The cops: The bacon factory
The bastards. All they want to do is cause you trouble. This time round the police are less sensitive over you scraping past them in a traffic queue, but they still take issue with you carjacking a vehicle when they happen to be in the vicinity. In fact, reflecting their conservative politics, the police have changed the least in the transition to GTA IV.
That's not to say they aren't still a massive pain in the ass and have a major influence on the difficulty level of certain missions. In once incident that springs to mind, Niko is required to kill a load of Albanians at the Alderney hideout. Having arrived we attempted to take out the guards on the porch from distance with the sniper rifle. Which was working until a passing squad car got involved. Of course, things quickly spiral out of control, there's two dead cops and suddenly we've got mission impossible, being lasered on all sides by angry Albanians and legions of cops. The next time we simply made sure no cops were about, went in the back door and mission complete.
Leisure time: Kicking back and wasting time
To be honest we still wonder why these side-missions make the cut, but if we're pushed we will say that bowling, pool and darts make decent mini-games in their own right and the cabaret acts are worth a look - especially the Ricky Gervais cameo. But in the main going to a strip bar and watching a CGI stripper's crotch being rubbed in our/Niko's face is still a bit weird, even when the graphics are so much improved. Once it's acceptable to include full nudity in videogames and all the girls look like Shay Laren, then we might see the point.
The motivation to give in to these distractions is that making friends and calling them up for dates unlocks benefits which actually assist you in the main story mode. Which is kind of cute. As one example, wine and dine Roman enough and he'll open up a personal chauffeur service for you that'll pick you up wherever and when ever you want. Great when you're stuck on the other side of the city to where you want to be and can't be assed to drive.
Multiplayer: Crime Online
We've already gone in depth into multiplayer at preview stage, and to be honest there isn't too much we can add here except to say that the process of getting into an online match from the game itself is a seamless experience. When tested on 27/4/08 on a home connection we found the service quick and were able to take part in an unranked multiplayer deathmatch with between three and seven people (it supports up to 16) and found no devastating loss in quality, bar the odd bit of pop up.
The way you can easily drop into multiplayer via your mobile means you're more likely to dip into it when you get tired of beating missions, instead of just going off on a mindless rampage round the city. Just hit up your mobile and within seconds you can be doing the same thing only with real opponents.
In our view it's the straight-up deathmatch that will kick off the most as it's basically the online GTA everyone was pining for back when consoles first went online (and that PC owners have been playing for years) it's basically the normal game only you have to take out your human opponents in any manner possible.
If Rockstar had simply given us better graphics, a new city and a bigger set of missions we'd have been happily acceptant and this game would have been an easy eight out of ten. Good, but try harder. Rockstar did try harder, though and we get GTA IV.
We hope we've explained why this is deserving of a maximum score (maybe you should go back and read it eh, wise guys) but in essence it's because it's the best of GTA, evolved and matured and bettered. Not only does it go a long way to fixing the problems of previous games but it maintains a level of 'class' and true innovation that other game designers in this genre strive for but never quite reach.
Part of this is in it's visual flair (hats off to Aaron Garbut and his team) but also the level of sheen applied to all aspects of the experience, whether it's the car design, a well-observed piece of dialogue, a snide cultural reference, a great theme tune, the engrossing storyline or even something as seemingly unimportant as the credit sequence, GTA IV speaks on a level with an adult player rather than dumbing down for the lowest common denominator.
There will be detractors, for sure, but we're convinced that 97% of the gamers who purchase this whether they're existing fans or not will find themselves hooked on it at least until the release of new downloadable content (currently 360 exclusive) later this year. As for the future of the series? This bodes well. And we've been assured the next instalment will raise the bar even further...