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GTA V review: Pushing the medium

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The Spectrum

Game: Grand Theft Auto V

Platform: Xbox 360, PS3

Release Date: Sept. 17

Developer: Rockstar Games

Publisher: Rockstar Games

Grade: A

What does a billion dollars look like? Just ask the people at Rockstar Games, because Grand Theft Auto V surpassed $1 billion in sales just three days after its launch.

Grand Theft Auto Vsold $800 million worth of copies in the first 24 hours after its release, shattering Call of Duty: Black Ops 2's record of $500 million for the biggest entertainment launch in history. It took 15 days for CoD: Black Ops 2 to pass $1 billion in sales.

The controversial, urban, open-world game is back, and this time it brought friends. Grand Theft Auto Vtells the interwoven tale of three protagonists and is the most fluid and well-paced story Rockstar Games has ever created.

After a five-year hiatus since Grand Theft Auto IV, GTA V sets you in a cityscape modeled after modern-day Los Angeles, called Los Santos. Los Santos is a living, breathing, fierce world where everyone you meet is either "a celebrity, trying to be a celebrity, or used to be a celebrity," according to the game's manual.

The three main characters in GTA V are amongst the most authentic and engaging characters in recent gaming history.

Michael, the rich, former bank robber who took an unofficial witness protection plea, leads an unhappy life with his two spoiled kids and a wife who is banging everyone but him.

Trevor, Michael's former bank-robbing partner, who has believed Michael is dead since he entered the protection program, is a psychotic, unstable redneck who operates a small meth business and bullies his trailer-trash associates.

Franklin, who has no history with the former two, is an up-and-coming gangbanger looking to make a name for himself. After Michael takes Franklin under his wing as an apprentice, the story becomes a beautifully crafted narrative of three men attempting to take over Los Santos through a series of heists. And you're just along for the ride.

Heists are where most major plot points will play out, requiring planning, research and set-up missions. Just about every heist comes down to a binary decision: going in guns blazing or being a shadow stalker. This decision offers a customizable involvement in which both options are worth experiencing. Stealth, something that is new to the GTA franchise, requires more meticulous gameplay, but is much more satisfying than sticking to the normal run-and-gun tactics of the series.

The three main characters often interact in smaller missions outside of the heists, but the triple narrative really thrives when it comes to pulling off a big score.

In one mission, Trevor will have to position the helicopter close enough to a building; you then switch to Michael, who jumps out of the chopper to rappel down a skyscraper; all the while Franklin is providing sniper coverage from a separate building to make sure Michael gets out of there safely. A simple click of the d-pad and you jump from one character to the next - seamlessly.

This new game mechanic provides multiple perspectives and cuts out all of the mundane gameplay in between. Instead of just dropping someone off while you're driving the chopper and waiting for them to get back like a typical getaway mission, you drive the chopper, do the extraction, provide covering fire and lose the police helicopters during the getaway.

The voice acting is top-notch, giving each character distinct personality. Every voice actor is bursting with authenticity and is cast to fit his or her character perfectly. Even though the trinity of criminals can be unpredictable, I feel as though I know them personally and can infer what they would do in a situation. I say, "Yeah, that sounds about right," when I hear of something that a particular character did.

Ambient characters throughout the game are voiced by actual former gang members to add to the game's validity.

"You don't want a goofy LA actor who went to a fancy school trying to be a hard gang member. There's nothing worse than that," said Rockstar Games writer and producer "Lazlow" Jones in an interview with Chicago radio station WGN. "So just go find the real, terrifying people and say, 'Can you come in here please?' And they look at the lines and they say, 'I wouldn't say that. If I was upset at another gang, I wouldn't say that.' So, well, then say what you would say. Authenticity, you know?"

A multi-character storyline isn't a new video game mechanic, but Rockstar's execution puts GTA V in an entirely different league.

When outside of missions, you can switch between the three at will. After barging in on the selected character's life, you'll get a glimpse of what he is doing outside of his criminal activities. It gives the illusion that this character continues to live his life while you're controlling a different character. You may jump in on the end of a phone call Franklin is having, or Trevor might be waking up on the edge of a bridge, wearing only his stained tighty-whities.

GTA V is most compelling with its true sense of realism and immersion. When you're playing, you feel as if you are controlling real people set in a real world. The events in which you play as these characters are extreme, but feel pragmatic.

At one point, you're pressured by a crooked agent from the "FIB," the game's version of the FBI, to torture a suspect of Middle Eastern descent in order to obtain the information detrimental to your characters' success. The scene is disturbing and left me feeling very uneasy as I wiggled the controller's thumb sticks to rip the suspect's teeth out one by one with pliers. It felt painfully real as the controller rumbled in my grip while the on-screen character writhed in pain. This example is just one of many racist and sexist ploys. Fortunately for gamers, the pros vastly outweigh the shallow, thoughtless derogatory facets.

Even when you're not torturing suspects for the FIB or speeding through drainage tunnels on your dirt bike to escape the cops, Los Santos provides an immense amount of depth for gameplay. Trading stocks, customizing cars, playing golf, racing quads, watching TV, flying jets and sitting in a theater to watch a 20-minute movie are just some activities that make Los Santos the realistic, dense world that it is.

If you've completed the 100 percent checklist, don't worry, you're not done yet. Rockstar has slated Grand Theft Auto Online to release for free on Oct. 1 to anyone who purchased GTA V. "Grand Theft Auto Online is a dynamic and persistent online world for 16 players that begins by sharing gameplay features, geography and mechanics with Grand Theft Auto V, but will continue to expand and evolve after its launch with new content created by Rockstar Games and the Grand Theft Auto community," according to the Rockstar website.

With GTA V's fleshed-out digital world comes Rockstar's criticism of anything and everything in relation to its real-world counterpart.

From politics to media coverage to gamers themselves, GTA V is the ultimate social commentary. Certain characters play to strongly founded stereotypes, and casual conversation will provide blatantly sarcastic remarks. The renowned talk-radio stations return in this game with hilarity, although they never seem to take away from the game's serious tone.

Money is something that is always to be desired, but more than ever in Los Santos. Not every mission in the game finishes with a cash reward, forcing you to spend your money more wisely. In past games, you always ended up with more money than you knew what to do with - this is not the case in GTA V.

The well-balanced pay throughout the game ignites the yearning for more. Outside of missions, you can take your gamble in the stock market or do smaller missions for other characters to earn small sums of dough. All of this ends up playing into Americans' drive for capitalism. When you do become rich after a big heist, buying properties or customizing cars is much more satisfying because you've worked hard and earned that money.

The seamless triple narrative of GTA V pushes the standard of interactive fiction and certainly raises the bar. The fun gameplay, authentic characters, ambient sound design, beautiful visuals and immaculate story execution prove that Grand Theft Auto V has something for everyone. The all-around depth that Rockstar has put into this game provides the player with a true sense of immersion.

You don't play Grand Theft Auto V; you experience it.

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