The new stuff: Like the trailer said -things will be different
As well as using your mobile phone to find out about new jobs and contact friends, Rockstar has slipped in a few other present day communication techniques and made them fundamental to the structure of missions. Shortly after arriving in Liberty City, Niko's cousin Roman sets him up with an email account which is used to alert him to jobs (most memorably to set up a gay date). The internet is put to good use, not just as another outlet for Rockstar's ongoing parody of American culture, but to help Niko prepare a resume to get him closer to a lawyer he has to hit, for example. It's not a deal breaker but it's the natural evolution of the 'ringing public phone' found in San Andreas and Vice City.
Niko is occasionally required to get access to police computers to locate a target. The most amusing way to achieve this is to phone 911 in a remote location, wait for the police to turn up and then hijack their car. As well as searching by name the computer can also link up to your phone to identify any pictures that have been sent to you via text mesage. Then you simply hit A and the computer will add the directions to your SatNav. Smart.
Cimematics: The bits you won’t want to skip
Interestingly the stats section of GTA IV has a listing for 'cut-scenes watched'. It's doubtful you'll skip one during the first play through. The main thing that stands out in these scripted cinematics is the quality of the voice-acting and the lip-syncing.
Where some CG sequences can be a pain to sit through due to their ineptitude - fishlike mouths miming a completely different set of words to the ones being spoken, awkward body movements (usually too much use of the hands) skin tones of a burns victim - those in GTA are frequently funny, for the most part intelligently scripted and with fluid, natural animations.
The damage system: Smashing the place up
You might remember how frustrating it was when you failed a mission in any of the previous GTAs because your car blew up? That doesn't seem to happen so much in IV. It took us a while to work out why: the damage dealt to cars is relative to where they get hit. Furthermore, they tend to just come to a shuddering halt, rather than bursting into flames. Real-time damage basically means you can manually decide how to wreck you car. Put a dent in the front and the bumper falls off. Back it into a post and you smash the brake lights. Get shot at and you get free air conditioning and the distinct possibility a stray bullet might pierce the fuel tank and blow you from Broker into Alderney. Basically you've got the potential of Burnout's crunching auto porn transplanted into a GTA game.
And all that street furniture we mentioned earlier: hot dog stalls, dumpsters, cafe tables, piles of cardboard boxes, newspaper stands, lamp posts, parked cars, people, that's all fully destructible too. You don't have to try that hard to imagine the potential for carnage when you've got a five star wanted level and a parade of cops on your ass and you decide to take the pedestrian route. It's messy. Our personal favourite thing to smash into are the mailboxes which eject an impressive spray of papers into the air, all individually floating around in your wake. And we used to think these Rockstar guys couldn't do graphics...
Humans, too, take damage in a more advanced manner. Using free aim you can target different parts of an enemies anatomy and choose to, say, just wound a leg and then follow them around like a psychopath as they hobble away clutching their caved-in appendage. Even more brutality awaits enemies who you can perform executions on, a little slice of Manhunt hidden away in the nasty bowels of GTA IV.
However, the most shocking example of body deformation is far more commonplace (at least in real-life) and guaranteed to make you wince the first time you see it; having hit something solid at high speed Niko is catapulted through the front windscreen and hits the asphalt with all sorts of contorted body mangling. Gloriously unpleasant.