If you want to see your way around Los Santos, including the scrubby, mountainous, vast back country comprising nearby Blaine County, take a cab. Don’t jack the driver, don’t tap the “Hurry” button, don’t pay extra to “Skip,” just kick back, click Shift to cycle the views and groove on the world-building. Start in Los Santos and pick some place on the other side of the map. Somewhere on the other side of the mountains. Somewhere in the mountains.
Grand Theft Auto V is a monster crime-spree bonanza of a playground wrapped in a sandbox through a glass sardonically, full of Rockstar-infused narrative, pranks, hijinks and bawdy jokes. But it’s also one heck of a simulation, and simulations can be like ant farms, Rube Goldberg contraptions or nature documentaries narrated by David Attenborough — sometimes you just want to lay back and rubberneck the vibrant scenery.
Take the Pala Springs aerial tramway in the game, its pair of come and go cable cars gliding up the slopes of Mount Chiliad, the tallest point in the game. Tourists lounge beneath umbrella-tented tables and chat, smoke, text or sip coffee. Traffic rushes past along the nearby four-lane. A lumber yard nestles in the trees across the road surrounded by triangular piles of logs. Everything’s weird and beautiful and inscrutable, southern California jammed up against traces of the Pacific northwest, L.A. Confidential meets Twin Peaks.
Stand at the mountain’s pine-covered base — maybe by the “Welcome to Pala Springs, Customer Parking Only” sign by the tramway, maybe across the road in Paleto Forest listening to woodpeckers beat staccato patterns like bursts of machine gun fire — and look up. Remember catching sight of Skyrim’s “Throat of the World” for the first time? That grand, cloud-capped, solitary, unreadable summit? Wondering “What’s going on up there?”
You put something this big in a game, it has to mean something. It’s like Chekov’s gun, height in lieu of chambered bullets: at some point something’s going to happen on that mountaintop. I haven’t experienced it yet (short of testing the cops’ response time thousands of feet above sea level), but I have to imagine there’s something lurking in one of the game’s 69 missions, 42 “hobbies and pastimes,” 20 “strangers and freaks,” 14 “random events” or 16 “miscellaneous” incidents. Maybe something involving missile launchers and aerial targets, or dirt bikes, gondola gunplay and precipitous getaways. If there isn’t, I can hope for DLC.
And that mountaintop’s worth a visit, either way.