To create your free account, please enter your email address and password below. Please ensure your email is correct as you will recieve a validation email before you can login.
To log in to your account, please enter your email address and password below:
To reset your password, please enter your email address below and we will send you a link to reset it.
Removing the needless excess and squeezing everything into one blob of gaming perfection, GTA4 is easily the finest title in the series to date...
- Tighter integration of primary & secondary goals.
- Unequalled story, dialogue, and production.
- Huge single-player & unlimited multiplayer fun.
- Still room for more 'living, breathing' details.
The most eagerly awaited videogame since CJ rolled through the streets of Los Santos, San Fierro, and Las Ventura, is finally upon us with the worldwide release of GTA4. Marking the series' first appearance on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, after an agonising delay, Rockstar North's latest opus arrives to an unparalleled level of fanboy hysteria, boardroom expectations, and mainstream controversy - surely, it's going to be bigger than anything that's come before?
Taking the centre role this time around is Niko Bellic, an immigrant from Eastern Europe who's hiding a sinister past and seeking a better future with his cousin in Liberty City. Remodelled beyond recognition and bearing an unmistakable resemblance to New York City, in true GTA fashion, it's not long before Bellic becomes embroiled in the misadventures of a group of narcissists, egotists and homicidal maniacs, the quintessential cast of Liberty City's shady civilians.
Booting GTA4 up for the first time is a moment of intense anticipation and trepidation; after so many years of waiting, it's finally upon us, but can it truly live up to all expectations and deliver the defining open-world game on the latest generation of consoles?
Duck & Cover
Make no mistakes GTA4 doesn't attempt to re-invent the wheel, but when that wheel is one of the most lucrative brands in modern day culture, why would you want to mess with it. Fundamentally, it follows the format of its predecessors. Rockstar North has focussed intently on ironing out the niggles and flaws of the GTA3 trilogy, refining the rough edges, and polishing an already glistening videogame into something that transcends all forms of art: the plot of a good book, the razor-sharp dialogue and action of a stylish movie, a soundtrack that's worth playing loud - and the violence that you choose to wreak.
The need to continuously improve GTA's combat system was evident throughout the GTA3 trilogy, but with the release of GTA4 it appears that Rockstar North has settled on something they're happy with. The considerably improved targeting system and the introduction of a long-overdue covering system ensure combat in GTA4 is always entertaining, epic, and sufficiently refined beyond previous titles. Central to the new aiming setup is an intelligent auto-target that easily allows you to switch targets, while employing subtle nudges to pinpoint specific targets. The cover system is one of the most welcome additions, transforming the series' haphazardly erratic combat into a skilful event with tactical elements.
Car handling has changed somewhat. It's harder to slide around corners and there's a greater sense of distinction between the various vehicles on offer. The ability to instantly flick to the cinematic cam and slow it down with the touch of a button is a pleasant new feature, enhancing the movie style of the police chases and finally making the feature useable, although we're a little disappointed by the lack of a proper dashboard cam.
The shiny new Wanted system is a stroke of genius, turning the rigid and dated structure into something that encourages high speeds, sharp turns into back alleys, switched cars, and all the other cunning tricks you see in the movies. Whenever Niko commits a crime and is spotted (by police or the LC 'high and mighty' on mobile phones), a circle of attention on the map appears around where the offence occurred. Getting away with it is simply a case of moving outside of the circle and lying low while the stars count down. The only hitch is if any other cops see Niko then the circle of attention centres upon him again, essentially resetting the chase. The more violent the offence, the larger radius to escape and the intensity of the cops' aggression to evade; let's just say things get pretty extreme when 3 of the 6 stars are shining!
Leave Me A Message
Niko's mobile phone is undoubtedly the standout new feature for GTA4. As a stranger in Liberty City, Niko must quickly build up friendships before he's going to get anywhere. Storing friends' contact details, a weekly schedule, and the option to jump instantly into some online multiplayer action, the mobile phone seamlessly blends the primary story missions and the huge list of secondary tasks that become available through Niko's friends. The blurring of the line between primary and secondary goals, and the reduction in merely driving between waypoints, helps to enhance GTA's already legendary reputation for creating an enthralling blend of experiences, one that's as enjoyable to play freeform as it is to completing the actual missions. There's also a certain degree of overlap between missions this time around with some decisions coming at the cost of others, which lends a satisfying sense of non-linearity and consequence to a series that's widely attributed for introducing such concepts to videogame design.
Friends are a demanding lot to cater for however. Beginning with Niko's cousin, the list of contacts quickly expands, many of which offer jobs such as package drops and lists of cars to steal, in turn for payment and other goodies such as free taxi rides and weapon drops. Performing their menial tasks is only one side of the friendship, however, as you'll also have to keep them entertained with a good old night on the town. Whether it's catching Ricky Gervais at the comedy club, knocking down a few pins on the bowling lane, or getting blind-drunk with the most convincing visual effect we've seen in a videogame, GTA4's portrayal of friendship is thoroughly convincing. Naturally, if you leave a friend waiting or decide another offer is more exciting, you'll risk their relationship and probably have an irate phone call or text message to deal with, which could happen to appear when you're speeding down the freeway with LCPD cars and SWAT teams in close pursuit! It's largely up to you as to how much friends play a part or get in the way, the fluid structure means that you can dip in and out as you want to with rewarding benefits for sticking to it.
