It’ll steal lots of your free time

by Shane Dillon

A LITTLE later  than expected (thank you, publishing deadlines, so much), I finally have a review for you of what is, without doubt, the biggest game of the year – Grand Theft Auto V, available now on XBox 360 and PlayStation 3.

First things first – Gazette-reading parents with kids and teenagers who’ve been pestering them about getting GTAV should skip straight to the red-headed box, right, for a stern-but-fair warning that GTAV is not for kids, and I can’t stress that enough (parents are advised to see the section at the end of this main review).

However, for all those who’re aged at least 18 or older – or who’re 40-somethings like myself who’ve been with the GTA series for well over a decade – on with the show!

And what a show it is, as dozens of glowing reviews all around the world, and the internet, have been pointing out.

For readers who’ve missed the recent media frenzy over GTAV, and as a brief introduction, GTAV, in vogue with many recent popular TV shows, casts the player as an absolute antihero looking to make it big – at the expense of a (mostly) law-abiding world.

To do so, as an ambitious bad guy, the player runs through an overall storyline, completing missions to fill out the story, as well as having the choice to wander off on optional side missions, encounter random events, or simply decide to ignore the story for a while and do whatever they feel like in the game world.

Here, three very different protaganists (along with a motley crew of friends, family members and acquaintances) are brought together with a common goal, with the player able to swap between them mostly at will, once introduced.

Interestingly, it’s a way not only of creating a broader story, via the different characters, but of also facilitating different gameplay styles, as each of the trio – Michael, Franklin and Trevor – have different strengths and weaknesses, lending themselves to providing the player with different adventures.

As always with a GTA game, while the overall story is generally engaging – apart from a couple of quite ill-advised and, frankly, unpleasant sections – it’s the sheer variety of things to see and do within the giant game world that has made it such a huge hit with gamers all around the globe.

Set in sprawling Los Santos – a large city that’s closely modelled on Los Angeles, with many of the city’s most famous landmarks and districts recreated in the game – the player can wander around not only the most richly-detailed and believable-feeling city yet seen in a game, but out into the sprawling surrounding countryside, too, where a number of smaller towns, settlements and manmade and physical landmarks provide many other missions and distractions.

I don’t have the space to list all the things that gamers can do – everything from street racing to base jumping, playing golf or tennis, practising yoga, going swimming or diving, parachuting, cycling, taking part in triathlons, going bounty hunting, plumbing the depths of the ocean in a submarine, driving a taxi, soaring through the air in planes or helicopters, customising souped-up cars, and much more – phew!

And all that’s quite apart from just playing the game “properly”, such as playing through all of the missions, and preparing for some of the occasional major heists that the characters carry off.

The near-hysterical hype that’s been expertly manipulated by GTAV’s Scottish developer, Rockstar, over the past few months has been delivered on in style, with a vast game world that’s stuffed to the gills with things to see and do, places to go, people to meet, fun events to take part in, or simply getting into explosive trouble with the law in classic GTA style.

All this, presented within a beautifully presented and richly modelled world that pushes current consoles to their limits.

Gamers may – rightfully – mutter that I’ve left a lot out of this review, but it’s just not possible to  do GTAV justice in this space, or even to list all of its many features and highlights, other than to say the wait was worth it.

Still sold-out at many gaming outlets, GTAV more than lives up to the hype, and is without doubt a must-have title for any gamer. But only if you’re old enough …

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And now follows a strict warning for parents …

GTAV is a game that is patently not suitable for children to  most teenagers to either play or own. Unless you’re at least 18 years old (in line with the game’s legal classification), or are otherwise an actual grown-up, GTAV is completely unsuitable for children or teenagers.

Lest any parents/adults are thinking Little Timmy (or Tara) would be fine, as “it’s just a game”, here’s one sample mission (GTAV fans should look away now, to avoid a spoiler) …

Violent sociopath Trevor takes umbrage at a group of rival crystal methadone drug dealers in the desert, so blazes his way over to their farmhouse base, uses a sniper rifle to attack outside guards, goes on an all-out murderous assault on everyone inside, then burns down the meth lab/house – all to protect Trevor Philips Enterprises.

Responsible grown-ups, you’ve been warned …

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