The quickest selling entertainment product of all time, the biggest budget game of all time, the best-rated game of all time – these are just some of the claims in the hype that surrounded Grand Theft Auto V’s release last year (or maybe they are just headlines I have concocted!) Having put my gaming life into perspective since the release of GTA4 I did not repeat my early morning queuing for a pre-ordered copy of the product outside a shop (in fact one would be hard-pressed to find a shop  selling games to queue outside since the recession hit the high street). Instead I waited until it had dropped in price and bought it with trade-in credit from the local CeX shop. I put Borderlands 2 aside unfinished and loaded up the game.

That was a few weeks ago. I have now completed the main story missions, most of the strangers and freaks missions and most of the miscellaneous stuff so I am around 81% complete. The hype has obviously died down a bit now, although there is some on-line chatter about a DLC featuring some chap from San Andreas, and I feel it is time now to share my thoughts about the game and provide some kind of balance to the initial claims of blown minds. Actually, who am I kidding? This game is freaking awesome man!

I loved GTA4 but GTAV is on yet another level. The best idea and the main difference in this iteration is that you get to play three characters who have intertwining storylines (none of which I will go into for fear of spoilers – I can’t be the last person in the world to play this game).

Without a doubt I will not be alone in saying that my favourite character of the three is Trevor who is just bat-shit balls-out crazy, and when he is not cooking meth, bombing rival dealers, or kidnapping women, he doles out the most extreme orgies of violence in which getting a certain body count in a specified period of time is all part of the game. Michael on the other hand is trying to balance family life with his criminal activities, does yoga, plays tennis and visits his therapist when he isn’t hijacking and stealing. While the character of Trevor seems to have been influenced by De Niro’s Taxi Driver and Jack Nicholson’s crazier moments, Michael’s character reminded me of Ray Liotta trying to live a normal life post-heist perhaps in some kind of parallel world’s Goodfellas. Throw in a little Breaking Bad and Tarantino and you have a glorious cocktail of nods to Hollywood or as they like to call it Vinewood. The last character is Franklin, an up and coming black gangster ‘from the hood’, who falls under the mentorship of Michael. He has all the usual swagger and speech patterns that you would expect (using the ‘N’ bomb and calling people ‘dog’ – including a Lassie style barking dog and giving it a knuckle bump and providing quite possibly the funniest moment in the game) and it is ultimately Franklin who gets to make the choices over the three possible alternate ‘endings’. His slow-mo driving skill is entertaining and he makes an interesting foil when looking at the other jaded criminals through the eyes of youth in very well voice-acted cut-scenes.

Other special abilities are Michael’s bullet-time which is very similar to that featured in Max Payne 3 and Trevor’s rage-fueled immunity to harm which can be used to get out of tight corners when surrounded by ballers or the cops. Each character also has abilities such as strength and lung capacity that can be improved by activities like golf, fist fights, running, cycling and swimming.

The writer’s moral compass has been completely demagnetised and I did feel a bit bad at points when I was handing over hitchhikers to a cannibal cult or punching an old dear in the face so I could steal her car, but the acts of violence in the game are no less extreme than pumping round after round of ammunition into enemy soldiers in Call of Duty or slitting people’s throats in Assassin’s Creed. In fact because of the immersive storyline you come to accept that the violence is unavoidable – you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs and you can’t rob a bank without breaking a few heads.

If you can put the violence to one side then this game just has to be admired for its almost perfect execution and sparkling polish. The selection of cars is great, the environment amazingly detailed and diverse, and the amount fun activities has been greatly expanded – for instance I wasted an hour or so this morning jumping of skyscrapers and out of helicopters and parachuting through checkpoints and then landing on the back of a boat or a truck. It’s great fun. The characters you meet are hilarious and as a satire of modern America it is very amusing. There are loads of collectables for those OCD sufferers who walk among us – spaceship parts, submarine parts, nuclear waste, religious tracts, letter scraps, weapons, armour and also vehicle challenges such as stunt jumps, road, off-road and water-based races, and aerial challenges as well as triathlons and races against a very amusing health nut who puts you through physical torture. There are paparazzi challenges, assassination challenges, Vinewood stalker challenges, and lots of other things related to property ownership and share dealing. As with GTA4 there are very funny television shows to watch and good radio channels, and also in this iteration you can go to the cinema and watch spoof shorts. You really do get your money’s worth.

Anyone expecting a ‘crime doesn’t pay’ moral message at the ‘end’ of the game will be disappointed. There is no such message and in fact, the characters having survived the attentions of a variety of crooked government agencies, military contractors, and rival criminals end up pulling of a once in a lifetime heist and ‘finishing’ the game with more cheddar than a Tesco’s distribution point. I have put things in inverted commas because there will no doubt be a number of DLC’s for the game which will continue the storyline and use some of the locations on the map that seemed to be largely ignored (including a large penitentiary and military base).

While I don’t agree with the amount of children who are no doubt playing this game despite its certification this is quite possibly the best gaming experience I have ever had and I can quite easily understand why they want to get their grubby little mitts on it.