Finally. It's here. Grand Theft Auto V is one of this medium's most anticipated games of, well, ever. This title has been out for exactly a week now, and it's earned Rockstar and Take-Two well over $1 billion in sales.

Those fiscal results aren't misplaced. Grand Theft Auto V easily meets the expectations set down by the franchise itself and its ridiculously large fan base.

It stumbles here and there, but this game is a whole lot of fun. We've still got a whole holiday season's worth of titles to play through, but it looks like this one is a clear contender for the best of the year.

Rockstar nailed it.

Grand Theft Auto Fun

Back in July, Rockstar released what they titled the "Grand Theft Auto V: Official Gameplay Video." You'll see it embedded directly above this paragraph. Go ahead, watch it.

There's a point in the trailer where they promise big things in terms of mechanics. The narrated line runs like so: "There's also been a huge focus on mechanics in the game to make every aspect as fun and fluid as it is broad."

For the most part, the developers deliver on that promise. Driving feels better, shooting feels better, movement feels better. While still not packing the fluidity and precision of a focused corridor shooter or dedicated racer, Grand Theft Auto V manages to feel miles tighter than any of its predecessors.

That fun translates to the heists as well. Heists are amazing. You'll do several over the course of the story, and they'll require you to make decisions, build teams and collect extreme gear. Then it comes time to pull them off, and here's where the switching between characters gets oh-so-much better.

By holding down on the directional pad and pointing the right stick over to one of the three main characters, you'll be able to switch between them almost entirely at will. When you're pulling off a heist that requires one to snipe, another to play assault and the third to drive a vehicle, the game moves from a decent shooter to a whole lot of fun. Tired of picking off folks from a high vantage point? Fine, switch to someone who's in close and go to town.

When you're not pushing through story missions, the world of San Andreas is a blast to explore. Every nook and cranny of the place feels teeming with virtual life, and that means simply moving from Point A to Point B, something you'll do a lot of, is fun.

Strong Characters Meet a Sometimes Middling Story

Grand Theft Auto V Leisure - 5

Rockstar has demonstrated with previous efforts that they're capable of combining strong sets of characters with an interesting and dynamic plot line. Look no further than Red Dead Redemption, one of my favorite video games ever, for proof here. Red Dead managed to be interesting and surprising at almost every turn, and Rockstar built that while adhering to traditional Western flick tropes like revenge, the Hawksian Woman and redemption.

My point is, this studio can put together great plot lines. They have the ability.

With Grand Theft Auto V, Rockstar did a great job creating characters. The main three, Michael, Trevor and Franklin, are each strong and different enough to warrant attention. They aren't necessarily "likeable," but that's not really their point. You'll hate and love these characters at one time or another throughout the game, and Rockstar often goes out of their way to make you toss and turn with these anti-heroes.

Side characters? Yep, still great. Rockstar sticks to stereotypes and over-the-top personalities for Grand Theft Auto V. That's a staple for this franchise. It isn't proper, and at times they completely disregard respect for men and women alike, but it works well within the GTA universe. Their characters are all unapologetically stupid, and if you can swallow that, you'll likely be entertained.

The story, though? It has its moments, but it could have been much better.

Over the span of 40 or so hours, you'll pull-off heists, save friends and plot assassinations. There's a lot going on with the three main characters and all the personalities they tangle up with. Rockstar tries to have each tale weave in and out of one another, but the result is a campaign that often comes off rather messy and hard to handle.

The high points work, though. When the game presents a moment that you should feel proud or disgusted by, it does so with bravado and big time success.

This next paragraph could be viewed as a spoiler. Please skip it if you'd rather not read a plot point.

There's a scene in GTAV, and I was rather upset about this when it happened, where you're forced to torture someone. The torture is brutal, and the mission reveals that it's pointless. It demands that you select tools and execute harm with button presses. It will turn your stomach. It should, anyways. It had me angry for a few minutes. I hated the game for making me do something like this, and it wasn't until the campaign rolled forward that I got over it and accepted it as yet another bullet point in GTA's twisted and satirical universe. It was there specifically to make me mad, and it worked.

