Fans of "Grand Theft Auto V" around the world queued for hours on Tuesday to get their hands on the latest version of the brutally violent blockbuster video game franchise.
Rockstar Games spent five years crafting the title with a rumored production budget of $270 million (202 million Euros), dwarfing the outlay on some Hollywood films.
The game sparked a stampede in the Netherlands while store shelves emptied in other countries in Asia and Europe as it went on sale.
And the time and money invested has paid off for gamers savoring the action and high-speed chases around a city styled to look like Los Angeles, according to a slew of reviews that give it top marks.
"You can really see the maturity in this version, the graphics look sensational -- it really is like being in a virtual copy of LA," said computerandvideogames.com digital manager John Houlihan.
"This really is a blockbuster that almost dwarfs the movies in some way," he told AFP, describing it as a "cultural phenomenon".
In Britain, thousands of copies were delivered to avid fans, many of whom took the day off work or college to play the game the minute it arrived.
An investigation was also launched into how copies of the game were sent out before the official release date.
Those fans who began queuing last Friday outside the HMV store in London's Oxford Street rushed to the registers and grabbed their copies to a soundtrack of high-decibel music.
In the Netherlands, there was a stampede at a shop in the southern city of Tilburg, where around 700 gamers had queued into the night.
"Everyone started pushing when the roll shutter opened, people fell over, were pushed to the ground, trampled," video game journalist Bas van Dun told Dutch media.
"A man next to me... said afterwards he almost suffocated. He was shaking with anger. This wasn't the party I was hoping for," Van Dun said.
Police said no one was injured despite the panic.
In Norway, the game received top marks in a poll, while in Sweden, Denmark and Finland copies were selling out faster than shops could stock them.
Many Swedish fans complained online that the download release was promised four days ahead of the physical release but was delayed until Sunday.
- 'The 'Sopranos' of video games' --
In 2008, Grand Theft Auto IV blew away video game and Hollywood records by taking an unprecedented $500 million in the week after its release, with fans lapping up a game that depends on carjacking, gambling and killing.
Past versions have included simulated sex with prostitutes and drunken driving and the latest version is said to contain more of the same, along with profanity-packed dialog -- not surprisingly the game has an 18+ rating in many countries.
"GTA is essentially the 'Sopranos' of video games," Tech Savvy analyst Scott Steinberg said, referring to the US cable series about the mafia.
He said "the 10-ton gorilla of video game franchises" provided an antidote for mounting pressure on console video games posed by free-to-play titles tailored for smartphones or tablets.
"Obviously, this is going to help kickstart the holiday season for the video game industry, which has taken a beating," he said.
Set in the fictional city of Los Santos based on real-world Los Angeles and its nearby hills and beaches, it is billed by the New York City-based video game publisher as the "largest and most ambitious" title in a franchise that has sold more than 114 million copies since its debut in 1997.
Versions of "GTA V" for play on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 video game consoles or personal computers powered by Windows software launched worldwide Tuesday in respective time zones.
The buying frenzy was repeated in Australia, where retailer EB Games held a midnight launch party in Sydney's World Square, featuring DJs and free burritos -- in a nod to the Burrito cargo van that appears in the series.
Even torrential rain at the event did not deter GTA diehards.
"If a storm stops you from getting your hands on GTA you ain't a die-hard fan," Ryan Nero said on Twitter.
Fans in Japan will have to wait though as the installment is not available in the key market until next month. Translation issues mean the nation's hard-core gamers can face weeks of delay for new titles.
Hisakazu Hirabayashi, of Tokyo-based consultancy firm InteractKK, said he expects Grand Theft Auto V to do well.
The franchise is popular for "a Western game", he said, noting that overseas megahits frequently disappoint in Japan in comparison with Final Fantasy or Super Mario series.
In Hong Kong, another top Asian gaming market, hard copies hit the street Tuesday although the online version won't be available until Wednesday.
"I will go get it right after school," one fan who called himself superboy12340 said on a Hong Kong online forum.