Grand Theft Auto Online has become quite the haven for street racing over its near decade-long existence. A number of updates, adding loads of models and new car customization features that far exceed what’s possible in most modern racing games, have made GTA Online a reasonable stand-in for Midnight Club or a more social Need For Speed, even without the licensed cars those games have.
But with the new Los Santos Tuners update set to drop July 20, GTA is leaning harder into racing game territory than ever before. And I’m unsure how to feel about it.
On the one hand, there seems to be a lot to like about Los Santos Tuners on paper. Most of what’s being added to the game in this update is based around the “LS Car Meet,” a place where players can gather, show off their rides and — here’s the critical part — not kill each other.
Yes, the meet is a no-violence zone. That’s really important, because the griefing that defines GTA Online causes so much friction when all you want to do is build and cruise around in cool cars with your friends. I understand playing the asshole is what GTA’s raison d’être, but it ruins the chill culture atmosphere Rockstar’s trying to cultivate with this addition, so taking away them guns seems like a good call.
The LS Car Meet comes with its own test track, where players can test drive a “rotating selection of vehicles.” It also houses its own series of circuit and point-to-point street races. The update introduces a reputation system just for the racing side of things, that offers login and race participation bonuses and rewards players with discounts on cars and parts prizes. Seriously, it’s like its own self-contained Midnight Club within GTA Online.
As you’d expect, a number of new cars will join GTA Online’s ever-expanding vehicle roster in tandem. As usual, they’re takes on real-life cars, though the inspiration here is less parodic in nature and really just straight-up, blanket plagiarism. I mean, the Dinka RT3000 is like an imperceptibly off-model S2000 (seriously, if this were in a racing game 20 years ago, it’d pass for an accurate, licensed S2000) and the Karin Calico GTF even goes so far as to copy the arrangement of the Celica GT-Four’s taillight clusters. I’m honestly shocked automakers haven’t banded together and taken Rockstar’s lunch money in a court of law yet. Satire is one thing, but this is brazen.
These vehicles figure to receive the same attention, in terms of deep customization options, as some of GTA Online’s more recent automotive additions. And that’s honestly where the game shines for me, because the range of aftermarket parts of offer and the areas you can mod — hell, you’re free to change interior door cards in this game — puts Forza’s and NFS’ suites to shame.
My lone concern — as it always is whenever GTA Online touts something new to attract car folks — is that all of this will be priced way out of casual players’ reach, such that you’ll have to drop $20 on Shark cards just to afford that fake FD RX-7, for example. That’s how GTA Online was last time I touched it two years ago, though I’ve heard the heist payouts have reasonably improved since then. The obscene degree of grinding previously required to buy anything was an immediate turn-off for pretty much everyone I know, so that’ll ultimately make or break this update.
Then again, until Rockstar ever decides to make a new Midnight Club — which is probably never, ever happening at this rate — Los Santos Tuners is the best we’re going to get.