Its bloodline glimmers with hints and homages to The Wire, The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. The inheritance from these shows isn't just in style and tone - bloody, profane, wise-cracking, socially acute, satirical dialogue, realistic milieux, taboo-breaking content - but in form too. Those three big US long-form shows now stand as the apotheosis of "good TV". Britain and America are currently gripped with Breaking Bad fever as the five-series show nears its climax. Critics fall over themselves to praise Breaking Bad for its Shakespearean characters; academics are writing serious papers on whether TV shows like these are effectively doing the same job as the novel and giving us deep detailed worlds with character arcs and themes that movie-makers can't aspire to in 90 minutes or two hours.
Old, culturally pure, stick-in-the-muds can't get their heads around the fact that games are now almost as legitimate an art form as the novel, the movie, the play. That "almost" is important though. Intellectually, of course, the game still lags behind, but only because of its youth and inexperience. In a few decades - probably less - no-one will doubt that games have a significant role to play in culture. It is getting to the point where people without a games console will soon be missing out on important cultural experiences - it will be like not having a television set in the 1960s or a radio in the 1930s.
Films were dismissed in the 1920s as culturally inferior, and in the 1940s and 1950s TV was the very definition of plebian. Times change, but human desire for story and entertainment don't, no matter what the format.
GTA V, though, isn't just a child of great TV, the spirit of dark, edgy writers such as Charles Bukowski, Hubert Selby Jnr, Chuck Palahniuk and noir's poet of the psychopath Jim Thompson also imbue the game. It is shot through with a burned-out, soul-sick, dissipated, mocking, hard-boiled amoral spirit; it delights in pushing the player's psychic buttons. If you've got a limit, then I'm afraid you are going there and then some. Does racism upset you? Sexism? Pornography? Ultra-violence? Glamourising of drugs? You had better not play. Don't come here if you are easily offended. It's an 18-rated game - for grown-ups who aren't looking for morality but exhibition and grotesquerie, for a little old fashioned Theatre of Cruelty … with jokes. Just as Selby Jnr and Palahniuk deliberately rub the reader's nose in underclass horror and grand guignol comic violence, and Bukowski and Thompson celebrate the most depraved of anti-heroes, GTA V glories in pain as a beautiful bloodsoaked ballet.
No-one is good - everyone is corrupt, deficient, weak, emotionally or physically crippled, on the make and vile. Throw in pitch-perfect acting, artwork that is breath-taking - has anyone who's played this game not stood and just looked at the scenery at times? - and a constant flow of whip-sharp comic dialogue that owes more than a little to Quentin Tarantino at his best, and you have a bona fide barnstormer of a game.
Like the best pulp fiction - for that is what this is - the plot is both simple and complex at the same time: three crooks get together and all hell breaks loose. That is the heart of the tale, though that plain story is wrapped in a labyrinthine narrative which makes noir classics such as Double Indemnity and Dead On Arrival look weak when it comes to twists and turns. There's Franklin, a black ghetto kid straight from The Wire; he's decent at heart - maybe the only decent person in the game, but greedy too, and will do anything to make "paper". There's Mike - so close to Tony Soprano he even has his own shrink and muses on the concept of gangster v goodness. And finally there is the feral, Dionysian heart of the game: Trevor. Now, no head-stomping, torturing, mass-murdering skanky crime lord should ever be called Trevor, but this one is - and he could've stepped right off the page in the Mexican cartel scenes from Breaking Bad. He is a simple soul really: a mentally ill meth cook with a long line in sexual threats. He is also the character who features in the most controversial of all GTA V scenes - where the player must torture a victim in full glorious technicolour with no soul-salving cut-away.
But you came to GTA V for the torture, for the strippers, the drugs, the murders, the robberies. If you say otherwise you're a liar. No-one plays GTA for the driving. Like all dark art, GTA does something for us. Ever wonder why all those rat-a-tat-tat gangster movies with Jimmy Cagney were huge in the Depression? It's part revenge fantasy, part catharsis - and GTA V gives free rein to the monsters of the Id, the blackest thoughts and desires hiding in your subconscious.
As a game, it suffers from longueurs at the start as the player gets used to the mechanics. Don't be put off by yet another set piece of "drive here, do that, drive back again", it'll soon be over, and you'll need to have the hang of handling a car to play the game fully. You'll quickly be arranging five-man heists and shooting it out with cops to your heart's content, so fear not.
The one major draw-back, though, is the lack of rounded female characters. Games need to draw more women in, not exclude them, and GTA V could have fixed all that with a gun-toting ghetto princess or a criminal genius in Louboutin sling-backs. That might have evened the count a little when it comes to the slightly queasy feeling that the endless sexualisation of women by the game's male characters leaves the player with. But then you could say the same about Hitchcock or Hemingway, couldn't you?
Sometimes, though, this is a game that you don't even need to play, let alone worry about morally - leave the game running in the background while you potter about. If you're partial to a little broad and crude social satire then the Louis CK-style evisceration of the likes of Facebook, Steve Jobs, the political left, the political right, the war on drugs, abortion, religion, the lottery, and every other silly little facet of modern life will tickle you. Or just tune into the in-game music - Britney Spears, Rihanna, Pulp, Snoop Dogg, Stevie Wonder, Black Flag, Pet Shop Boys, NWA, Muse. How the hell did Scottish developer Rockstar North afford all this? I'm glad they did though - shooting six Swat team cops and then robbing a jewellery store to the strains of Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street last night was pretty damn cool. Tonight, I bomb a bank …