Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto V is a masterpiece--a sprawling odyssey with memorable characters, enthralling gameplay, and landmark technical achievement. In many ways, it's not unlike its 2004 predecessor (and my former favorite series entry) Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. But the Los Santos and Rockstar Games of today are very different beasts than they were nine years ago. The visual and mechanical realism that started with 2008's Grand Theft Auto IV has been tweaked, polished, and iterated upon through Rockstar's current-gen efforts. Here, it's finally perfected. Shooting is tight and customizable, movement is organic, mission structures allow for unscripted chaos, and cross-country hi-jinks can be just as rewarding as the enthralling story of Michael, Trevor, and Franklin. A series this iconic should be stumbling under the weight of its own cultural importance by now. Instead, Grand Theft Auto V lampoons modern society with a healthy dose of hypocrisy and asks tough (often, self-aware) questions of its audience. What fuels our obsessions with wealth, power, and status? How do vapid notions of social networks and virtual personalities drive an emotional wedge between friends and family?
Who's more at fault: the sociopathic ex-criminal who robs to provide for his family, the murderous hillbilly with surprising nobility, or the ambitious hustler who wants to free himself from hood chains with skills that keep pulling him back? What does it say about me, the player, that I care so much about these lives and have so much fun wreaking havoc in their world?
There's a little part of each of us in Grand Theft Auto V's eclectic cast of characters. Indeed, the game as a whole reflects the diverse expectations saddled by consumers onto blockbuster games, and this franchise in particular. Yet, on every possible front, Grand Theft Auto V delivers. The gargantuan world of Los Santos and Blaine County's countryside is realized with stunning detail, rich settings, a true sense of place, and an incomprehensible amount of things to do. The main story, side missions, and random encounters offer thrilling spectacle and meaningful monotony in equal measure. In-game currency is broadly useful and (for a great while) not easy to come by. A multitude of branching paths with radical gameplay differences--not to mention potential consequences for your cash earnings--make every decision feel like the most important one yet.The playable cast has the most well-realized characters I've encountered in a game, with personalities that peel back in layers of deepening resonance and complexity. For these, credit the layered voice and motion capture performances, among the best yet seen in the medium.