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Grand Theft Auto IV - The Fluff-free review

AT A GLANCE
  • The high-def Liberty City is a thing of beauty
  • A brilliant cast and an involving story
  • Fixes all the rough edges of yore
  • Occasional pop-up
  • Still the odd targeting issue
  • Virtual strip clubs are still weak

What with GTA IV being the single biggest game release of 2008 there's going to be a lot of reviews and opinions out there vying for your attention. So in this 360-centric appraisal we're doing things a little differently - cutting the fluff that surrounds most reviews and getting to what matters.

Like: What's new? What are the weapons like? How do the cars handle? What's the story? What are the best missions? How good a location is the high-def Liberty City? All that and more are included here and you can even skip to the bits that you want to read first, because no-one wants to read a paragraph of puff before they get to the meat.

If you've somehow ended up here and wanted a PS3-specific review click here to read the Grand Theft Auto IV PlayStation 3 review over in the PS3 channel.

Your central character: Niko Bellic, the Balkan difference

Drivetime: Getting around Liberty City

The visuals: Sucking in the atmosphere

The missions: Shoot, drive and steal

Weapons and targeting: Shoot to kill

The new stuff: Like the trailer said - things will be different

The bits you won't want to skip

The damage system: Smashing the place up

The cover system: Because you can't just pile in anymore

On the mobile: Your link to the criminal underworld

Sound: Music to your ears

The cops: The bacon factory

Leisure time: Kicking back and wasting time

Multiplayer: Crime online

Final summary: for the skinny

 

Your central character: Niko Bellic, the Balkan difference

First up, Niko’s not f***ing Russian, he’s Serbian. That's important. And he’s probably the coolest videogame character we’ve ever played as.

Forget the tiresome arrogance of Tommy Vercetti and the faux-bling gangsterisms of CJ - Niko has a depth of character which is extraordinary in the mono-dimensional world of videogames. Fresh off the boat from Eastern Europe, he’s a man with a shadowy past: people trafficker and veteran soldier of the most recent Balkan war.

Niko comes to Liberty City, city of opportunity, after receiving an email from his cousin Roman, who claims he is rich and living in a condo with girls with ‘big titties’. It only takes the first cinematic to show this has been one big lie; he actually runs a cab firm in fear of the Russian mob and lives in a cockroach infested hovel.

As you unravel the plot it becomes clear that Niko is a good man who has seen some very bad things. Initially, on arrival in Liberty City, his motivation is to make money, but the story soon introduces a second, more pressing issue - a quest to find that ‘special someone’ alluded to in the trailers.

He’s loyal to his family (ie. Roman and his girlfriend Mallorie) and while it’s down to the player to dictate some of his behaviour, he shows none of the traits of misogyny that other characters in the game drip with. A kind, innocent side to him is portrayed through his relationship with Michelle (the first girlfriend). Where does he take her on a first date? The fun fair. Put simply, he’s a stone-cold killer, but you’d be quite happy leaving him alone with your kid sister.

It’s not just through his intriguing back story that Niko becomes a more human character than previous anti-heroes; it's also down to the way GTA IV introduces more naturalistic body animation. You can see this in the lope of his walk, the way his feet touch every step when he runs down stairs – even in the movement of individual fingers.




Drivetime: Getting around Liberty City

As befits the title a large proportion of game time is spent negotiating the environs of Liberty City at breakneck speed in an admirable roster of vehicles. One of the single greatest inventions to assist you with this (in ground-based vehicles) is the new SatNav device.

If you need to reach a remote location and can’t afford to get lost, just hit the map, set a marker point and the SatNav will work out the best route, indicated by an easy to follow coloured line. Without it, finding your way about would often be a nightmare given complexity of some of the freeway interchanges.

The only area we could fault it (and in fairness it mimics a real-life GPS) is when you take an alternative route (say, to avoid the police in the heat of a chase) and it has to recalculate the route. The second or two delay it takes to do this is enough to send you off course - and in extreme cases fail a mission. At least it never crashes or claims it's lost satellite reception...

If you can’t be bothered to drive Niko can flag down a taxi using the left bumper and then jump in by holding down Y (just be careful not to tap it or he’ll perform a carjack instead). Inside you have the option to travel to any location on the map including mission start points and markers via a scenic route or an instant skip (at an extra cost). Usefully, taxis can also be used during a mission.

