Grand Theft Auto releases its biggest game yet

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Last week after four long years of waiting and anticipation Rockstar Games unleashed “Grand Theft Auto V.” After years of anticipation, did it live up to the hype?

ORIGIN OF OBSESSION

Like most people I became a fan of the controversial “Grand Theft Auto” video game series in the fall of 2001 with the release of GTA III, the first in the series to be fully 3-D.

It was a mind-blowing experience.

The hook of GTA has always been the level of freedom given and the chance to indulge the intrusive thoughts in everyone from the safety of their living room.

HIGHS TO LOWS

Since III, I have played every sequel and iteration that sprouted up, with a high point being the inconceivably vast and complex “San Andreas” from 2004, but when 2008’s GTA IV was launched amidst a storm of critical praise claiming it to be one of the greatest games ever, I found myself not sharing the same sentiments.

GTA up to that point hadn’t been interested on any actual sense of realism but simply fun at realities expence. I don’t want to enact a true crime, I want to be in a movie heist. IV lost sight of that, becoming so realistic in so many areas the game quickly became unbearably boring, with sluggish controls and car physics that drove as if the wheels were made of soap and the roads were ice.

Cap it off with a central narrative that felt grossly disconnected from the actual game, and I started to get the feeling that maybe I was simply over the series.

So I was apprehensive about V.

LEARNING FROM SUCCESS, FAILURE

Thankfully in the four years between IV and V, Rockstar has learned from mistakes.

I say, with sadistic glee, and immense satisfaction that “Grand Theft Auto V” is fantatic.

Set in a facsimile of modern southern California,  V is about the thrill of the heist and the quest of the almighty dollar.

For the first time in the series you aren’t restricted to playing one character.

Instead, you play three very different personalities with unique skills and traits joined by the common goal of the big score.

A TRIO OF NE’ER DO WELLS

And what characters you play.

First there’s Michael, a former professional bank robber living in the luxury of an apathetic retiree/family man, yearning for his former glory days of adrenaline fueled mayhem.

Then there’s Franklin, a young low-time hood desperate to escape the street and gang life with ambitions of making it big

Closing out this trio of ne’er-do-wells is Trevor, one of the most ridiculously hilarious and insane characters I’ve ever seen in a video game.

Think Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Nicholson by way of “Breaking Bad.”

I appreciate the story runs with the fact that this trifecta are all insane. In doing so, it avoids the pitfalls of the previous games.

A story’s main character cannot be morose and regretful of the violent acts he commits, then run around like a maniac and bazooka a row of cars.

MORE THAN A STORY

What’s improved the most this time around is the gameplay, especially compared to its direct predecessor.

This one is actually fun again.

The cars still drive realistically but are no longer slave to an overzealous physics engine. The combat is responsive, weighty and intense. It’s a stark contrast to IV where whenever I died I’d felt justified to blame the game’s shortcomings. Here if I fail a mission, it is always my error, not the game’s.

The only element of the game I haven’t gotten the chance to experience yet is the much anticipated online mode which doesn’t go active until Oct. 1.

Playing V feels like a wonderful return to form. It is the most complete and overall enjoyable chapter in a nearly two-decade-old franchise.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5