On paper, the most obvious thing of note that's new to GTA 5 is the introduction of three main characters, rather than the usual one. Every trailer bar the first has focused very heavily on Michael, Franklin and Trevor and the relationship between them, leaving players to wonder how those friendships would play out in-game.
In terms of actually jumping from one character to the next - aside from the physical process of doing so - you won't notice any huge differences to Grand Theft Auto experiences of the past. GTA 5 does a very good job of ensuring that ample playtime is balanced between the group, and that it fits into the template the franchise has become known for. When you're not on three-person heists - which I'll talk more about later - it's as good as having three games in one. All have their own stories and personalities to explore, and the way in which they're developed over the huge running time is where the genius lies.
Given how each character is introduced, there's every chance you won't instantly warm to either Michael, Franklin or Trevor. The latter especially - as has been well documented - is the most insane, and potentially controversial, human being ever created by the minds of Rockstar, and on occasion you'll be put in scenarios you may not necessarily want to follow through with. Of course, there's no option to opt out, meaning there's every chance you instinctively place blame on the person who carried it out.
It's a strange dynamic, but it works due to how much depth exists within each so-called 'hero'. Before long, you'll learn more about Trevor than is ever hinted at originally, and some of what he has been through. It is, somehow, rather touching. His sheer lunacy wins you over, too, such are the predicaments he finds himself in. One particular car ride with a woman he is, for lack of a better term, 'returning', is as well constructed as anything else this year, if not this decade.
Such character development also rings true for Michael and Franklin, the former being the character who has the most weight on his shoulders. While Mr De Santa does have plenty of the forlorn figure who yearns for yesterday about him, the way Rockstar eeks it out and puts you inside his brain is excellent. It's obvious from the start - and even the trailers, really - that Michael has made plenty of mistakes, but there's a constant hint he could have a different future should he wish to take it. In reality, there's a whole other layer to him, one that rips through from the moment the narrative starts to the moment it finishes.
Although none of us (hopefully, anyway) are enticed by the allure of a life of crime, Michael's relatability to the player is provided by his yearning for fulfillment. This is well played out through the story Rockstar wants to tell, but for those who want to jump into Michael's head further, the addition of the now well-documented psychiatry sessions allow you to do just that. Be it in person or on the phone (and each will cost you a hefty fee), they serve to unravel more of Michael's trouble in both a hard-hitting, and funny, way. No character has ever been given so much scope in the series.
While the same remains true in regards to Franklin, he's very much the 'everyman' of the trio. Wanting to make more of himself and move away from the suffocating existence he currently finds himself in, his journey is similar to that of CJ's in San Andreas. That the individuals he eventually falls in with (Michael and Trevor) are both experienced thieves and directly controlled by the player, though, makes for far more complex and interesting relationships: many missions you're given are directly involved with helping people you also know so much about. It's not just a random drug lord, or organised crime ring. Franklin's path to the top is in the hands of individuals you know and care for.
It's this intrigue which makes the three-way dance so fascinating to be involved with. There are plenty of periods when GTA 5 leaves you to go through its ridiculously big world as it has done in the past, but that just means when it's time to bring everyone together, the significance is so much greater.
Many of these group events transpire through the aforementioned heists, and there's not a bad one among them. From bank jobs to scenarios you won't conceive could actually take place - even in a GTA game - it has allowed Rockstar to do so much more than it has done in the past. Yes, there's a familiar thread running through most missions, but the injection of choice in how you can handle them separates 5 entirely. At any time you could be gunning down enemies as Michael, before jumping into a helicopter to provide some air support from Trevor as Franklin prepares to hurtle out of Dodge in a getaway car. It makes for a more realistic type of crime, and throws in options that freshen up the template. It's still GTA - very much so - but GTA with a new skin.
There's also the planning for these heists that ask you to ensure everything needed for a clean job is present and prepared: vehicles, weapons and even your crew. It dives deeper than just this, mind, because there's always a choice in how to approach a situation. Your decisions drastically alter not only how you'll go about trying to be successful, but also who you should bring along. Go in guns blazing, or try and sneak through a hidden entrance? That you can now replay missions, a la Gay Tony, only makes this all the more satisfying - there's reason to go back and try again. Yet more longevity in the GTA cannon…
Although on occasion there's mandatory switching between the characters, the majority of the time it's in your hands. Along with all of the above, it just opens up the door for yet more personality and humour when you do jump into a different person's body. Trevor, unsurprisingly, is the highlight of such leaps - you're never quite sure exactly what he'll be doing when left to his own devices - and how alive the world feels is just another feather in Rockstar's cap.
That every game from 3 up till the downloadable Ballad of Gay Tony focused on one main character means the door is more than open for GTA 6 to take the idea of a trifecta and run with it further. Even if it didn't, though, what's here is more than enough to satisfy players, and give the official fifth entry in the franchise more than enough justification to exist.