When Grand Theft Auto V, the latest installment in Rockstar Games' controversial video game franchise, was released last month, it broke industry sales records by earning $800 million in the first 24 hours of its release and $1 billion within its first three days -- making it the fastest selling entertainment product in history.
Set within the fictional state of San Andreas, GTA V allows the player to explore the city of Los Santos (based on Los Angeles) and surrounding areas.
The single-player story is told through three protagonists, whom the player switches between. The narrative follows their efforts to plan and execute a number of heists in order to accrue enough wealth to live comfortably for the rest of their lives.
Michael De Santa (voiced by Ned Luke) is a 45-year-old retired criminal stuck in an '80s flashback. Michael is in full-on midlife crisis mode, spending his days listening to Phil Collins' "I Don't Care Anymore" and drinking beside the pool at his Vinewood mansion. A composite of Vice City's Tommy Vercetti and Michael Madsen, De Santa is terminally unsatisfied with his upper-class American life and comes out of retirement for one big score.
The second playable character is Franklin (Shawn Fonteno), a gangbanger with serious ambition who works a semi-legitimate job as a repo man. Franklin first meets Michael after repossessing a vehicle purchased by Michael's son, Jimmy (voiced by Danny Tamberelli, but clearly meant to resemble Jonah Hill). Franklin lives with his selfish aunt Denise in the slums of Los Santos, but soon after meeting Michael, he goes from small-time hustling to robbing banks and participating in intricate, Heat-level jewelry heists.
And finally, there's Trevor Phillips (Steven Ogg), an insane criminal and pilot who lives in the desert selling drugs and murdering trailer trash. Trevor is a bloodthirsty psychopath who worked a few jobs with Michael back in the day, before things went south. Trevor is essentially a get-out-of-jail-free card for Rockstar, providing the player with an outlet for all the ridiculous antics and murderous mayhem that otherwise wouldn't fit within the narrative structure of GTA V.
While Grand Theft Auto is primarily known as an "open world" game, allowing the player to roam freely and do as he or she pleases, there is also an intricate, multilayered narrative with dozens of interesting characters and big action set pieces. The sheer amount of things you can do in this game is mind-boggling. One mission demanded that I fly a small single-engine airplane into the loading bay of a cargo plane — in midair. On another mission, I infiltrated the Federal Investigation Bureau — disguised as a janitor — and planted explosives, setting off a series of alarms.
Not only does Grand Theft Auto V offer a robust narrative with varied objectives and missions, but there are also recreational activities, such as fully realized golf and other mini-games. If you're tired of stealing cars and assassinating political figures, you can play tennis or go for a roller-coaster ride. Or if you're more interested in indoor entertainment, take in a film or go to the local strip club and make it rain.
On top of all this, Grand Theft Auto V is also an intelligent, comically absurd commentary on contemporary, post-economic crisis America. Everything about this game oozes with satire, from millennials and right-wing conservatives to social media networks like Life Invader (GTA's version of Facebook) and even modern video games.
Every character is equipped with an iFruit smartphone that gives the player the ability to call contacts, check email, browse the Internet and even take "selfies." You'll encounter hipsters, meth heads, prostitutes, Juggalos and fitness fanatics, assist paparazzi in stalking celebrities and occasionally commit acts of domestic terrorism.
Hilarious, provocative and supremely entertaining, Grand Theft Auto V is the masterful culmination of Rockstar Games' recent projects, such as Midnight Club: Los Angeles, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire and Max Payne 3. While it lacks the emotional impact of recent hits like The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite, it features arguably the best narrative of the series, which is further enhanced by the dynamic of controlling three contrasting protagonists. A ridiculously ambitious title, Grand Theft Auto V is one of the best games of the year.