Grand Theft Auto IV
Immersive and immeasurable are two words that spring to mind after ploughing through our copy of GTA IV for the PS3. With so much publicity surrounding the true successor to GTA III from the last three years, Rockstar certainly had to deal with a lot of immeasurable press in between this time. What with the uproar and controversy surrounding Manhunt 2, and the legal wrangling intertwining with the sneak previews and videos of the global phenomenon that is GTA back in October 2007, it was a make or break situation for the team. Although a marginally smaller area than that of San Andreas, GTA IV is still immensely saturated with all manner of curvaceous crossroads and interlocking bridge ways and gantries, road networks spanning miles of bustling noise and traffic, pathways heaving with pedestrian activity and smoky, electric, siren-induced airwaves; this game is seriously alive.The HUD display has also been radically improved, with a plausible arrangement of the smaller, more compact map in the bottom left corner of the screen displaying all of the key information as to help with any confused tourist, and the relevant character data for Niko now filters through during action sequences and moments of interest. Liberty City, replicated heavily around the bustling streets of New York City, is one of the most immersive and sophisticated game worlds we have ever witnessed, with a graphical sheen added to the high definition preciseness of the crisp outer edges, a rainbotic sumptuous absorption of all the pastel and poster paint splashes that make up the big picture. The scale and enormity of Liberty City beggar’s belief, with the tallest skyscraper filtering through the clouds, the glass windows reflecting the exploding red sunset or the bleak shattering of a rainy, grainy day. Pedestrians react to every movement, every physical motion, putting up umbrellas, opening purses, looking at Niko as they pass, turning heads and checking the time, entering buildings, exchanging goods, selling newspapers and talking on the mobile. They act like civilians, real life, and greasy, grimy, shiny, sleek individuals. It’s a moment of glorious eye candy as you move away from the darker, more sensitised docks of the east side of the City at the start of the game, and peruse the streets for hours, just looking at the detail from there on out. A contemporary City then, with all of the added implications of a living, breathing community, built on years of solid foundation work in previous instalments, the ultimate question on everyone's lips, is GTA IV really that good?
The answer to that question hides itself away in the tiny part of your brain that we like to call, the ‘gamers closet’. You see, for years we sit and wait for that gaming masterpiece to surface, to take the crown from games like Zelda Ocarina of Time, Super Mario Galaxy, Resident Evil 4, Halo 3 or even Metroid Prime. Games that define how we play, challenge and modify the way we emphasise and witness a revolution in game technology, in its sciences, through every orifice and crevice imbued with the magical gameplay and urge to pick up the pad. GTA IV sits proudly amongst them, make no mistake about it. Its one of the most impressive games we have ever seen, and there’s been a lot. Some tried and failed, some marginally achieved what they set out to achieve, some even graced a few accolades along the way, but nothing compares to the experience and the buzz you will get from playing this game. A classic has been reinvented, rebirthed for a new generation, enhancing and embracing all that is culturally symbolic and gratifying in the 21st century.After ripping off the packaging of the rather lacklustre special edition and scrunch the plastic wrap in your cold, clammy fingers, you realise that you are suddenly anticipating the worst. The fear of dread falls over you as you caress the outer packaging with tender care, cautious as to not make a sound in case the game hears you. The lockbox is nice, and the 'making of' artbook is acceptable but seen far too many times before. The duffle bag is a bit pointless, as is the customised key ring, however the soundtrack is a pleasurable extra. However, the song choices this time around for GTA IV emphasises rap artists quite considerably. This may infuriate fans of Vice City's 80's nostalgia, or even 90's beats and tunes, but there are a few additions that are simply wonderful.