For the impatient gamer these are indispensable when the difficulty ramps up and you start failing missions. Even better, if you get cousin Roman in your good books by taking him out enough you’ll get the services of a private chauffeur who is only ever a phone call away.

However, driving around the city with the radio pumping often creates some of GTA IV's 'special' moments; cruising the streets of Algonquin in the driving rain with Miles Davis or speeding down the freeway at sunset to the sounds of Jean Michel Jarre's Oxygene No.4. You'd miss out on this if you just took taxis everywhere.

In terms of vehicle handling, each vehicle's nuances and engine noises are exactly as you might expect for their type. If anything, Rockstar has given them a small dose of simulation-style control. It’s not Gran Turismo, for sure, but where San Andreas’s cars could feel lighter than air and bounce around with bizarre gravity, GTA IV’s respond more authentically to bumps and smashes.

Most importantly they all feel different. Trash trucks and lorries are slow and cumbersome, sports cars devilishly fast and easy to hurl round corners with careful application of the handbrake button (x). Bikes are lethally quick yet irritatingly slow to pick up off the floor and climb back onto when you take a tumble. Which you will at least once in all of the bike chase missions.

The visuals: Sucking in the atmosphere

Like Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, the creative minds at Rockstar have always had a love affair with the city of New York – it’s where their HQ is based and home of ex-pats Sam and Dan Houser. The result is that Liberty City is an occasionally breathtaking homage to their city d’amour, rich with detail and stylised interpretations of famous landmarks.

Part of the character of the city is dictated by the light, weather and cloud patterns which were captured using time-lapse photography over a period of six weeks. The effect is an ever-changing colour palette which shows Liberty City in bright sunlight, dense fog, dramatic thunderstorms (the neon reflecting off the wet tarmac are a high-def treat) and almost monochromatic dusks.

The trick they’ve pulled is to realise a distinctly mature, 'organic' and intelligent vision of New York. There’s artistic license (they’ve sacked off the fifth borough of Staten Island, probably because it’s so boring) but famous areas like Times Square, Central Park and Broadway fill you with a sense of excitement - like you're a tourist arriving there for the first time on a weekend break. Even if you’ve only ever seen Manhattan in the movies you’ll feel like you’ve been there in the coolest way possible.

However, it's not just the neon lights, foliage and street furniture (Rockstar actually has a 'props' guy) that create the unique NYC/LC aura - it's what's going on in the background: the police pulling people over on the Algonquin bridge, the hot dog vendors, the drunken bums, the dodgy dealers lurking in the shadows of Bohan's run-down housing projects.

And while in San Andreas these bit part characters were like clockwork dummys, traipsing around on a never-ending loop now each one feels more like an individual. It gives Liberty City an eerie sense of the real - well, as far as any game has managed up to this point - and is the perfect location for GTA IV's story to play out in.

More Info

Release date: Apr 29 2008 - PS3
Dec 02 2008 - PC
Apr 29 2008 - Xbox 360 (US)
Apr 29 2008 - PS3
Dec 03 2008 - PC
Apr 29 2008 - Xbox 360 (UK)
Available Platforms: PS3, PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Published by: Rockstar San Diego, Take2 Interactive
Developed by: Rockstar, Rockstar North
Franchise: Grand Theft Auto
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs, Use of Alcohol
PEGI Rating:
18+

22 comments

  • peter-denniss - July 30, 2013 7 a.m.

    HELP!!! Every time I try to go bowling with my girl, as soon as I enter the bowling lane the P.S.3 freezes up and I have to re-boot, start from my last save and the very same thing again. Freezes up and not a one thing will work. Please help. It is so frustrating.
  • Lando81 - May 16, 2011 10:01 a.m.

    @conjabro because you haven't learned proper English yet
  • conjabro - December 11, 2010 6:14 a.m.

    Dham that suxx how some cheats deactivate some for ur acheivements thats if ur playn xbox360.
  • risegerman - January 28, 2010 6:30 a.m.

    this game would be a lot better if it was like GTA:SA with country land hidden land marks and more guns and cars theres thousands of them both out there and thats the best they can do am ashamed there could be a lot more to this game.. PERIOD!
  • Vivapwnata - December 7, 2008 9:01 p.m.

