Tested on the Xbox 360

THE release of Grand Theft Auto 3 in 2001 was quite literally a game-changer, setting a benchmark for free roaming video games which developers have constantly strived to better in the years since.

Now Rockstar Games are back with perhaps the last, great release of this current generation of consoles, a long-awaited proper instalment in the GTA series after a run of supplemental episodes which culminated in last year’s The Ballad of Gay Tony.

In contrast to previous games, GTA5 requires you to switch between three different protagonists, Michael, Trevor and Franklin, who are drawn into the depths of Los Santos’ criminal underworld in pursuit of simple financial reward, and find themselves caught up in elaborate heists which need to be planned and executed in order to proceed.

Based in a fictionalised version of Los Angeles, the attention to detail and scale is simply mind-blowing. We are so conditioned to seeing LA in films and on TV that playing a game in a similar environment so carefully captured immediately immerses the player in the GTA world. Apparently the developers captured 250,000 photos and hours of video in researching the city, which also involved interviewing tour guides and architectural historians to represent LA to the very best of their abilities.

Unlike previous instalments, the ability to switch between protagonists speeds up the gameplay substantially, avoiding the need to spend ages travelling between missions, and rather like Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption there are also organic tasks which the player will encounter while moving around and can choose to complete or ignore.

The driving mechanics have also been improved, following criticism of GTAIV, and are actually similar to the way you’d expect cars to handle in various racing games.

Not only does it feel as though you’re taking part in a Hollywood crime flick or an episode of The Wire, but GTA5 is stimulating and compelling in a way that any fictional media desperately strives to achieve, and will keep you playing long after you may have turned the channel on the latest “hit” drama or ended with a backlog of issues from that “highly acclaimed” new comics series.

Unpredictable, funny and insightful, GTA5 is obviously a blackly comic parody of all that is bad about America, and indeed, modern life, but that’s unlikely to put many people off picking up a copy, even if they do feign initial disgust at the level of violence, swearing and general criminality.

I can guarantee the world of Los Santos is somewhere you will be spending a lot of time in the months to come. A game truly worthy of five star status, and a perfect coda to the era of Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3s. For once, you can believe the hype.