How GTA IV will reshape the series

Ever since thefirst GTA IV trailerwas released it's been pretty apparent that the game is going to be quite unlike any of Rockstar's previous crime epics. We know it's got a new, gritty edge that's very much dipped in realism and that the extra ooomph of the PS3 and Xbox 360 will bring massive cosmetic and technical improvements. However, after recently seeing the gamedemoed at Rockstar HQ, we know that GTA IV is also going to play unlike other GTAs. And we mean that in the best possible way.

Based on what we saw in thelatest GTA IV demo, here are the new elements that we think are going to make Rockstar's newest addition to its multi-million selling franchise a totally fresh experience...

Escaping the cops
Forget about frantically racing to the nearest Pay 'n' Spray to wipe your wanted level - GTA IV overhauls the way you escape the law with the new "search radius," which appears when Niko does something to warrant a wanted level - and the higher the wanted level, the wider the radius and the tougher it is to escape.

This should completely change the evade dynamic of previous GTAs, adding an entirely new level of strategy and quick-thinking when trying to shake the cops - you'll need to avoid them completely to stop the search radius being reset to the last location where Niko was spotted.

Will you plot a path of waypoints on the map through back alleys and follow it on the radar's GPS? Perhaps you'll try and give them the slip by swapping cars without being noticed (all dispatched cops in the area are given details of the last vehicle Niko's seen driving)? Or maybe you'll listen in to the police radio chatter and adjust your escape route accordingly on the fly?

However you choose to play it, rest assured that this new method of escapement will be an intense getaway game of cat and mouse and you'll now have to outsmart, as well as out-drive, your law enforcing pursuers. And with wanted stars being much more difficult to lose, we're sure it's going to make players think a bit more carefully before busting out the rocket launcher and going postal.

Getting tooled up
While strolling into an Ammu-Nation and forking out for enough steely-heat to wage a small war has always felt like an adequate enough means of procuring firearms, the introduction of arms-dealers - and the consequent dropping of Ammu-Nation stores - promises to add an extra level of interest to what has always previously been a fairly chore-like necessity in GTA games.

The process of Niko having to hookup and hang out with the right people (and doing them a few "odd jobs" to curry favor) before gaining the trust of any shady peddlers of ballistic tools should help convince us that we're an active part of Liberty City's criminal network.

After investing time in establishing a new weapons-dealing contact, being able to call them up on Niko's cell-phone to arrange a meeting and then heading off to the designated spot - whether it's a quiet alleyway to peruse merchandise stashed in the boot of a Jamaican's car or in some gun nut's well-equipped basement - it's got to be more engaging than over-the-counter transactions with anonymous hicks.

The Whiz cell phone
GTA has always been big on breaking the shackles that keep players chained to predetermined paths and, thanks to Niko's fancy Whiz cell phone, GTA IV will offer even more freedom of choice - we'll be able to instigate missions when we're ready and hook up with contacts when we want to. All at the press of a button on Niko's Whiz.

Of course, absolute freedom in videogames is a fallacy - there must always be boundaries and limitations - but by blurring the lines between missions and empowering the player to effectively call the shots, rather than waiting to be called, it will certainly help make the illusion much more convincing.

But the Whiz is going to be about more than just making/receiving calls. It features a calendar, organizer and camera also, and multiplayer will, Rockstar tells us, be "channelled through the phone." We're not entirely sure what that means and Rockstar wouldn't elaborate, but know that having a Whiz in your pocket is going to be every bit as essential as having a shooter in your hand.