Grand Theft Auto V takes you back on a nostalgic trip back to San Andreas, but this time, the city of Los Santos is your sandbox. The city is literally alive, like fleas on the back of a cat. The scale is extremely dizzying. Several unique areas make up the city of Los Santos, from the glamorous homes of Rockford Hills, to the grimy, gangster ridden, graffiti decorated suburbs of Davis and Rancho, to the sunshine and bikinis of Vespucci beach. Looking across your playable zone it looks as if it goes on forever, but this literally is only a quarter of the map. This is Rockstar’s biggest city yet.

The entire map is split into several districts, Los Santos being it’s most dense. Drive through the Rockford Hills, past your Vinewood sign, and you find yourself in the Grand Senora desert, which is home to the shanty town of Sandy Shores. Keep going and you find yourself at the vast Alamo Sea, in which you’ll find Mt. Chilliad. At the base lies yet another town to explore, the suburban Paleto Bay and Blaine County’s forest. Like I said, it’s huge!

Rockstar has pulled out all the stops when it comes to detail. Gangs congregate on street corners, drunks and drug addicts stagger down the streets, rats plague the bins, and houses and shops boarded up giving the lower class areas of the city that dingy feel to it. Take a trip across the road and you’re greeted with sports cars, business men on their mobile phones, obnoxious actors leaving the studio and extras in alien costumes on their smoke breaks. Head off into the desert and you see backpackers, cyclists, people walking their dogs, and if you’re not careful, a deer through your windscreen. Yes, GTA V now comes with a full set of wildlife creatures, from cows to deer, to packs of dingo. It’s safe to say, this is the most detialed map ever, a haven for gamers.

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The game opens up at the peak of a bank job, a tutorial based mission that gives you a feel for what is to come. Once you have completed this you are met with your first playable character Franklin. A black wannabe G, working as a repo man, stuck in the grip of a shady car dealership. Wanting to delve deeper into the life of crime, it’s not until a repo job goes wrong that you find these dreams may be coming true. At this point you meet your second playable character Michael. A rich charismatic hot head put in the witness protection program for *enter spoiler here*.  Kept hidden from his criminal past, he yearns for the thrill and excitement he once had, but instead drinks and smokes and yells at his wife and kids all day.

Then there is Trevor. Oh my where do we start with Trevor? Trevor’s character stands for everything that someone should not become. He is rude, he is violent, he loves the crack, and holds a grudge against his ex partner in crime Michael. He lives in a trailer cooking crystal meth, and loves to get high and kill people. That is it. It’s a big surprise that actually most of the games humour actually comes from this disgusting character.

Having three playable characters make this a very interesting experience. You’re able to switch, holding the D-Pad at any moment in the game, unless something has happened to the character you’re aiming to control such as laying low after a big mission. When you do make the switch between characters you are given a short snippet of what the characters have been up to, and these are completely random. Surprisingly I’ve never seen one repeat so far. These are definitely dictated by their personalities. Michael will be watching a movie, arguing with his wife, or even cycling. Franklin chooses to flirt with women, washing his car, or walking his dog Chop. Trevor, well, will be drunk, high, or doing something illegal. As I said, it’s remarkable none of these which I have seen at time of writing this review, which is about 30% or so into the game, have seen these repeat.

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Ok back to Chop. Chop is a dog, Franklin’s dog, and is man’s best friend. Chop can accompany you on missions, and even be trained for certain situations such as sniffing someone out, chasing them down.

Stats give this game an RPG element feel. From shooting, driving, lung capacity, and stamina. You gain stats as you go, but can take part in the gun range, or flying school, or races, to achieve these at a much quicker pace. Certain missions rely on you having a certain stat level, so get studying. Each character has their own set of missions to partake in, but it’s not until the shared missions come into play that this game truly shines. As an example, a mission which stands out so far is a heist to kidnap an informant. Franklin is perched on a rooftop with a sniper rifle while Trevor flies a helicopter with Michael riding shotgun. Together, with the power of the character switching they have to complete these missions with precision.

Each mission you play you are scored. This can depend on: damage taken, how fast you get between locations, how many civvies you run over, and how many you kill. Getting these gold’s is a challenge, but don’t worry. If you fail, any mission can be replayed from the pause menu. Heists are the games showcase missions, and these are definitely special. They can be played very differently depending on the situations and how much money you have to sink into your ‘crew’.

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Combat feels a lot smoother than previous games. With a much snappier cover system, that when ducked behind that car when being shot at, you feel your heart pound.

There is literally countless things to do in Los Santos that it never feels dried up or repetitive. Get a haircut, grow a beard, go and work out at the gym, race boats or cars, scuba dive in the ocean and punch a shark, assassinate CEO’s of companies and see their shares fall in the stock exchange, take a picture and upload it to Facebook, invest in real estate, go shopping for garments, play minigolf, play tennis, buy local businesses, and a personal favourite to the series, pick up hookers. Did I mention this game had an 18-rated tag?

Rockstar games have overachieved the extraordinary with their latest release in the Grand Theft Auto series. It feels fresh and new, as well as tight and polished. It feels like an entirely different take on the Grand Theft Auto series. It’s extremely well written and the humour never gets old. The music is superb and has a huge selection of radio stations to choose from for all typed of situations. Whether Franklin is bowling through the hood, stick on rap. Trevor cruising through the desert, Johnny Cash. It’s original score is phenomenal, the comedy in the radio is something else. I almost get angry when I have reached my destination and have to get out the car.

Rockstar have definitely set a new standard of next generation gaming, which other developers will find very hard to follow. And with its release onto the Playstation 4, Grand Theft Auto will be in a league of its own.

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Stef Murphy

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