Three years after the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Rockstar Games has finally released their newest version of the Grand Theft Auto Series, and to the rabid gaming public who eagerly awaited the release, it was certainly well worth the wait. From the opening cutscene and credits, players are immediately given the impression that this will not be just another GTA game, but rather a cinematic experience all to itself, and rightfully so.
Players assume the role of Niko Bellic, a European immigrant war veteran with a somewhat secretive past. Niko arrives in Liberty City by boat and is met by his eccentric, Americanized, debt-ridden cousin Roman, and almost immediately thereafter he is thrust into the crime-filled employment of mob bosses and street thugs the series is known for.
Missions are mostly derived from past games in the series, as well. Assassinations, robbery, and (of course) car thefts are all part and parcel, but players can rest assured that these various tasks have all been carried over quite well in next-gen fashion, especially with the game’s new and improved control scheme. As with previous installments, there is no difficulty setting--mission difficulty remains on par with predecessors--but it should be noted that there are a few unexpected annoyances scattered around that may leave frustrated players with a desire to send their controllers screaming through their TVs or monitors. NPCs seem to have no lack of control overt themselves, especially during escort missions, and police seem to come from the absolute corners of nowhere to send repeated shotgun blasts to your forehead. Fortunately, the game has been equipped with a new replay feature, in which players are given the option to quickly revert back to the last mission failed.
If missions are becoming tiresome, or if players just want a simple change of pace, GTA IV also provides players with an ability to experience the city like never before, and it’s safe to say that Liberty City is a living breathing entity all to its own. There is so much more to do and experience compared to previous titles, and players may often lose track of time simply roaming the streets, but a built-in GPS navigation system ensures players will always be able to get back to where they need to with relative ease. Street races, scrap dealers, and hidden “packages” all remain true to the series, but Liberty City’s citizens roam the streets in lifelike fashion, and seem to carry on “lives” of their own, to the point where players could very easily assume that the city may very well carry on without their presence, long after the game has been turned off. This environment also leads to some pretty entertaining developments when wreaking general cop-inducing havoc.
Another interesting addition to the series comes in the introduction of an in-game cell phone. Though the device may seem a little archaic and out-of-date, it comes with some fantastic uses. One of the most notable is the friend feature, in which players may arrange outings with the main characters. Slightly similar to the dating feature in San Andreas, dates may include dinner, bowling, bar-hopping, and other real-life activities, and in turn, help boost your standing with each particular NPC, which can lead to some very helpful rewards along the way. These rewards are only limited to main characters throughout the game, but players may even choose to take out various women via an online dating service if they feel so inclined. Unfortunately, friends may call a little more often than necessary, which can lead to a little bit of frustration, especially while being feverishly chased in hot pursuit by the infamous LCPD.
In terms of visuals, GTA IV is absolutely breathtaking. It is quite apparent that the developers spent a painstakingly large amount of time modeling the city, cars, and pedestrians down to the very last awe-inspiring detail. In terms of consoles, it should be noted that the X360 version is slightly smoother and cleaner, but fans of the PS3 will not be let down in the least. Players of both versions may not even notice a difference unless specifically looking for one.
The audio is exactly what one would expect from a game of this calibre, as well. Ambient city noise is authentic and lifelike, and the hours of dialogue and voice acting is top-notch. The in-car radio has once again also delivered as expected. Numerous stations play countless hours of unrepeated music, and there is an in-game phone number players can dial to find out the names of the songs/artists that are currently playing. In addition, there are even some audible cameo appearances from the past that may make older fans of the series feel a little nostalgic.
One of the most surprising and welcomed additions to the series is the implementation of an online multiplayer system. Supporting up to 16 players, games range from simple Team Deathmatch and Street Races to more co-op team based matches. The amount of variety continues in that players can choose which portion of LC to play in, whether or not police are present, car selection, and much more. There is also a leveling and ranking system in which players are able to unlock new character models and clothing styles for use in multiplayer matches. Unfortunately, the leveling system almost seems tacked on, as it can be a little confusing trying to determine when players will level-up; however, it should be noted that this doesn’t take away from the sheer and absolute joy and chaos that a 16-player GTA match of any style provides.
At this point it may go without saying, but Grand Theft Auto IV is definitely a must-play, and certainly the best in the series. With it’s engrossing story line, lifelike visuals, addictive multiplayer, and constant surprises, players should have no problem finding plenty to do in the crime-laden, open-ended sandbox juggernaut that is Liberty City.