It's rumoured to have been the most expensive game ever made, and will more than likely pull in more revenue than any game before it -- or indeed, any entertainment launch ever. Here's what the critics have said, now the biggest embargo of the year has been broken:
We've said enough. Part of Grand Theft Auto V's magic is discovery, and enjoying the thrilling, unpredictable ride the story takes you on. Whether you're in the thick of a bank heist or exploring the wilderness listening to Johnny Cash on the country station, it always feels tight, refined, and polished. The world is breathtaking, the script is funny, the music is superb (both the licensed tracks and the atmospheric original score), and, most of all, it's really, really fun.
All of this makes GTA V feel more player-friendly than previous GTAs. This one wastes less of your time and forgives more of your small errors than any before it. It also just makes the experience of playing it more pleasant. Here's a game that is well-resourced enough to dole out long conversations between your character and his passenger while driving, changes those conversations slightly (as IV did) if you're repeating the mission, interrupts those conversations with some cursing from your passenger if you bump into traffic mid-conversation, and then picks up from that interruption to continue the scripted conversation without missing a beat. Incredible.
There are wrinkles, but none so serious as to prove ruinous. The game’s treatment of women – every female in the game exists solely to be sneered, leered or laughed at – is a real concern until you realise that it applies to the male characters as well. As Trevor, there’s a forced torture scene that will make you thoroughly uncomfortable until five minutes later when, back on the road, you misjudge a corner, kill a handful of pedestrians and laugh out loud, and it becomes apparent that Rockstar has made quite a powerful point, one that will later be acknowledged by one of the protagonists. We are all despicable people.
The world drags you in. It begs you to explore – and then it rewards you. You feel every millimetre of the landscape has been thoughtfully handcrafted with the curious gamer in mind. This seems an odd compliment – surely every video game landscape is crafted in this way. But so often, open worlds are built from architectural filler – bland unending landscapes and cardboard box tenements. San Andreas is a state of contrasts and extraordinary detail, there is always some interesting new nook to chance on, some breathtaking previously unexperienced view across the hills toward the capitalist spires of downtown. Designers often talk about rewarding the player for exploration, but usually do so with facile Easter eggs, hidden away in mundane backwaters. From the raging rivers running through the mountain wilderness parks to the beautiful modernist architecture tucked way in the Vinewood hills, Grand Theft Auto V is – like Fallout, Skyrim before it – a form of virtual tourism.
The only thing that's cost more to make in the entertainment world is the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but unlike that bloated mess you can see where every penny has been spent in GTA V. The level of detail is absolutely astonishing, from incidental extras like the working desk fans in an office to a creditable line in destructible scenery and the most realistic water effects we've ever seen.
GTA 5 is a rough ride through the American Nightmare. Here, all three protagonists are homegrown and all three are motivated solely by money and their primal desires. Franklyn wants to make his paper and boost his rep. Michael wants the buzz he experiences during heists to alleviate the crushing boredom of domestic life. Trevor wants whatever he wants whenever he wants it. If any of their desires conflict with the survival of anyone in their vicinity, well then, that’s just too bad.
There’s a lightness of touch to GTA V that feels a million miles away from the glum streets and poe-faced earnestness of GTA IV. Partly that’s down to the game’s improved sense of freedom, with the entire world of San Andreas open from the off and packed with a host of wonderful toys. Within a few hours, we’d ridden a cable car up a mountain, swiped a motocross bike, kicked up dust down the perilous trail of Dead Man’s Crack, parachuted over the desert (taking in some stunning aerial views), commandeered a speedboat, careened across the water and, finally, ridden home on an ATV - all to the slightly surreal accompaniment of Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street.
GTA has often been praised for its satirical skewering of America's social exceptionalism and artificiality, but this time Rockstar has taken a sledgehammer to it, mercilessly bludgeoning a global obsession with social media and vacuous celebutantes. It's strong stuff and the humour --some clever, some crass -- is often very funny. But it is comedy of the blackest kind. This is Grand Theft Auto at its most graphic and barbaric, and it is not always to the game's benefit.