If you were to have told me the highlight of my recent Grand Theft Auto 5 showing would've been a deer running out into the road, I would've laughed in your face. And yet, as the animal obstructed one of the lead character's – Michael – car, it was enough to convince me that Rockstar's latest had all the makings of something special. I didn't need to see an over the top set piece or a barrage of soldiers being gunned down. Watching one of the three GTA protagonists react to the beast with an expletive before swerving around it reminded me how well the series does the little things, and just how important those moments are.
GTA 5 feels like a combination of the developer's efforts rolled into one package. The world is bigger than nearly all of Rockstar's previous environments combined; the three characters exist to introduce a new and more complex narrative; for the first time it has its own soundtrack which will change depending on your current situation; you can go scuba diving. All of the above will become staples that define GTA 5 but, much like my new friend the deer, it's the aquatic action which threatens to open many-a-gamers eye.
As the game shifts from Franklin – who hurled himself from a helicopter and parachuted past the gargantuan Mount Chiliad – to Trevor (he himself surrounded by dead bodies that seem to be members of The Lost gang), it's almost ridiculous that an option even exists for the ex-army pilot to take a speedboat to the middle of the ocean and jump in. Using the scuba gear found in the back of the vehicle, the sheer size of what can be explored beneath the sea is intimidating. There's underwater wreckages, schools of fish and, more worryingly, two sharks who smell blood. It's a far cry from stumbling over a fence, crashing into the waves waiting for the inevitable 'Wasted' to blare on-screen. Diving beneath the waves itself could probably justify a whole game.
It's glimpses of new elements such as this – and the white-hot hype that accompanies every new entry into the franchise – that make GTA 5 a tough gig to live up to. Since its announcement in November 2011, Grand Theft Auto, as is oddly the way, attracts voices from all camps. Akin to the John Cena of video games, you may not like the series but you damn well care about it and have an opinion. If a new trailer, much like the three we were treated to only a couple of days ago, were forced to make its way to a WWE ring, it'd probably be greeted with as many boos as it would cheers. It's this stigma that GTA has to face, and that's before mentioning the opposite group who desperately need this to become the greatest game of all-time. That's the presence it has in the industry.
If anything GTA was going to win over both camps, though, 5 is the likeliest of the bunch. Be it the dynamic events that have been carried across from Red Dead Redemption or the prevalence of multi-part 'Heists', there's ideas here that fundamentally build upon what the core of the series has been toying with for years. While the former may be less of a surprise thanks to the adventures of John Marston – randomly helping Vinewood superstar Lacey Jonas escape from a horde of paparazzi is an enjoyable aside – the latter is a different beast entirely.
During GTA IV's launch period a common conversation that could be heard 'around the water cooler' focused on the mission Three Leaf Clover. A bank job in a similar fashion to the movie Heat, it struck a chord with many, leading to what could turn out to be 5's trump card. Heists, as they are known, follow a similar format to the now iconic mission but with a barrage more depth. Regardless what the end goal is, every aspect has to be constructed by you. That includes sourcing a crew, disguises, locations, vehicles, weapons and no doubt a ton more as you piece together the intricate nature of the criminal puzzle.
For now Rockstar is keen to concentrate on a specific mission known as 'Blitz Play', essentially a smaller version of a heist that requires only the three leads and without as big rewards. The brainchild of Michael and his love for Vinewood action moves, its complexity can't be overlooked. With the tools needed already in-hand, each character is given a specific job to, in this case, bring an armoured truck to its knees. Trevor is to keep a lookout from the roof of a nearby building, Michael will block the entire road in a lorry and Franklin's frantic ram in a tow truck will signify a successful finish. During such events the game will decide when is prudent to switch between characters, giving you more control, in this particular instance, once the local police turn up to see what the problem is.
Rather than your usual gun, cover, shoot mechanic, being able to jump between individuals adds far more tactical and strategic options than GTA has ever been able to boast before. Trevor, having the advantage of higher ground, can be responsible for sniping and taking out air threats, whereas Franklin and Michael take turns with the more conventional third-person shooting fun. Given that you have what is an essentially a co-op partner, however, opens up the potential to go on suicide-like runs while protection is provided for you. As your friends will take care of themselves when you're not in control, there's far more life to gunfights and, more importantly, variety. In order to ensure everything is sealed off nicely, once the law has been pinned down, Franklin takes his truck to a pre-discussed spot, blows up the evidence and drives away in a planted getaway car.
It's a mere hint of the grander plans Rockstar has, but it opens up visions of what could be possible come September. Franklin, Trevor and Michael exist independently of one another and of you when you're spending your time elsewhere. It begs what may happen should you team up all three away from a structured mission. Rampages have long been synonymous with the franchise; just how much mayhem can be caused by the trifecta is surely only a matter for the imagination.
Be it technically, thematically or narratively, GTA 5 is set to raise the standard set by its own predecessors. It's hard to explain the sheer scope of the environment and just how vast it is, or how populated the world feels, without seeing it. After all, how many other games can flex their technology-muscle just by showing a man parachuting through the countryside? Such is the landmass that awaits, even the simple task of switching between characters is something to behold. Watching the camera zoom into the sky and pan across the environment to wherever your chosen individual may be is not only a fantastic way to fast travel, but a window into a setting that is literally awesome.
There will be doubters, of course, but as almost an amalgamation of all the GTAs that have come before it, 5 should surely be the version to convert even the most hardened cynic and become the definitive instalment of a legendary franchise.
If you need even more, watch our first video impressions piece below.