Despite the middling arch and muddled plot beats, the characters and storyline of Grand Theft Auto V come together in a memorable way. It's not perfect, but it's good.

Easily One of the Most Valuable Games of the Year

Whether it's drug trafficking by airplane, stealing an armored truck, exploring Strangers & Freaks sidequests or simply buying up local real estate, there's almost always something to do in Grand Theft Auto V. The city of Los Santos is absolutely brimming with content, and the game introduces you to brand new tasks, missions and options well into its campaign.

You'll be five, 10 or 15 hours into the storyline before Rockstar decides it's time to show you another thing you can sink your time into. The world is huge, and the tasks are varied. In terms of pure play value per money spent, GTA V is a slam dunk.

Speaking strictly in regards to my playthrough, I completed the campaign and watched the (exceptionally long) credits roll at 45 hours played. My completion percentage sits at 70, and both Franklin and Trevor have around a dozen sidequests to complete.

That doesn't even figure in all of the endless activities I can enjoy should I choose to. There's tennis, golf, relays and easter egg hunting to do, and I intend to take in as much of this as possible.

Here's the thing that's majorly exciting about Grand Theft Auto V: this game has serious staying power. I want to keep playing, to keep exploring San Andreas and to keep partaking in random activities simply because the game's world is so alluring and alive.

The crazy part? Rockstar hasn't even released the online component yet.

Let's Talk Technical Stuff

There will be waiting. When you bring Grand Theft Auto V home (or it's shipped to your house), the first thing you'll do upon firing up the game is wait. We played the title on the Xbox 360, so your experience might change if you've got the PlayStation 3 version. Both require an installation, and both installations check in at around 8GB.

The Xbox 360 version incurred roughly 30 minutes of install time. The install plays out behind a light soundtrack and art slides. Slides kind of like the ones you see at the head of this section. They repeat, too.

It's boring, but it's mandatory. This isn't so much a point of critique in my review, just a point of fact. Bring home a sandwich and a beer (or soda, whatever) and wait.

You'll also wait awhile every time you boot up the game. Every time I fired up my Xbox 360 and launched GTA V, I found myself watching the same slides I did during the installation period while "Loading Story Mode" spun in the bottom right corner of the screen. This typically ran about one to two minutes.

Finally with waiting, the hot switching between characters can lag a touch. In some of the early trailers that showed off the ability to switch between Michael, Trevor and Franklin on the fly, the speed seems super snappy and immediate. That's not the case here; it can take around 20 seconds to happen.

Grand Theft Auto IV was a big time perpetrator of texture and object pop-in. Get moving fast enough through Liberty City, and Niko would take a corner and suddenly ram into the rear end of a freshly appeared bus. GTA V suffers some pop-in, but never to this extent.

Grand Theft Auto V - Night

Suprise, Suprise; Grand Theft Auto V is a Winner

The story stumbles, but the characters and content within Grand Theft Auto V more than make it a must-own game in 2013.

If you can look past the over-the-top stereotypes, absurd caricatures of the worst parts of society and sometimes annoying wait times, you'll find a video game that's brimming with content.

The story stumbles, but the characters and activies within Grand Theft Auto V more than make it a must-own game in 2013. If you have even a passing interest in this series and games like it, you should give this one a go. It's huge.

And, like I said before, Rockstar hasn't even taken the cover off of the multiplayer mode. Grand Theft Auto Online will be made available early in October. When that happens, expect the potential activities in this game to explode on all sides, and we'll be sure to cover the madness.

Grand Theft Auto V is one of the best games of the year. It's well worth your time and money, and the title will easily occupy your gaming system for several months to come. You'll have a blast.

We received a physical copy of Grand Theft Auto V for the Xbox 360 from Rockstar one day before release. It came with random freebies, like a hat, t-shirt, keychain and egg timer. Yep. An egg timer. We completed the campaign before starting this review. We have almost 50 hours played.

4.5 out of 5