Well it's finally here, one of the most hyped up games in gaming history, Grand Theft Auto IV.
Coming off the back of San Andreas, the GTA series was expected to hit another high, and critically it has, now it's my turn.
The immersion in the game has definitely improved. I haven't seen the same person in the street twice, pedestrians answer phones, there are unique conversations in the street, police arrest and pull over civilians, you can hear drowned out radio through a car, it all adds up to create the most immersive Liberty City yet.
The story is pretty good, with you developing a relation with the main character Niko Bellic, which is strange for an action/adventure. Niko has moved to Liberty City to live with his cousin Roman Bellic, and together, they can pursue the elusive "American Dream". Roman has been telling Niko stories of how he has been living a good life at the top of the food chain. It turns out they were only stories. Soon they are both catapulted into a life of debt, drugs and violence. With the promise of money, Niko works for multiple employers so that he and his cousin can live a good life in Liberty City. Although it tends to stop and start at various locations in the game, the overall narrative is deep and enthralling, making you want to play just so you can witness the story develop.
The core GTA gameplay is still there. You are in an open world and there are various icons to show the locations of your mission on the GPS. You can go and do the missions at any time. The menu has changed as is mostly incased in your phone which you look at by pressing up on your pad. Your phonebook, organiser, messages, camera and all the things you would expect from a phone are here, as well as an option to jump into multiplayer, which I'll come to later.The main missions aren't really that diverse. It mostly follows the structure of "go there, kill him, come back", although there are some different which make the game just that little bit more enjoyable. Driving is more realistic with each car having its own handling system. I'm sure most people will find it annoying, I personally didn't really mind it. There is also a cover system which in general works well, but is a bit unresponsive.
Some of your employers will become friends which you can phone up and spend time with. If you get to know them well enough, they will grant you special abilities, like selling you guns at a discounted price, or lending you a chopper etc. While the concept of this is good, it boils down to your friends pestering you about ignoring them, and it ends up being an annoyance. You can also date people, which follows the same structure. The activities you can do with them range from drinking to bowling to going in helicopter rides. You can also go on computers and go on the internet. In addition, you can buy clothes that Niko can wear, giving him that extra bit of character, although the range is slightly more limited than it really should be.
The environments are good with three islands that you unlock as you progress through the story, although the area you can explore is smaller than that in San Andreas, which is a bit of a disappointment.
Graphically, GTA IV is mediocre. There are great lighting effects like when the sun beats down on the water. The ripple effects on the water are there, but unless you strain your eyes or use something big like crash into it with a helicopter, you can't see them. Textures aren't great, and character models are sometimes expressionless. There is a dynamic weather system which include rain and fog. Rockstar tries to mask the texture deficiency by implementing a lot of blue when your moving fast. There is also noticeable pop in as the city loads as you go through.
Voice acting is great, especially Niko's and the soundtrack on the radio is diverse, although you'll find yourself sticking to one or two radio stations.
Multiplayer is a good addition with a healthy number of game modes. It isn't that addictive, but fun nonetheless. It's not a third person COD4.
All in all, GTA IV performs well in living up to the hype. Some may think it fails miserably, but if you avoid comparing it to other GTAs and observe GTA for the masterpiece it really is, you will see that it actually is worthy of all the hype it gets.