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Grand Theft Auto 5 named Game of the Year - is it worth the hype?

GTA 5 sells like hot cakes and picks up prestigious award, but is it over-rated?

Grand Theft Auto 5 has just been named as the Game of the Year at the prestigious Golden Joystick awards, which marks the greatest video games in the world for 2013. This was a second helping of excellent news for the producers of the Grand Theft Auto series, Rockstar Games, as GTA 5 had already achieved the mantle of becoming the fastest selling video game of all-time.

But is this newest release in the GTA series really deserving of the praise that has been heaped upon it, or has it been somewhat over-hyped?

To even suggest that the latest GTA release is anything short of perfection runs the risk of incurring the wrath of its legions of fans. This was the precise experience of the Gamespot reviewer Carolyn Flint, who suggested that the game was misogynistic - a view that I share to a certain extent - a perspective that secured her a veritable volley of abuse, and even incited some GTA 5 fans enough for them to launch an online petition requesting for her to be sacked. Thankfully the controversy seems to have blown over now.

Thus, critiquing GTA 5 runs certain risks, but after a month of solidly playing both the offline and online versions, and having completed every 3-D Grand Theft Auto game, I think I'm at least moderately qualified to pass my opinion on it.

It is necessary to separate the offline and online versions of GTA 5 in order to assess the game. The offline version of the game is not perfect, but it can be asserted firstly that those who have said it is a spectacular technical achievement are quite correct. The map for GTA 5 is simply huge, and the developers have created a rich game environment that feels about as organic and diverse as it is feasible for a video game to be.

You only truly discover this when you play the online version, though, as too much of the offline version takes place within a relatively small area of the map. The ability to switch between characters, and the fluid way this is handled is a genuine step forward for the series, though, and many of the missions have a truly epic feel.

On the other hand, the game is supposed to centre around a series of heists, but I felt there were not enough of these. You also make so much money in the first one that it renders the in-game economy pretty much worthless. At times as well, the interactivity of some missions feels a little limited, with players negotiating a succession of cutscenes that frankly anyone remotely competent could traverse.

Having said that, a lot of thought went into making the missions as varied as possible - an obvious criticism of GTA 4. There were also some welcome improvements to elements of the gameplay mechanics, such as cars not blowing up as ridiculously easy as in previous games in the series, which makes the game more intuitive and less irritating to play. GTA 5 really is a super-slick title in terms of playability.

But despite the immense detail of the city, and the fact that there is a great deal to see and do within the cityscape, I didn't feel the story mode of the game was the equal of GTA San Andreas. It somehow feels less epic and involving, less that you've been on an immense journey, even though it is still absorbing and enjoyable to play.

However, this has been completely corrected, in my opinion, by the online mode of the game, which breathes a whole new lease of life into the series. It didn't sound feasible to deliver an online world in which a character exists and develops his or her life of crime as in the single player game. But Rockstar have absolutely excelled themselves and created an incredibly absorbing multi-player experience.

Suddenly, there is a point in treasuring your car, in saving up money, in befriending other players. The online mode of the game is a total triumph, and compels you to seek out every nook and cranny of the frankly amazing playing area which has been built.

Rockstar have even built in some clever mechanisms to reward good and sporting behaviour. And to have a multi-player world in which there are dozens of missions available that would have been considered standalone missions of their own in past iterations of the game, is a massive boon for GTA fans. I must also commend Rockstar for not exploiting gamers by making micro-transactions a necessity, although you can boost your bank balance this way should you choose to do so.

The online version of GTA 5 has opened up a whole new universe for the game, and raised the bar once again for a series which has made a habit of doing just this. In effect, gamers are virtually being given two games for the price of one; a rare example of value for money in these cynical times.

Christopher Morris is a regular contributor to Yahoo on television, cinema, video games, technology and politics.

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