"Grand Theft Auto V"
Format: PS3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
ESRB Rating: M (Mature 17+)
The grade: A
What is it?
"Grand Theft Auto V" marks the return of Rockstar Games' most popular franchise. Players return to L.A.-inspired Los Santos, a sprawling metropolis where three very different criminals join forces.
Three unique characters. Gone are the days when a GTA title revolved around one protagonist. With "Grand Theft Auto V," gamers get three and they are all distinct. Michael is a former bank robber who's unhappy with his humdrum life in the witness protection program. Franklin lives in a poor neighborhood but has big aspirations. And then there's Trevor, a loose cannon with a history of violence and psychotic outbursts. Switching from person to person, which you can do on the fly, allows for an in-depth look at each character and makes for a very clever take on gaming's traditional approach to how protagonists are used in a story.
A huge world. Los Santos is massive. The map in "GTA V" is bigger than all of the other "Grand Theft Auto" maps combined, and there is so much to do. To start the game, I spent two hours in a blimp just flying around, taking the city in. Later on, I played tennis, repossessed a car and flew a stunt plane all within 30 minutes. You'll spend just as much time exploring Los Santos as you will completing story-driven missions.
The tightest GTA game yet. "GTA V" isn't the best game of the franchise ("Vice City" has that title) but it is the most polished. The buildings and environments in Los Santos are stunning; the lighting is photo-realistic; and the vehicles are incredibly detailed and have improved handling. There's also a ton of enhanced customization for weapons, vehicles and characters.
The elephant in the room. "GTA V" has some minor issues (poor flying controls, subpar looking character models, a twitchy cover system) but none of those have a serious impact on gameplay. Instead, what irked me is one the game's more traditional problems: how it represents women. As a father, husband and son, there are times I cringe at how pixilated women are portrayed in this game.
"GTA V" perfectly illustrates why I'm so dedicated to the world of "Grand Theft Auto." To be sure, it has its flaws, but this is a title that never takes itself (or gaming for that matter) too seriously, has a ton of addictive things to do and is just a flat-out blast to play.
Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones is a veteran video game journalist. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/terryterrones.