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Grand Theft Auto IV UK Review
Liberty City returns in the most immersive GTA yet.
by Martin Robinson, IGN UK
UK, April 25, 2008 - How can Grand Theft Auto IV ever live up to the expectations bestowed upon it? From its first unveiling over a year ago, hype levels have been steadily escalating towards the stratosphere, and surely it would be impossible for Rockstar to satiate the lust of those deprived of a fresh Grand Theft Auto experience for nearly four years?
It's clear that this iteration of Grand Theft Auto is a markedly different beast to its predecessor San Andreas, and whatever your feelings about the last outing there's no doubting the series' new direction works towards creating a more immersive experience. Nearly all vestiges of videogame signifiers have been shorn away and for once it's perfectly valid to state that playing the game is akin to watching a cinema blockbuster. The HUD has been refined, appearing only when Niko is engaged in action, and the omnipresent map at the bottom left of the screen is often all that remains to remind onlookers that this is an interactive entertainment.
Videogame artefacts such as hidden packages have been omitted – though those who have a fetish for collecting need not worry, as in their place is a series of collectables of a more naturalised manner - and the jumps that have long marked out the Grand Theft Auto games are more subtly implemented. Indeed, it was only after a few hours play that we realised they were still there, so well camouflaged they were amidst the architecture of Liberty City.
The explosions are truly breathtaking, leaving impressive smoke trails in their wake.
And what a creation the city is. Grand Theft Auto IV's Liberty City is one of the finest worlds we've seen in gaming since we gallivanted around the Hyrule of Ocarina of Time. It's a world that lives and breathes with its own authenticity, and with an effortlessness that has rarely been glimpsed in gaming to date. A storm comes in and the lighting engine paints the streets of Broker with a melancholic taint, with passers-by erecting their umbrellas in the downpour and those more ill prepared raise their suitcases above their heads and run for cover, while in the background a lone saxophonist plays under the shelter of a band stand. The sun shines and the streets burst into life, light rays bouncing off the pavement and glistening over the bonnets of traffic. The level of detail informs every aspect of Liberty City, with even the most secluded alleyway exuding its own atmosphere and conspiring to make Grand Theft Auto IV's world one of the most complete witnessed to date.
This whole world is painted with its own distinct perspective - yes, this is a more realistic Grand Theft Auto than ever before, but it's also one of the most stylised entries, with a filter applied to the graphics attaining an effect that's akin to pointillism and at times can seem almost impressionistic. That's not to say there aren't occasional dips in framerate or texture creep, but none of this ever impinges on what is undoubtedly one of the most achingly beautiful videogame creations to date.
The HUD never proves intrusive to the action.
Above all it's a gritty creation, with the more down to earth and grimy nature of Niko's story reflected in each brick that builds Liberty City. At the beginning of the game, when confined to the Broker District by a terrorist threat, Niko can take a peek at what lies ahead of him in his quest, his view of the peaks of the skyscrapers of Algonquin filtered through the dirt of Liberty City that blights the lens. These details stretch to the interiors as well – this is a world of squalor, and no more is that evident than when climbing a flight of stairs to Niko's first abode in the slums of Broker, the strip lights humming and a muffled television audible through the door of a neighbouring flat.
This Liberty City is unmistakably a mirror image of contemporary New York, and with this fresh focus Rockstar has delivered one of its most potent satires yet. From the terrorist alert that initially locks down the city to the feeds from Weasel News that beautifully ape a certain real-life feral news service reporting on Niko's more outlandish escapades, to the mayoral election that is so brutally fought out over the airwaves between the fictional Michael Graves and John Hunter, it's never too difficult to ascertain the real-life sources for Grand Theft Auto IV's swipes. It's evident too in the bastardised internet that is accessible to Niko, which proves a deepening rabbit hole of increasingly hilarious skits on the online generation as you click through the countless sites on offer. The cultural references come from far and wide, one radio advert beckoning down the citizens of Liberty City to a show from the artists Simon & Miguel who uncannily resemble our own Gilbert & George in their pursuit of the eccentric. These satires stretch beyond the radio waves, with Niko able to unwind after a hard day's killing by settling down in front of the goggle box, and amidst the spoof history channels and histrionic chat shows we're sure we saw a none too subtle swipe at the Master Chief.
Of course no matter with what splendor the world has been created it's nothing without the means with which to explore it, and here Rockstar have supplied the most exquisite toolbox seen in an open world game. The euphoria physics engine takes centre stage, granting the world a physicality that connects players with the world to an unprecedented level. Niko feels more a part of his world than any other protagonist in a Grand Theft Auto title, be he brushing pedestrians aside or vaulting fences in an attempt to flee the police.
