IT has been four years in the making at a cost of £170 million and it has been criticised for its graphic, violent images, but nothing will stop video game fans queuing up at midnight tonight to get their hands on the first copies of the much-anticipated Grand Theft Auto V.

As controversial as it is successful, it is predicted to become the country's fastest-selling game, with internet retailer Amazon reportedly sold out of pre-ordered copies.

That translates into sales of 25 million copies worldwide in the first year, generating £1 billion.

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A game changer in the lucrative market, Grand Theft Auto V has created as much excitement as a new Bond movie and is the latest instalment in a franchise that has sold more than 100 million copies since it was first developed in Edinburgh in 1997 by Rockstar North.

Most production still takes place in the original studio that made the first title back in 1997.

Originally called Race'n'Chase, the video game had poor graphics and was released to mixed reviews.

Rockstar North has reportedly allocated three million copies for the UK launch; one-quarter of all combined Xbox 360 and PS3 owners in the country.

Called the most exciting event in the entertainment calendar, the release of the game is expected to reach levels of excitement similar to Harry Potter and Twilight with many gamers booking the day off work to immerse themselves in the brave new world of Grand Theft Auto V.

Branches of Game stores in Scotland will sell the game to customers from midnight tonight, with many stores opening early again at 8.30am tomorrow to meet demand.

Damian Murray, manager of G Force Games in Glasgow's Union Street, expects queues when the shop sells Grand Theft Auto V tomorrow.

"It is popular with all ages and there are hardcore players who will take not just the day, but the week, off work to play this game," he said.

"This is going to be the biggest year for gaming, not just for the Auto series but the release of Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles."

Players take on the role of a criminal in a fictional US city and rise through the ranks of organised crime with action-adventure and shootouts along the way in the 18-certificate game.

The latest version follows three criminals as they steal, shoot and shop their way through the fictional city of Los Santos, a satirical spin on modern-day Los Angeles.

The game's co-writer Dan Houser has said it is based on a theme of fading Hollywood and has filled it with failed actors, drug-soaked producers and film world hangers-on.

"We just wandered around LA," he said.

"Our researchers did an incredible job of finding us some of the strangest people: retired cops, former FBI agents, entrepreneurs who'd retired on a massive fund of money at 28, people who specialised in knowing the underworld of LA - and everyone in between."

The game has been criticised for its dark, violent themes that take characters on a crime spree and offer diversions to strip clubs, where they can buy virtual prostitutes, swear, smoke drugs and drink and drive.

Parents and children's charities have hit out at the explicit content and re-opened the debate about the effect of violent content on children.

The Grand Theft Auto series has accumulated sales of 135 million copies since its 1997 debut.

GTA IV has reportedly sold more than 25 million copies since it was released in 2008.

According to Jevon Farr, a fan of the game who is involved in community site, the attraction of Grand Theft Auto is in the freedom it offers gamers. "It's the humour, the atmosphere, multiple concurrent protagonists, a gigantic and detailed world map, a dynamic economy, elaborate customisations and a multi-player mode that becomes self-perpetuating with user-generated content."

Grand Theft Auto changed the whole format of gaming when it introduced the third-person view, from directly behind the character. Previous games used the open world element that allowed characters to roam freely rather on a set path.

Queueing up at midnight tonight isn't an option for some who have already illegally downloaded the games after it became available through torrent websites, though they face the prospect of a ban by Microsoft if they are caught.