GTA IV, however, was a deeper study of 20th century melting-pot New York, of how cultural fluidity is changing America while the American Dream - or the hollowness of it - stays the same.
GTA IV also touched broader themes of revenge, redemption and consequence. Do you kill Dwayne or Playboy X? Execute Darko Drevic or let him live? Brand him a war criminal or accept he's just another scumbag trying to survive... like you?
The outcomes were binary, but it did attempt to do something more thoughtprovoking than, say, mowing down 1000 pedestrians in a Rampage. In this post-Heavy Rain, No Russian, BioShock world, Rockstar need to up the stakes dramatically to remain edgy, adult and risk-taking.
In the wider entertainment and social context of today, people demand more from their heroes: hence Christopher Nolan's more grounded, harder, more believable Batman.
Rockstar's earlier games owe big debts to cinema and TV: to The Godfather (GTA III), Miami Vice (Vice City), Boyz 'n the Hood (GTA San Andreas) and Eastern Promises (GTA IV). GTA V surely will too, but in 2011 expect the likes of Lost (fractured storytelling, parallel narratives and mystery), Inception (ditto) and - above all - The Wire.
That show brought us multiple perspectives into every level of urban decay - cops, dealers, politicians, the press, even teachers - ranging from passionate but doomed footsoldiers to morally-void careerists and the outright corrupt at both top and bottom.
What does that mean for GTA V? Most likely, a study of systemic corruption taking in government, law, criminal cartels, celebrity and big business, told from several viewpoints. It's a framework to address today's global issues - recession, social networking, celebrity worship, political scumbaggery. As such, LA is the perfect setting, with big business rubbing shoulders with the A-list; gated mansions just miles from ghettos, all in one focused location.
Not convinced? Let's take a closer look at the 'leaked' cast list for Project Rush. There are three FBI agents. Mitch Hayes, 38: wise cracking, successful, does triathlons, drinks lo-cal beer. Miguel Gonzalez, 25: Mexican, clean cut, caught between mob bosses. And Calvin North, 55: clapped out, does TV shows, divorced, basically decent but is famous for doing something that turns out to be false. There are also frequent references to marijuana.
For a cast of soccer moms, sleazy agents, Chinese mobsters, party boys - we're thinking Justin Timberlake in The Social Network - jobbing hard-man actors and life coaches, there are a large number of people living 'in the sticks,' including a family called De Silva... which itself translates as 'of the forest' in Portuguese.
Only Kevin De Silva is on the main cast list - a fat, anxious and soft 18 year-old douche who likes to make racist comments in online shooters - but digging deeper it seems Rockstar did a separate casting for two more De Silvas; Albert and Simon.
Albert is Kevin's dad, while Simon is alluded to in the 'Rush' cast list via another character, 48 year-old paranoiac Nervous Jerry. Jerry lives near Simon but is 'terrified' of him - our bet is that Simon and Albert are brothers, presumably of different outlooks, who live in the country shipping or growing drugs. Or both.
So on one side, we have three FBI agents, spanning three generations; on the other, three family members, probably two brothers and a son, probably criminal. It all adds credence to the split-viewpoint story theory.
Speculating further, two potential lead characters leap out. First up, Miguel Gonzalez, the FBI rookie caught between gang bosses. He fits the 'troubled outsider' GTA profile, with a twist - he's the law. Secondly there's bad-guy Albert De Silva, whose son adds an interesting family dimension. Playing as a dad? The teenage GTA III fans of 2001 are hitting their late 20s/early 30s now. It fits.