Heists are the obvious high points in Grand Theft Auto V

Yes, Grand Theft Auto V is brilliant, but you already knew that. It’s no longer an expectation, with the series rising so far above the idea of being critiqued, that every new instalment triggers an automated response in anyone who owns a gaming console capable of running it. It is protocol. A Grand Theft Auto game releases, critics give it perfect scores, people buy it and play it in different styles with varying results, ranging from complete catharsis to dopamine-induced frenzies or as in most likely cases, a level of enjoyment that only GTA can deliver. GTA V is no different. It’s the best game in the series so far, with developers Rockstar North raising the bar once again. But it’s just that: a really, really high bar.

There are no claims of redefining the genre. Rockstar’s latest outing just takes everything you loved about the previous game and multiplies it by three. The map is larger, there are more weapons, missions, activities, and characters (playable and otherwise), ultimately giving you three times as much as you’ve bargained for. But it’s more than that — the developers seem to believe that it’s simply not enough to give players what they want, and whether you were consciously aware of the fact or not, your brain has been craving something from Grand Theft Auto. You wanted to rob a bank in heavy armour, bulldoze your way through a tank battalion, steal a thermonuclear device using a submarine, and give Lazlow Jones a rude tattoo. But most of all, you wanted to rob banks, with careful planning and execution. You wanted heists. Now, you’ve got them.

Of course, somebody has to do the scheming, another needs to pull the trigger and someone needs to drive the getaway car, chopper, airplane or submarine. Enter our three playable protagonists (a first for the series), who collectively embody the spirit of Grand Theft Auto. First, there’s Michael, the retired bank robber who is living the life in style — only, the “life” doesn’t quite agree with him, and neither does his family. Then there’s Franklin, an ex-gangbanger and wheelman who specialises in repo. Finally, there’s Trevor, Michael’s former partner and complete psychopath with a twisted sense of morality that surfaces only occasionally. The first two are characters that we have seen at some point in a GTA game, while Trevor is the GTA player — a bipolar entity who is able to transition from coherent thought to complete and utter madness in a matter of seconds. Like when you’re driving within the speed limit towards a mission marker, “accidentally” run someone over and then decide to randomly go postal, because you’ve convinced yourself that you need five stars on your crime meter and that the mission can wait. You are Trevor, and Trevor is Grand Theft Auto. It only works both ways. As an added bonus, Rockstar, in trademark style, have ensured that each of the characters is so wonderfully written (in a dark, twisted way, of course) that you almost forget about the game’s achievement in meta-satire. Almost. The game can still test your moral resolve on occasion, forcing you to perform acts that go beyond “simple” over-the-top violence.

The heists are the obvious high points. “Casing” joints, deciding on an approach, be it guns blazing or something more subtle, picking your crew and actually walking, driving or flying away with your cut feels more satisfying than it should. It is absurd how GTA V is able to remain such a fantastic experience and keep you grinning despite some serious shortcomings, which if present in any other game would see you fling your controller repeatedly at the TV.

A broken save system (quick-save over the game’s auto-save and you’re in for some nasty progress-hindering surprises), terrible flying controls, unimpressive gunplay (perhaps the game could have taken a page or two out of Rockstar San Diego’s Red Dead Redemption) and mission marker bugs — all of which adversely affect the core gameplay experience. However, it gets everything else down to an absurd degree of perfection that you’ll probably be willing to overlook virtually anything that’s wrong with GTA V. For instance, if cars couldn’t reverse, you’d still tell your friends to buy it. Well, they should (assuming they’re over 18, are not easily offended by profanity, violence and adult themes). Grand Theft Auto V is available on PS3 and Xbox 360.