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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Of course, the variety of missions and weaponry speaks to one basic truth: the GTA franchise has always been about choice and empowering the gamer, concepts that GTA IV takes to an entirely new level. The game offers you a lot of freedom and gives you opportunities to make a lot of decisions. Some are trivial — which type of car you decide to take on a mission, for instance — while others have serious implications; I won't ruin any surprises, but let's just say that there will be times when you will have to think long and hard before you take aim and pull the trigger. It's no exaggeration to say that GTA IV provides each gamer with his or her own personal gaming experience.
Thankfully, the game's presentation has received a major upgrade, making your time with the game feel far more intuitive and fluid. A prime example of this is Niko's smartphone, an all-in-one device that acts a telephone, organiser, and text- and picture-messaging device; it delivers pertinent information but never takes you out of the game — you never need to access a submenu or hit pause. Contacts call you, and alternatively, you can call them, to initiate missions. Text messages keep you informed with quick updates and picture messages prove vital to locating specific targets. You can even use the device to replay failed missions, which is a welcome feature. And of course, in typical Rockstar style, the developers allow you to customise the smartphone with new backgrounds and ringtones, both of which can be downloaded through Liberty City's in-game Internet.
The city is alive...
But as interesting as those refinements are, and as interesting a character as Niko is, the true star of this show is undoubtedly Liberty City itself. The thriving metropolis seems to have a life of its own, with crowded streets and incredibly interactive pedestrians. Bump a woman on a sidewalk and she might drop her coffee, as well as a few expletives. Run over a mailbox and a fountain of mail will spew into the wind. Other GTA games have featured memorable locales, but none can match the detail, size and scope of GTA IV's Liberty City. Sure, those patented GTA glitches — clipping, texture pop-in, and the like — still abound, but they can't take away from the majesty and beauty of the metropolis.
There's something interesting waiting around every corner, a feat that no other game has been able to accomplish before. Steal a car and a police officer might attempt to drag you out; but push on the gas and you'll leave the unlucky copper hanging onto the open door for dear life. As you duck and weave around traffic, he'll slowly lose his grip and his body will flail around every turn until he eventually gives up. It's the little details like that that makes GTA IV more than just a great game. In other words, the story and the gameplay are the cake and the little details serve as the delicious frosting.
I get around
Liberty City is an intricately designed city; normally, this would make it difficult to navigate except for one thing: every car in GTA IV has built-in GPS navigation, which makes getting around the city a snap. It works exceptionally well, accounting even for one-way streets. It also comes in handy when you to evade police detection: a new "wanted level" system eliminates the cop bribes of the past. Now, it's all about line of sight. Commit a crime and a flashing circular zone that represents the nearest pursuing officer's zone of sight lights up your radar; escape that area without being seen by another cop and you're golden. If you're on foot, a parked car will sometimes be your only way out, but be warned that you'll need a few seconds to hotwire it, and the nicer the car, the longer it takes to spark up. And of course, in a pinch, running your car through a Pay N' Spray can quickly get you out of a jam.
Cars are as fast and loose as ever, making super jumps and motorcycle wheelies a nice distraction unless, of course, you get stuck behind the wheel of a behemoth like a garbage truck or an 18-wheeler. Boats can also provide an easier getaway should you need to get wet to ditch the heat and helicopters offer up a nice aerial view of the city, as well as access to some out-of-the-way places.
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