Three new GTA trailers hit this week, and popular opinion was predictably divided between those who think the game will be the greatest thing ever made (even better than those lamps that turn on or off when you clap), and those that still aren't sold.
I'm in the former camp, in a big way. GTA is one franchise that excites me like N64 kid downing an experimental new version of Red Bull, and 5 seems like GTA: Greatest Hits edition. For me, this is Very Good News.
The reason GTA wins me over is that the world Rockstar creates are best in class. Phrases like 'digital tourism' are often thrown around in discussions about the series, but that's not what I mean. Tourism generally implies going somewhere, arguing with your other half, and wishing in no small measure that you were dead.
Not so in GTA. Here, I'd reluctantly opt for another overused word: playground. And like most playgrounds, it's not long until violence descends. Rockstar's cities exist to augment your rampages, not simply contain them. People moaned that GTA 4 was too realistic, not fun enough. Mother 'ucker, Rockstar gave you New York on a disc smaller than the circumference of the Starbucks Grande Twatte you drink every day. Even the guys at NASA were impressed, and it's their job to be more severe and gamerious than a straightjacketed Victorian headmistress. If you couldn't make your own fun in a game that gave you New York, helicopters, and the opportunity for 16-player free roam, then give up. It's over.
Rockstar's worlds are realistic in the sense that they mimic actual places, but they're not slaves to realism. They work because the dev teams understand the essence of the places they're attempting to replicate, not just their more obvious features. So rather than a backdrop you have a world. The interplay of different areas is always masterful: no other developer does this as well, and it's one of the keys to GTA's success. Saints Row's Stillwater is so nondescript I'm fairly sure it took place against a backdrop of a massive grey jumper, even when Volition attempts to break the city down into different districts.
That's why I love GTA, because it feels like you're freewheeling around an actual place, albeit one just disconnected enough from reality, killing thousands of people and generally having a bloody good time. Pleasingly, GTA 5 has gone bigger. It's massive, like lifetime Call of Duty sales figures projected onto the surface of the moon. It's greater in scale than everything Rockstar has ever done, put together. You can see it from space. If you were to walk from one end of the map to the other, you would actually die.
Crucially, unless there's a Modern Toss-style total bloody disaster, this means more of the same excellent world-building. People have moaned that there's no (or little) gameplay in the trailers. Fair enough. But for me, the glimpses of the world itself – and the toys you'll navigate it with – are the exciting part.