I have a confession to make: despite being a gamer for so many of my years, I’ve never played a Grand Theft Auto game before now. So you’re getting the view of the game from the fresh eyes of someone who has never before visited San Andreas, or Chinatown, or Liberty City. Isn’t this exciting? So let’s see the sights of the city of Los Santos as I give you the grand tour of Grand Theft Auto V. Hope you’re strapped in tightly and sitting comfortably on your botty, because this ride is going to be a little…bumpy.

The first thing that struck me about GTA V is just how vividly alive the game world is. Rockstar has put an insane amount of detail into the game, and I do mean “insane”. Older cars are more difficult to start, characters in the world around you act like people would, and there is just so much to see and do that it can be a bit overwhelming initially. But let’s back up a little, and start in the proper gear.

864-1280

The game’s story follows three protagonists: Michael Townley, a rich retired ex-con trying to figure out the meaning of “mid-life crisis”; Franklin Clinton, a young black man trying to make his way through gangsta-infested suburban life; and Trevor Philips, a maniacal accomplice of Michael’s living out in the wild. Each character feels alive and organic, and whomever you’re not directly controlling seems to get on with their lives in various ways. For example, you might be in control of Michael for a while, and then decide to switch to Franklin. The camera zooms into the sky to give you a satellite overview of the world before zooming back, and Franklin might be in the middle of an argument on a basketball court. Switch back to Michael, and if you left him driving around, he might be watching TV, or simply ambling around Vespucchi Beach. Switch to Trevor, and you might find him involved in a casual shootout. It lends the game that air of organicness that seems missing from so many other games.

Because GTA V is a sandbox game, you can choose to ignore the story mode entirely to simply explore, and GTA V has so many things to do, that you don’t ever feel like exploring is a chore (I’m looking at you, Assassin’s Creed 3). For instance, on a whim, I decided to see just how much detail is in the game. So I went for a swim in the ocean. I discovered that there’s a vast aquatic ecosystem beneath the waves. Fish, coral reefs, and even sunken boats. I was enjoying my exploration of the waters until a shark took interest, and I figured that would be a good time to head for shore again.

What’s interesting is the incorporation of, and ubiquity of smartphones in the game. Each of your characters has their own phone that has access to address books, texts, e-mails, internet, and a camera. You can go around taking selfies all day if you so wish, or call up anyone on your contacts list to arrange meetings to go to the cinema or a strip club. In fact, if people in the game see exciting things happening, then out come all the smartphones and they’re all snapping away like paparazzi. Attention to detail is the byline of this game. The characters even sweat if they’ve been running too hard.

331-1280

There is no doubt whatsoever, though, that the highlights of the game are the heists. These events involve some measure of pre-planning to pull off, so it’s all about scoping out the location, getting a heads up on the security, hiring the right people for the job, finding the right stuff to suit your cover…and all before the actual heist is in action. It’s all wonderful, riveting fun, and you can even decide how you want to pull off your heist, whether by stealth or by brute force.

GTA Online is its own component, and I’ve been holding off on this review until I’ve had a chance to play around in the online sandbox. There is a lot in common with the solo mode of GTA V, but a whole lot of stuff that is purely in its own class. There are deathmatches, jobs, races of all sorts and varieties (car, jetski, parachute, the list goes on), bounty hunts, gang attacks, and of course, the best part: arranging heists with your own real live crew (although this part is sadly still pending at the time of writing). If you don’t have a crew, finding one can be brutal, since at current, GTA Online is filled with brutal maniacs intent on killing as many as they can. You can activate passive mode where other players can’t attack you, but it costs in-game money, and if you’re in a game with a bunch of murderers, you’ll probably get booted from the session. Overall, though, if you do have a group of regular friends to play with (or against), you’re in for one heck of an awesome time. As with many such games, the longer you spend in GTA Online doing stuff, the more cars, guns, and so on you will unlock. The game also outfits your avatar with a smartphone, but more options for impromptu races, GPS shortcuts, etc, can be found by holding down the Select (PS3) or Back (360) button. One of the more interesting features of GTA Online is that the online world is persistent, and Rockstar promises that the world will continue to evolve, keeping players interested for a long time indeed.

782-1280

It’s difficult to fault GTA V, although I’ve found some instances of texture pops (or in one amusing instance, textures that loaded too slowly, and by the time I’d raced by, it wasn’t an issue anymore), characters not moving their lips when speaking, and other such graphical glitches. It doesn’t detract from the game, but there are some strange issues that will probably be patched in the forthcoming months. The game is still brilliant fun in both single player and multiplayer modes, and there is just so much to do that the heavy price is somewhat justified. Heck, even in solo mode, you can ignore the story and just do…well, whatever the hell you want. Want to hit up a strip club and get a lap dance? Ok, go for it. Prefer to hold up stores? Sure, whatever. Just feel like decking your character out in the latest duds, or prefer to hone your shooting skills at the range? Why not. Los Santos is your proverbial oyster. Or muscle car, if you prefer. Have at it!

Final score: 9 thievin’, red-handed prawns out of 10

Detailed information:

Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Distributor: Megarom
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
Age Rating: Aw Hell you ain’t seriously thinking it’s for under 18s, are you?
Official Website: http://www.rockstargames.com/V/
GTA Online Website: http://www.rockstargames.com/V/GTAOnline