Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Release date: April 29, 2008
Distributed by: Take-Two Interactive
Published by: Rockstar Games
Developed by: Rockstar North
ESRB: M (for Mature)
Here we go again. Developer Rockstar North has delivered yet another gaming masterpiece. For fans of the entire Grand Theft Auto series, there are no disappointments and if you are new to the GTAM experience, there are also no disappointments. That being said, GTA IV is the pinnacle of the entire series – top-notch voice acting, incredible graphics, addictive game play and Oscar-caliber story makes the game attractive to old and young alike. Although GTA IV has a M rating and parents should be very wary of buying this title for the kiddies, the game is well worth picking-up a copy for adults. Hell, I even went out and bought an Xbox 360 just to be able to play this latest and greatest GTA title.
Known for its radical and very often controversial game titles, Rockstar Games certainly has a hit on their hands this time around. After four years in development and numerous launch date setbacks, the wait has been well worth it. Rockstar puts you into the life of Niko Bellic, a veteran of the Bosnian War. Niko has come to Liberty City, the game’s setting, in search of a new life and the American Dream but ultimately finds himself ensconced in the seedy underworld of criminals and psychopaths. Niko and his cousin Roman begin as low-level nobodies in a sea of somebodies, and the cousins are out to make a name for themselves’ no matter what it takes. As usual for a GTA title, Rockstar has incorporated driving and action seamlessly, making Niko’s wide-range of missions challenging but still achievable. There are also achievement points for completing certain missions in certain ways. For instance instead of killing a “target”, you can be given the choice to wound or let a “target” go free. This element is one of the biggest changes in core game play, and gives Niko a chance to be good or ghastly, which in turn drives the overall outcome of the game. And by unlocking achievement points, certain perks will become available in later parts of GTA IV.
Besides a few changes to the game play, Rockstar has also given a drastic facelift to the GTA series. The new and improved Liberty City is nothing short of amazing. The player can see something new around every corner, every block and every mile of Liberty City as the game unfolds. Rockstar had research teams that spent weeks and months in New York City, on which Liberty City is loosely-based off of gathering huge amounts of data, not only for the look and feel of Liberty City, but of its inhabitants as well. Imagine if you had the chance to stand on a street corner in the middle of Manhattan, and just people-watch, you would see identical situations arise among the interactions of the people of Liberty City. The hot dog sellers cry out for passers-by to buy their “meatsticks” and the heroin junkies ask you for money. Others are just standing around, smoking, drinking and doing pretty much whatever else you can think of.
Since most of Niko’s time is spent driving around from one place to another, Rockstar spared no time in making the game’s driving elements the most realistic I’ve seen in a title of this magnitude. The vehicle will accelerate, turn and stop according the type of car, truck or bike Niko “borrows” in his pursuit of the American Dream. When not driving, Niko’s abilities have changed drastically since previous GTA titles. The player can now duck and cover, roll, sprint and climb much more realistically than previous incarnations of the series. If the player is new to the series, these abilities take about an hour to master and Niko’s physical attributes continue to change or “evolve” as the game progresses.
What sets the Grand Theft Auto games apart from most other games is the story. In previous GTA titles, Rockstar has hired some of the best Hollywood has to offer for the voice-over acting (Ray Liotta for GTA: Vice City and Samuel L. Jackson for GTA: San Andreas) whereas they took a low-key approach to GTA IV, hiring relative no-names for the voice acting. But nonetheless, the story is driven by the excellent dialogue, which was done with class and works extremely well to tell the story of soon-to-be-infamous Niko.
Suffice it to say that Grand Theft Auto IV uses a blend of fantastic visuals and sound, with a mixture of ultra-violence and a dash of humor to make playing the title a memorable and rewarding experience, worthy of going down in gaming history as one of the finest ever made.