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Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto IV

Life is complicated. I've killed people, smuggled people, sold people.
Perhaps here, things will be different.

These are the words of Niko Bellic, a troubled soul hailing from the eastern bloc, and the game's main protagonist who you control through the living breathing world of Liberty City. From the outset you can tell that this latest incarnation of Rockstar's epic Grand Theft Auto series is nothing short of spectacular.

Forget what you may have learned or appreciated in the previous iterations of Grand Theft Auto as this has been completely reworked, built up from scratch and polished to a fine sheen. Yes this is Liberty City, but a completely reworked and expanded version to what we saw in GTA 3. Everything has been worked upon to give this game a heartbeat, you no longer feel like a stranger in the town, now you feel more connected to the city, pedestrians now have their own agenda's and personalities instead of being bonnet fodder. Pick a fight and they'll generally fight back or if you're unlucky, they'll fight back along with several other pedestrians joining in to lay the smack down upon you for disturbing their peace. Make no mistake, Liberty City is now alive.

Rockstar's obsessive attention to detail is quickly obvious, everything feels like it's in the correct place, nothing sticks out like it should not be there, all the advertisements, TV shows, radio stations immerses the player into this beast of a game. The visual outlay has a gritty realism about it, after all Liberty City is based upon New York. Deliberately moving away from the bright cartoon-like style of the previous installments, Rockstar created an unmistakable visual style that is consistent throughout the art design, the storytelling, the physics, mission design and the interactivity found within the metropolis of Liberty City.

The increased individuality that is visually apparent as you wander about had an influence on all aspects of the game. Rockstar's design team has created brands for countless companies; clothing, foods, banks, drinks, movies, credit cards, everything you would expect to see in a city. All of which carry over to radio, internet and TV for an amazingly complete, coherent experience.

Ok, ok, I've rambled on long enough, time to get into the game itself. For PS3 owners you will have to wait a few minutes longer to jump into the shoes of Niko as the game will install information onto the hard drive, also perform a system update if needs be, while 360 owners I believe are able to load up the game and play without any fuss.
Right the game begins with Niko entering Liberty City on a ship with cousin Roman Bellic arriving soon after you set foot back on stable land to take you back to the safe house which is located on the island of Dukes (Queens) and Broker (Brooklyn), Bohan (Bronx) becomes quickly available, while the other sections of the game, Algonquin (Manhattan) and Alderney (New Jersey) are currently under lockdown due to a terrorist threat.

I do not recommend trying to wander into these blocked locations as you will initiate a 6 star police chase which will ultimately lead to either your arrest or death, also do not try and hijack a plane from the nearby Francis Airport as unlike San Andreas, aircraft aren't freely available and the police will attempt to arrest/kill you, I learned out this information the hard way.

Also gone is the little sheriff badges of joy to remove your wanted level, in this version you will have a flashing red and blue area which the police know you are in. What you have to do is drive out of this search area without being spotted by any other police and keep a low profile until they stop searching for you. This, however, only works up to a 2 star wanted level, anything above that then you're either going to die in a blaze of glory or drive like Steve McQueen around liberty city and dive into a spray shop to remove the wanted level, as long as the police did not see you drive into the garage.

Now cars are not the only form of transport in Liberty City, there is also the efficient subway system that runs 24 hours a day, motorcycles, choppers (a type of motorcycle for the uninformed), boats, planes and helicopters also feature as forms of transport for our protagonist

Now like the previous games, your first few missions are very basic allowing you to learn the controls and get to know the area, for example; drive car from A to B while picking up XYZ on the way. nothing very taxing but enjoyable nonetheless as you are able to take in the sights of such a beautiful city. The cars also handle differently to previous incarnations of GTA. Each car has its own mass, handling characteristics, power outputs and other various factors making each make of car stand out from the others, also they require some respect in order to get the best out of them.

Some other characters you meet early on are Vlad Glebov, a loan shark and ill tempered womanizer, and Little Jacob, a Jamaican arms dealer with a thick, heavy, Jamaican accent. Once your relationship with Jacob reaches a certain level he will gladly deliver you weapons wherever you are in Liberty City.

Speaking of weapons, the combat system for this game has been reworked too. Now we have a cover system akin to Gears of War or Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, just not as complex. Basically hit R1 and Niko will press up against the wall, car, pillar or whatever barrier you have chosen as cover, from here you are able to blind-fire, peek out to pop off a few caps or take careful aim at your assailant. It may take some time to get used to but after a while it becomes second nature to duck and cover in gun fights. There are 16 weapons in total, ranging from side arms to sniper rifles, oh and a RPG thrown in for good measure.

The voice acting, script writing and storyline for this title is rock solid, every character you come across has his or her own personality which is expressed very well indeed through the voice overs and physical gestures, it's apparent that this storyline took more than 5 minutes and a couple of napkins to create. The interactivity between Niko and other main NPC characters is generally initiated through Niko's mobile phone which he receives from cousin Roman at the beginning of the game.

From here you can ring your contacts to arrange excursions out with them to gain respect, such as frequenting the local boozer or partaking in some sort of other activity like darts or visiting a strip club, also you may call certain contacts for jobs when you are in need some quick cash.

Your mobile phone is also the main point of contact for the myriad of women Niko is able to date, simply ring them up arranging a meet and generally they will either say no or ask you to pick them up in an hour.

The interactivity does not stop there though, if you feel like wasting some time you can actually call a vast cavalcade of numbers that appear around Liberty City, albeit advertising banners TV commercials or internet adverts, also you may call the emergency services if you feel like it. Again just another little detail that goes to bolster the big picture of immersion for the player.

So you may have noticed that I have not mentioned the multiplayer side to this game and to be honest I shall not be covering that area of Grand Theft Auto 4 as I feel it warrants a review in it's own right. Also because I have not had the opportunity to try out this side of GTA yet as I have been too engrossed in the single player storyline.

Well that wraps it really, we've been waiting with baited breath for a long time for this title and I personally believe that it does live up to the hype, and is certainly one which i recommend to be a must buy title, whereas others may disagree. but do not base an opinion of the game from what others say, experience what this title has to offer for yourself and enter with an open mind free from judgement and you shall be rewarded with hour upon hour of excitement and entertainment. Even if you do just switch on the TV to watch a section of the Ricky Gervais stand up show.

10.00/10 10

Grand Theft Auto IV (Reviewed on Xbox 360)

Outstanding. Why do you not have this game already?

Life is complicated. I've killed people, smuggled people, sold people.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Neil 'Wedge' Hetherington

Neil 'Wedge' Hetherington

Staff Writer

A purveyor of strange alcoholic mixes and a penchant for blowing shit up in games. Proud member of the glorious PC master race.

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