Unless you play it for yourself, it's near impossible to grasp how big GTA 5 is. It's not just the world. It's the gargantuan story, the sheer amount of missions and the variety introduced with them, the activities to take part in, or the secrets waiting to be unveiled. It's a highlight of the generation.
How Rockstar managed to achieve this on current technology is baffling. Regardless of what your opinion is in regards to the franchise, no-one can question 5's technical merit. It's the open world game we've all come to know and love, just polished and improved to a much higher standard.
Clearly looking at the highs and lows of past iterations, Rockstar has brought back elements some felt were missing from 4 and mixed them near-perfectly with those that have always stood the test of time.
The reintroduction of skill bars, boosted by your in-game actions, is one such example. Combat and driving have always split opinion, but these attributes improve as your chosen character participates in them, further mitigating old concerns. Shooting and racing are much improved at their core. The same can be said for the special abilities. Slightly jarring at first, the more they're embraced the better, and more entertaining, they become. There's a noticeable evolution throughout, and a constant sense of progression.
A similar process is mirrored in the three main characters themselves. On some level Michael (Tommy Vercetti), Franklin (CJ) and Trevor (Claude) represent iconic figures from yesteryear, but by the end of their 30 hour plus story* the differences are night and day. Each is conceived and executed far better than their older counterparts, possessing the ability to make you love and hate them depending on where the always unpredictable narrative heads. Having the trio intertwine during missions is just the clichéd icing on the cake.
Both 'the best of' and the best offering in the entire series, GTA 5 easily lives up to the hype. The ultimate swansong for this console cycle, but also a game that'll cast a long shadow over the next one too.
*Time mentioned represents the structured narrative only.
Version tested: Xbox 360. Game played for 37 hours.