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.
After an extended stay in Europe, we're jumping back to North America, bringing Foreign City of the Week about as close to home as it will ever get - about 100 KM from the US border by car. Braving the cold weather, we jump over to the United State's friendlier northern neighbor, which happens to be the original home of GTA 5 protagonist Trevor Philips.
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Alright, I'm not going to lie. Part of the reason that I'm choosing Toronto is because whenever I scour the web for various bits of "GTA" news, I keep bumping into stuff that happened in the Greater Toronto Area. We even covered a story where a GTA-esque car-smuggling ring got busted in Toronto. I mean, if search engines throw up separate posts about Grand Theft Auto and the Greater Toronto Area in one search already, why not combine the two?
Plus, you know, the GTA actually looks like a great setting for GTA (I'll stop now). Whether it's Canada suffering from Australia-syndrome, or Australia suffering from Canada-syndrome, I can never tell, however both are countries whose capitals are often mixed up by the general public. While most people mistakenly think Sydney is Australia's capital, with Canada it's even worse, since several cities are often cited as being the capital.
In fact things are so bad that even the locals can't figure it out. Anecdote time: while studying abroad, three of my Canadian classmates were arguing over which city is the capital, and neither of the three said Ottawa, which is indeed the capital. Anyway, Toronto is often named as the capital, and while it is the largest and most populous city in Canada, the seat of the government it is not.
Toronto is the fourth largest city on the whole North American continent, and while not its capital, it is considered as the heart and hub of culture, finance, politics, science and pretty much everything else influential cities are described as in Canada. That said, it should be pointed out that as a powerhouse of the video game industry, Canada's "heart and hub" for game development are centered around Montreal and Québec.
Toronto is lauded as, among other things, to be one of the most multicultural cities in the world, with more than half of its population being made up of foreigners. Beyond these some 2,6 million permanent residents, around 25 million tourists visit Toronto every year. Among the most renowned tourist attractions is the CN Tower - but more on this in the Recognition section.
Toronto is notable for being the largest market for media in the country, as well as being the broadcast center of most networks. It is also the financial capital of the country, with a high concentration of banks and investment firms. The world's seventh largest stock exchange operates out of Toronto and the city is also home to what is known as "the Big Five", which include the five largest financial companies of the country.
The city's economy also stands on the pillar of manufacturing and distribution. It's strategic location along the Québec-Windsor Corridor make it a crucial link in a freight-chain running the length of the nation's largest economic super-region. It's port also makes it a major mercantile gateway into the rest of Canada. While manufacturing itself generally takes place outside of Toronto proper, it still falls under the umbrella of the Greater Toronto Area.
Due to the massive influx of tourists, hospitality and, obviously, tourism are both major industries too. Notably, Toronto is the home of both the Four Seasons and Fairmont hotel chains. Part of the tourist appeal of Toronto stems from the numerous and prestigious museums present in the city, including the Royal Ontario Museum, which is the most visited in Canada.
From a geographic point of view, Toronto is downright perfect. Well, okay, almost perfect, since it isn't an island by default. However, it's location is prime. With the bit of land it inhabits being surrounded by lakes of various sizes, turning it into an island would not be too much of a stretch, and other geographic factors fall in too. The landscape is varied, there are other settlements nearby which would make for great secondary locations and the Niagara Falls. Seriously. Niagara. Falls.
Granted, our custom map might benefit from more of the land from the southwestern-stretch added, maybe all the way to Detroit for a two-city setup, but this works too if Toronto is chosen as the sole major city for the game. The lick of land reaching northward as well as the bay south of the city make for interesting geographic variations.
The area around Toronto is also known for its natural beauty, which contributes to the tourism angle. Even if some of the tourists don't necessarily come to explore the city, rather the countryside around it, most reside within the city bounds during their vacation. Toronto also benefits from sport tourism due to the hockey games held in the city.
While geography will win Toronto quite a few points, the city stands to lose most of them in this category. Toronto is known as being one of the safest cities on the continent, with a murder rate well below that of most US cities. Based on latest statistics, the homicide rate sits at around 3.3 per 100,000 residents, which is considerably low, but still among the highest in Canada. That said, few US cities fall below that number, and fewer yet that we've feature in these articles.
While the murder rate is pretty low and the burglary rates are also below US averages, in terms of car theft, a major aspect of GTA, Toronto actually meets US averages with a high number of such thefts. This should come as no surprise after that story we covered that I mentioned at the beginning of this article.
Gang activity is low as there isn't a lot of drug or gun-running going on in the Greater Toronto Area. Illegal immigration generally isn't an issue, so no human trafficking to talk about. Criminal Syndicates aren't thought to have footholds in Toronto, which is quite the feat for the city. Gun violence is also pretty sparse compared to the USA.
Toronto has a pretty iconic skyline with several recognizable skyscrapers, however what truly makes it stand out is North-America's tallest freestanding structure, the icon of the city and one of its most influential tourist attractions, the CN tower.
Beyond the iconic broadcasting tower, Toronto is home to a number of other iconic and notable buildings, such as the aforementioned Royal Ontario Museum, the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Brookfield Place, the City Hall, and the Prince Edward Viaduct.
The high number of visiting tourists greatly boost the city's recognition rating, as well as the fact that it is often mistaken as the country's capital. While not a part of Toronto nor the GTA, the nearby Niagara Falls, which appear on our version of the custom map, are also world-renowned and would be instantly recognizable.
Due to Toronto's low level of crime, the city would lend itself to a story setup where the player character is the member of some organised crime syndicate or other from a different city having sent the protagonist to Toronto's GTA version in order to set up shop and tap an otherwise unexploited market for illegal goods.
We've explored similar ideas in previous articles, where the setting at the onset of the game would resemble its real-life safe counterpart, however as the player progresses in the story and spreads the influence of organised crime, the general state of the city would deteriorate with more and more random acts of crime being committed.
Another possible storyline would begin in a different city for the duration of the prologue, maybe even one already established in GTA. Say two syndicates in Liberty City are feuding, and the leader of one side sabotages peace talks by using them as a chance to slaughter high-ranking members of the other. He then escapes to Toronto, hoping to find safety in a city known for safety and a lack of organised crime syndicates. The other gang sends a member after the opponent leader to assassinate him.
This would-be assassin is the protagonist, however by the time they arrive to Toronto, the target had already gone into hiding and established a rudimentary network of contacts. The player would have to play into the hands of the fledgeling local syndicates, helping them grow and get a foothold in Toronto while digging up information on the target in order to carry out the hit later on.
Pros: Geography, recognition, story potential.
Cons: Very, very low level of crime.
Unfortunately, while Toronto gets so many things right, the lack of crime really holds it back as a potential GTA setting. While the other aspects are so strong, we feel the low crime rate is big enough of a disadvantage to drop the city to the grade of a solid B. No plus, no minus, just a straightforward B.
Would you like to play GTA in the GTA?