One of the biggest game franchises ever is launching its latest edition this week. Released on 17 September, Grand Theft Auto V is expected to sell 25 million copies and generate £1 billion earnings during its first year. So, what's it to be? An masterpiece of escapist immersion, or an education in teenage titillation? Here’s what to expect from the latest digital juggernaut to come out of the Rockstar Games workshop.
1. Lavish production values (it cost £170 million). With a rumoured budget of $265m (£170m) GTA V is by some distance the most expensive game ever made. That’s the same amount of money as two Gareth Bales, a larger sum than James Cameron spent on either Titanic or Avatar and considerably more than what it cost Barack Obama to spend a month in Africa strengthening diplomatic ties with Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa.
2. ‘A sprawling, satirical, reimagining of modern southern California’, apparently. That means - by the looks of advanced release game play – a synthetic world of boats, bridges, wide roadways and expensive shops. Much of the action also looks to be set outdoors: advanced game play shows mountains, underwater environments and aeroplane aviation.
3. A huge soundtrack. According to GTA V’s soundtrack supervisor Ivan Pavlovich GTA V is has 17 radio stations to choose from, 240 licensed songs and 20 movies worth of score. “The largest soundtrack and score we’ve ever done”, says Pavlovich.
4. Rather beautiful visuals, actually. Leaked stills suggest particularly close attention has been paid to the game’s representation of water – notoriously, along with fire, one of the hardest things to digitally render accurately. Even the foam and wave crests detailed on jet-skiing scenes look stunning.
5. Three lead characters to switch between. Game play involves the option of rotating between three separate protagonists: a retired bank robber turned family man, an up an up-and-coming street hustler and a trailer trash heist specialist.
6. Sexism. The new GTA, as with previous iterations, does not offer gamers the option of playing as a female protagonist. Never fear, though - as behind every strong GTA man there’s a hideously used and stereotyped GTA woman. Once again prostitutes can raise your character’s health to more than 100 per cent and be killed after ‘use’, if you wish to recoup your cash. ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) also says the game will feature nudity in a lap dance scene, “myriad sex jokes” and “a brief instance” of non-nude necrophilia.
7. Digital drug use. ESRB have said that some sequences of the game involve “ smoking from a bong” and “lighting a marijuana joint”, while “cocaine use is also depicted”.
8. Personal finance management. Those willing to invest in less tawdry pursuits also have stock market and real estate options open to them. Cash made from criminal heists can be invested as users see fit.
9. Outdoor activities. Wholesome open-air pursuits include game-hunting, bike-riding, tennis, hang-gliding and golf.
10. A website that asks you to verify your age before entering. And what do you get in exchange for that personal information? Red hot pornography, perhaps? A receipt from the NSA? No actually, just an ironic take on a holiday brochure. Web visitors are offered options including ‘Beaches and watersports’, ‘Accessible air travel’ and ‘Exclusive country clubs’. It seems you’ll actually have to purchase the game if you want to get hold of that infamous X-rated material...