    Great game, but my only petpeve(not that anyone say's petpeve anymore, it just sounded fitting) is that you can't fly airplanes!!!That's all I used to do on SanAndreas, and now i am about to cry. At least you're russian. Oh well, this game maybe deserves a 9.5 for graphics, the damage to cars and other s@#% is really good compared to SA.
  • Army_of_One - October 8, 2008 5:52 a.m.

    This game is pretty cool i would give it a 10 out 10 i love the glitches and the shooting is hella fun
  • CDAUG - November 27, 2008 6:40 p.m.

    this game is amazing! theres a few things that i didnt like about it. the story mode should have been longer. and they should come out wit an update on xbox live for more missions and more cars. that would be cool.
  • xxBIONICxKiller - October 1, 2008 6:44 p.m.

    this is the worst game ever. I hate this game. I loved III and vice city and san andreas, but I just hate 4. the gameplay sucks when u jump it takes like 4 mins too f**king jump!!!
  • MultiGamer - September 24, 2008 9:05 p.m.

    This is the greatest game i've ever played, and I'm NOT exagerating.
  • Drake98 - September 18, 2008 11:15 p.m.

    This is a great game, but not desrving of a 10. Maybe a 9.5, but very few games deserve a 10, if any.
  • assaultjoker - September 2, 2008 10:23 p.m.

    ive played this game a little and its awesome
  • Demonflare - May 6, 2009 12:33 a.m.

    This game is bad ass n awsome! Although it takes 4ever to beat.
  • HungryBeaver - March 4, 2009 9:53 p.m.

    Hey can someone tell me if TLAD cheats disable achievements? Thanks =D
  • Cwf2008 - February 23, 2009 3:27 a.m.

    At above...dumbass its The Lost and the Damned...you suck
  • camel - August 8, 2009 5:42 p.m.

    its over rated, not as good as san andreas theres a crap countryside you cant fly planes no mountains no parachute no bicycle no gangs no underwater but there is a lot of pluses with better graphics greater driving, combat is amazing but gta san andreas still wins in my view
  • aqibloz - July 24, 2009 2:59 p.m.

    Id have saints row 2 over the repetitive boring crap Rockstar are coming out with these days with GTAIV. Rockstar tried there dandest to make sure that no two levels were the same but what did eventually come out with? a boring lackluster of a game that turned into a blockbuster. I you were dissapointed by this saints row 2 will more than make up or it. a game is meant to be FUN first then absorbing after if u lose the fun theres no point of the absorbing u can do that outside in real life cause a game is meant to be a fun ESCAPE from reality not to simulate it like this bogus games does, try saints row 2 trust me :D
  • CheatMaster27 - July 4, 2009 5:06 a.m.

    I love GTA 4, GTA San Andreas was awsome, GTA 4 TLAD is great as well,but better graphics wouldve been nice though. but stll there are better games, but i do agree its not a 10 rank game more or less 9-9.5 its good but not 10 rank good.
  • GeNeRaL - May 23, 2009 1:12 a.m.

    I LOVE this game soo much .. I have completed the games and i did it in under 42 hours . . . . I think the way he falls out of planes and stuff should look different every time , or just mix it . . they should make another one that lets you pick which path you want to take . soo like if you want to join a gang you can , if you want to join a maifa and soo on . and each path dose different stuff , so when you finish one path you can start the game agian and do a different one . =) , thats what i would like but people think different . For an MA game this dosent show much , like the stripers , you would think they show something , and the cars: it starts to fell like you keep seeing the same car over and over and over and over and over and over again , and they should make an update that lets to customize a car , like in GTA 4 . And the guns Grrrrrrrrrr Need more , and what would be really cool , Customize your own weapons at a special shop in the game , now that would be awsome =) Ok thats all i have to say , GeNeRaL OUT ,.........
  • sft10 - March 9, 2009 7:36 p.m.

    One of the best games i have ever played great reveiw GR.
  • charley235 - March 2, 2009 11:36 p.m.

    i think the character models faces dont show enough emotion, and characters still look a little blocky like when you get a strip dance, otherwise grrrreat game

Showing 1-20 of 22 comments

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