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Grand Theft Auto IV
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Release date: 04.29.2008
Let?s just cut to the chase, Grand Theft Auto 4 is the most eagerly awaited game of all time. The only media event that it can be compared to is the release of the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace. With movies, concerts, and certain TV shows, this kind of anticipation is expected. But for a videogame to have gigantic billboards high above Times Square, and posters that are pasted side-by-side with the current crop of mega-budget summer movie flicks, a major barrier has been broken down. Last fall?s release of Halo 3 was big, but GTA 4?s release makes that look like it never even happened. Originally scheduled for October 16, 2007, the release date was pushed to April 29, 2008; some say because of issues getting the game to work on the PS3, others say it?s because of the limitations of getting such a big game on the Xbox 360?s standard DVD format. Who knows the real reason, and right now no one cares because that six-month difference gave the developer?s over at Rockstar Games more time in the lab to give us all a better gaming experience. Grand Theft Auto 4 is available for both the PS3 and the Xbox 360, offering a game of epic proportions, and it?s one hell of a ride.

GTA 4 brings us back to familiar territory in Liberty City, a mock version of New York; and things looks very different from when we last saw it in GTA 3. This new game tells the story of Niko Bellic, an Easter European man who literally arrives fresh off the boat in the USA in hopes of grabbing hold of the American dream. Instantly he learns that it?s not as easy as his cousin Roman said it was. The mansion that Roman claimed he had turns out to be a dirty little apartment, and the huge business empire he said he owned is actually just a low rent cab company. Roman is in debt with many shady characters, due to a gambling addiction and various other sour deals, and Niko has actually been suckered into helping him stay alive, rather than enjoy the promised lifestyle of luxury.

Being that Niko is here illegally and has a limited tongue for the language, he has no other choice but to turn to the criminal side to get some money in his pocket. He takes small jobs for nickel and dime criminals doing task such as collections and stealing cars to earn himself a reputation with bigger names in the city?s crime game. This leads him to more jobs for better money, and as the saying goes ?more money?.more problems.? Niko was a soldier in his homeland, so he is no stranger to weapons or killing anyone he is ordered to eliminate, so his skills are useful. Through Niko?s eyes you will see his rise to power, one bullet at a time, as he dives into the crime world to build his own empire.

Anyone who is familiar with the world of Grand Theft Auto already knows what type of gameplay to expect. Liberty City is a carnival of mayhem where you can explore and interact with just about everything in the environment through sandbox-styled gameplay. The previous three games in the serious pushed last-gens systems to the limit (particularly the PS2), but now the gang over at Rockstar has a whole new canvas, thanks to the power of the current generation of consoles. GTA 4 has a whole new look, displaying a more detailed city that mimics various areas of New York City. From the very start you can see that this game is going more for a cinematic feel, with elements of movies like Scarface, Goodfellas, and Reservoir Dogs. GTA 4 features one of the best storylines in a videogame, where you completely become absorbed with the characters, because even though they are mainly stereotypes, it?s all structured so well and complimented by such great voice acting, that it works.

While the core gameplay in GTA 4 is the same as the previous titles, there have been many additions; some of which are new and some that are upgrades from the last games to make the experience more enjoyable. For instance, when you hijack a car various new animations can occur, such as the standard pulling the driver out and jumping behind the wheel. But now if Niko attempts to jack a parked car, if it?s locked he?ll look around to see if anyone is looking and break the window to pull the lock; or at times he?ll duck under the wheel and you can use button prompts for him to hot-wire it.

Gunplay, an issue that always plagued the GTA games, has been greatly improved by implementing an over the shoulder angle which makes targeting and getting more accurate shots better because of the closer view. So when you?re in firefight with multiple enemies, poppin? caps in them won?t be as frustrating as it was in the previous games. This also improves throwing objects such as Molotov cocktails and grenades, increasing your chances of taking out various targets at once. A simple cover system also makes shielding yourself in a firefight easy, and even allows you to do blind firing.

Driving has also been made easier thanks to the GPS placed on the map of your HUD, so instead of just driving towards an icon on the map and trying to find the right streets, the path will be displayed allowing you to get to your destination faster. If Niko has some money in his pocket and wants to treat himself to a cab right instead of jacking one, when he hails a cab he can sit in the backseat, allowing you to a first person view from the rear of the cab as you enjoy the ride. Even though most will skip this to go right to their destination, it?s a nice feature highlighting the extra efforts Rockstar made to enhance the gaming experience. Niko uses a cell phone as his way of getting jobs, making dates with the ladies, and keeping him up to date on missions. When accessed the cell phone features also allow you to adjust controls and settings, and since the game does not have a standard main menu page, your phone allows you to set up multiplayer games.

Overall, Liberty City itself is the main star of the show, and in-between missions it is highly recommended that you take a trip around to see what the city has to offer. Being a New Yorker myself made this more enjoyable, because there are so many locations that will instantly stand out, such as the bodega filled streets of the South Bronx, or the famous Unisphere in Queens? Flushing Meadows Park. Even though various other GTA clones attempted to capture the city in the past, the Rockstar developers have totally nailed it, and even though the names of places have been changed for obvious reasons, you?ll know that you?re actually seeing Radio City Music Hall when you race down the streets of Algonquin (the game?s version of Manhattan). And after you?re burned out after completing a mission, you can always go to a strip club and have one of the ladies give you hot lap dance.

