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The RPS Advent Calendar, Dec 10th: Grand Theft Auto V

Gaming's best ever city.

What is the best city of 2015? The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games from throughout the year, and behind today's door is...

Grand Theft Auto V!

Alice: I assume Adam or Graham will talk about murders and crimes and all that, so I'm going to talk to you about ponds.

I still haven't 'finished' GTA V because I kept being so distracted by things to see. Between murders and crimes, one favourite activity was to search for good swimming spots. At the time I started GTA V I was in staying Saint-Denis, far from my beloved swimming pond and... well, I drove a car half-way up a mountain (then had to run for five minutes after it plummeted down a cliff) to reach this spot:

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However, I wouldn't recommend it due to shallow water and underwater obstructions. It's a nice spot to splash about with pals then, just around the corner, is a cracking spot for sitting by yourself:

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Honestly, I'd be all over the Vinewood Cemetery pool if it were two metres deeper and the place weren't so weirdly busy:

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No, for my money, the place to swim is Los Santos Golf Club. It has beautiful landscaping and several pools, including this lovely swimming spot:

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I did do murders and crimes too. They were good fun! From what I've seen of the main story, Rockstar did an okay job of finding their fun side again and put together some cracking spectacles and setpieces. I suspect I'd grow tired of the grumbly men if I ploughed straight through the story but, as I say, I was in ponds. It is a very pleasant land to explore.

Graham: I have a thing for cities in general. When I go on holiday, it's normally not to see specific things within a city, but the city itself. To walk around and look up at its buildings, stumble down its alleyways, to get its concrete underfoot. My Tumblr feed is a scroll of photos of buildings and cityscapes and unknown backstreets. I spent two weeks of autumn with a livestream of a crosswalk from some distant metropolis running on my second monitor.

So, yeah: I have a thing for cities, and Grand Theft Auto V scratches the same itch as the real equivalents. I've spent most of my time in Los Santos avoiding the advances of Trevor, the mid-life crisis of Michael, the petulance of Franklin in favour of just walking and occasionally driving around. I like to obey the traffic laws. I like to wander up to people in conversation and listen to what they're talking about. I like to take pictures with my cameraphone.

This feels very trendy - 'Oh, you do the missions? How quaint.' - but to its credit Grand Theft Auto V improves on its predecessor when it comes to its more scripted experiences, too. The city is partly responsible; the heists and chases and robberies and other dirty crimes you undertake wouldn't be as fun as they were if the world wasn't simultaneously a playground and a functional, believable world.

Adam: There is so much that I don't like about GTA V that for it to creep into my game of the year list is testament to how much I love the other things it has to offer.

It all comes back to the city. It's embarrassing, actually, that I'm another GTA hipster. Like Graham. If we played together we'd go around the place doing photoshoots for imaginary album covers rather than committing crimes. We wouldn't even use vehicles as props in those photoshoots – they'd just be a way to get from one place to another.

And it is absolutely brilliant that we can do those things within a world that was apparently built to facilitate criminal funtimes. Considering how singleminded the series can be in its pursuit of a certain kind of queasily satirical pop culture 'n' crime story, it's astonishing how few fucks GTA V gives as to how you actually play. It's a fantastic photographer simulator, if nothing else.

It's in the places that I can see the edges of a brilliant game about urban life that I really fall in love with the game though. Commuting. Setting up an in-game Instagram. Watching life go by. Playing sports and going to the bar with friends.

What is truly remarkable is that GTA V could only be so malleable within this medium. If it were a television show or a film, it'd be so steeped in the HBO-lite swear and slurs crap that the worst of its incidental writing captures, I'd probably find it unwatchable. But, as an open world (or open city) game, GTA V lets me spend my time with the extras and the supporting cast. It lets me spend my time exploring the sets – and what magnificent sets they are – and seeing the action from whatever angle I choose.

I'd love to see a city of this size, created in this detail, featured in my constant favourite, the Truck Simulator series. I'd love to see it repurposed as a place to drive a taxi or to patrol the streets in a police car. Heck, I'd like to play paramedic or the sort of ambulance chaser that Nightcrawler captured so well (awful admission: I had planned a feature for this site written around a photo diary made in-game and based on Nightcrawler – I was too busy to finish it).

The essential beauty of GTA V is that beneath all of its surface ugliness, there is the city-based game that all of those work simulations promise and fail to deliver. It's here and it's capable of quiet drama as well as high speed spectacle.

Go here for more of our picks for the best PC games of 2015.

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