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Grand Theft Auto IV Review

Grand Theft Auto IV pack shot
Developer:RockStar
Publisher:2K Games
Platform:Xbox 360
Official Site:http://www.rockstargames.com/IV
Release Date:April 29th, 2008 (UK)
Reviewer:Andy Hemphill (Bandit)
 
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Usually I don't care for games that feature enormous advertising campaigns. There's something I just can't trust about a company who feel the need to big up their software to improve the sales, it usually means the game itself is sorely lacking. But with GTA 4, I feel I can make an exception. This game lives up to the hype, and then some.

Let's start small. Your character, Niko Bellic, is an immigrant to the heavily New York influenced town of Liberty City. Attracted to the bright lights and empty promises from his cousin Roman, he leapt on the next trawler to cross the seas, hoping to leave his troubled past behind.

As it turns out, Roman was 'twisting' the truth a little. There was no penthouse suite, no easy money and no bright future, just the dirt and grime of America's worst city and the shattered American dream. The only way is up for Niko Bellic, and the plot only gets more exciting and convoluted as the game goes on. Now that I've set the scene, let's get down to the brass tacks of GTA 4, and there is just too much to cover in one review, but I'll try.

This game is huge; Liberty City is as large and diverse as New York itself, featuring the dizzying highs and lows of the capital of sin. Although the map is smaller than it was in GTA San Andreas, every single space is full of highly detailed buildings, roads and beautifully rendered trash-filled seas.

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Your first home, the run down hovel of Broker (Brooklyn) is a dizzying nest of dirty streets and rumbling train tracks. But over the course of the game, just about every environment you can think of becomes available, from the open streets of Alderney to the dirty industrial buildings of Bohan (The Bronx) to the calm and jogger infested serenity of 'Middle Park' (Central Park.)

The many miles of roads, highways and quiet lanes all have a different feel, and are strewn with the detritus of the city-dumpsters, bums and bag after bag of rubbish. In truth, the city itself is the real star of GTA 4. Each citizen walks the streets with an agenda of their own, and you would be hard pressed to find any single person more than once. They walk, talk, interact and swear at each other with the kind of venom you would expect from a real New Yorker, and they don't take kindly to being pushed: knock someone over and they'll pick themselves up and come back for more.

The classic GTA 'why aren't there any cars when I need one' flaw has been fixed, as the city is filled with everything from dump trucks to the ever popular Infernus sports cars, and they pick up the dirt of the city as you use them, you can even take them through a car wash. Plus, if you jack a parked car, you might have to hotwire it in a hurry. And if you run it into something, you can easily end up with smashed headlights and no way of easily navigating the dense streets of the city.

The cars themselves feel a lot more realistic and show the damage they take as you go along. They are also easier to handle and driving gun-battles are common- Niko will smash the window out from the inside and unleash hell from the drivers' seat at the press of a button, and if you flip the car, don't worry, they don't explode anymore. In fact, overturned cars often come in handy for cover in a tense fire-fight.

As for the gunplay, this has had a major overhaul since our last trip to Liberty City. A cover mechanic similar to Gears of War has been added, and you can blind fire and dodge from cover to cover with ease. Aiming is no longer a case of mashing a button, pull the left trigger lightly and you can free aim. Pull it strongly and you lock on to the nearest target and can selectively aim your bullets. After so many botched San-Andreas shootouts it is surprisingly refreshing to be able to win a gunfight with ease. But if the gunplay gets a little out of hand, don't be surprised if the LCPD come racing to the scene. In fact, if you fire in a civilian area, you can hear people ringing the cops on their cell-phones and calling for help: a mistake I usually reward with a bullet to the kneecaps.

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The cops this time around are even more dogged in their pursuit of you, and they practice a mentality of 'shoot first, shoot later, shoot some more and then ask a question' a mentality that often causes some major issues when you shoot back. Rather than pursuing you all over the city, avoiding the police this time means getting out of a 'search area' on your radar and laying low. While this can be tricky when there are helicopters in the air, it is a lot easier than it used to be.

Steal a police cruiser and you can still do vigilante missions, but this time you find the criminals using the police computer database, which you can use to track a specific target, or just go for the nearest crime. While Ambulance and Fire Engine missions have been removed from this game, they're still around, and using the water cannon on the nearest civilians never gets old.

As for the taking to the sky, you can still fly several different types of helicopter, including a mean Blackhawk gunship, but parachutes and fixed wing aircraft have been removed from the game, which is a shame, because it would be a lot of fun to parachute onto a building with a sniper rifle and raise hell on the streets.

Graphically, the game is a step ahead of its predecessors. Everything in the game's world is beautifully rendered, from the cars to the sidewalks and the facial animations are accurate and genuinely humorous. Niko can still buy new clothes from different shops, but he can't change his hair or body size, as Rockstar has removed all the 'fluff' from the game to focus on the best aspects, and have instead given the genre a whole new dimension - communication.

Niko has a cell-phone, which stores the numbers of everyone you can hang out with, and as well as being able to go out on dates, your friends are only a call away if you fancy playing bowling or darts or going to any one of the bars, strip clubs or comedy shows that litter the city and feature some genuinely entertaining acts. The cell-phone also features an organiser all the other abilities you would expect, including text messages that allow you to quickly restart a mission if you fail it. But the most important thing about the phone is that it is the key to the one of the best multiplayer games I have ever played.

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Rockstar, in an effort to elevate themselves into legend, has given the needy gamers what we've been asking for- a massive multiplayer game within the single player experience.

Up to 16 players can take part in frenzied gameplay in over ten different modes, from races to team deathmatch to a popular mode called 'cops and crooks' which sees one team racing to get away from the dogged pursuit of the other team and their police cruisers. Plus, there are so many customisation options that just about any game mode is possible, and any part of the city can be played in.

My personal favourite is 'free mode,' which allows you and your friends free reign over Liberty City, so you can maim, race and crash to your heart's content, with everything that you can use in the single player- so a helicopter gunship tearing down a street with four gunners on board is rapidly becoming a common sight. The only downside is the lack of a multiplayer lobby- if you go into a game and get kicked or the connection fails, you get taken back to the single player mode and have to dial it in all over again- a process that starts to grate on your fun very quickly.

The music is as good as ever in the game, featuring all the usual artists and DJ's, including the ever-popular Lazlow and his unique brand of talk show. Plus, if you hear a song you like, you can ring a number on your phone and find out what it is so you can find it in the real world, or you can stop by the Tw@t internet café and look it up.

Summary

Without a doubt, this is one of the best games I have ever played, Rockstar have truly outshone themselves and provided everything that a gamer could possibly want in one box. The tiniest of details have been meticulously built, from the way Niko runs down stairs to the constant buzz of the A Train's power lines. This is truly a living, breathing city, and if you don't buy this game, you will be missing out on a piece of gaming history.

The bottom line
9.5 / 10

Good stuff

  • Fantastic Multiplayer
  • Attention to detail is amazing
  • Brilliant story
  • Fun to play and easy to follow
  • One of the best games I've ever played

Not so good stuff

  • Missing fire and ambulance missions
  • No Multiplayer lobby
  • No fixed wing aircraft or parachutes
  • Some graphical issues when the console is pushed


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