting.
While the modern skyline of Moscow may not be particularly iconic yet, the older buildings which survived Stalin's re-design of the city as well as the large, imposing and widely considered ugly Soviet buildings are pretty recognizable even to players abroad. Everyone knows what the Kremlin looks like; everyone knows what Saint's Basil's Cathedral looks like; and everyone knows what Moscow's White House looks like. Most people know what the Red Square looks like, but we guess it would be easier to recognize if there was a military parade going on.
That said, Moscow being one of the most popular recent tourist destinations, the modernized side of the city might be more and more recognizable. Federation Tower is notable for being the tallest building in Europe, so many players are bound to recognize it, for instance.
Other notable landmarks in the city include the GUM department store, the Monument to the Conquerors of Space (which is really awesome, by the way) and the Moscow Cathedral Mosque.
Moscow as a setting it absolutely loaded with possible stories for a GTA game about the Russian mob. While GTA IV featured a slav immigrant navigating the New York underground (that said, we do realize Niko Bellic wasn't Russian), how about having it the other way around in GTA VI? Some American guy gets into trouble with some organised crime group at home, and turns to the Russian mob. They agree to help him escape, but he has to work off his debt in Moscow.
Over the course of the story, he gains friends in the mob as well as a good reputation, and decides to stay on board after his debt is paid. Corrupt officials, both allied and hostile get mixed up in a turf-war, weapons shipments need to be secured, the drug stockpiles of enemy gangs need to be stolen or destroyed, the underground racing scene needs to be dominated to gain your group prestige. Finally, at the end of it all, you are in-deep with the mob, however an enemy attack on your HQ leaves all records of your involvement destroyed. Here, the player may choose to leave this life behind and return home with a new identity, or to remain loyal to those who saved them in the face of obvious danger, and become involved with the mob irrevocably.
Pros: Perfect crime profile, great story potential, good recognition, well sectioned-off map
Cons: unfavorable geography
Basically, Moscow's geography is the only thing preventing it from being a perfect setting for a GTA game. Since we've established over the course of these articles that poor geography is the easiest issue to correct, this leaves Moscow as being "just" a great setting. The crime profile fits what GTA has been about so far perfectly, the Russian mob is something everyone is familiar with and few players wouldn't recognize the city.
Which foreign city would you like us to look at next week?