Unabashedly brutal "Grand Theft Auto V" hits the streets Tuesday in a sequel that promises to enthral fans of the blockbuster videogame franchise.
Rockstar Games spent five years crafting the new instalment and the time has paid off for gamers, according to a slew of reviews giving the title top marks.
"GTA V has been worth the five-year wait," said computerandvideogames.com digital manager John Houlihan.
"You can really see the maturity in this version, the graphics look sensational -- it really is like being in a virtual copy of LA."
GTA V is set in a fictional city of Los Santos based on real-world Los Angeles and its nearby hills and beaches.
The videogame franchise has won legions of fans and cadres of critics with game play in which triumph depends on acts such as carjacking, gambling and killing.
Play in Grand Theft Auto games has included simulated sex with prostitutes and drunken driving. The latest version is said by reviewers to be rife with more of the same, along with profanity-packed dialog.
"GTA is essentially the 'Sopranos' of videogames," Tech Savvy analyst Scott Steinberg said, making a reference to a hugely popular US cable television series centered on Mafia characters.
"Everyone talks about the series as violent, but compared to what you are seeing in the movies and on television GTA is relatively tame. Certainly, it is a mature game for mature audiences ."
GTA V is billed by the New York City-based videogame publisher as the "largest and most ambitious" title to date in the franchise that has sold more than 114 million copies since its debut in 1997.
"Grand Theft Auto V builds on everything we've learned about open world gaming," said Rockstar founder Sam Houser.
Versions of "GTA V" for play on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 videogame consoles or personal computers powered by Windows software will launch worldwide Tuesday in respective time zones.
There were reports on Monday that Amazon accidentally delivered copies of the videogame to lucky gamers in Britain who had placed early orders online.
Midnight release events were planned at shops in an array of countries to let GTA lovers snap up the game the instant Tuesday arrives.
"There has been a huge buzz about the game," Rashaan Walker told AFP as the clock ticked down on a midnight launch event at the San Francisco area Best Buy shop where he is a sales supervisor.
"We've had tons of people asking about it."
Walker, a 26-year-old GTA fan, had in mind to stick around after the end of his shift to pick up a copy of the game.
"It's exciting," Walker said while explaining his love of the series. "In this one you can go online and bring together a clique of friends and do terrorizing and doing whatever you want."
He was also keen to see how the overarching storyline of the series progresses. In a new approach used in GTA 5, gamers take on the roles of three different main characters whose paths eventually merge.
"This really is a blockbuster that almost dwarfs the movies in some way," Houlihan told AFP.
"GTA V is really a cultural phenomenon. You'll find people tonight queueing around the block to play it, people taking days if not the whole week off work to explore this vast virtual world."
Houlihan said it was rumored that the production budget for the game was in the vicinity of $270 million.
The franchise's appeal is fueled by captivating story lines and an open-world format that lets players go wherever they wish in game worlds.
"It gives you a complete virtual playground to go and explore," Houlihan said.
"You can rob banks or you can do a yoga lesson or you can fly a plane or you can play tennis or you can do what I sometimes do which is just wander round the world in a really flashy car and listen to some of the hilarious radio stations -- so there really is everything for you to explore, it's a world of possibility."
The game will also let people play with or against one another online.
Rockstar, which is owned by Take-Two Interactive, said that GTA V "focuses on the pursuit of the almighty dollar" in a re-imagined Southern California.
Grand Theft Auto IV blew away videogame and Hollywood records by raking in an unprecedented $500 million in the week after its release in April 2008.
"GTA is the 10-ton gorilla of videogame franchises," Steinberg said. "Obviously, this is going to help kickstart the holiday season for the videogame industry, which has taken a beating."
While console videogames have faced mounting pressure from free-to-play titles tailored for smartphones or tablets, there is "still room for blockbuster Hollywood-style games," according to the analyst.