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'Grand Theft Auto V' hits streets in brash debut

Taylor Pelling poses with his copy of 'Grand Theft Auto V' at the HMV store in London on September 17, 2013
Taylor Pelling poses with his copy of the game "Grand Theft Auto V" at the midnight opening of the HMV store in London on September 17, 2013.

Unabashedly brutal "Grand Theft Auto V" hit the streets Tuesday in a sequel that promises to enthrall fans of the blockbuster videogame franchise.

Rockstar Games spent five years crafting the title and the time has paid off for gamers, according to a slew of reviews giving it top marks.

"GTA V has been worth the five-year wait," said computerandvideogames.com digital manager John Houlihan.

"You can really see the maturity in this version, the graphics look sensational -- it really is like being in a virtual copy of LA."

GTA V is set in a fictional city of Los Santos based on real-world Los Angeles and its nearby hills and beaches.

The videogame franchise has won legions of fans and cadres of critics with game play in which triumph depends on acts such as carjacking, gambling and killing.

Play in Grand Theft Auto games has included simulated sex with prostitutes and drunken driving. The latest version is said by reviewers to be rife with more of the same, along with profanity-packed dialog.

An advertisement for the new Grand Theft Auto is viewed at a Brooklyn gaming store on January 11, 2013 in New York City
An advertisement for the new Grand Theft Auto V is viewed at a Brooklyn gaming store on January 11, 2013 in New York City

"GTA is essentially the 'Sopranos' of videogames," Tech Savvy analyst Scott Steinberg said, making a reference to a hugely popular US cable television series centered on Mafia characters.

"Everyone talks about the series as violent, but compared to what you are seeing in the movies and on television GTA is relatively tame. Certainly, it is a mature game for mature audiences ."

GTA V is billed by the New York City-based videogame publisher as the "largest and most ambitious" title in a franchise that has sold more than 114 million copies since its debut in 1997.

"Grand Theft Auto V builds on everything we've learned about open world gaming," said Rockstar founder Sam Houser.

Versions of "GTA V" for play on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 videogame consoles or personal computers powered by Windows software launched worldwide Tuesday in respective time zones.

Midnight release events were planned at shops in an array of countries to let GTA lovers snap up the game the instant Tuesday arrives.

EB Games held a midnight launch party in Sydney's World Square, featuring DJs and free burritos.

Torrential rain put a dampener on the night but didn't stop GTA zealots.

"If a storm stops you from getting your hands on gta you ain't a die-hard fan," Ryan Nero said in a message fired off at Twitter.

"I just rode through a hardcore thunderstorm to get my copy."

An advertisement for the new Grand Theft Auto displayed outside of a gaming store on January 11, 2013 in New York City
An advertisement for the new Grand Theft Auto V displayed outside of a gaming store on January 11, 2013 in New York City.

GTA V was released in 320 stores across the country Australia.

"There has been a huge buzz about the game," Rashaan Walker told AFP as the clock ticked down on a midnight launch event at the San Francisco area Best Buy shop where he is a sales supervisor.

"We've had tons of people asking about it."

Walker, a 26-year-old GTA fan, had in mind to stick around after the end of his shift to pick up a copy of the game.

"It's exciting," Walker said. "In this one you can go online and bring together a clique of friends and go terrorizing and do whatever you want."

He was also keen to see how the overarching storyline of the series progresses. In a new approach used in GTA 5, gamers take on the roles of three different main characters whose paths eventually merge.

"This really is a blockbuster that almost dwarfs the movies in some way," Houlihan told AFP. "GTA V is really a cultural phenomenon."

Houlihan said it was rumored that the production budget for the game was in the vicinity of $270 million.

The franchise's appeal is fueled by captivating story lines and an open-world format that lets players go wherever they wish in game worlds.

"You can rob banks or you can do a yoga lesson or you can fly a plane or you can play tennis or you can do what I sometimes do, which is just wander round the world in a really flashy car and listen to some of the hilarious radio stations -- so there really is everything for you to explore, it's a world of possibility," Houlihan said.

The game will also let people play with or against one another online.

Rockstar, which is owned by Take-Two Interactive, said that GTA V "focuses on the pursuit of the almighty dollar" in a re-imagined Southern California.

Grand Theft Auto IV blew away videogame and Hollywood records by raking in an unprecedented $500 million in the week after its release in 2008.

"GTA is the 10-ton gorilla of videogame franchises," Steinberg said. "Obviously, this is going to help kickstart the holiday season for the videogame industry, which has taken a beating."

While console videogames have faced mounting pressure from free-to-play titles tailored for smartphones or tablets, there is "still room for blockbuster Hollywood-style games," according to the analyst.

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