San Francisco - Unabashedly brutal Grand Theft Auto V hit the streets Tuesday in a sequel that promises to enthrall fans of the blockbuster videogame franchise.
Rockstar Games spent five years crafting the title and the time has paid off for gamers, according to a slew of reviews giving it 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 in a 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 launched worldwide Tuesday in respective time zones.
Midnight release events were planned at shops in an array of countries to let GTA lovers snap up the game the instant Tuesday arrives.
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 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.