Grand Theft Auto IV

With every release of a Grand Theft Auto game, contraversy follows in great abundance. Famed for violence, bad language and more, GTA games never arrive quietly. The violence doesn't really exceed the norm on console games these days, but perhaps the casual, whimsical nature of the violence is what stirs a negative media response, though it's also sexual content that really seems to fuel the reporter frenzy. It's particularly strange that, the second a pair of breasts is featured in a computer game, the reaction is total outrage, and yet half the population of the planet has them, and the other half are, on the whole, interested in them. It'd be far more worrying if people walked around with a pair of guns in their shirts than anything more rounded, but I suspect Rockstar North don't really care what sort of outrage GTA causes, provided the game is plastered across a significant number of eye-catching headlines. Grand Theft Auto IV may not have stirred as much mindless nonsense as previous iterations in the series, but it does continue the fine tradition of scaring irresponsible parents into believing that kids will be turned evil by computer games and not because of the parents themselves. More importantly, it provides Playstation 3 owners with their first taste of Grand Theft Auto mayhem in high definition.

Grand Theft Auto IV

GTA IV takes place in Liberty City, the setting for Grand Theft Auto III, and the available exploration space has more in common with III than any of the other GTA entries in the series on Playstation 2. The immense, multi-city behemoth that was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is forgotten, in favour of something that is by no means small, but certainly feels a little more restricted than the most recent PS2 iterations. That said, it might not be a bad thing, since freedom isn't really comprimised, but missions and other objectives feel a little more directed and less meandering. Rather than spending hours driving across countryside, hoping that your flimsy car survives the trip, missions take place within more sensible boundaries, still allowing players to adopt multiple paths and strategies, while helping to allow players the chance to hatch contingency plans when things go wrong. Being stuck a mile from civilization without a car is a thing of the past; in true GTA style, you can simply grab the nearest bit of kit in the bustling Liberty city and get on with the job.

Playing as Russian immigrant Niko, newly arrived in Liberty City in pursuit of the many wonders his local cousin has described, you are given the task of taking the miserable reality of the situation and forging a true gangster's paradise, under your own control. Starting at the bottom, with few friends and no allies, missions initially involve trivial deliveries and other minor adventures designed to acclimatize you with the city, but swiftly accelerate into tense and engaging tales filled with action as you swiftly gain power and threaten the existing mob bosses. The variety improves rapidly too, with many opportunities to take part in activities outside of the usual driving, shooting and running combinations. It's not possible to get in planes in this GTA, but that doesn't stop you getting in tanks and helicopters for a quick blast.

Grand Theft Auto IV

A small point of criticism of the latest GTA, that has only a small impact since the game is still very large, is that it will take considerably less time to complete than monsters like San Andreas. There's still absolutely tonnes to do, and simply coasting around the city on your own little mission is enough fun on it's own to justify a good ten hours of play, but there's definitely less substance than the best on PS2. That said, GTA IV takes the gameplay online, so any loss of hours in the single-player story is adequately compensated for by hours and hours of online mayhem. There aren't specific co-operative missions online, allowing players to take on story missions as a community, but there are plenty of modes to allow human versus human competition, involving cops and robbers-style games, racing and standard shootouts that will provide plenty of entertainment. The small snag is that you'll need a stonking connection to pull everything around the screen properly, with the GTA universe clearly taking its toll on the standard broadband connection (the legendary "up to 8Mbit/s that notoriously loiters at less than 0.5Kbit/s most of the time). It's possible that with improvements to the game, and data transfer streamlining, things could be improved considerably thruogh updates, without any need for a better connection, but the initial multiplayer experience was occasionally hindered by lag. That said, there's little that can spoil the fun when you've got three or four friends all cruising around Liberty City together (and you can get anywhere you can in the one-player game) causing madness together.

Other than small increases in size, the only criticism that can be levelled at GTA, and it's not necessarily a bad thing, is that it doesn't do anything particularly new. GTA IV is very much GTA in HD, rather than GTA the next generation. Everything will feel quite familiar to GTA veterans; it'll just look a lot nicer along the way. Currently, the formula is far from broken, so the game is still fantastic fun to play, but the next GTA on PS3 will have to do more to prove its worth, by moving the bar for gameplay, not just graphics. The visual side certainly is stunning though, and a massive leap from San Andreas. Character models, buildings and vehicles are all colossal improvements, with Niko (in particular) one of the best realized characters in a video game, rivalling Nathan Drake from Uncharted. The city is absolutely beautiful, filled with spectacular buildings, and magnificent small details, all chugging along happily with no sign of the fogging used to disguise pop-up in the PS2 games. It's all quite spectacular, and probably only gets beaten by games like Metal Gear for the simple reason that GTA's city is such a huge thing to realize, presumably spreading resources quite thinly.

Grand Theft Auto IV

There's as much voicework in the game as any seen before on the system, with huge amounts of quite-excellent dialogue recorded for cutscenes and also intermitted comments uttered as a result of triggers in game (for example, driving too close to a pedestrian, pulling out a gun or walking into a hotdog seller - all these things will prompt a snappy line that brings the whole world of GTA to life. Liberty City is reasonably well populated, admittedly with similar-looking people and cars, but modern technology is being put to good use as large amounts of activity are happily acted out on screen, with no noticeable performance degredation. It's not the same as playing the game online, but everything seems to move with purpose in this busy, bustling city. Of course, the police are there in great number, with satisfying sirens, flashing lights and a well-balanced sense of the law (you won't get pulled over for inevitable little accidents in the game, but as soon as you get too naughty, they'll be on your tail). The police are tough too, and as your star rating increases (the usual system returning as a mark of naughtiness), the police will be a serious threat, easily capable of taking new players down in an instant, and more than happy to shout abuse in the process.

As always, there are brilliant radio stations available in the game, with a decent amount of variety, numerous amusing lines and chat shows, and various other features to keep players amused in between (and during) missions. There are also a few short television shows that can be found scattered through the game, though obviously this isn't as portable as a radio. It all adds to the atmosphere in the game - a living, breathing world where you can let down your guard, push away a few boundaries and release any tension from your day. With nearly fifty hours of fun to be found in single-player missions and general meandering, as well literally oodles of craziness available online, there's few games that can offer such a massively varied and enjoyable experience. There's some room for improvement with the next GTA title, but Grand Theft Auto IV is a fantastic addition to Playstation 3's lineup and one of the best games available on the system.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Rockstar Games

Developer:

Rockstar North

Players:

1

Online:

1-16

Release:

2008-04-29

Trophies:

51

Review summary

Gameplay:

A toybox of amazing things to do

Graphics:

Up with the best games on PS3

Sound:

Awesome effects, music and voicework

Lastability:

Massive lastability, but a shorter story

9.0

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