Too long have you had to wait for that freedom in a game world, that escapist feeling that you’re falling through fluffy clouds made of candyfloss, fearing nothing as you plummet towards the next gripping experience. GTA IV will satisfy the tastes of thousands, as the amount of variation, customisation and freedom allowed in this title is immense. From missions revolving around the modernisation of the text message and the internet dating spatial, to the amazing car chases and day long bank heist, supermarket sweep sidequests and full-on gunfights and brawls this is unquestionably one of the most relaxing, drug inducing, heart pounding and nail biting experiences we have played in years. A concoction of potions from just about every genre imaginable. I know we keep mentioning this, but it’s true, so so true, this game is immense. Even the controls have been updated with amazing movement and precision. You can now utilise several combat manoeuvres that you can train and gain on throughout the missions, with a heavy emphasis on ducking and diving for cover aka Gears of War. By sticking to your vehicles underside, you can pinpoint several weak points in the cop’s lower anatomy, and let fly with several bullets to the groin. In agony the copper will fall to the floor, clutching the injured area with so much expression and anguish. Each and every civilian in the world of GTA IV is unique, in the way they dress, look, feel and behave.The law is also a much more present force on the streets, with a brand new wanted level area incorporated onto the map icon when your star rating increases. The only way to escape is to crawl in the shadows and leave the area covered in the dangerous glow of enforcement. You will feel outnumbered, outgunned and under pressure most of the time whilst you play through some of the most interesting missions ever seen in a GTA title, with moments of serenity in-between missions to relax and unwind in some of the bars, clubs and restaurants around the lamp lit districts in affluent disguise from the rest of the City.
Cars also handle incredibly well, with a style that suits a destruction derby physic engine mixed with the realism and structure of Polyphonals true life attempts rather than the loose handling and obscene graphical glitches seen in previous instalments. Whilst behind the wheel, you can perform numerous moves and tricks with the hidden jumps and craggy architectural points in and around Liberty City, of which there are tons. With an added lock-on ability for cars in your viewpoint; extremely useful in chase scenes, either towards or away from a crime scene, and a breathtaking amount of in-car detail, and you get another shining example of Rockstar doing what it does best…involving the player in an immersive situation. The same can be said for the way you encounter and handle each mission. Whether you opt for stealth or all out gun fights, the story revolves around the way you handle each and every situation. By completing some missions, you unlock the chance to be able to meet that character again down the road for another installment, increasing your personal attributes and wealth, and at the same time, progressing the story.You can also flag down taxis this time, enabling you to drive from one location to another in a simple motion, cutting out unnecessary waiting time, or travelling nuances. In terms of other vehicular options, airplanes are sadly out, probably due to the terrorism acts of September 11th, and as such, Rockstar have opted for the helicopter to get you around the skies of Liberty City. There is nothing that quite matches the feeling of freeform flight through the skies of a fictitious but edible cityscape than when you are sat quite comfortably in the cockpit of a beastly death chopper. From the swooping bends and narrow entry points in and around the centre of the City, to the far stretching islands and hillsides on the surrounding campus, it’s a scene that will bring a tear to the eye of many a gamer that’s for sure. The widescreen display enables the player to get a firm grasp of the sheer velocity and speed of the games hyper realistic epicentre, with an absolutely flawless game engine running behind the scenes, and almost no loading screens whatsoever. This game is one of the smoothest transitions we have ever had the chance to play through, and it helps the seamless interaction from one epic encounter to the next with amazing style and fortitude.
This interaction between the seamless character stream and the player at home helps build the relationships needed to establish a binding connection between the videogames modern turnings and the real world. With such a transition aimlessly implemented by Rockstar for the sole purpose of emerging itself as a newfound tester of waters infested with ravaging media sharks and fans wanting the next level, this is a truly marvellous experience. They have seriously raised the bar to such a height that no mortal man will ever reach. The added extras, the attention to detail, the characterisation of Niko and the fan base attraction to his developing story; which is involving, evocative, inducing and entrancing, intoxicates the world around you. The PS3 version, although sadly lacking achievements and the additional downloads exclusive to Microsoft’s version for this year, still manages to create such a powerful portrayal of a contemporary spectacle through its extra graphical oomph that its such a hard decision to make for any gamer owning both consoles. The PS3's extra processing power enables the game to run at a much smoother frame rate, with less heating issues. However, Rockstar has been careful in making both versions near off perfect examples of how you make a videogame.So it falls to this; take one successful formula, throw it in the melting pot, add in some extra spices in the form of brand new physics, engines, speed and supply, stir thoroughly, and your left with one of the most amazing games you will ever have the pleasure of playing. GTA IV is without doubt the best game to buy on the high street come April 29th, so we suggest you get out that wallet, and purchase this fine example of a videogame masterpiece... flawless, exotic, priceless, thank you Rockstar.