Put simply, Grand Theft Auto is a British creation that says big things about America. While GTA IV was a classic New York immigrant's tale, GTA V crosses coasts to comment on the hectic and the hollow that is Los Angeles, on the city's fascination with surface and its industries of image and light.
So long as we're listening, anyway – otherwise it's a familiar, technically astounding playground of male power fantasies and might.
Mirroring the frantic intersections of LA, GTA V has three heroes with entwined stories that players can leap between at any time. This banishes the occasional complaint of past games – becoming mired in a particular area or mission – and is part of a wider move towards playability. GTA V is confident enough in its pleasures to dissolve the structures that once propped them up. The huge map, for instance, is explorable all at once and not in instalments, while mid-mission checkpoints remove lengthy restarts.
The result efficiently speeds players into the game's action, and even better, improves the action. Missions are more varied, mechanics more robust and even divergent tasks – trying yoga – feel purposefully embedded into the story. But for all the effort spent on GTA V's story-led experience, the greatest thrill is breaking away from it. The world captures the texture and sound of California with uncanny precision, providing the tools to race through, fly over or thoroughly destroy it as one sees fit.
This clash of sophistication and savagery is central to the contradictory heart of GTA. Its radio stations deliver a cruel, precise mimicry of media fear-mongering even as you lightheartedly torture terrorism suspects. In a way, this is a key characteristic – GTA demands to be irreverent on its own terms. But the expertise and brilliance of the best game of the series by far has enough of weight to say without the needless noise of outrage.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Seth Werkheiser