GTA 6: The trailer has debunked many fan theories but which have survived?

A still from the first ‘GTA VI’ trailer (Rockstar Games)
A still from the first ‘GTA VI’ trailer (Rockstar Games)

For many years, Grand Theft Auto VI was the worst-kept secret in gaming. The forthcoming open-world crime game was only officially confirmed to exist in January 2022, nine years after the release of the previous franchise entry, GTA V. Even then, details about the game were scant. Where would it be set? Who were the protagonists? Leaving aside a high-profile leak of in-development footage in September 2022, fans had to subsist on educated guesswork.

Last night, the trailer for GTA VI made its way online – first as a leak, then, shortly after, on the official YouTube channel of Rockstar Games. Slick, eye-catching and raucously over-the-top, the 90-second advertisement confirmed a number of longstanding theories orbiting the game, while withholding many of the specifics – more than anything, this was selling looks and vibes. At the time of writing, the trailer has amassed a staggering 70 million views on YouTube, just 15 hours after debuting; we’re in record-smashing territory here. It’s no exaggeration to say that GTA VI will almost certainly be the biggest media release of the decade; in an era when pop culture has diffused and splintered, this monolith stands untoppled.

The first and least surprising revelation in the trailer is that the game will be set in and around Vice City, the city modelled on Miami that previously featured in 2002’s Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. This had been rumoured for years, based as much on rudimentary deduction as any leaked intel: the previous two GTA games, 2008’s Grand Theft Auto IV and 2013’s GTA V, were set in Liberty City (New York) and San Andreas (Los Angeles) respectively, making Vice City the next obvious choice to revisit. (Where they go next, when it comes to GTA VII God-knows-how-many years down the line, is a more interesting, and less predictable, question.) Fans didn’t need a trailer to know that the new Vice City would be vastly bigger, more detailed, more dynamic, than the iteration that was designed for PlayStation 2; but the vibrancy and painstaking realism of the environments and architecture, in the few short glimpses we got, are a sight to behold.

Another popular rumour circulating before the launch of GTA VI’s trailer was that the game will focus on a female protagonist. Sure enough, the advert seemed to suggest that the game will focus on two core characters, one of whom is a Latina woman named Lucia. In the gaming world, where progressive representation in high-budget (or “AAA”) games has historically been minimal, the news that GTA is fronting a female player-character is a welcome departure from the usual sausage fests. (GTA V featured three male protagonists, including the psychopathic, preternaturally toxic Trevor.) Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, reported that the game would feature a “feel very different from its predecessor” following a “new tone” at Rockstar Games. Despite the clamours of a few ornery bigots, however, the series has not “gone woke”. If anything, the trailer’s brash, familiar and more-than-a-bit male-gaze-y aesthetic promises the opposite. This is business as usual, only bigger.

But what about the things the trailer didn’t say? A number of the other biggest fan theories were left up in the air. Some of these were pie-in-the-sky – such as the once-popular rumour that the game would incorporate multiple cities, and allow players to travel between them via airplanes. Fans referred to this supposed multi-city endeavour by the name Project Americas. While the GTA VI trailer’s Florida-centric clips don’t explicitly rule this out, it would obviously be a strange, counter-intuitive tactic to omit such a feature from the marketing.

Other theories were more plausible, such as the suggestion that GTA: Vice City’s protagonist would be returning to the game. The original Vice City takes place in 1986, and stars Ray Liotta as Florida gangster Tommy Vercetti. While an older version of Tommy is nowhere to be seen in the trailer, a reappearance in the game remains a distinct possibility. (Bygone GTA characters have showed up in later games on several occasions before.) With Liotta having passed away in 2022, it’s currently unclear exactly what a re-appearance would constitute. If there’s one thing that the trailer’s barrage of social media-style vignettes makes clear, though, it’s that GTA VI definitely isn’t set in the Eighties.

While the first trailer has sent social media into something of a frenzy, the long wait is far from over. There was no release date given for GTA VI, only the year: 2025. Given the video game industry’s tendency for production delays, coupled with Rockstar’s reputation as pretty much the most dependably polished and hiccup-free publisher of huge-budget games, it’s probably a good bet that the actual release date will be close to two years in the future. Late-in-the-day delays typically provoke petulant backlashes among fans, so a good amount of undisclosed behind-closed-doors production leeway is sure to have been factored into the stated 2025 window.

So what are we left with? Another two years, give or take, in which fans must content themselves with idle speculation. The one-and-a-half minutes of footage featured in the trailer will be pored over by fanatics like a sacred text. Already, theories have emerged from the snippets we’ve been given. Viewers have combed through the faux-social media clips of Vice City residents doing outrageous things and matched the images to real-world happenings.

One shot from the trailer, for instance, sees a heavily tattooed man with dyed hair stand in prisoner’s duds. Fans were quick to draw parallels between this figure and the actual Florida criminal dubbed the “real life Joker” by the press, due to his resemblance to the famed Batman villain. Another shot from the trailer shows an alligator crawl menacingly into a grocery shop, which viewers matched with a real 2018 incident in which a man took a live alligator into a 7-11 while making a “beer run”. Other images are similarly rooted in snippets of viral reality: a woman staring at a phone camera with a hammer in each hand; a naked man at a gas station; a woman twerking on the roof of a speeding car.

What does it mean that these are the images GTA VI has selected to advertise itself? It’s already set the rumour mill ablaze with talk of the role that social media will play in the game. Maybe it’s a statement on just how much the real world has come to resemble the grotesque excess of GTA games past: a reframing of the franchise as prophesy. Maybe it’s an indication that GTA VI will be (slightly) more grounded, taking its inspiration from real eccentric crimes rather than the far-fetched ultraviolence of GTA V. It could even be a meta-commentary on the game’s own unprecedented realism: look, you can’t tell the difference.

‘GTA 6’ is out in 2025 (Rockstar Games/AFP via Getty Ima)
‘GTA 6’ is out in 2025 (Rockstar Games/AFP via Getty Ima)

Theories haven’t focused exclusively on the content of the game itself; speculation has also been rife about the specifics of the game’s release. Will it be on PC? Not at launch – PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S only. Will there be an online mode? You can bet your house on it – while this has yet to be announced, the online mode for GTA V remains ludicrously profitable, and accounts for a gigantic chunk of the game’s overall playerbase.

Other less appealing question marks hang over the matter of price: totally unverified reports have speculated that the game will set a new bar for consumer price, with some people speculating it could break the £100 mark. While this is unlikely, it’s certainly not impossible that the game is more expensive than others. The budget for GTA VI is reported to stretch into an eye-watering 10 figures: while it is expected to easily recoup this (estimates suggest the game could make Rockstar $8bn within its first year), the sheer scale and momentousness of the game makes it easy to justify a premium price to consumers that would probably relent at any cost.

Despite all this, no one really knows what to expect from GTA VI. The trailer didn’t really tell us anything new. It showed that it’s going to take us to a meticulously recreated copy of Florida, which we knew already. It showed that it’s going to be a big, propulsive spectacle, which we also knew already. And, if the furore around the trailer’s release showed anything, it’s that people are going to lose their damn minds. Who knew?