This blend of mission types and dynamism creates a tangible sense of friendship between Niko and the various oddballs he comes across. The primary missions generally follow a similar blueprint to what has come before, with car chases and shootouts providing the main backdrop for the usual excellence that we've come to expect from Rockstar North. Occasionally the odd 'execution' mission spices up the action with the moral choice to determine the target's fate, deciding to execute or spare their life, at the cost of further repercussions down the line.
The introduction of the mobile phone and the increased fluidity and choice between missions helps to elevate GTA4 beyond its predecessors in terms of structure, establishing a new standard for all other wannabes to follow. One of the least noticeable but nonetheless appreciated changes is the introduction of an auto-save system, eliminating the archaic system of needing to manually save at the safehouse every time you wanted to switch the game off. Combined with the ability to easily replay a failed mission with a simple text message, GTA4 successfully abolishes the structure frustrations that were caused by the old system and makes GTA more addictive than ever before.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Following the GTA3 trilogy is no easy feat but from a gameplay perspective, Rockstar North has certainly achieved it with a gradual evolution and polish of the blueprints. In terms of story and characters, however, GTA4 easily established a new benchmark. Immediately funny and entertaining with a protagonist that quickly clambers his way to the top, Rockstar has typically bitten close to the bone, addressing controversial subjects such as terrorism and immigration in a heavily satirical take on Niko's attempts to chase his cousin's shattered American dream and catch up with his past.
Featuring a whopping 18 radio stations, GTA4 airwaves are buzzing with contemporary tracks and the heavily satirical tones of DJ Lazlow and one or two other celebrity DJs. Admittedly, the tracklist is a little more eclectic this time around, and there's no one particular song that stands out as being "the" GTA4 tune, but in a way that suits the way in which the entire game has headed and it certainly helps to establish GTA4 in the present day. The various chat shows, debates, celebrity interviews, and adverts are naturally of the standard we've come to expect, providing that extra layer of intrigue and depth to Liberty City's comical gameworld.
Employing NaturalMotion's Euphoria technology helps to elevate GTA4's character animation to a new visual perch. As a result, taking control of Niko feels immediately different to any other third-person shooter, there's a greater sense of the forces as he crosses over the environment - just watch the different ways he walks/runs up the stairs to see what we mean. It also brings a stronger sense of variety and realism to the various NPCs, in turn enhancing GTA4's portrayal of a living, breathing city - did we mention it's pretty impressive reacting to very big explosions?
Rockstar's increasingly nifty RAGE internal engine also ensures GTA4 looks the part, particularly with a day/night cycle that bestows a continuously varying mood and atmosphere. OK, there are one or two nasties that take away from the otherwise impressive portrayal of a city game, but it's easy to overlook simplistic foliage, a rough texture, and the occasional quiet street, when you've got a cityscape looking this awesome. Just make sure to check it out from the top of Rotterdam Tower, Liberty City's interpretation of the Empire State Building!
Beyond a great plot, stunning production values, and addictive free-flow gameplay we've also come to expect plenty of smart touches from a GTA title - something GTA4 has in abundant supply. Whether it's the ability to hail a cab and take a jaw-dropping trip around Liberty City or phoning up the emergency services to cause a distraction, GTA4 is crammed with the type of rewarding little details you'll continuously discover with time. Available at the Tw@ chain of internet café's, Rockstar North's take on the internet plays a considerable role in Niko's adventures. Skimming through spam, replying to job offers, or engaging in romantic liaisons, the internet provides an entertaining diversion and a feature to providing an account of Niko's actions and other Liberty City news bulletins. In a similar manner, the cop car database plays a part in identifying certain targets, or hunting down criminals in a Most Wanted take on the original Vigilante challenges.
This is barely scratching the surface of the countless little aspects that constitutes GTA4, suffice to say it's a game that keeps on giving, whether it's finding a hidden Helicopter port or listening out for the vocal commands of the GPS on the slightly more sophisticated vehicles. There's still room for further improvement in the little details that add to the conviction of living, breathing city; we'd still like to see details such as tow-trucks taking exploded and poorly parked vehicles away and perhaps news reporters covering Niko's latest misdemeanours, but we're being particularly pernickety here.
Multiplayer = Even More Fun
Length is another key element of the GTA series, with past titles offering anywhere between 50-100 hours of gameplay. After an initial first few hours that appeared to raise the 'percentage complete' a little too quickly, we soon found ourselves amassing over 20 hours and only just approaching a third of the way through! It's easier to slip in and out of the "secondary" missions this time around, and as a result you find yourself playing more of the entire GTA4 game as opposed to just the main story. Thankfully, there isn't a Hidden Package in sight, although GTA purists can still track down and kill every one of the hundred pigeons that are hidden away for the all-important 100%.
Of course, if that wasn't enough, GTA4 expands the long-term value beyond imagination with the series' home console debut of online multiplayer. Borrowing elements from the series' multiplayer exploits on the PSP '... Stories' series, Rockstar North may have taken a little bit of time in getting GTA online, but it's certainly been worth the wait. With a colossal list of game types to choose between, GTA4 takes the entire GTA experience online: cops, civilians, the entire city, the lot! Ingeniously activated through Niko's mobile phone in the single-player game, our brief foray into GTA4 online has convinced us that Liberty City is going to be a very busy place online.
Multiplayer archetypes such as the Deathmatch and Team variation are all on offer, however Rockstar North has gone that little bit further with a touch of creativity that captures the GTA spirit across the 14 different modes. Whether it's performing tasks quickly in Mafiya Work or acting out the classic Cops 'n Crooks, GTA4 offers plenty for everybody in the multiplayer stakes - we honestly didn't expect it to be this good.