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Previews

GTA 5 uncovered: a grand tour of Rockstar's city of dreams

Jonty slips behind the wheel of Rockstar's biggest open world yet

Writing about Grand Theft Auto poses a problem. Normally, for these first glimpses of a game, we have to watch somebody else play it, then ask them questions. Often, they aren't interesting questions. Is it all on rails like this? Does the character change at all? That dialogue isn't final, is it? Oh. Really?

With GTA V, our first glimpse comes from several thousand feet above faux-California, plummeting from a helicopter. There are planes in the sky, skyscrapers on one horizon, a military base on another. As we get closer to the ground, we see grazing animals in the countryside. Distant quad-bikes tear along a gravel track; two men fish next to a camper-van parked next to a mountain stream. Dive into the ocean and you can see the fish, too.

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There's so much to ask questions about, you start to sound like an overly inquisitive toddler. Can you go anywhere? (Yes, and from the outset - the world won't be restricted like GTA IV's). Are there any constraints on diving? (No, certain boats will have scuba gear and you can explore any part of the seabed.) When you aren't controlling the three characters, will they live their lives without you? (Yes, basically.)

So let's start from the beginning: you control the three central characters, Franklin, Michael and Trevor, who are three very different career criminals. In some missions they work together - as a pair or as a trio - but in some they don't, and away from missions you can flip between them (via a Driver: San Francisco-style jump up into a satellite view, then back down with only a handful of seconds' pause) entirely as you like. It's an ambitious concept, combining three radically different narratives into a single grand story, and paired with its biggest ever setting, says Rockstar with typical self-confidence, it's the ultimate open-world game.

Ocean drive
To demonstrate, once our parachutist Franklin is on the deck, we flick over to Trevor. He's coming to in his Y-fronts on a beach surrounded by dead bikers - a cameo, if you can have such a thing post-mortem, from the Lost gang of GTA IV's Lost and Damned DLC. He's taken for a quick blast along the coast in nearby boat, showing off Rockstar's fancy new water effects, and the density of life both above the waves - jet skis, fishermen, people relaxing on the beach - and below, with shoals of fish and other divers bustling around while sharks circle a sunken container ship.

Such pleasures can be experienced with any of the three characters, although their prowess will differ. Each character has a set of vital statistics which list their ability in (deep breath) shooting, strength, stealth, flying, driving, mechanical ability and lung capacity. These are all boosted by practice, Skyrim-style, which gives you points to spend on upgrades - although each of them comes with certain strengths as standard. Ex-pilot Trevor has the edge in flying, so he's the best choice if you want to knock off a helicopter. You can still do it with Franklin, but it'll be harder to fly.

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On top of these, each man gets a special skill. Trevor's is, not entirely surprisingly, melee: he does double damage and takes half damage. Michael gets bullet time, and Franklin gets a sort of petrol-infused variant that means he can slow time when driving in order to nail that perfect corner. These resources will be precious and should not be overused, says Rockstar - and they could shift the balance on which character you use for a particular mission or challenge.

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