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Preview: GTA V rewrites the open-world rulebook... again

Insane ambition meets supreme confidence in Rockstar's latest

Page 3 of 5

Emerging from the front entrance of the Von Crastenburg Hotel, Michael is the total antithesis of Trevor: smartly dressed, clean cut, monied. Except, in reality, Michael's utterly miserable: his wife hates him, he has no relationship with his kids, and he spends his days drinking whiskey, sitting on his shrink's couch, and watching old Vinewood action movies. (This last one is a nice touch by Rockstar, for reasons we'll outline on page 4, when we talk about the mission we saw.)

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As he takes the steps down to the sidewalk, we're struck by how different all three characters are, not just in terms of the way they look, but how they move, and how their characteristics come across so subtly: Franklin's a big unit, broad, strong, but he's smart too, and ambitious; Trevor's lean, wiry, ratty, the kind of guy who'd, quite literally, stab you in the back as soon as you looked the other way; while Michael's every inch the middle-aged made man, with his slower, more considered movement, and his fortysomething paunch. As the sounds of Vinewood fill the air - roaring engines, car horns, countless pedestrian conversations - we head left.

WRECK THE MIKE

Rockstar is promising five times as many pedestrians in GTA V as there were in Grand Theft Auto IV, and although the world isn't fully populated yet, it's still buzzing. The section we're shown is set at night, all low rise buildings and neon-splashed sidewalks, and what's clear from the off is that the development team have absolutely nailed the look of L.A. Plainly, the game is a massive technical step up from GTA IV, something we've already documented in Franklin's mountain parachute ride and Trevor's beachside alarm call. But, at this point in our 30-minute demo, it suddenly seems more overt: everything is jammed in tighter, every space occupied by shops and people and vehicles and noise. Here, the density of this world is really driven home.

As Michael winds his way towards a four-way junction, there are hundreds of businesses and stores, in all directions. Straight off the bat we zero in on Up N Atom, Tsunami, the Doppler Cinema and billboards for Sprunk, but there are tons more. After stopping to listen to Pamela Drake, a forgotten film actress, who begins babbling about her years as a Vinewood mega-star (pointing subtly towards one of GTA V's over-arching themes: faded celebs and economic uncertainty), we continue our walking tour and head onto Vinewood Boulevard.

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The crazy level of detail continues: tourist buses are parked up (which, if you climb aboard, can give you a tour of Vinewood's celebrity homes), film posters are plastered on the walls (including 'Bitch in the Trunk' - as in, a dog, in a trunk), and then, finally, men in comedy costumes try to corner you outside the Cathay Theatre, including the Superman-like Impotent Rage - who has his own show on the in-game TV station - and Master Chief riff, Space Ranger.

Here we get a glimpse at the game's reimagined phone - or, at least, its camera. Taking snaps with the iFruit is simple, and once we'd zoomed in, framed the shot, and got a picture of Space Ranger in the bag, further possibilities open up: in the final game, you'll be able to upload your pictures to Rockstar's Social Club - or your own our social media page. (It seems a near-certainty that you'll be able to record short videos too - check out the guy in the background at 0.31 in Trevor's trailer, released this week.) But the camera isn't your only option.

Although Rockstar didn't want to go into too much detail, there were a total of nine apps on your cellphone display: camera, internet, contacts, social media, a calendar, and an option to go back and replay individual missions. That leaves three others it wasn't prepared to talk about. Well, actually, in truth it wasn't prepared to talk much about the other six either, but while camera, internet, contacts and social media all seem relatively self-explanatory, as does the replay mission option, why would you need a calendar? Our take: if you're planning super-dangerous, super-detailed heists, you're going to need to do prep work. We reckon the calendar will be used as part of the planning process, for reminders about meetings, addresses and times.

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From here, for the first time in the demo, we get to see one of the game's hundreds of side missions in action. It's short and relatively simple, but it gives a good idea of the type of ambient activity available in the world. Appearing as a question mark in the mouth of an alleyway opposite the Cathay, we head across the road and see two paparazzi camped out, either side of the alley, with long-lens cameras. They're waiting for something. Or someone.

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