Grand Theft Auto V: Protagonists, gameplay, setting, and more revealed

The wait for Grand Theft Auto V will stretch into next spring, but US magazine publication Game Informer has unleashed a slew of exclusive details on Rockstar Games’ open-world epic in their December issue. While not yet available in print, the digital version of this issue is being pored over by fans hungry for everything from protagonist info to the size of the world, and the feature did not disappoint.

The story was summarized over at CVG, and we’ve got a clear picture of how Grand Theft Auto V is shaping up. As the Game Informer cover reveal confirmed earlier this morning, GTA V will star three main protagonists that each play a central role in the game’s overarching narrative. These leading men are named Michael, Trevor, and Franklin, and each comes from a vastly different background. Michael is a middle-aged retiree with two kids living a life of luxury with massive wealth accumulated over years of successful bank robberies. When his wife starts burning through his fortune, he must return to the life he left behind in the new city of Los Santos. Trevor is a similarly hardened career criminal and former military pilot in his early forties. Violent tendencies and drug addiction make Trevor something of a loose cannon, but once upon a time, he and Michael shared at least one bank heist together. Finally, there’s Franklin, a young hustler who makes a living by selling luxury cars to people who can’t afford them and then playing repo man when they default on their payments.

Perhaps the biggest change to the Grand Theft Auto formula is GTA V’s divided focus between three main characters, but their thematic differences promise to accentuate gameplay. You can switch control to a different character at any time through a quick-select menu that will take you into the sky, Google Earth-style, and drop you down into someone else’s shoes, wherever they may be. That means that the three main characters will go about their lives even when you aren’t in control – drop in on Michael late in the evening, and you might find him in his Vinewood home, cooking dinner for his family. Switch back to Trevor, and you might be dead-smack in the middle of a beer-drinking contest with the biker thugs of the desert. Each character also brings gameplay advantages to the mix; Trevor’s former life as a military pilot gives him access to jets and other aircraft early on, while Michael’s wealth guarantees you won’t exactly be living paycheck to paycheck. Unique skill-sets further differentiate the three; the gang can (and will) team up for missions throughout the story, and when they do, you might see one man taking the wheel of a getaway car while another opts to shoot from the passenger seat and the third provides sniper fire from a nearby rooftop. During missions like these, you can switch control to any character at any time, just like while free-roaming.

Further details about Los Santos and the game at large are a plenty. Rockstar claims that the map size of Grand Theft Auto V is bigger than the areas of Red Dead Redemption, GTA: San Andreas, and Grand Theft Auto IV combined. This area includes the city of Los Santos – easily Rockstar’s biggest creation yet – and the surrounding mountains, countryside, and hamlets. Even some degree of the ocean is explorable, with the ocean floor fully rendered and waiting to be charted. This world will be chock-full of things to do; like in Red Dead Redemption, dynamic missions featuring muggings, car breakdowns, hitchhikers, cash van robberies, and the like will pop up periodically. The friendship system of Grand Theft Auto IV also returns, and while that won’t included romances this time around, you will be able to partake in all manner of mini-games and side activities, including beachfront workouts, golf, tennis, dirtbiking, yoga, base jumping, and many more. Some of these side attractions are thanks to the sheer size and diversity of Grand Theft Auto V’s game world, which guarantees that no neighborhood, district, or country mile will be without something to do.

Gameplay mechanics have also been refined and tweaked to offer a smoother experience compared to 2008’s Grand Theft Auto IV, which debuted Rockstar’s current-gen third-person-shooting to mixed reception. Shooting has apparently evolved greatly in terms of feel and flexibility, while melee combat has been spruced up to be robust and compelling. Driving has also been adjusted, as cars now "hold better to the ground" in response to what Rockstar felt was somewhat "boat-like" handling in GTA IV. Of course, cars aren’t the only mechanical wonders awaiting your command. Confirmed vehicles include ATVs, road bikes, BMX bikes, helicopters, planes, jet skis, and more. If this is all sounding more than a little bit like San Andreas, you’re right, but a few highlights of that particular masterpiece are missing. There won’t be any RPG-style customization in terms of personal health, stat-building, and the like, but you can still freely customize clothing. According to Rockstar, being able to modify your character’s size presents a huge technical chalenge in the high-def era, and stat-building won’t be necessary in light of the unique stats and skills each character already boasts.

Other features and oddities firmly plant Grand Theft Auto V in the legacy of its forebears. You can flip the bird to passersby at will, and the reaction you receive will vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, and from person to person. In-game entertainment – in the form of television shows, radio stations, and fictional websites – is back and better than ever. You can even freely access the latter through the game’s revamped cell phone, which now mimics the functions of today’s cutting-edge smartphones. Random encounters with citizens will help flesh out the world, and a vibrant economy system will address complaints with Grand Theft Auto IV’s distinct lack of things to buy. Property isn’t one of the things you can purchase, but Rockstar promises to offer a lot of other fun stuff.

Plenty of other details, including the ability to drop a lighter on a trail of gasoline and watch it blow up a car, along with a full walkthrough of one of the game’s missions, are available in Game Informer’s December 2012 issue. Be sure to pick it up for a host of screenshots, artwork, and other goodies. While we wait with bated breath for the game’s release in Spring 2013, keep it glued to for all things Grand Theft Auto V.