Grand Theft Auto IV Review

Author: Luke Van Leuveren
Article Source: http://palgn.com.au

The Grand Theft Auto franchise needs no introduction, but we'll give it one anyway. Grand Theft Auto I and II (and the London expansion pack) on PS1 and PC were top down action titles, that provided the player with a sense of freedom. With the leap to the PS2, Grand Theft Auto III brought the series into true 3D, and was one of the first games to show what the '128-bit' consoles were capable of. It reviewed well, sold millions of copies and inspired dozens of other open world titles. Rockstar followed GTA III with more expansive sequels set in Vice City and San Andreas, but now, after years of hype, several trailers and even a major delay, Grand Theft Auto IV has launched simultaneously on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. Has Rockstar reinvented the wheel (so to speak) yet again?

Grand Theft Auto IV opens by introducing the game's protagonist, Niko Bellic, an Eastern European who has fled his home country for a fresh start in the New York inspired Liberty City. He soon realises that his cousin Roman has exaggerated his successes in Liberty City, leaving Niko at the bottom of the food chain with no money and no credibility. While the story contains every New York gangster movie cliché there is, it is fantastically written and remains entertaining throughout.

Niko is given a mobile phone by Roman, which acts like a mini-menu for the game. Giving a character a phone in-game has been done before, but not on a scale like this. Missions come in via the phone, text messages are sent to Niko with hints, and it's even possible to call the characters in the game directly. If you're down on cash for example, you may want to call someone to request a job, just to get some extra cash.

We haven't quite been able to pull this off yet.

We haven't quite been able to pull this off yet.
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Initially, Liberty City can be quite staggering in GTA IV. It's a stunning looking game, a stylistic and technical triumph, with masses of well designed geometry and textures and a great draw distance. The city is gigantic, but it isn't just a one block re-textured and repeated, every single street looks different. There are slums, which are more dangerous and have a greater police presence, as well as 'richer' areas, with more well dressed citizens. Not only is the city highly detailed but the citizens on the street are just as unique. They go about their own activities, such as talking on the phone, or even breaking laws themselves. Irrespective of what Niko is doing, the city seems to be going about its business.

Probably the most major non-graphical changes over the game's predecessors are the combat mechanics. Taking cues from dedicated action games like Uncharted and Gears of War Niko can now take cover behind just about any object in the game. There are also several attack buttons so you can punch and kick your enemies, locking onto an enemy is much easier then before, and players are no longer forced to fight against the camera when trying to target an enemy. Firefights are a lot more tactical and and also feel a whole lot fairer. The physics in the game are also absolutely brilliant as well, watching Niko fly through the air or accidentally hitting a pole while on a bike is simply hilarious.

The wanted level system has been reworked for the better. If there a cop near you when committing a crime then you'll automatically get a wanted star, but if you kill in a spot where there isn't a huge police presence you may just get away with the shot. If the cops are after you then the map will light up and actually show where the police are looking for you, if you manage to escape without the police seeing you then you're safe. This isn't too difficult when you're on one star, but as soon as you hit four or five stars police start popping up everywhere and avoiding them is extremely difficult.

The new cover system makes the firefights a lot more tactical... and enjoyable.

The new cover system makes the firefights a lot more tactical... and enjoyable.
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Rockstar has dabbled in multiplayer before in the PSP GTA Stories games, but Grand Theft Auto IV takes it to a whole new level. Accessed via the phone, there are several options on offer. You can play ranked and unranked matches in several modes, such as deathmatch, team deathmatch, 'cops and crooks', 'turf war' and races, and can play in the city as a whole or in smaller areas. Sixteen players in a run and gun kill spree through the whole of Liberty City can be very entertaining. We did occasionaly get matched up in multiplayer with Americans where the lag was a little less tolerable, but for the most part the online multiplayer is a huge addition to the series. The multiplayer does have a few issues at the moment, we did occasionally get session errors during the game and often had trouble connecting to online games, but when it does work the multiplayer is very solid and should have most people coming back to GTA IV long after the single player campaign is finished.

What definitely can be said is that what sets Grand Theft Auto IV apart from other similar games are the details. There are hundreds of little touches in the game that you keep thinking could easily have gone un-noticed. Driving across bridges isn't a free exercise anymore, and players will have to drive up to a toll booth and pay the fee and if they don't then they'll be pursued by the police. If you try to steal a car and shoot the driver, sometimes the driver will fall on the steering wheel and the horn will honk repeatedly. In the grand scheme of things these are small additions, but with so many little details, GTA IV is a game that feels remarkably polished.

But it's not a game without flaws. There are a few technical issues; the frame rate does drop at times when things get hectic and there is some very noticeable pop-in when you're driving through the city. There are also a few glitches (such as body parts clipping into vehicles) - nowhere near as many glitches as in previous Grand Theft Auto titles, but given the production values they stick out much more. The lack of mid-mission checkpoints is disappointing as well, and really should have been fixed for the new generation. Internal environments can also be a bit of a problem at times, as they can be small and often the camera plays up when trying to navigate indoors.

This is going to a shootout.

This is going to a shootout.
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It is worth mentioning that the Australian version of Grand Theft Auto IV has been edited. Although Rockstar hasnít commented on what is missing from the local version, we do know that when Niko picks up a prostitute the camera pans to the back of the car, rather than moving around, but that's all we currently know about the cuts. There is still plenty of swearing, violence and drug and sexual references, so Australians shouldn't feel like they have missed out on too much of the 'mature' content.

As previously mentioned, it's a very impressive looking game. Liberty City itself looks absolutely amazing at times, particularly when one of the atmospheric weather effects are going, such as rain. Sound effects are also spot-on, guns and cars sound great, the background noise gives areas a great 'buzz', and the voice acting is fantastic. The soundtrack is just as stellar, with several radio stations playing all sorts of music, as well as the now-standard hilarious talkback stations

Simply put, Grand Theft Auto IV is the best game ever released in its genre, and is the new standard to which other open-world titles will be measured. Age permitting, this is a game everyone should have in their collection. It's by no means perfect, but it's addictive, entertaining, often awe inspiring, and will be remembered for years to come.