Grand Theft Auto V's three antiheroes feel as though they were torn straight out of Sigmund Freud's structural model of the human psyche. The wild, feral Trevor represents the id: a psychopath led by instincts and urges without any consideration for others. Retired criminal Michael is the super-ego: the critical, realistic, moral force that strives to keep the id in check. That leaves young Franklin as the ego: an organized, realistic partner that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego--or, in this case, two psychopaths that always seem to be a hair away from strangling each other. Throughout GTA 5 you'll swap between the trio, seeing San Andreas through the eyes of three wildly different personalities, each of whom brings their own breed of psychosis to one of the most exciting games of this generation.
As is the case with the human psyche, these different parts work together to create something stronger than the individuals ever could be. Whereas previous Grand Theft Auto characters have struggled with maintaining an interesting personality as they were tasked with slaughtering innocents for gameplay's sake, breaking the campaign into three parts makes for three better characters. They're all exceptionally written, and play off of each other well. Instead of forcing one character to climb his way up his own slice of the criminal underworld, GTA 5 does a remarkable job of providing each with their own motivations, their own missions, and their own personas you'll come to love as you swap between them.
Switching characters is a major part of what makes GTA 5 unique, and it's as seamless as you could possibly hope. At almost any time you can jump between them, zooming the camera out for a moment before warping back, showing what the characters have been doing since you last played as them. You might find Franklin walking out of a bar, only to be called by a panicking friend who needs to be bailed out of a dumb situation; and swapping to Michael could have him sitting by the pool and smoking a cigar before heading off to do yoga with his cheating wife. Trevor is typically found passed out in an alley or picking fights with strangers, and his missions are usually the most ludicrous--you'll be blowing up trailer parks and hijacking cargo planes as you see the world from his warped, chaotic point of view. Some side characters even jump between stories, making the world feel incredible cohesive.
Along the way you'll find ample distractions to keep you exploring San Andreas, ranging from random activities to wholly optional side missions. At times the staggering amount of content can be overwhelming; there's so much to do that it's easy to be paralyzed with indecision. Whether you're exploring the upper-class suburbs of Rockford Hills as Michael, the beautiful and scenic Vespucci Beach as Franklin, or the hillbilly-filled Blaine County as Trevor, you'll struggle to drive three blocks without finding something interesting to do--be it preventing a robbery or helping a paparazzo take salacious pictures of a teen star. Some will lead to interesting side plots, while others simply exist to give more life to the colorful world. Though they don't all have satisfying conclusions--with some sort of whimpering to a close--they work to flesh out the characters and provide more context to the satirical paradise Rockstar created.
Though you'll be pulled in a few directions at once, it won't take much prodding to get back to the main campaign. The narrative is exciting and exceptionally-written, and story missions, which have always been fodder between cutscenes, are now explosive set-piece moments amplified by the ability to swap characters. In one mission, you need to fly a helicopter above an office building as Trevor, rappel down the side of it as Michael, and provide sniper support as Franklin. It's thrilling, and provides an experience totally unlike anything you've played before--and it's hardly the best usage of this mechanic.
It also helps that just about every mechanic is a marked improvement over previous iterations. The most noticeable improvement comes with the visual overhaul that makes GTA 5 one of the best-looking games currently available on consoles. But this improved fidelity comes at a cost. The game's massive, sprawling, detailed San Andreas is obviously pushing the hardware to its limits, so don't be surprised to see framerate drops or objects popping into existence as you speed down a highway. Other changes have only positive impacts to the game--gunplay is extremely strong thanks to improvements to the aiming, and while the driving controls are looser than they are in some other open-world games, they make for some thrilling chases.
These mechanics come to a head in the game's heists, which take advantage of every improvement Rockstar has made to its franchise. You're not just showing up to a question mark on the map and taking part in a bank robbery mission, you're an integral part of the planning process of awe-inspiring cinematic moments. Being able to choose between two wildly different plans, deciding on the getaway car, picking from a handful of different teammates--you're in full control in a way no other game has ever attempted. When the mission actually begins, you're able to see your hard work unfold, with different outcomes depending on your planning and actions.
Rockstar also made sure to create an economy that actually makes sense, instead of just dumping money into your in-game bank account without any real purpose, as was the case in past games. You're able to customize every weapon and vehicle in the game, and there's a robust real estate system with dozens of different properties around San Andreas that can be purchased. Some feed more money to you, while others actually open up new tasks and missions. There's even a dynamic stock market that actually reacts to in-game events, letting you make even more money by researching missions before you complete them. The number of moving parts in GTA 5 is astounding, and you'll be amazed by how well they all work together.
Five years ago, it looked as though it would've been difficult to make a bigger, more impressive game than Grand Theft Auto IV, but Rockstar didn't just settle for improvements to visuals. Instead, it polished and iterated upon every single element of the game--and the genre. The world is massive and detailed, the gameplay is damn near perfect, and though there are some lackluster side missions, the actual story is filled with memorable personalities that feel more fully-realised than even the best of GTA's previous characters. It's a remarkable example of open-world gaming at it's finest, and while it doesn't reinvent the genre or do anything all that new, it does so much so well that it's hard to find flaws in Rockstar's massive blockbuster.