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GTA Online’s new heist is more Metal Gear Solid 5 than beach party

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Oh boy, it’s crime time

Grand Theft Auto Online - Two socialites go to board a plane in Los Santos Image: Rockstar Games

The latest Grand Theft Auto Online update, The Cayo Perico Heist, arrived with a splash on Dec. 15, with a whole new island for players to explore. But if a player boots up the game expecting to jump into a big nightclub party, as the update was advertised, they’ll be disappointed. Instead, Cayo Perico is a structured mission space that feels more like Metal Gear Solid 5 or a Ghost Recon game than a cocaine island owned by a rich party boy.

There are pros and cons to Rockstar’s approach for the new content. One big improvement is that the Cayo Perico Heist has learned from its predecessor, the Diamond Casino Heist. If a player were to explore the sewers of the city, they could find a special entrance that made the Diamond heist much easier. It was a fun little addition that made GTA Online’s protagonists feel like actual criminals. Cayo Perico has this in spades. Players have to sneak around, looking for extra riches to steal, and ways to get in and out of the base. And since the island is owned by a drug lord, there are guards everywhere.

The stealth isn’t always amazing, especially when the player is swimming around a dock — for some reason, the guards on this island are capable of seeing me from dozens of feet away while I swim through the shallows. Other times, there are legitimately tense missions, like crouching with a friend and having to coordinate with them to take down four guards in three seconds before they can raise the alarm.

Grand Theft Auto Online - an aerial view of Cayo Perico island Image: Rockstar Games

Unlike in most missions in Grand Theft Auto Online, when the player is caught on this island, they don’t get immediately wasted and sent back to the checkpoint. Instead, the guards go ahead and kick you right off the island, and you have to head back to Los Santos in shame. You don’t have to explore; you can jump in early for a nice, simple heist. But you’ll be missing out on extra opportunities and walking out with far less money through a more dangerous route.

Because this isn’t an open-world space, players don’t have much opportunity to just goof around, like they do on the main map. It’s not a free-roam space, and that’s disappointing for players who were hoping for fresh real estate after years of navigating through the same routes in Los Santos. It’s possible that Cayo Perico will return in future updates, but for now, it’s not a real expansion of GTA Online’s open world.

But this does mean that you can complete the entire heist from start to finish in invite-only lobbies. That’s a huge improvement, because it means that you’re not thrown into a world with tons of other players. No one can stalk you with a flying Oppressor Mk II and instantly blow you up in the middle of your setup, and you’re not going to run into a fresh account that’s hacked the server so they can lock your character in a cage for fun.

There’s still some opportunity to party, and the new nightclub allows you to dance with your friends to some lively tunes. Players can pick up a cool million or two from each heist, which is helpful when the new submarine costs about GTA$10 million to unlock and fully upgrade, and it’s nice to have the option to solo the heist. But despite the trailers, Cayo Perico is less of a nonstop hedonistic thrill ride and more of a lonely trek through hostile territory.