What is there to say about Grand Theft Auto V that hasn’t already been said? Rockstar’s magnum opus has crushed every competitor, dominated every sales chart, consumed every gaming forum and proliferated itself across the Internet to near-saturation point. Racking up $2.5 billion in sales, with that number still rising, garnering seven Guinness world records and outselling its predecessors by a significant margin, it’d be crude to consider GTA V as anything other than a roaring success. In gaming terms, and in entertainment as a whole, it is the new golden standard for a successful release.
However, is it deserving of its success? How much of its sales energy is driven by hype and expectations, carried across its previous iterations as gamers seek the perfect Grand Theft Auto experience? GTA IV promised so much and was beloved by many reviewers, but it had its flaws. Liberty City arguably gave us the closest thing to a living digital world up to that point, but was hampered by a focus that dragged the series into realms that were far too serious, far too eager to eschew the fun and openness of Vice City and San Andreas. Liberty City was a gritty, tough, sprawling place where you worked hard and dealt with constant emotional turmoil as you struggled to help Niko Bellic rise through the social ranks. It was an incredible game, but it was far from perfect.
GTA V corrects all of that. Bringing the setting back to Los Santos and the fictional state of San Andreas, Rockstar has turned everything up to 11, and then broken the dial by turning it even more. Gone is the American Dream idealism of GTA IV, with its focus on a decaying society clashing with the wide-eyed optimism of those immigrating to America seeking a better life. In its place is post-financial-crisis realism, mixed with the insular, vapid nature of a celebrity-focused, sun-drenched culture that can only exist in Los Santos — the game’s recreation of Los Angeles. Here, superficial is the norm, with a glistening, sprawling, incredibly well-realized recreation of the City of Angels covering up a world that is as corrupt, seedy and crime-filled as any GTAtitle.
The state of San Andreas is vast — bigger than any previous entry to the series — and mixes the urban grandeur of Los Santos with open countryside, beaches, airports, deserts, mountains, lakes, vast highways, dusty back roads, military bases, pockets of grossly exaggerated — but also somehow realistic — redneck civilization and a myriad more biomes and areas to explore. You start in the beautiful West Vinewood — West Hollywood, to you and I — but as you explore the map, every inch of which is open from the start, you unpeel the numerous layers of San Andreas, visiting life away from the vapidity and gang culture and urban rush of the city.