|Grand Theft Auto IV|
|Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Take Two
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1, 2-16 online
Well here I go with what is probably the most pointless review of the year. Why is it pointless? Well, because if you love the GTA series you’ve already ordered/got it, and if you don’t, this certainly won’t change your mind about the record-breaking franchise.
So then, for the new generation of consoles, what’s new then? The game is set in a re-imagined Liberty City, based closely on New York City, complete with many real life buildings, structures and landmarks, albeit not in their exact geographically correct places or called their proper names. You play Niko Bellic, a Serbian veteran of the Bosnian War who comes to the United States aboard a ship called the Platypus, in search of his long lost cousin and the "American Dream". He soon falls into a life of senseless crime and violence, decides to do anything for money in order to “better” himself, and works his way to infamy and fortune along the way, in typical GTA-style.
GTA IV was always going to have a tough, nay an impossible act to follow after San Andreas, but it’s also had some notable imitators who got to the 360 first. There was Saints Row and then Just Cause, so has GTA upped the bar and extended the benchmark again? Hmm… well without falling into spoiler territory no, probably not in some ways. Unsurprisingly the play area simply isn’t as vast as San Andreas, and you can’t do as many wild and wacky activities or stunts either (no planes, no driveable trains, no jet pack, no articulated trucks, no BMX or mountain bikes, no base jumping or parachuting, Fire or Ambulance missions). You can play 10-pin bowling, darts or pool, and go to clubs, on dates to bars or restaurants, but you can’t buy a network of properties to act as a ‘save network’ as in San Andreas either, in fact I think there are only 4 safe houses in the entire game, and you lose one of those, but they are less important than before as the game autosaves after every completed mission. You can buy Niko new clothes in various outlets dotted around the city’s 3 main islands, but CJ’s eating/dieting/ workout mechanic from San Andreas is gone too (but that’s probably a good thing). Garaging vehicles has gone too now, and you simply park vehicle you want to keep in a 2-car sized space outside your abode.
I must say have a few issues with the game’s control system, which by default still has an annoying lock-on system (but thankfully, you can turn it off). I’d much rather have free aim and some “aim assist” on my side than an intrusive lock on. With the default system you can free aim all the time, but this is done by half-pressing the left trigger, and it’s too easy to press too hard during stressful shootouts, sometimes leading to you aiming in a completely different direction to where you want to – arrrgh! - bad memories of the only thing we didn't like about GTA III come flooding back... The game also seems to have at least 2 uses for every button on the joypad, depending on situation/context, which means the game is slightly confusing and fiddly at first, but you do get the hang of it, and a new in-vehicle shooting system is way better than the old, tired “drive-by” mechanic.
It was a cold morning early in the game and you can see Niko’s breath steaming. One time when I got KO’d my weapon went off as I fell to the floor and dropped it. The ragdoll effects in the game are exceptional, run someone down or fall from a motorcycle and it looks bone-crunchingly painful now, and bad guys tumble down steps and fall from ledges in pleasing ways, and bodily damage is always accompanied with realistic blood splatters. Niko’s hands feed the steering wheel of every vehicle realistically from lock to lock as you steer, and when you blow the horn, Niko pounds the centre of the wheel, just as he should. A highly-tuned supercar belches flame from the exhaust on down-changes; a junker backfires, belches smoke and loses power as you accelerate, vehicle’s engines and suspension parts are all intricately modeled, road surfaces are curved and bumpy now, no more sudden slope changes – overall there’s simply an awesome level of attention to detail. When you recover your health by eating he actually takes the food from the vendor and takes a couple of bites from it. He grumbles and tries to wipe the raindrops from his clothes when it rains. And Oh my!, the rain – simply the best rainstorms I’ve seen in a game yet, as the streets glisten, slick and slippery and fast driving becomes even more dangerous.
And there’s more, much more… GTA III made me sigh with pleasure the first time it rained and afterwards a rainbow was visible, and the weather as a whole really looks realistic now. Sunny, foggy, rainy, sunrise, pitch dark, sunset all look the part, even if sometimes around 8pm things seem to go a bit Technicolor golden as the sun sets, or as bleak and grey as a monochrome movie when it’s rainy.
