Grand in every sense of the word

Jon Mercer
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Fact: There are very few, if any, studios at all that can match the mad scientists at Rockstar Games in scale.

A screenshot from "Grand Theft Auto V." — Submitted image

I’m not talking about the size of their games (which are admittedly enormous); I’m on about the scope of the experience, the spectrum of its gameplay. Since Rockstar and I type this without the lightest inkling of embellishment, since Rockstar changed everything in 2001 with “Grand Theft Auto III,” it has been the undisputed keeper of the sandbox. Many games crafters have tried to recapture the indescribable feel of “GTA,” and while there have been some triumphs here and there, none have ever succeeded completely.

And since, as of this writing, “Grand Theft Auto V” has scooped in more than $800 million in 24 hours — $300 million more than the last “Call of Duty” release, I can feel smugly secure in claiming that the 800-pound gorilla of the autumn gaming season has just arrived at the party. Make sure the chip bowls are full.

The biggest departure to the standard “GTA Formula” (which, by the way, has been remade with masterful precision) is the divided focus between three separate characters.

Michael is Robert DeNiro from “Heat,” if he had gotten away clean and raised an ungrateful family in Beverly Hills on his ill-gotten gains. Franklin grew up surrounded by inner-city gang violence, and dreams of something better, but feels that he is better than a chrome .38 and some gang colours.

And Trevor? Trevor is Trevor — manic, unpredictable, and lost without the presence of Michael, his former partner in crime and best friend. And while at least one of them will surely grate on players depending on their personality persuasion, there is always one to identify with, and their charisma is undeniable.

Gamers have to switch between them at a pretty constant rate, in and out of missions, and while seeing all three working in tandem during a heist is a blast, it’s just as much fun to switch up during their day to day lives and watch the camera zoom out from a palatial mansion or massive yacht only to refocus on another biking up a trail, or waking up under a tree with a sunburn and a hangover.

Grand in every sense of the word, “GTAV” features a main campaign that boasts 69 story missions and innumerable side missions, all much larger in design than any previous entries in the series.

I’ll risk the cliché — the world is alive. A gamer could spend hours just fooling around with the suite of toys pulsing beneath the surface.

Play sports, go hunting, drag race, watch classic movies, invest in property, lose yourself in the game’s insanely deep soundtrack, or stick to the plot and plan and execute any number of elaborate and daring robberies using either guns and guts, or guile and genius. The choice is yours. And unlike “GTAIV”, which forced gamers to micromanage relationships with demanding co-stars, “GTAV” makes it all optional — and much more fun as a result.

On to my personal favourite addition — gunplay has been reworked to include cover (at the slightest flick of a shoulder button), and more intuitive aiming. It’s actually a pleasure to get sucked into a bout of lead throwing, something that the “GTA” series has always struggled with. Now, I will mention that after last summer’s “Sleeping Dogs,” or even “Saints Row,” the melee combat could use some work. However, when the occasion rears its head that some loudmouthed gangbanger needs a smack, it’s solid enough to do in a pinch.

As we watch the book slowly close on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, a gamer comes in the form of “GTAV” that stretches both machines to their limits, further than we’ve seen them stretched before.

We’re talking visuals on par with the best that “Uncharted” or “Max Payne 3” could muster, spread across a world bigger than all their previous sandboxes combined. “Grand Theft Auto V” is a collection of gaming moments that will be immortalized in gamer memories.

The illusion of a living, breathing game world holds up under all but a microscope, and it provides an interactive Hollywood blockbuster action movie that makes the player the star and lets them direct the flow of the whole shebang. And while I’m sure that parent groups and educators will take offence to the most popular video game in the world being called “Grand Theft Auto,” I think that at a time when we watch “Breaking Bad” and “Sons of Anarchy” on TV, the fantasy of being just a little villainous makes for a wonderful bit of escapism.

And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the game it is attached to is absolutely brilliant. Send the kids to bed early tonight, and watch as the bad boys of Los Santos steal your entire evening.

Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (PS3 version reviewed)

Developer: Rockstar North, with help from the rest of the Rockstar family

Publisher: Rockstar Games

Release Date: September 17, 2013

Rated: M for Mature

Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a communiqué via

thejonmercer@gmail.com.

Organizations: PlayStation 3

Geographic location: Beverly Hills, Hollywood

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  • Anon
    September 20, 2013 - 13:17

    I never thought i'd see the Telegram reviewing GTA. Deadly.