Grand Theft Auto IV
There's An Outside chance that you've heard of Grand Theft Auto IV already. A little-known game from an obscure Scottish developer, it sold a paltry 631,000 copies on its first day of release in the UK, breaking the record for the roundest number of things ever sold in a 24-hour period.
GTA IV is big news of course, a giant of a game whose shocking popularity on consoles is so graciously matched by its stratospheric quality.
A city based on New York acts as a backdrop to a complex freeform game, a story spanning well over 10 hours, and the best acting, action and humour you'll find this side of movies and TV.
Rockstar invented open-world gaming, and with GTA IV they filled that open world with detail and nourishing choice. It's a game where you're never at a loss for something to see or do, or someone to shag or murder. It's a masterpiece.
The PC version is something we've spent many a breakfast time worrying about. "Firstly," we'd muse as we waved our spoons, "does it even exist?" It does, I've played it. "Secondly," we'd ask, muesli flying in the air, "how long will we have to wait?" Just a short while, it's here in November. "Thirdly," we'd enquire, making stabbing motions with a butter knife, "how will it play?"
Well, stick a 360 pad into your USB port and it's almost impossible to tell the difference between the PC and the console version. Besides the obvious improvements in resolution, draw distance and some texture qualities, it is take-for-take a carbon copy, as flawless a port as you could hope for.
Being published under the Games for Windows LIVE umbrella means perfect gamepad support right out of the box too, as well as online support similar to Xbox LIVE's. Achievements, the ability to jump into and out of online games without needing to move to your keyboard to switch servers - it's probably the first time you can begin to appreciate the usefulness of Microsoft's clunky online service. Combine that with the fact that Gold membership is now free, and we could be ready to get off our high, anti-Microsoft horses.
Back To The Pad
Downing the pad and taking to a more traditional keyboard and mouse setup throws out a few concerns however. These range from niggling things such as motion blur as the camera whips about your character (perfectly acceptable on a smoothly panning analogue stick, not so much on a twitchy mouse) to more pressing problems such as camera controls while driving. A jaunt through the options menu will no doubt remedy the former, but the latter seems to be trickier to fix.
Players of the console version will be aware of the camera's tendency to lag as you take sharp corners, compelling you to make liberal use of the right tluimbstick. A similar tactic when using a mouse requires not a minute gesture of the thumb, but dramatic, theatrical sweeping movements. Even on-foot shooting sections play out better on the pad, such is the effort Rockstar have put into getting it right on console. Unbelievably, locking on to enemies and flicking the left thumbstick up to snap out a headshot feels far more satisfying than the precision offered by a mouse.
And get this: there was no custom radio station in the preview build we saw. Whether this feature, which allows you to play your own music through the radios of Liberty City's cars, boats, helicopters etc, will appear in the final release is unknown, but if we can't listen to our Stephen Fry podcasts while reversing over hookers' faces, we'll be unaroused.
This points to the PC version of GTA IV having an inseparable bond with its console roots. And that's no bad thing as long as you're prepared to pick up a 360 pad, which you really should be by now. Keyboard and mouse controls stumble on a few counts, mostly through no fault of Rockstar's, but instead because analogue controls benefit GTAIV in almost every aspect. It's a world with the sort of believability that'll make you want to walk at a certain pace, drive at a certain speed and corner in a certain way. A keyboard's digital input is a barrier to that. So we should all get 360 pads. Sigh.
Download Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto IV Is Still A Mystery to many. Sure, everyone's seen the trailer, and a few of us have seen a demo of the game running. But hard info? Not so much. You still jack cars, pilot choppers, swim, and pack heat, but is that a surprise to anyone? All we know about multiplayer is that GTA4 (coming to the PS3 and Xbox 360 this October) won't be a massively multiplayer online game, nor a death-match showdown, but "will match single player," according to a Rockstar rep. OK...good. We know a little about the story: Protagonist Niko Bellic heads to Liberty City from Eastern Europe to turn his life around, only to find that the wonders his cousin promised were unfounded.
