It's always nice when you're obliged to retract a negative initial impression. When first I laid eyes on Grand Theft Auto 5's announcement trailer, for instance, I took the unnamed narrator for another of the franchise's dry-witted gangster heroes, destined to inflict acts of Scorcese-esque violence upon a world of street bums, cultists, corrupt cops and big-talking moneymen.
This was faintly depressing - a step back from the brilliantly unexpected Niko Bellic and his outsider politics - and the choice of San Andreas as backdrop seemed a little bankrupt by association. There's an unheard-of level of scene-setting in the (probably in-engine) footage, but classic GTA tropes are in full evidence: car chases, glittering vistas, lots of incidental actions on the part of pedestrians and, needless to say, men with guns. Would this be the GTA that stumbled, I thought to myself, the one that contented itself with reliving old victories? Or was I jumping to conclusions?
Turns out I was, indeed, jumping to conclusions. Or at least that's what it looks and sounds like, in the cool blue air of August 2012. The man from the trailer makes cautious reference to a former "line of work" midway through, discussing his reasons for moving to the coast. Last year, I'd assumed this to be some kind of criminal backstory - perhaps even an allusion to a prior GTA, a hint that a previous leading character will return. But as the months pile up, this seems increasingly like proof of a rumour regarding the involvement of the FBI - or as GTA IV cheekily terms America's best-known crime-fighting outfit, the FIB.
Skip to around 45 seconds in. Watch the sequence where three men - one the smart, graying white guy subtly framed as the speaking voice elsewhere - leap from a truck in identical pest control disguises brandishing suppressed automatic weapons, and kick their way into a glass lobby. Seems rather too scientific and coordinated for a mafia operation, doesn't it?
The FIB have featured in every GTA game from the third outing onwards - they're the elite enforcers, coaxed into view when you push the wanted gauge past three stars. But they've seldom had much impact on series storylines, making the choice of FIB agents as core characters both natural and provocative. With GTA 5, Rockstar may be about to make its grandest break from precedent yet. No longer are you some loud-shirted renegade, pitted against murky and unfeeling authorities. Now, you're one of the men on the inside, with years of sinister dealings under your belt.
It's possible to put names to what we glimpse of those faces. Three "FBI" agents number among the characters listed on a Telsey & Company casting call from early 2011, allegedly conducted on Rockstar's behalf. There's the "annoying, wise cracking, highly successful" Mitch Hayes, a sound bet for comic relief, the somewhat faceless Miguel Gonzalez, "a young Mexican American", and last but not least Calvin North, a "clapped out FBI agent who now mostly works offering advice on TV shows".