Combat proves a triumph as well, the new cover system flourishing gun fights with a level of sophistication that matches any other current generation shooter. The lock-on works reliably to snatch onto the nearest threat, and for those that prefer their shooting a little more freeform a light press of the trigger will enable free aim. Likewise, the cover system works as well as any of its peers, hugging Niko to any in game object and gifting fire fights with a much appreciated new depth.
Liberty City's friendly doctor at hand.
With its extended subtleties, the new wanted system also substantially alters the way the game is played when Niko is under heat. As the stars escalate, so too does the circle on the map, accentuating the thrill of a chase as Niko desperately races to escape the area and seek respite. Find yourself submitting to the chasing police and Niko is granted one final get-out clause, with a swift button tap elevating him from his knees to maintain the pursuit.
Behind the wheel, the vehicles handling lends itself to more cinematic driving, the rear end of the majority of vehicles having a propensity to hang out to a degree which can be initially galling. It soon emerges that a more subtle approach is required to negotiating the right angles of Algonquin or the swerves and inclines of the later Aldernay isle, and it's no longer possible to fling a car around with blithe abandon. The extended detail of Liberty City also affects the way cars are used, with each road now adorned with its own texture which the car's springs respond to, be it a cobbled street in a suburban back alley or the pot holes than pockmark the streets of Broker.
Finding cover is imperative, and adds a welcome depth to gunplay.
With these extended mechanics there's a variety to the vehicles that is now more pronounced. Front-wheel-drive cars will lurch towards understeer, their rear-wheel-drive counterparts allowing for some breathtaking slides. This variety extends not only to the models of vehicles available, but to the state in which you find them. Jack the wrong car in the excitement of a three-star chase and you could find yourself at the wheel of a misfiring beast, clumsily working its way through the gears and spitting out plumes of burnt oil.
In-car combat is another area that's been furnished with a suite of new features, not least of which is the ability to lock on to a pursued car, thankfully bidding farewell to the sometimes chaotic chases that blighted previous Grand Theft Autos, and with the added capacity to free aim from the drivers seats vehicular combat is no longer the headache it used to be.
That's not to mention the myriad other ways to traverse the breadth of the city – and despite any initial fears of Liberty City's size in light of the offerings of San Andreas, we can assure you it is vast – such as taxis or helicopters. Hail a taxi and you'll get the option to either skip straight to your desired location, or sit back and enjoy a spectator's view of the city, complete with typically irreverent commentary from your driver. Get yourself behind the controls of a helicopter and prepare for a vast intake of air as the full splendour and scale of Liberty City is offered up in widescreen majesty.
And the story itself? We'll leave the details for you to discover at your pleasure, but needless to say this is a tale more melancholic and mature than some of the hyperactive extremities of the series' past. Niko himself is sure to become a videogaming icon of our generation, an embittered ex-soldier with a murky past that marks itself in his weariness, yet also informs his hard-edged yet ultimately humanist perspective on the brave new world of Liberty City. It's no longer a rags-to-riches story, with the narrative more nuanced and all the more affecting for it. Indeed, so pervasive is Niko's story we found it informing the way we approached the game, finding ourselves less inclined to indulge in mindless rampages we deemed out of character for our Eastern European protagonist.
WIth it's ability to transform the city, the lighting engine is one of the stars.
This is all aided by a wealth of characters, all painted with a remarkable clarity and all serving to bolster the strengths of the main story. Naturally their stories are predominantly told through some sterling cutscenes which benefit from the enhanced engine that mercifully never outstay their welcome, and like everything else in Grand Theft Auto IV the scriptwriting has been ratcheted up to a degree previously unprecedented in the medium.
But the most rewarding way with which to interact with the cast is through Niko's phone, an item that soon emerges as a core tool in the interaction with the game's characters. As friends are picked up over the course of Niko's travels, they begin to offer social invitations – and in one of the game's many superb touches an incoming call will disturb the radio of any car he is traveling in – and it's easy to get drawn in to each of their narrative arcs. The activities that are open are widespread and well implemented, be it the bowling game that offers surprising depth or less interactive pursuits such as cabaret or the comedy club - which contains a number of surprises it's again best left to discover for yourself. Perhaps most notoriously there is also the option of visiting a bar, the results of which never fail to entertain as Niko spills erratically on the street before stumbling his way home.
What GTA's really about - a five star melee.
