Barring some sort of late-day Chapter 11 by Gamestop, Grand Theft Auto V will be released in stores in just a few hours. I think I speak for most when I say: Fucking finally. This game has been years in the making. A reported $265 million in production costs. And so much speculation about map size, jets, and sheds on Reddit and elsewhere, that part of the fun of tomorrow will be just ending the questions and the talk. Lining up outside stores at midnight tonight will be thousands of typically well-adjusted men and women—actually, who are we kidding? mostly men—who are prepared to call in sick with a fall "flu" tomorrow, or skip class, or otherwise skirt the responsibilities of day-to-day life to play a once-in-a-lifetime game.
And why not? This is an event. It's a landmark. GTA V is the swan song of the Xbox 360 and PS3. It's the controversial and most fully realized world to come from history's most important game series. A new GTA game is like the World Cup. It's an Olympics. Because Rockstar takes its time, laying on the detail and letting the years separate GTA releases, you wind up marking their arrivals by how much you've aged. I played IV on the floor of my parents' rec room, dodging calls from my girlfriend and killing time until high school graduation. When Niko and I last met, he was standing somewhere in the game's version of Queens, trying to kill all the clay pigeons of Liberty City. Nico never got to complete that dumb task—I left the game at home when I went to college.
Now, I'm in Liberty City, sort of, nearly two years out of school with a job and bills and all the other fun stuff that comes after you step into the Real World. But the fake world of Los Santos is waiting in a few hours, and that's an exciting escape. Especially because, by all accounts, it's incredible.
IGN gave the review that most of the Internet has been buzzing about today. Dolling out the very rarely seen "10 out of 10," reviewer Keza MacDonald called the game "a masterpiece." She continued:
Grand Theft Auto V is not only a preposterously enjoyable video game, but also an intelligent and sharp-tongued satire of contemporary America. It represents a refinement of everything that GTA IV brought to the table five years ago. It’s technically more accomplished in every conceivable way, but it’s also tremendously ambitious in its own right. No other world in video games comes close to this in size or scope, and there is sharp intelligence behind its sense of humour and gift for mayhem. It tells a compelling, unpredictable, and provocative story without ever letting it get in the way of your own self-directed adventures through San Andreas.
It is one of the very best video games ever made.
Foster Kamer at Complex delved into the inevitable GTA controversy—it will understandably be one of the most controversial games ever made, he said, not only pushing the line but "setting it on fire"—while also highlighting the complexity of the missions, a varied lot that corrects GTA IV's repetitiveness and culls from all of Rockstar's very best ideas.
About those heists: They aren't just typically run-and-gun missions, oh no. These are elaborate schemes and set pieces, and ones that begin with options. Do you want to go in stealth, or no? Do you want to rob a jewlery store guns blazing, Reservoir Dogs-style? Or by quietly dropping gas canisters into the air vents, and knocking everyone out, Oceans 11-like? You can give your getaway driver, your hacker, and your gunman a bigger or smaller cut of the steal, but skimp on them at your own risk, as they might let you down, and cause the entire operation a larger net loss of cash.
This is the first GTA game that also includes multiple characters—you can choose from three, and switch between them seamlessly—and leveling up. The switching is flawless and beautiful—just hit down on the D-pad, and select a character. The map pans out over the throbbing veins of Los Santos streets, and lands you in a new body, in a new place, in a new mindset. Sometimes you'll switch between characters during the missions themselves, playing the crucial role each part of the operation fulfills.
Each character has different attributes that make them better suited for different missions. You can level them up by playing side-quests. Your characters also each have a respective special power: One has bullet-time for driving, one for fighting, and the other goes into berzerker mode, and can't be hurt while the power is activated. Think Red Dead Redemption's Dead Eye targeting, but smarter, more effective, and more playable.
Then there's the setting itself—a combination of L.A., the Nevada deserts, the underwater Pacific coastline, and upstate California. It's apparently unreal in scope and attention to detail, as close as video games can possibly get in 2013 to an actual simulation of the real world. Says Polygon in its review, "The locale is a meticulous blend of the macro and the micro. When landing a helicopter, for example, the detail of the world reveals itself in layers: first, the broad panorama of the county; then, the silhouette of the Los Santos skyline; the careful architecture of a single restaurant; the street scene at the front entrance; and finally, the woman passing by, complaining into her cell phone about not landing a role in some drivel television show, her high heels making that distinct click."
My favorite review, though, to come from gamer Christmas Eve was a bit less high-brow. It was a video of two dudes—Kotaku's Stephen Totilo and Steve Marinconz—screwing around in Los Santos for 28 minutes, stealing jets, driving tanks, and causing mayham, just like you did with your buddies way back in Vice City. They die a lot, they clearly aren't pros yet, they're still showing the fun of exploring a new world.
Because even if GTA always delivers the biting social commentary, you always end up sounding like one of the Kotaku guys at the 27-minute mark. "Hey, can we steal that jet?"