Getting stabbed to death by the Führer wasn’t the best of starts.
Don’t get me wrong, I expected Grand Theft Auto 5’s 300-player modded online servers to be hectic – GTA Online’s vanilla crime sandbox support a maximum of 32 bodies at-a-time, after all – but I learned very quickly that here, anything goes. Later on, I’d be fixing cars deep in the throes of a mid-city firefight, touring the skies with a jet-fighter gang, and getting high out of my mind as a backstreet doctor. But let’s start at the beginning.
When I first discovered the GTA 5 roleplay scene a few years back, the vast majority of RP playgrounds housed similar numbers, with the odd alpha server pushing 64. Nowadays, some FiveM servers boast 500+ players, but I’ve since learned that 250-300 seems to be the sweet spot between fun and stable playable worlds for now.
FiveM, for those unaware, is a popular open-source community mod which works independently of GTA Online, beside validating the player’s copy prior to launch. The server I jump into tells me 310 people have arrived before me, and I spawn on a small westerly beach south-east of the San Chianski mountains, not far from the Senora Freeway. It’s dark, but I manage to navigate the range’s cracks and crevices in diagonal bursts so as to avoid taking a header backwards whence I came. By the time I reach the highway, this realm’s instant messenger feed informs me a pack of roleplayers plan to meet in the grounds of the Diamond Casino, so I begin to hoof it south in that direction.
As I do, I notice that chat spam, both via IM and VOIP, is a kickable offence in this server. That’s welcome news, given how loud these places can be with so many players vying for their space on the airwaves. What is less welcome is death-by-Fuhrer – especially one who stalks the shadows like a ninja.
Sore one. I respawn, continue my long hike down the freeway, and before long find myself in company once more. I see headlights and thank my lucky stars. I’ll hitch a ride to the Diamond, I think to myself, although I’m slightly bemused by the speed with which my would-be chauffeur is hurtling towards me. And the fact that, you know, he’s driving a tank.
This is fine.
Okay, wow. A literal baptism of fire. I play dead for a while on the deck and allow my aggressor to move on before I hit the road once more. Unlike vanilla GTA Online, this server doesn’t have AI NPCs whatsoever, therefore doesn’t have an abundance of cars to hijack, therefore travel from the outset is a wee bit more difficult as I’m forced to do so on foot. By the time I finally make it to the casino, the group I sought have moved on, but I quickly strike up a conversation with Craig, a car mechanic roleplayer.
He sings the virtues of his trade and I’m sold on the spot – mostly due to the fact signing up means I become invulnerable to bullet damage, but forfeit the ability to bear arms. With my two lamentable prior exchanges in mind, I decide the benefits of the former outweigh the drawbacks of the latter. Craig gives me a ride in his truck to the garage, I’m kitted out in my new uniform, oil-stained overalls and all. I’m told that approaching the driver’s side of a damaged vehicle and pressing ‘/repair’ in the dialogue box lets me go about my business, and that doing so nets me an instant $20 minimum, depending on the damage, from whoever owns the ride I’m working on. It all sounds straightforward enough and I’m raring to go.
“Before you take off,” says Craig. “Check your map and follow the heat spots. Those are active bank heists. You’ll find a lot of shot-up cars and folk in need of a quick getaway.”
That’s all I need to know. Strapped for cash before my first pay, I borrow a scooter from the garage and set off towards the Maze Bank Tower in Pillbox Hill. It’s chaos when I arrive, with automatic rifle-wielding goons and shotgun-handling coppers exchanging blows all the way from the sidewalk to the safes inside. Cars whizz by in all directions, gunfire echoes up and down the Alta Street thoroughfare and it becomes clear I’ve got my work cut out for me.
I get to work on my first mark.
A success! I fix another, as an officer takes a round in the chest and falls to the floor. I fix another, as a Riato pickup truck takes the hill at speed, hits a wall and bursts into a ball of flames. I take a few on the chin myself.
But I’m professional about it. Instead of moaning, I fix another. Players scream obscenities down their headsets. The world is crumbling around us. I fix another, and another and another.
I’m so consumed by my work that I prevent a police officer from pursuing a robber. He revs his engine hard, tyres burning rubber on the asphalt, but he can’t move as I tinker under his hood. The boys in blue are getting pissed off with my thorough hands-on approach. They tell me so in no uncertain terms.
I’m not a hero, but I reckon I’m doing a fine job! Still, keen to avoid jailtime, I flee from the scene and make my way down to Legion Square – a centralised de facto meeting point in every other FiveM server I’ve played in before now.
To my delight, the same applies here. Legion is packed with roleplayers, and I’m quickly summoned by one tattooed chap who introduces himself as Hugh, the proud leader of the ‘Mile Hugh Club’ – a gang of jet-fighter pilots who operate out of the Los Santos International Airport. He’s spotted my overalls and tells me he could use my services down at LSIA. I oblige, and before I know it I’m out on the tarmac inside a south runway hangar doing my thing.
I don’t think twice when I’m offered a ride-along in their Mammoth Avenger as a token of thanks, and I’m taken aback by just how many of Hugh’s chums have tagged along in the skies. At one point, we swing over the Maze HQ and I notice the bank raid melee is still in full swing below. Good luck getting that banged-up patrol car started officer, I think to myself. Not such a see-you-next-tuesday now, am I?
The final stretch of my time in this 300-person server gets a bit weird. On my way back to Legion Square, I happen upon a different collective – this one, a motorcycle gang who claims to specialise in “medical supplies”. Which very clearly means weed, as if their tattoos and obsession with The Blue Ark radio station playlist wasn’t a giveaway.
I sort out a few of their bikes, and they sling me a few quid. I get a taste for their money, and before I know it I’ve agreed to infiltrate an enemy faction’s “private warehouse” in Downtown Los Santos after the promise of a windfall at the other end. I switch pre-set profiles from mechanic to doctor as I set about breaking in Hitman-style, and to my delight realise the place is empty of people, but absolutely packed with plants, growing lights, and irrigation and hydroponic equipment.
I sample a little bit of the product. Just a little bit. And then a little bit more, and suddenly I’m stoned out of my mind and can’t remember where the door is. I bounce off the walls for some time – minutes, hours, days, who knows – and pass out.
I wake up and it’s daytime again. I’m in the back of a police car, naked bar my boxer shorts, in front of the Mission Row police headquarters. I have no idea how long I was out for or how long I’ll last before my biker pals catch up with me and put one in the back of my head.
In the meantime, I keep driving. I drive and drive until the ground gives way below. Something isn’t right, but I can’t tell if the alpha server I’m playing in is broken or if that weed hit me harder than first thought.
Either way, I’ve seen some shit in this 300-player take on Grand Theft Auto Online. Fear and loathing in Los Santos. Dare I venture into FiveM’s temperamental 500+ rooms next? Only if I make it out of this one alive.