GTA IV: A step backwards?

The secrets are out, the details laid bare, but what do we think about Grand Theft Auto IV's surprising next-gen direction? As we speak, armies of webheads are bashing their keyboards into submission, dissatisfaction writ large in their endlessly knee-jerk forum posts - There's no planes! It's smaller than San Andreas! The lead role isn't an American!

Well, we've banged our heads together in the name of research, and discussed the burning topics that are likely to cause the poor fingers of keyboard-abusing forumites to shatter like glass rods. No, you shouldn't be worried about GTA IV, and no, it isn't a step backwards - and here's why Rockstar's utterly dependable attitude means that GTA IV will surpass even our own skyscraper-high anticipations.

But there's no planes!
Yes, Rockstar confirmed that "there are no planes, because it's just a city," during a conversation with Game Informer magazine. But, even though we loved them in San Andreas, this isn't much of a concern. GTA III and Vice City got by without proper planes - since the Dodo was more of a mechanical glider than anything else - and were still excellent, even in comparison with San Andreas' epic experience.

Plus, we find it hard to believe that there'll be no aerial transport at all, and we're pretty confident that you'll see helicopters and even parachutes on offer when the game appears. Rockstaris definitely aiming for a more "realistic and gritty" experience than the previous, almost cartoonishly outlandish GTA games, but GTA IV will still be a barrel of laughs.

But there's no countryside!
This really doesn't matter. Okay, so exploring in San Andreas was great fun, thanks to the majesty of Mt. Chiliad, the crevasse-spanning desert jump and the creepy brilliance of Back O' Beyond. But, aside from these highlights, you generally had to make your own fun in the vast countryside.

So, instead of creating a huge but vacant world, GTA IV is concentrating on building a cohesive and vibrant city full of surprising touches and unique blink-and-miss-it treats. Rockstar is wiping the slate clean with GTA IV - the new, hyper-real and modern-day setting provide an immediate jolt - and it'll be just as big a leap for the crime-athon series as it was from top-down GTA to 3D GTA III. When you see how much is going on in the city, you'll forget you ever wanted to see the countryside.

Ben Richardson is a former Staff Writer for Official PlayStation 2 magazine and a former Content Editor of GamesRadar+. In the years since Ben left GR, he has worked as a columnist, communications officer, charity coach, and podcast host – but we still look back to his news stories from time to time, they are a window into a different era of video games.