Arriving on a wave of hype so massive it threatened to drown every other game released near it, Rockstar's return to LA was as sprawling and accomplished as its previous visit. Tackling both criticism of GTA 4's narrative and mechanics as well as implementing a new (and complex) multi-character setup, it's a grander achievement than anything that went before.
Less overtly serious than 4, while still examining what its like to live and die in an America gone, by any barometer, totally insane, GTA 5's villains aren't all thugs or gangland dons: they're corporate criminals, credit hustlers, crooked law enforcement and private security firms, and even your own family and friends.
Your antagonists fit perfectly into Los Santos and its more rural surroundings, with the former in particular being both a stunning example of the luxuries of modern life, as well as an atavistic monument to everything wrong in western capitalism. These worlds clash throughout the story, with your three characters all representing different ideals and ideas as to what the future should hold. How the multi-part narrative uses the world, itself an astonishing technical achievement, to tell its stories is nothing short of superb.
As always, it's the little things that bring the world to life: passers-by taking photos of flash cars or crimes (they're not mutually exclusive), taking selfies, the fact that not all radio stations function in every area of the game, and countless other touches combine to make a city that feels more alive than any effort that preceded it.
GTA 5 captures the essence of a real city more than any game we've ever played, but its genius lies in ridiculing and revering LA and America in equal fashion. With the cycle completed again, it remains to be seen where Rockstar is going to go next. It'll have to go a long way to top this. The frightening thing is we all know it will.