Grand Theft Auto IV

Could this be the best game of the year? We find out…

It’s been almost 10 years but the Grand Theft Auto series of games has jumped from controversy to fun and back to controversy again as the public tries to wrap their heads around the fun that Rockstar have always managed to provide.

Well the crazy Scots are at it again with the hugely anticipated Grand Theft Auto IV, a game which can’t really be confined to any one genre. It’s not just third person action, it’s also got mini-games, some element of sport, driving, social interactions, flying, and a huge portion of multiplayer thrown in there for good measure.

You’ll play as Niko Bellic, an Eastern European immigrant headed to Liberty City to escape his past in the “land of opportunity”. His cousin Roman has been writing to him telling of all the great things this place has had to offer and now Niko has come to welcome it with open arms.

Only there’s one problem: Roman has been exaggerating just that little bit and just like in previous Grand Theft Auto games, you’re going to have to make your way to the top the long and hard way.

Now it should be said that Grand Theft Auto IV is still quite similar to past GTA games. It’s still got the same open ended feel only that the city is bigger and now feels a lot more realistic as cars, drivers, and pedestrians all seem to move & respond more randomly like people and less like controlled animations.

You could easily forgive yourself for mistaking that you were walking through a real life city at some points if it weren’t for the slightly blocky graphics.

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Running on Rockstar’s RAGE engine – the same platform that powered their Table Tennis game – the city isn’t ultra-realistic in how it looks yet still feels grungy, dirty, and very city like. The graphics don’t seem to have to be exceptional or amazing in games for them to be believable, and GTA shows this. People’s faces move as if they have separate muscles, they walk with swagger, and if you crash hard enough into something, you’ll go flying out of the windshield with a smattering of blood against where you impacted.

While you might just want to say that Niko should have worn a seatbelt, all of this lends to the little bits of realism that while not entirely realistic still feel like the real thing – and that’s what matters most.

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The story is your typical “work your way through the ranks” line, but instead of just being ten or twenty hours long, you might find that you could play this game for a hundred or so hours before you even touch the multiplayer component.

That’s almost one whole working week straight of non-stop single player gameplay, which is something I wouldn’t exactly encourage you to do, but it says a lot for how much time & effort Rockstar put into this.

Being that this is the first high-definition effort of the GTA franchise, Rockstar haven’t wasted any time giving you a much bigger game. You already know how much bigger the city is and how long you’ll be playing the games, but now you get a lot more radio stations with even some in-game TV powered by the same game engine and featuring some of the funniest scripting that probably couldn’t air on a real TV without being sued.

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And if that doesn’t tell you how much there is, the multiplayer becomes the incredible cherry on the top of this layer cake as you’re given 15 multiplayer modes.

Oh, and if you have the Xbox 360 version, you’ll also be able to get downloadable content later on. Seriously, GTA IV is the biggest game I’ve seen in a long time. And while it might seem more like I’m talking about what this game has to offer instead of how good it is, you should rest assured that I’m not avoiding the bad parts not because there aren’t any but because they don’t matter.

You’ll quickly forgive how many controls you might have to remember because it’s easy to keep in the back of your head. You won’t bother worrying that it’s taking you anywhere between one hour and five to actually find enough weapons to go on a massive killing spree because if you really wanted to do that, you’d mow down pedestrians walking across the road.

You won’t even bother thinking that this feels like a chore at points, picking a friend up and dropping him off only to do that ten minutes later with someone else, because it won’t matter. You’ll be playing in the most incredible reconstruction of a virtual city to date, and while it pokes fun at everything within visible range, it still produces one of the most enjoyable experiences without sacrificing or compromising anything.

Simply put, Grand Theft Auto IV is incredible, and it’s going to take a while before any game can really do as much as Rockstar have done and rip GTA IV from its throne.

Should you buy it?: To be honest, if you haven’t bought it by now, I’m completely surprised. So yes… go out and buy now.

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Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Classification: MA15+
Formats: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
URL: Grand Theft Auto IV

Reviewed by Leigh D. Stark