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I normally hate those T-shirts with iconic collections of folk on them. You know the sort... 'John, Paul, George & Ringo'. 'Ross, Rachel, Monica, Joey, Chandler & Phoebe'. 'Frank, Pat, Bianca & RIIICKY'. Alright, 'iconic' might be a bit of a stretch with that last one. The point is, thanks to my continuing, seven- year-long obsession with GTA 5, I'm seriously considering having a 'Michael, Trevor, Franklin, & Dave Meikleheim' tee made up.
Almost a decade on, I'm still utterly besotted with Grand Theft Auto 5. Rockstar's open-world masterpiece recently hit Xbox Game Pass, and seeing as I've previously only ever played the Los Santos epic on PC and a certain rival console – naughty, I know – that's all the excuse I need to dive back into what may well be my favourite video game of all time.
GTA 5's story missions are still the best in the biz. Not a single sandbox competitor can match the drum-tight pacing, inventiveness or murdery spectacle the Blaine County adventure produces again and again over its 69 missions. But the real X factor separating GTA 5 from the rest of the open-world pack? Its trio of criminal chums, that's what.
God, I love switching between them. The first mission that lets you swap out Michael, Trevor and Franklin is 'Three's Company'; a daring daytime caper that sees the felons attempting to pluck a witness straight out of the IAA's headquarters. The first part of the audacious kidnap requires Trevor's mad whirlybird skills to land on the roof of The agency's cloud- scraping office.
Next up it's Michael's chance to hog the homicidal limelight as he abseils down the building, smashes through a window to grab the target, then busts out his best Max Payne impression during a suspended slow-mo shootout. To assist with the IAA slaughter, you can also switch to Franklin who's squatting on the roof of the adjacent FIB headquarters armed with a sniper rifle and one seriously itchy trigger finger. Faced with such unblinking teamwork, those snivelling government cronies never had a hope.
Of heists and men
As the story stakes escalate the criminal-swapping escapades become more and more elaborate. Just take 'The Paleto Score'. One of GTA 5's headline-hogging heists, this multitiered mission has the Los Santos cohorts ripping off a bank in a backwater town filled with corrupt cops. Cue a frankly insane job involving full body armour suits, a minigun spree that obliterates several police cars before downing a copper chopper, an escape in a bulldozer of all things, before a final shootout in where else? Why, a Cluckin' Bell chicken factory. Naturally. Nail Trevor's, Franklin's and Michael's individual roles and a cool $8,016,020 take swells your criminal coffers. It's a mission of absurd spectacle that I bloody adore.
There's something inherently freeing in being able to chop and change between three very different characters. Not only does each of the trio's special abilities increase your tactical options when you're causing mayhem on the streets of LS, but it feeds into a quasi role-playing mechanic that allows you to take control of these crooks in a way that reflects their personalities.
I've played through GTA 5's story at least five times – yes, I've clearly lost the run of myself... for the umpteenth time – and every time the faeces hits the fan in these multi-man missions, it's Trevor I switch to when death needs dishing out. Sure, his health- boosting 'rampage' power isn't as useful in a pinch as Michael's slow-mo shooting, but then again, I just don't see De Santa having that kind of consistent carnage in him. Thanks to GTA 5's criminal-swapping capers, I'm given the freedom to roleplay Franklin as the cool-headed getaway driver, Michael as the ice-veined cover-fire enforcer and Trevor as the unapologetic psycho who tips his cap to earlier entries' thirst for cop- swatting rampages.
Shortly after Red Dead Redemption 2 was announced, I hoped its debut trailer hinted that we'd get to play as the entire Van Der Linde gang. As it turned out, Rockstar's epic Western settled on just two characters, and such focus was ultimately to its story's benefit. More introspective than GTA 5, Arthur Morgan's frontier tale wouldn't have meshed well with chop-and-swap firefights. Still, all these years later, I can't get enough of the trio. Keep the Magnificent Seven; I've got the Los Santos Three.