Whilst these prove entertaining diversions, they also provide a framework for the burgeoning relationships in the game which very quickly begin to matter for the player. It's genuinely heart-breaking to turn down a friend requesting a drink, as it too is genuinely surprising when on our second date with one of Grand Theft Auto IV's many love interests our beau noted how we had changed our attire since we last met.
Which means when the element of choosing who to favour in the game world Niko can be faced with some truly agonizing decision. At certain branches in the storyline he is faced with the option of pledging allegiance to certain characters – often to the fatal detriment of others. Though we're loathed to spill details, at one point Niko is presented with siding with a young upstart with somewhat dubious morals or his suicidal and life-weary nemesis who is fresh out of jail. Do you punish the fresh-faced gangster for his loose morality or put the melancholic ex-convict out of his misery? It's a choice that had us holding the gun to the head of our chosen victim for minutes of extended deliberation, and when the final bullet rang out it left a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs as we were left unsure of our actions. The choices are never clear cut, and it reflects the murky morality of this Liberty City.
Again, the missions contain joys we'd rather not disclose for fear of ruining the experience, but rest assured they offer a variety previously unseen in Grand Theft Auto. From suiting yourself up for a funeral to scouring the internet for a potential date, they're essentially grounded in the reality of Liberty City and never work against the hard work of the narrative to create an immersive atmosphere. One mission in particular that occurs midway through the plot is sure to gain notoriety for the challenge it presents, an extended bank heist that for all its pains manages to provide one of the punchiest set pieces of the game that easily rivals the best Hollywood has to offer.
The sun sets on another day in Liberty CIty.
But like previous Grand Theft Autos, some of the best moments occur when you step outside of the script – be it painting your own name on a car with bullet holes and riding into battle, or stealing your first helicopter and taking a night time flight to the strains of Queen's One Vision before stepping out into a deserted Algonquin and embarking on a 15-minute six-star chase. With the toolset provided, and with the game world so rich with opportunity, we're sure to be swapping tales of our antics in Liberty City for years to come.
Seeing Niko's story out at the leisurely pace it deserves will consume some 40 hours of play, all of which is supplemented by the dizzying amount of multiplayer options. It will be interesting to see where the hordes migrate to on online play, be it the thrill of vanilla deathmatch, the bedlam of team mafia or the serenity of freely adventuring the city with friends. Regardless, this is a package that will truly keep players enthralled well beyond the lifetime of its native hardware.
Expectations were so high for Grand Theft Auto IV that one of the biggest surprises is that it’s managed to meet them. That it’s also gone on to confound these is truly a marvel, and the game’s Liberty City is nothing less than one of the greatest videogame worlds yet conceived. With this game, Rockstar has set out to free itself from the excesses of the series past to emphasise the character of its world, and in doing so has created a high watermark in the relationship between narrative and play. It’s no less than the definitive open world game, and by that measure the definitive interactive experience of this generation to date.
completed main story already
I just got it yesterday but im already a few missions in
Grand Theft Auto IV
I can't wait. I really did not want to get it on a console because it'll save me money, on A) the console & B) A HDTV to play it on.
Fantastic news, I no longer have any type of console so this is great stuff
Some new screenshots released.
PCGH - GTA 4: the first screenshots for the PC edition - 2008/08/GTA-IV_PC_01.jpg
its a good game, but its the same that the others, i bored
the best game ever...
i play it on ps3
best game ever!
I got stuck where you have to get the boat and acces the big warehouses at the pier
Even with cheat i fail
In fact i really wanna try it out, but still like evo better.
I doesn't really compete with Evo though...
I'll suggest it as an xmas present I think, I'm not desperate to get it right now
I purchased it but its gonna be hard for me to try it out. I still prefer race evo all the time. Though i saw some of the new engine features and the phisics seems like half lifw 2. Very nice.
I've heard from more than one now that there is alot of trouble with the grafics on PC version so i would wait to buy until a patch or two
Running very nicely for me at 1440x900 on medium level.
8800GT & 2.33ghz
There are also beta drivers suppose to improve performance but it's running fine for me.
not amused by the way rockstar did this...
here is how GTAIV looks on my rig.
I silently hope i can actually play it someday.
As you can see no buildings, no textures no nothing.
Tried changing drivers?
Tried everything from changing drivers (i am currently running on beta drivers) to starting in windowed mode with custom commandlines, but this puppy isn't running.
Now, let me assure you, i am not an exception.
There is a very large group of gamers that isn't able to play at all.
In the meantime rockstar announced the first patch, but i doubt it will change significantly.
At the moment i am very displeased with R* for putting this on the market.