LONDON (AFP) – Fans of “Grand Theft Auto V” on Tuesday got their first chance to play the latest version of the brutally violent blockbuster video game franchise after many queued for hours to buy it.
Rockstar Games spent five years crafting the title with a rumored production budget of $270 million (202 million euros), dwarfing the outlay on some Hollywood films.
The game sparked a stampede in the Netherlands while store shelves emptied in other countries in Asia and Europe as soon as it went on sale.
In Britain, a man was stabbed and had his copy stolen minutes after he picked it up in a supermarket.
For hundreds of thousands of fans around the world of the high-speed chases around a city styled to look like Los Angeles, the time and money invested in the new version has paid off, according to a slew of reviews that give it top marks.
“You can really see the maturity in this version, the graphics look sensational — it really is like being in a virtual copy of LA,” said computerandvideogames.com digital manager John Houlihan.
“This really is a blockbuster that almost dwarfs the movies in some way,” he told AFP, describing it as a “cultural phenomenon”.
In Britain, thousands of copies were delivered to avid fans, many of whom took the day off to play the game the minute it arrived from online retailers.
An investigation was also launched into how copies of the game were sent out before the official release date.
A 23-year-old man who bought one of the first copies on sale in Britain was stabbed, hit with a brick and robbed of the game after leaving a supermarket in north London.
Those who began queuing last Friday outside the HMV store in London’s Oxford Street grabbed their copies to a soundtrack of high-decibel music.
In the Netherlands, there was a stampede at a shop in the southern city of Tilburg, where around 700 gamers had queued into the night.
“Everyone started pushing when the roll shutter opened, people fell over, were pushed to the ground, trampled,” video game journalist Bas van Dun told Dutch media.
“A man next to me… said afterwards he almost suffocated. He was shaking with anger. This wasn’t the party I was hoping for,” Van Dun said.
Police said no one was injured despite the panic.
In Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland copies were selling out faster than shops could stock them.
In 2008, Grand Theft Auto IV blew away video game and Hollywood records by taking an unprecedented $500 million in the week after its release, with fans lapping up a game that depends on carjacking, gambling and killing.
Past versions have included simulated sex with prostitutes and drunken driving and the latest is said to contain more of the same, along with profanity-packed dialogue.
While the game’s creators make no secret of its violent content, a Swedish politician questioned its ethos.
Christian Democrat politician Anders Bergsten told AFP the game featured “a psychopath character who kills for pure entertainment” and said he was concerned at the ease with which young children could get around the 18-plus age limit placed on it in many countries.
“The player identifies with a very violent person and carries out violent acts themselves. Why should it be considered entertainment to kill other people?” Bergsten said.
“GTA is essentially the ‘Sopranos’ of video games,” Tech Savvy analyst Scott Steinberg said, referring to the U.S. cable series about the mafia.
He said “the 10-ton gorilla of video game franchises” provided an antidote for mounting pressure on console video games posed by free-to-play titles tailored for smartphones or tablets.
“Obviously, this is going to help kickstart the holiday season for the video game industry, which has taken a beating,” he said.
Set in the fictional city of Los Santos, it is billed by the New York City-based video game publisher as the “largest and most ambitious” title in a franchise that has sold more than 114 million copies since its debut in 1997.
The buying frenzy was repeated in Australia, where retailer EB Games held a midnight launch party in Sydney, featuring DJs and free burritos — in a nod to the Burrito cargo van that appears in the game.
Fans in Japan will have to wait though as the instalment is not available until next month. Translation issues mean the nation’s hard-core gamers can face weeks of delay for new titles.
Hisakazu Hirabayashi, of Tokyo-based consultancy firm InteractKK, said he expects Grand Theft Auto V to do well.
The franchise is popular for “a Western game”, he said, noting that overseas megahits frequently disappoint in Japan.
Photo Credit: AFP/Leon Neal