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Previews

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

Insane ambition meets supreme confidence in Rockstar's latest

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Hidden behind an SUV halfway down is Lacey Jonas, an upcoming movie star in the Lindsay Lohan mould (before her hardcore Colombian sherbert years). She doesn't want her picture taken, but her high-end motor is parked further down the alley, and if she heads for it, the paps will snap her. So, we venture down the alley, get the car, drive it back up the alley and collect her, then put our foot through the floor and leave the paparrazi trailing in our wake!

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Er, except we don't. Seconds later, we're being pursued, and from there the mission becomes about A) losing the paps, and B) getting Lacey safely home. It's not too demanding, borne out by the fact that you earn yourself a relatively paltry $150 once you've returned her to the Vinewood Hills. One nice thing, though: as Lacey heads inside her swanky mansion, more lovely detail emerges, moths flying around your head and insects buzzing in the half-light of evening.

HOMELAND SECURITY VAN

The sense of tranquility doesn't last long, however. Finally, in the last quarter of our demo, we're transported into the heart of an actual mission, entitled 'Blitz Play'; a kind of pint-sized heist.

Remember how we said Michael spends his days watching old Vinewood action movies? Turns out that that's actually a super-clever way for Rockstar to beg, steal and borrow every classic scene from every classic real-world cinematic heist. As the three men are brought together for the first time, we're told that the mission will involve stealing a boatload of security bonds from an armoured van. Although this isn't one of the game's big heists, and doesn't require anywhere near the level of planning those will (the pay-off is way smaller, for starters), the strategy for taking down the van - by blocking the road with a dumptruck, and then ramming it with another vehicle - is based on a movie Michael saw. Or, rather, a movie Rockstar saw. And that movie is Heat.

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For the purposes of the demo, the three men - after Michael briefs them - appear in matching boiler suits, and different masks - monkey, hockey, skull - but in the main game, this type of 'mini heist' will be much more of an education in the art of prep, leaving you to secure vehicles yourself, outfits, masks, as well as the getaway vehicle and locations for dumping potentially damaging evidence like the dump truck. The idea is that, as the game builds up to those big, standout heists, these smaller ones will be a way to learn what works - but, more crucially, what doesn't.

In the big ones, there can be no mistakes: you need the right weapons and gear; you need to choose the right approach, whether it's brute force, or stealth, and plan out your tactics via a pre-mission corkboard; and you need to have hired the right crew for the right job - that's crew in addition to Michael, Franklin and Trevor. Choose to pay less and you get less qualified personnel; pay more, and you get more reliable drivers, gunmen and technicians - but they take a bigger cut. It's a balance, and it's through missions like 'Blitz Play' that you find your best approach.

What's immediately obvious is how multiple playable characters change the dynamics of the traditional GTA mission. You can switch between Franklin, Trevor and Michael in a variety of ways - during a cutscene, manually, or automatically when the AI takes control for you - and as our demo level plays out, we see evidence of all three. Michael must drive the dumptruck to the pre-determined location and park it across the street; Trevor will head for the rooftops to act as lookout; Franklin needs to lay in wait, in a tow truck, ready to ram the security van once it's forced to stop. That much is clear - how you interact with the trio, to what extent you use each of them, and how much you switch yourself or let the computer do, is entirely up to you. (Although, it's worth noting that, if you die, the mission returns to the last saved checkpoint; and even if two of the three characters are under AI control, they can still be killed off with enough damage.)

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So it begins. As Michael makes his way to the location, the game's score kicks in (this time less ambient, and more like Hans Zimmer's opener for The Dark Knight). After following the truck for a while, we head to where Trevor is surveying the scene through a pair of binoculars. Michael asks him if everything looks okay. When Trevor gives him the nod, we switch back to Michael and a 'Block the road' prompt appears. We jack-knife the truck, get out of the cab and retreat to a safe distance - before the game switches to a dynamic camera angle, following the Gruppe 6 security van as it advances on the parked truck. Once the security van is in place, it's Franklin's turn.

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