As in day to day modern life, cell phones play an important part in the game, and early on your cousin Roman gives you one. It soon becomes the hub of your game, and you become as reliant on it as many people are in real life. You can call people (everyone in LC seems to have one), arrange dates, reply to messages, get jobs, organise races, retry missions and it’s even used to access the multiplayer mode. The internet is also an unavoidable evil, and Niko uses the Internet cafés around the city (once again amusingly called ‘Tw@t’) to surf the net, send/receive emails, get more jobs/missions and arrange dates with dubious females. The whole thing is done in a wonderfully realistic and humourous way, complete with dodgy sites, pyramid scheme spam and phishing. You can use the police computer in a stolen cop car for various activities too. You can’t just steal a taxi and use it to earn money anymore, but taxis play a huge part in the game in a different way. Now you can hail one and get it to take you to any of the characters or notable destinations in the game, or even to a waypoint of your own choosing. You can have the driver go at a normal speed, or ask him to hurry, but you take your life in you hands with this, as their driving ability – just like most real taxi drivers – isn’t always up to driving fast in traffic. You can even simply ‘skip’ the journey for an extra charge making taxis a virtual “warp mode” if you really can’t stand the thought of driving from one end of the vast city to the other, or are just in a hurry.
There are fifteen different game types;
Team Deathmatch, where 2-8 teams compete to accumulate the most kills in a traditional deathmatch type game.
GTA’s famous wit and irreverence thankfully remains intact (I noticed a street called Guantanamo Avenue, Koresh Square and the Empire State Building is called the “Rotterdam Tower”). It has some laugh-out-loud moments during the story (Ricky Gervais appears at the comedy club and on the radio) and on the ubiquitous radio programmes (GTA stalwart Lazlow is back). The radio stations and a varied soundtrack are as much a part of the GTA games as cars & guns, and Liberty City has 18 (!) this time around. I don’t think the soundtrack is quite as good as some in the past, but songs by such notables as Queen, Thin Lizzy, Bob Marley, The Sisters of Mercy, John Coltrane, The Who, Black Sabbath, Kanye West, Smashing Pumpkins, Busta Rhymes, Aphex Twin, Elton John, R.E.M, Barry White and ZZ Top caught my ear, and as always there’s something to appeal to everyone – even a Jazz station.
So anyway, to the crux of the matter. Yes it’s violent, slightly sexy - even nasty at times and gratuitously so, but let’s all just remember it’s a just a GAME, and a game that you miss to your detriment as a rounded gamer and normal member of society. GTA IV is quite simply another masterful piece of escapism and entertainment from Rockstar. I expect that many, many drinks will go cold, and meals and appointments will be missed thanks to it. The stonking multiplayer game could keep you and your mates occupied for months alone – but so could the story mode if you don’t plough straight through it, and hunt down all of the hidden items and achievements (and of course there’s episodic DLC (downloadable content) to come as well), prolonging GTA’s often imitated but unique ability to provide a life consuming, day-disappearing sandbox. It’s that good a game. No, I’ll qualify that statement: it’s THE game. The game of the year, no doubt.
- Violence, humour, fast cars, fast bikes and fast women…
- …And helicopters
- And guns
- Sounds amazing
- Great soundtrack and radio chatter
- Genre-defining multiplayer mode
- A few frame rate stutters and pop up
|Grand Theft Auto IV:
The Bradygames Signature Series Guide
A game as good as Grand Theft Auto IV deserves a good companion, and here it is. This beautifully produced guide book will help you find all the secrets, all the hidden weapons and give you some handy tips and strategies if you want them as well.
It'd be easy to spoil a even a game as big as GTA IV with a clumsy guide, so serious gamers often treat them with caution, distain or even ridicule. But Bradygames have 10 years' experience and have been careful to arrange the guide so that things for general play that you may want to use often (like the maps), well apart from the main story guide. If you don't want any story "spoilers" it's entirely possible to get help finding a handy armour or rocket launcher without ever encountering the pages that walk you through the main story missions.
But... if you do need help then this guide really pays for itself, with every single secret item, weapon and vehicle placed on the detailed maps. Every single character in the game - even the random ones - have been carefully given their own sections that detail their involvements and walk you through their individual missions.
With a guide to Xbox 360 achievements, the multiplayer modes and even tips on how to please Niko's girlfriends (ooh - er!) I found it hard to find fault with this GTA 'bible'. The guide also never feels the need to be 'platform specific' so PS3 owners are just as well catered for - this surely makes it a must buy for all serious fans and completists.