GTA 4 is the first in the series to introduce online gameplay, and even though the campaign mode is so large and requires repeated play time to try to get to the famed 100% club, the multiplayer option is like experiencing a whole new game. Up to 16 players can go GTA crazy in various modes of play via Xbox Live or the PSN in fifteen modes of play, including the standard Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch; there?s also a racing game, as well as the totally addictive Cops n Crooks and the Team Car Jack City modes. Turf War is another fun mode played in a capture the flag style; and Mafiya Work has you doing odd jobs for a mob kingpin for cash. There?s also the option to play co-op missions online with up to four players, so the multiplayer package is very robust making this game go the distance. Everything has been set up giving you the option to create matches, send out invites, and even choose the weather and time of day with ease. The beauty of the online mode is that nothing is limited; the whole city from the solo mode is fully at your disposal so you can go ballistic.

One of the main questions everyone has been asking is which version is better, the Xbox 360 or the PS3? Honestly, the differences are so minor that it really doesn?t matter. Basically, it?s up to the person playing the game to decide which console they want to play it on, because the gameplay is exactly the same. Thanks to the DualShock 3 both versions rumble, but only the Xbox 360 offers achievements. The PS3 version requires a short install onto the hard drive to speed up load times, the Xbox 360 doesn?t, making the load times a fraction slower. You have the option of controlling vehicles and reloading weapons using the motion feature on the PS3?s controller, but fortunately it?s an option that can be turned off, because manual is much more effective. Sure there?s been fuss about the PS3 version only being 640p while the Xbox 360 is 720p, but if you ran these games side by side you wouldn?t be able to see any difference that would make you declare one the winner. This will be a constant fan boy war to prove their console of choice is better, but in the end it?s the same game. So get over it.

GTA 4 is a ground breaking achievement in videogame design and is a must have for all PS3 and Xbox 360 owners. The series has come a long way, and who knows where it will take us next. Niko Bellic is an anti-hero who is multi dimensional; one minute he?s shooting down a helicopter with a rocket launcher, and later he?ll have a deep conversation with his cousin about how wars are bad, offering no winners, with society as a whole ending up as the loser. We may not want to hang out with him, but it?s a great experience to see the world through his eyes.
GTA 4 pushes both consoles to the limit, particularly the Xbox 360, because it?s amazing how much they were able to cram on that disk. The game is not as visually amazing as BioShock, or Call of Duty 4, but those games didn?t offer the large canvas that GTA 4 does. There are pop ups on both versions, and the Xbox 360 in particular has some framerate issues that can be seen when you?re in a high speed chase. The cut scenes are decent, though not up to par with the rest of the game, but the character models are well done, so when you spin the camera around you can see a lot of detail in their actions when they move. But again, it?s Liberty City itself that steals the show. The attention that went into building this world is a wonder all by itself, and no matter how many times you roam through it, it remains fresh. Which versions looks better, the PS3 or Xbox 360? You decide.

No question about it, GTA 4 features some of the best sound design in a videogame. The great storyline is complimented with excellent voice acting that draws you in and makes you more involved with Niko?s story. And when you?re walking around the city just listen to some of the chatter coming out of the folks on the street, because some of it is pretty hilarious. When you?re inside a vehicle and fiddle around with the stations, there are so many songs (over 200), that you?re bound to find something that you like, featuring artist such as Queen, Black Sabbath, Kanye West, Busta Rhymes, and ZZ Top, and even Elton John. The GTA games have always been credited with having great soundtracks, and this one is no exception.
replay value
How long it takes to finish GTA 4 is really up to you. Some will do all the basic missions until they complete Niko?s story, while others will be hardcore doing every little detail like completing all the insane jumps, or finding and shooting every flying rat in an attempt to get 100%. Either way the replay value is very high, and this doesn?t even count the online games. When you?re ready to show off in the multiplayer modes, there is various games where up to 16 players can run, shoot, drive and kill everywhere Liberty City has to offer. Since Xbox Live is the current multiplayer king, it?s probably easier to find your buddies online and get a game going, but the PS3?s test have held up well offering an equal online gaming experience. So both sides are the winner here.
bottom line
Was GTA 4 worth the long wait and all the hype??You damn right! There have been many copycats, but Rockstar once again proves that they are the only guys in town that can make this style of game right. It?s not flawless, with various minor technical issues on both console versions, but you?ll have so much fun playing that you won?t even care. This is a game that no matter how much is written about it, you must play for yourself to truly experience it, because you couldn?t write about everything the game has to offer in a single review. No wonder Hollywood is worried about games cutting into their business, because titles like GTA 4 are better than most movies. It?s going to be hard for Rockstar to top themselves after this, but as history has shown, they always seem to have a new trick up their sleeves. If you?re not playing this game right now, then you?re probably one of those suckers who is only stuck with a Wii. As Mr. T would say, ?I pity the fool.?
Review by: Johnny McNair
Posted: 11/30/1999
Replay Value:
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