Now that the cat is officially out of the bag where Grand Theft Auto 5 is concerned, fans of open-ended exploration and everyday simulation have just as much to look forward to as those who feed off of vehicular carnage. With a game world larger than GTA IV, San Andreas, and Red Dead Redemption combined, the newly upgraded city of Los Santos has even more potential than the first trailer led people to believe.

But to the developers at Rockstar Games, the setting of one of their open world games isn’t just what provides a backdrop to player activity; it’s what the video game genre offers that’s truly unique, and in a way, what really tells the story.

Extensive game environments are nothing new to Rockstar, having set a new record with Red Dead Redemption‘s frontier, deserts and mountain range. The effect of such a massive and varied game world is a more immersive experience overall, and in an interview with Guardian, co-writer and Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser explained that building a world for a player to be lost in is the top priority.

Given the words used by Houser, the significance of GTA V‘s incredible open world extends far beyond mechanics or technical prowess:

“Environment is important…Games are very geographical — they present space almost better than they present time, and we try to use that, to showcase variety between different landscapes. It’s this idea of a digital holiday: being able to explore spaces that don’t really exist is one of the the things that’s fascinating about open world games. It’s not just about doing the activities we’ve set, there’s also a sense of being there.

“If we’ve done a good job, the shoot-outs are fun but so is cruising through the world in a car you really like, listening to music — if these elements feel somehow consistent with each other, then we’re on the right path to something cool.”

Grand Theft Auto 5 Screens Helicopter Landing

In this case, “something cool” means the blending of three separate story lines and lead characters, all set within a digital city designed to mimic the smallest eccentricities of real-world Los Angeles. But it’s the verticality being brought to Los Santos’ environment, and the prevalence of aircraft and helicopters throughout the game’s advertising and missions details.

As Houser explains, the increased game world ceiling isn’t just going to make a potential freefall last longer. The developers are making the most of the features made possible by the expanded environments, from the mundane to the extraordinary. And if players thought they had seen Rockstar’s take on blockbuster action, apparently GTA V sets a new bar:

“We wanted to make a big place, as much as anything, to allow you to fly…A lot of the decisions, we’re talking about them here on a philosophical level, but they’re also practical decisions, too: we’re making a game. You have to understand the medium. On an obvious level we wanted somewhere big so you can fly properly — we have a lot of missions that involve flying, in helicopters or whatever, it was logical. Also, Jet skis work better around LA than they would in New York.”

“We’re using the environment to let us have toys we couldn’t have had otherwise. And equally, we’re using the story and environment to introduce missions that can be more extreme. In some ways we wanted the game to have a larger-than-life Hollywood feel; the stories we heard in LA, we wanted to capture them in the game. If the place isn’t informing what we’re doing, we’re not using it correctly.”

Given what we’ve seen of Rockstar’s ‘extreme’ sports and transportation via screenshots, the sky is the limit in more ways than one. Fortunately, players won’t have to work through endless hours of missions and introduction to see everything Los Santos has to offer. As the developers have already emphasized several times, the entire game world will be unlocked from the start, and given Trevor’s history in combat, that includes airplanes.

It remains to be seen whether the exponentially bigger world and toolset will craft a story that puts previous ones to shame, but there is certainly no shortage of ambition among those making it. And that might just be enough to make GTA V worth the wait.

Grand Theft Auto V releases in the Spring of 2013 for the PS3 and Xbox 360. A PC and Wii U release has yet to be announced.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

Source: Guardian