What we know the most about is the setting. As in previous GTAs, LC is Rockstar's version of the Big Apple. And while those earlier games made you feel like you were in a city, none of them made you feel like you were in the city. One of Rockstar's biggest goals is to change that and really nail the NYC feel.
Fact is, we've been impressed by what we've seen. Graphically, it's a beaut. And since this is Rockstar's most ambitious re-creation of the metropolis yet, we wanted to see how far the developers have come to mimicking NYC. So we sent a photographer to try to match screens shot for shot. Let's see how close he came...and in turn how close Rockstar did.
Make no mistake; GTA4 has impressed many doubters with its graphical splendor, delivering the series' first bona fide gawker. But a pretty world can only serve to draw you in. It's the people who fill that world that make you want to stay, and that's where GTA4 has us most intrigued. More specifically, we focus our attention on Times Square, the most recognizable intersection on the planet and a bustling slice of human idiocy, both in the real and virtual world. In the NYC pic, the corner and crosswalk teem with activity, with some people walking at a determined gait, others casually crossing the street. Most of all, their minds are on their own immediate destination. And you know what? While LC's square ain't as dense (we really didn't expect it to mimic Manhattan's nearly 1.6 million inhabitants), those peds give off the same "I couldn't give a s***" vibe. They're going about their own thing and, amazingly, aren't all copies of each other. And don't forget the signage and stock-market ticker: The GTA-style satire makes its mark again.
OK, we couldn't find an exact match for these NYC staples, but we have a good reason why (besides LC's fuller trees--wrong season!). See those elevated tracks in the background? We know of no such tracks that have brownstones next to them. Now, part of this may be due to the game only copying four of NYC's five boroughs, but what about this: Transportation between the boroughs and Jersey is easiest via the subway, but Rockstar hasn't put as much emphasis on the underground, instead focusing on aboveground tracks that go above the already modeled city? Could be. We do know that the developers have put a lot of emphasis on the interiors. One of our favorite parts of the demo was seeing Niko slip into one of these apartments--a detailed flat with lots of furniture--gun drawn, before escaping through the back door. The thought of a more compact but deep city, complete with details like people sitting on the stoops and birds chirping and Niko looking their way, only further gives Liberty City life.
This NYC/LC showdown features the biggest aesthetic differences simply because of the game's more streamlined city. The real city is much more developed (especially apparent to the right of the Empire State Building). But take note of all of LC's skyscrapers (as well as that beautiful sky). Rockstar is stressing vertical density, meaning when you're touring the financial district, the buildings towering above you will block out the sun and really give you a sense of being encapsulated in this city, just like in the real thing.
UNDER THE TRACKS
If you've been following our GTA4 coverage (both in EGM and on 1 UP.com), you know we love the little touches. Like when Niko breaks a car window with his elbow in order to unlock it. Or the way he takes a big step up and shifts his weight when he approaches a curb while walking. Or pedestrians taking a drag, chatting on a pay phone, or just leaning against a wall. In these particular shots, LC doesn't feature as many storefronts as this packed NYC strip, yet it has just as much going on: folks minding their own business, faded bills on the foreground pillar, trash on the sidewalk. You'd better believe we'd love to see more shops along the street...all the better to rob and escape out the back, something Rockstar tells us is indeed possible.
We've put a lot of focus on the hearts of the cities so far, and rightly so, but it's worth pointing out that GTA4 isn't all high-rises and wild cabbies. Places like Broker and Alderney (GTA4's versions of Brooklyn and New Jersey, respectively) offer some diversity in the environment (though nothing like San Andreas' boonies). The Coney Island riff here has the same run-down, dilapidated look of the real thing. And again, you'll notice a misplaced elevated-track pillar in LC, which in the real city is a block away.
Snapshots and Media
XBox 360 Screenshots
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