There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the release of GTAIV. Gamers want to know how much the series has improved. GTA fans want to know which version of the game is the best. And, the general public is concerned about the level of violence and graphic content in the game. Rather than trying to cover everything, we're cutting to the chase with GTAIV. The game is easily a top contender for game of the year. The core GTA gameplay is intact, but includes some new bells and whistles to keep things interesting. The game plays great on your PS3 and the differences between the 360 version are largely negligible.
Coming to America
The main character, Niko Bellic, has come from Eastern Europe to America to meet up with his cousin Roman. Niko is looking for a better life and for… something else. Rockstar has traditionally done an excellent job with the GTA story lines, and this may be the best one yet. Characters are colorful yet engaging, while the main storyline offers both a satirical and poignant critique of the American Dream. Admittedly, one doesn’t think of poignant when it comes to GTA, but there’s a very nuanced narrative of betrayal, corruption, and disillusionment if you look past all the surface detail.
Land of Opportunity
Grand Theft Auto IV (GTAIV) Car Chase Screenshot© Rockstar
Speaking of detail, Rockstar has really raised the bar in terms of what to expect from a city. While non-New Yorkers may not appreciate all the “homages” placed within the game, sometimes you’ll just be taken aback by how authentic everything feels. Part of this appeal comes from how much is packed into the game.
The famous radio stations are back, and while you may not recognize a majority of the songs, the sheer variety of stations is impressive. Media experience is more than just radio now, as you can watch television and surf the internet. Interesting distractions, but they help make Liberty City seem real.
However, by far the most useful new piece of electronics is your phone. Acting as a kind of in-game menu, there’s much less waiting for your contacts to call you for missions, now you can call them directly and even restart missions from your phone. This does a lot to streamline missions, giving you less time traveling the city and more time doing what you want. For a little extra cash, taxis and the subway also allow you to move around the city faster. Other new game play elements include a cover system, a free aim/target lock trigger toggle, and tweaks to the wanted level system.
The RPG stat building of GTA: San Andreas is replaced by a little choose your own adventure flavor. At certain points, Niko can choose to kill or spare certain characters. While these choices can have simple effects, others are more far-reaching and can change the ending of the game. It’s a nice addition that makes an incentive for multiple playthroughs.
By far the biggest addition to the series is the numerous online multiplayer modes. A far cry from the tacked on multiplayer of San Andreas, GTAIV gives you no less than 10 unique multiplayer modes. Ranging from simple deathmatches to races to cooperative missions, modes like Mafia Work, Car Jack City, Turf War, GTA Race, Cops ‘n Crooks, and Free mode offer many unique ways you can play with others online. Unfortunately Rockstar was a little light on the instructions on how to actually do any of this, but they’ve released a short FAQ on their site for playing online. Also lacking is any kind of split screen multiplayer, meaning any friends actually hanging out with you are going to have to take turns with the controller.
Taking in the View
Grand Theft Auto IV (GTAIV) Harbor Screenshot© Rockstar
This is the best looking GTA game by far, but that’s not really saying much. While the game looks good, it likely won’t be the best looking game in your library. Character models are good but not great and animations can be a little touchy. Admittedly, the use of NaturalMotion’s Euphoria engine can create some lifelike (and amusing) character interactions. Textures and framerates are good, though not perfect, and there is just a hint of pop-in (an improvement over the Xbox 360 version). Preloading the game also cuts down on load times, though they’re far less prevalent than in previous titles. Supposedly the Xbox version will be getting some exclusive downloadable content in the near future, but its unlikely that Rockstar would leave Playstation users entirely out to dry. I’d expect some kind of PS3 DLC before the end of the year.