The unabashedly brutal “Grand Theft Auto V” hit US streets on Tuesday, in the global launch of a sequel that promises to enthrall fans of the blockbuster videogame franchise.
Rockstar Games spent five years crafting the title, with a rumoured production budget of $270 million (R2.4 billion), and the time has paid off for gamers according to a slew of reviews giving it top marks.
“You can really see the maturity in this version, the graphics look sensational - it really is like being in a virtual copy of LA,” said computerandvideogames.com digital manager John Houlihan.
“This really is a blockbuster that almost dwarfs the movies in some way,” he told AFP, describing it as a “cultural phenomenon”.
Grand Theft Auto IV blew away videogame and Hollywood records by raking in an unprecedented $500 million in the week after its release in 2008.
The franchise has won legions of fans and cadres of critics with gameplay in which triumph depends on acts such as carjacking, gambling and killing.
Play in Grand Theft Auto games has included simulated sex with prostitutes and drunken driving. The latest version is said by reviewers to be rife with more of the same, along with profanity-packed dialog.
“GTA is essentially the 'Sopranos' of videogames,” Tech Savvy analyst Scott Steinberg said, referring to the hugely popular US cable television series centered on Mafia characters.
He said the “the 10-ton gorilla of videogame franchises” provided an antidote for mounting pressure on console videogames posed by free-to-play titles tailored for smartphones or tablets.
“Obviously, this is going to help kickstart the holiday season for the videogame industry, which has taken a beating,” he said.
GTA V is set in a fictional city of Los Santos based on real-world Los Angeles and its nearby hills and beaches.
It is billed by the New York City-based videogame publisher as the “largest and most ambitious” title in a franchise that has sold more than 114 million copies since its debut in 1997.
FREEDOM TO EXPLORE
“Grand Theft Auto V builds on everything we've learned about open world gaming,” said Rockstar founder Sam Houser. Open world refers to games where players are given the freedom to explore vast levels at their own pace.
Versions of “GTA V” for play on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 videogame consoles or personal computers powered by Windows software launched worldwide on Tuesday in respective time zones.
Midnight release events were held in an array of countries to let GTA lovers snap up the game the instant Tuesday arrived.
The franchise's appeal is fueled by captivating story lines and an open-world format that lets players go wherever they wish in game worlds.
“You can rob banks or you can do a yoga lesson or you can fly a plane or you can play tennis,” Houlihan said.
“Or you can do what I sometimes do, which is just wander round the world in a really flashy car and listen to some of the hilarious radio stations - so there really is everything for you to explore, it's a world of possibility.” -AFP
South Africans can pre-order Grand Theft Auto V through Kalahari.