Developer: Rockstar North Publisher: Rockstar Games Platforms: X360, PS3 Price: £49.50
It's easy to be dazzled by Grand Theft Auto V, and clearly many people already have been. Rockstar's latest title, which at $200 million is the most expensive game ever made, has in two days of being on sale already made back its production costs four times over. That's almost - best Dr Evil voices now - one billion dollars!
The money certainly wasn't wasted, nor were the years of work Rockstar North's army of programmers, designers, environment artists, modellers, voice actors, sound engineers and QA Testers have put into the game. The City of Los Santos and surrounding countryside state of San Andreas is an enormous, beautiful, intensely detailed creation, a true delight to explore, and never short of an entertaining distraction. From intricate, open-ended and explosively violent bank heists, to playing a full five-set game of virtual tennis, there's always something to do in San Andreas, and rarely is it boring.
But in the five years since the last Grand Theft Auto, both gaming culture and the open-world genre have moved on a lot, and GTA V, for all its quality (and make no mistake, there is a lot of quality here) to some extent fails to keep step in both these aspects.
Let's start with the good. As has been the case since GTA III, by far the best thing about GTA V is the world itself. It's an enormous environment, the city of Los Santos alone is larger than GTA IV's liberty city by some margin, and the explorable world beyond that is four or five times larger still. But more importantly that world is both varied and detailed. San Andreas encompasses sunny beach resorts, rolling hills dotted with wind-farms, sprawling deserts and grasslands littered with trailer parks, quarries and dusty airstrips, and mountainous woodland with sleepy rural towns nestled in its verdant valleys.
Los Santos too is a dramatically divergent city, where the rich and famous live up in the hills of Vinewood, looking down upon the skyscraper-strewn downtown area, the run down, gang-controlled Hawick estate, and beyond that the silvery shores of Vespucci beach and vast concrete docklands of Port City. It's a unquestionable masterpiece of environmental design, no less than what you would expect from Rockstar North.
Driving around San Andreas is a delight in itself, and not just because of the sights, The vehicles have been tuned so they no longer handle like a block of lard on a bed of marbles. Driving is fun again, the weight of each vehicle feels sensible, from nippy sports coupe's to hulking articulated lorries. But there's plenty to do aside from driving around sightseeing. Playing as retired bank robber Michael, unemployed vehicle repossessor Franklin, or drug-dealing, arms trading, all-round psychopath Trevor, activities include the familiar character-based missions, which range from dealing with Michael's dysfunctional family to wiping out entire drug-gangs as Trevor.
Alongside those are the uncharitably named "Strangers and Freaks" missions, that introduce you to various colourful and usually despicable characters in Los Santos, and usually lead to repeatable activities such as races for Franklin or hunting down bail-jumpers as Trevor. Then there are random events that take place in the world which you can intervene in; street-robberies, police shootouts, taxi-ing drunk frat-boys to their home. And lastly, general pastimes, playing tennis or golf and so on (The tennis minigame is excellent, by the way. Completely arbitrary, but excellent.)