And then there's Trevor, simultaneously the most entertaining and most awful entity in the game, who's so appalling he can be dropped into genuinely horrendous situations with almost total narrative consistency. When you jump into a character's shoes with a tap of the D-pad and a tug on the right stick, you'll always find them doing something appropriate. For Franklin this'll be something like throwing a ball for the dog, for Michael it'll be staring blankly into middle age - whereas you'll find Trevor fighting a bodybuilder, leading a four-car police chase through the desert or waking up drunk on a distant mountainside.
His sustained sociopathic tendencies make him fascinating to visit, but he's also the character you control through the game's bleakest moment, a fully-interactive and relentlessly unpleasant scene that's sure to spark debate in the same way as the airport slaughter in Modern Warfare 2's No Russian. Unlike No Russian, it gives no warning and no opportunity to avoid participation: you have to sit there and complete the QTEs or the storyline isn't going to continue.
It's genuinely horrible and openly futile, which is sure to be the defence against the inevitable allegations of glamourising something so unsavoury, and it's the most extreme example of a generally slightly darker edge to the characteristic GTA satire. There are all the expected cracks at consumer culture - TV talent shows, social networking, and approximations of Microsoft and Apple all feature - but it feels less like it's being played purely for laughs. The aforementioned sequence wades into a significant political discussion with a clear agenda in mind - before leaving you free once more to gun down police officers and mow down pedestrians while listening to Elton John. It's still GTA, but this time it emphatically doesn't want you to tune out some of the source material.
Come to Los Santos expecting to be surprised, then, but above all expect to lose yourself in the world. Even at this point I've not covered the full range of things you can do - how you can buy stocks ahead of assassination missions, knowing how the hit will affect the share price; the full-service car customisation options, Michael's hugely expensive therapy sessions - and after hours of play, it still throws surprises at you.
Paired with storyline missions you actually want to replay - not something that could be said of many of GTA IV's - and you're looking at something that could hold up the next console generation all by itself, even without the considerable potential of GTA Online, arriving as the fourth option on the character-select wheel in two weeks' time. Rockstar's Xbox 360 swansong is probably the console's greatest technical achievement, and as such it's unmissable.
For more insights, here's our GTA 5 review Q&A - it covers a few of the things we didn't have time to write about above. Look out for a verdict on the multiplayer in October, when Rockstar activates GTA 5's online modes.
The best open world ever, again
- Insanely detailed setting
- Endless in-game distractions
- Smart, satisfying heists
- Almost all boring bits removed
- Massive online potential