Grand Theft Auto IV worked because it showed you the world through Niko Bellic's eyes. An immigrant, with a history of violence, he viewed America as a kind of grotesque, with Rockstar's trademark satire reflecting his cynical views on politics, celebrity culture and fashion.
The people weren't people, per se; the enormously fat coppers waddling the streets of Liberty were more like political cartoons, representative of the bloated corruption that Bellic perceived. They were OK to shoot, basically, since they were part of The System.
That's where Red Dead Redemption stumbled. The uproarious carnage that players could wreak never quite matched up to John Martson's in-cutscene whinging. One minute he'd be telling the sheriff how he's willing to co-operate to get his family back. The next, he'd be gunning down nuns and setting fire to things just for giggles.
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Grand Theft Auto V's three character structure, as revealed in December's Game Informer, could present similar issues.
It leaves Rockstar with the problem of squaring not one but three loads of characterisation with more gameplay than ever. GTA V will include mini-games, sub-missions, socialising with in-game friends and hundreds of different vehicles, not to mention Rockstar's biggest cityscape ever.
It's set to examine the "contemporary culture" of Los Angeles, as told from the perspectives of three men: Michael, a middle-aged ex bank robber with a messed up family life; Trevor, a drug addicted conspiracy nut; and Franklin, an up and coming young hood from Venice Beach.
Even from those brief descriptions, it seems Rockstar has bitten off more dramatic potential than it's ever managed to chew. Michael has Rockstar's most interesting profile to date, but with more fun and games for players to muck about with than in other GTAs, maintaining that kind of characterisation is going to be tough.
Potentially, Franklin, Trevor and Michael won't be GTA V's focus; taking its cues from Heat, HBO and obviously, GTA IV, Rockstar's version of LA will be Grand Theft Auto V's main character.
Liberty City is certainly GTA IV's; Niko has his moments, and is certainly more complex than most leading men in games, but Jean Valjean he ain't, leaving Rockstar's Faux York City to pick up the thematic slack.
Los Santos could prove similarly fascinating. In the trailer and screenshots, we've already seen an incredibly diverse topography, detailing modern California in all its glory and squalor. There are picturesque mountain ranges and seafronts, but also packed-in urban tossholes and tramps crowded round barrel fires.
The final image of trailer number one is the perfect postcard from Grand Theft Auto V: A beautifully lit Los Santos skyline, suffocated by encroaching industrial smog.
In this sense, having three protagonists seems like a good start. They certainly have different lives. Despite his wife's zealous use of his credit card, Michael still seems wealthy and will likely serve as our top down perspective of Los Angeles.
Middle-class paranoia, trickle-down economics and valium abuse should feature heavily when you play as Michael.
Franklin is familiar territory for Rockstar, presumably channelling San Andreas' Carl Johnson and acting as our portal into LA's bottom-rung gang culture.
Black poor and ambitious, it's likely his story will solidify America's whitewashed social hierarchy; eager to escape the trashy joints he hangs out in, Franklin will nevertheless get held back by the kinds of people Michael bumps into.
Trevor is the wildcard. A semi-psychopathic, trailer dwelling loner, he seems like a typical Rockstar supporting character, the kind of guy who gives you missions. Exactly where he'll come into this portrait of LA is unclear.
Perhaps he'll provide an ignorable voice of his reason, his meth-fuelled rants on conspiracy this and government that offering more truth and fact than his frustrated colleagues realise. Perhaps he'll be our hero.
Every sandbox game has trouble giving players freedom while keeping its story in check. Grand Theft Auto V's multiple perspective narrative could be a solution, the varying outlooks of its three main characters blurring the game's conceits to the point where player behaviour becomes irrelevant.
With presumably so much going on in Grand Theft Auto V, whatever we do as players may only add to the forum rather than detract from it.
Alternatively, the three leading men could provide distinctive windows into the game's true middle, Los Angeles. A hopeful minority, a miserable upper class and a paranoid extreme; these three men stand for recognisable sections of modern society and could, if done right, serve to represent the whole.
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