Review: Gamers get real thriller in 'Grand Theft Auto V'

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The "Grand Theft Auto" series has been a digital getaway of sorts, dating back to 2001's "Grand Theft Auto III." The player controls a main character who is dropped into a sprawling city with complete freedom to misbehave. The character can meet the townspeople, drive fast cars and see the sights. This was groundbreaking in its day, but 2013 demands more. "Grand Theft Auto V" pushes the limits of what can be packed into a video-game environment.

'Grand Theft Auto V'

4 stars = Outstanding
Ratings explained

  • For:

    Xbox 360, PS3.

  • Rated:

    M for Mature, $59.99.

The release of any "Grand Theft Auto" game is an event, and this one is bigger than most. Sales surpassed $1 billion in the first three days, "a rate faster than any other video game, film or other entertainment product has ever managed," creator Take Two Interactive Inc. told Reuters. That eclipses Activision's "Call of Duty: Black Ops 2," which took 15 days to hit $1 billion after its release last year.

No. 5 in the series delivers on expectations. It's not a day trip anymore. It's a full-fledged summer vacation.

Rather than focusing on one protagonist, "GTA V" has three. Michael, Trevor and Franklin all lead lives of crime, but have very different motivations and life philosophies. Having three main characters makes for a compelling narrative and triples the sheer volume of content. They carry out the usual heinous acts of violence and theft expected in this game, but their motivations kept me on their side. They're similar to Walter White in AMC's "Breaking Bad" -- you may root for them, but you'll feel bad doing it.

Players can spend days just traveling around San Andreas' metropolitan city, woodland forests and lonely deserts. This alone can be a blast since there's so much to see and do. The state has golf courses, tennis courts, jet ski races on the ocean, triathlons and plenty more activities that warrant hours of gameplay.

"GTA V" encourages that type of exploration, but there's also a compelling narrative. The story seems as if it were written by Quentin Tarantino, directed by Michael Mann and produced by Martin Scorsese. The shootouts these three gangsters get themselves into rival the excitement of a Hollywood action flick; the banter leading up to and during these explosive scenes is quick, cheeky and clever.

Besides additions to the series formula, developers at Rockstar Games have made key improvements to the gameplay. Driving feels tighter and more realistic, and shooting mechanics have been revamped to resemble those found in Rockstar's last title, "Max Payne 3."

Elaborate heists have been added as missions. The player is in charge of every part of the heist, from the planning stage to the execution. This includes choosing one of many plans of attack, hiring a competent team, dividing the cut and seeing it through to completion. The heist system is a complete evolution of the typical mission objectives in previous "GTA" installments.

Like any summer vacation, it's important to relax and enjoy. There are plenty of things to do and locations to travel to, but the game is at its best when leisurely enjoying the moment. The world of "GTA V" is absolutely gorgeous. The variety of environments has something to see for every taste and pushes the limits of the PS3 and Xbox 360.

With new consoles on the horizon, this generation of consoles is on its way to becoming obsolete. "GTA V" is a fitting grand finale for them. It's more of an experience than a typical video game, and it's one of the finest to be released in the past decade.

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Max Parker covers video games as The Game Guy at Follow him on Twitter at @GameGuyPGH.


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