Grand Theft Auto IV
- It's the best GTA ever, in all ways. That's not hyperbole, people: it's fact.
- If we had to nitpick, the story gets weighed down at points by the introduction of too many characters. You practically need a program to keep track of who's who and what's what. The trademark "GTA glitches" also abound.
Any way you slice it, Niko Belic's journey through Liberty City and his quest for answers to his shadowy past is an experience you just cannot afford to miss. Rockstar has created one hell of a vehicle that's driven by a compelling story, memorable characters and amazing gameplay. All you have to do is pick up the controller and enjoy the ride.
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You can say what you want about the blokes at Rockstar but there is no denying this: Much like the characters that star in their games, they know how to stay cool when things get hot and heavy.
Lesser companies would have crumbled under the weight of the controversy and the intense media scrutiny that the company has had to endure. But not Rockstar: if anything, the adversity seems to have made the company stronger and, most importantly, smarter.
And not only are is it dealing with political pressure from outside the industry, it's also going head to head with the most nefarious beast of all: fan expectations.
Working on one of the most anticipated game of the year has to be a nerve-wracking experience, especially considering the success of the previous titles. Add in the fact that the series was making the jump to the more powerful new-gen consoles and you have a perfect storm scenario for what could have amounted to a colossal letdown.
In short, Rockstar had the wolves snarling at its throats. And what does the company do under these adverse conditions? It goes and develops a Grand Theft Auto title that not only trumps all the others but manages to overshadow nearly every other game released in this generation.
GTA IV isn't just a game. It's a testament to the immense talent and take-no-prisoners mentality that has made Rockstar the company that it is today. Oh, and it just happens to be a heck of a lot of fun. We don't use the words "must-own title" very often here at GamePro but if you don't rush out and buy this game on day one, you will miss out on one of the best gaming experiences ever produced.
So strap yourselves in and ride shotgun with Senior Editor Chris Morell as he guides you around the ins and outs of Grand Theft Auto IV. Trust us when we say that he's got one hell of a tour lined up for you.
And if you see us walking around the virtual streets Liberty City, be sure to stop and say hello.
"We can pick the game, Niko Belic, but we cannot change the rules." — Dimitri Rascalov
As it showed seven years ago with their industry altering hit, Grand Theft Auto III, Rockstar Games is a company that can not only change the rules but completely rewrite the rulebook. And just when you think the controversial company has nothing new to say, they unveil Grand Theft Auto IV, a game that pushes the envelope further than anyone could have expected.
Though controversy, delays and other setbacks haunted the game's development, Rockstar still managed to produce a game that meets, and in some cases, exceeds, our ridiculously high expectations. Sure, it doesn't reinvent the wheel but, much like Apple and its constant refinement of the iPod, developer Rockstar North has tweaked the GTA formula to the point of near perfection. GTA IV is not only the culmination of almost a decade of hard work, it also represents the pinnacle of interactive entertainment and game design.
With a simple yet compelling story, a memorable protagonist, top-notch voice acting, and an intriguing online multiplayer component that offers a long-lasting customisable experience, GTA IV is, without a doubt, the complete package.
Coming to America
Niko Belic arrives in Liberty City, a fictional yet strikingly accurate representation of New York City. Niko is an eastern European immigrant lured to Liberty by his cousin Roman, who fills Niko's head with visions mansions, money and beautiful women; thinking he is about to live the American dream, Niko arrives to a much starker reality: cousin Roman is not the self-realised success that he had portrayed himself to be. Instead, he lives in a rundown apartment and runs a struggling taxi business. But Niko didn't survive as long as he has by sweating the small stuff. He takes his cousin's embellishments in stride and sets out on his journey through Liberty City if the good life won't come to him, then he'll go and hunt it down. And of course, there's something larger and more personal at stake for Niko. So begins the next chapter in the GTA saga.
Much like the previous titles, GTA IV sets you loose on the streets with a single contact, your cousin Roman, who slowly dolls out small tasks and errands. From there, Niko branches out from his dilapidated apartment in Liberty's take on Brooklyn, Broker, to more interesting and often times dangerous locales. These include Dukes (Queens), Bohan (the Bronx), Algonquin (Manhattan) and finally, Alderney (New Jersey). The story in GTA IV is definitely simpler and more streamlined than in past games and you never feel like you're muddling through the 25-plus hours of single-player mode, a testament not only to the developers' writing skills but the excellent gameplay experience that they've crafted.
Getting into character
And that single-player experience stars a protagonist that may ultimately prove to be the most memorable GTA hero yet. Niko is an interesting character with a style and vibe all his own. The game's entertaining cinematic cutscenes that precede each mission do a great job of setting the proper tone and mood. Mission variety is also a strong suit of GTA IV: Niko is always doing something interesting, from completing hits to drug raids to bank heists and more. One of the more memorable missions I played had Niko driving a Trashmaster garbage truck to pick up trash bags full of stolen diamonds. With two helpers swaying on the back of the truck fending off the pursuing enemies, getting the ice to safety required some fancy manoeuvring through the city streets, a task made all the more harrowing by the Trashmaster's lack of speed and manoeuvrability.
Niko's life is also far more streamlined. There's no property to buy and you don't have to do mundane things like eat food (unless you want health) or exercise to put on muscle; in other words, the game is about quality and not quantity. When you need firepower, Niko can visit a local weapons shop or make friends who provide guns as a service. You'll meet other connected individuals but you'll have to keep up relationships to keep on their good side. You can engage in activities such as playing darts, shooting pool or even hitting a local bar to maintain good relationships; ignore a friend for too long and you won't reap the benefits. And, of course, you can also go on dates and try to establish "friendships" that way.
Most of the missions in GTA IV prove to be incredibly fun, and a new combat engine and targeting system make firefights feel epic. A cover system that feels reminiscent to Gears of War adds a nice layer of strategy, allowing players to target enemies and free aim on different body parts. An enemy's heath is displayed around the round targeting circle, and a headshot can take most foes down in one pop. Rocket launchers and grenades can light up any conflict, but submachine guns, Uzis and shotguns will probably prove to be your best friends. A pistol lets you perform an execution, which ties nicely into assassination-themed story missions.
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