( -- If historic success is any indication, crime - or at leastmake-believe crime - definitely pays for Rockstar and its Grand TheftAuto franchise. So can the developer catch lightning in a bottle for afifth time? That's the question as art imitates the thug life once againin "Grand Theft Auto V."

For the latestentry in the franchise, Grand Theft Auto subscribes to the motto thatthree heads are better than one, offering players three main charactersinstead of one. There's Franklin Clinton, a likable young repo man whoseattempts to escape a hard life draw him into the underworld. Thenyou've got Michael De Santa a retired robber whose riches aren't enoughto keep his midlife crisis at bay. Finally, there's Trevor Philips,Michael's former partner and close friend who also happens to be araging psychotic.

As the fates of all three intertwine,their relationship to each other as well as the people around themserves as the foundation for what is easily the games strong point, itsstorytelling. While many games struggle to keep things fresh andmaintain relevance after multiple sequels, Grand Theft Auto V does anexcellent job in weaving a tale about a facet of society that mostpeople would rather not see. It's not as much a glorification ofviolence and misogyny but an unapologetic retelling of the darkestcorners of our culture - a retelling that's definitely designed to makeyou feel uncomfortable and question things you may take for granted.There's Facebook parody Lifeinvader, a social commentary on ourdependence on social media and society's loss of privacy. Then you havethe game's portrayal of themes like crime and addiction, themes that youcan normally choose to ignore in real life but have to face firsthandin the game as a player.

Trevor's missions, in particular,can make your stomach churn and test your limits as a human being giventheir brutality and the sad plight of some of the people around him. Infact, the solid portrayal of even supporting characters is a hallmarkof Grand Theft Auto V. Instead of being treated as an afterthought, manysuch characters shine even if they only have two minutes of fame. Notthat everything in the game is depressing. One thing that makes GrandTheft Auto V shine is its liberal use of humor, though a lot of it isunsurprisingly dark. Even the funny dialogue from Franklin's friendTonia, for example, is grounded by the fact that she obviously suffersfrom addiction. When you realize that, you feel pity and start to feeluncomfortable about finding humor in her situation.

Gameplay,meanwhile, remains a treat thanks to the great freedom afforded by thegame's open world. Car driving is also improved from the previous gamewhile shooting uses cover mechanics and snap-to-target aiming. Botharen't perfect by any means as driving can be a bit loose and shaky andthe auto lock can sometimes throw you off if you happen to be aiming fora different person. Flying planes and helicopters also can be a painand some of the camera work can cause motion sickness. I got nauseous,for example, while driving with the shaky car hood view, which isnormally my driving perspective of choice in racing games.

Noneof the game's issues, however, detract from what makes it good, whichis excellent storytelling and an expansive world. By offering anexcellent overall package, Grand Theft Auto V is definitely a candidatefor Game of the Year.