|System: X360, PS3||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Rockstar North||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Rockstar Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 29, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1 (16 Online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Mature||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by D'Marcus Beatty
April 19, 2007 - There is no doubt that Grand Theft Auto has had an incredible influence on gaming. Ever since the release and runaway success of GTA III, games have been attempting to recreate the magic sandbox formula that GTA introduced. Copycat game after game has made promises that you can "Go anywhere, do anything" to try and capitalize on the formula that GTA made famous. While we've tolerated (and even enjoyed) some of the copycat games, we've all been patiently waiting for that GTA magic to resurface and give us the innovation that we know can only come from Rockstar. And after a long wait, it seems that we will finally have it when the long awaited Grand Theft Auto IV releases later this year.
Grand Theft Auto IV, according to Rockstar, will be the leap that GTA III was. Before GTA III 3-D sandbox world, all GTA games were top-down driving games. Although they had a cult following and were undeniably fun, they lacked the openness that GTA III is famous for. Rockstar is promising that GTA IV will wow us just as GTA III did, and for many of us that had a jaw-dropping epiphany playing as Claude and realizing the options and freedom available to us, that is a tall claim. But if anyone can deliver, the controversial developers at Rockstar can.
GTA IV takes us back to Liberty City, the setting for GTA III. This is fitting, since Rockstar is starting over in a sense, remaking the game and the series from the ground up. There is a palpable sense of disappointment from some fans, however, since Liberty City is the only location in the game. After San Andreas, which comprised an entire state with diverse scenery and different towns and cities, most people were expecting a much larger scale. Some are disappointed that there isn't a new city to explore and that we're being forced back into the same location we've seen a few times already. Rockstar, however, is confident in their choice and promises that we've never seen Liberty City like this before. The pseudo New York has been remade, recreating four out of the five boroughs of New York and also including New Jersey to boot. The game area will be just slightly short of the size of San Andreas, but Rockstar promises that every area will be crammed with detail, unlike the open spaces from the rural areas of San Andreas.
The story this time follows Niko Bellic, a man of Eastern European descent. Niko has come to Liberty City because of the request of his cousin, Roman, who has painted a picture of wealth and luxury to Niko. However, when Niko arrives in the faux New York, he sees that his cousin isn't living as lavishly as he claims, and is actually in trouble with various criminal elements. Since Roman isn't nearly as tough as him, it falls to Niko to protect and aid his lying cousin and sets the stage for what will doubtless be another Rockstar story filled with twists, double crosses, and humor.
One of the primary complaints about the GTA series has always been the graphics. Even though Vice City and San Andreas improved the visuals slightly, most gamers felt as if the GTA series was a set of fun but ugly sandbox games. The characters all had block hands with no distinction for fingers and most of the visuals were sub-par, which was probably due to the enormous content crammed into each game. With Grand Theft Auto IV, however, any complaints about the visuals will be laid to rest. GTA IV has come into the next gen in a large way, with stunning graphics that leave its vilified visual legacy in the past. Rockstar is using the RAGE engine, which stands for Rockstar's Advanced Game Engine. RAGE powered the critically acclaimed and visually stunning Rockstar Presents Table Tennis, and the advancement is obvious in GTA IV as well. There is so much detail in everything, with awesome lighting effects, varied pedestrians that seem much more alive than in previous GTAs, detailed buildings and vehicles, and an eerily accurate facsimile of New York (with Rockstar's satirical changes, of course).
In addition to making the game look better, Rockstar is also doing their best to make the game feel better with a new physics engine and animation. Characters all move as if they have true weight and dimensions. This extends to altering the character's gait over areas that aren't level, to climbing over obstacles, and to simply walking. Niko and pedestrians seem to have presence, to be more than just animated characters on a game screen.
Rockstar also promises a new level of freedom in the gameplay. While exact details of how this works hasn't been revealed, Rockstar claims that there is a new level of interactivity with clients and NPCs. There are different ways to talk to people, including in person, over the phone, and some yet unrevealed ways. Rockstar is promising that GTA IV will give the player a greater sense of freedom than previous iterations.
One area where a lot of fans are disappointed is in the confirmation that there are no planes. Learning to fly a plane was an enjoyable experience for a lot of gamers in San Andreas, so they're understandably upset to learn that planes won't be returning in GTA IV. The decision to leave planes out was made because it didn't make sense since the game takes place in only one city. Rockstar also wants Niko to stay in character, so he won't have access to any ridiculous means of transportation that the average tough criminal wouldn't use, which means we probably won't see him on a skateboard or a moped.
One of the more exciting and shocking elements of the game isn't even a part of the gameplay. After the initial loading screen, Rockstar promises we won't have to pause for the game to load again. This includes the shift between interior and exterior locations. This is an amazing claim and should help make the gameplay experience much more seamless than the average game.
Multiplayer has been confirmed, although details haven't been released yet. The multiplayer will be complementary to the full game, though, although we don't know if it will be a co-op or versus experience yet. Exclusive downloadable episodic content has also been confirmed for the Xbox 360 to keep the gameplay fresh long after the game has been finished.
Even before any information was released, GTA IV was a frontrunner for game of the year. Now, as we get more and more information about the game, October doesn't seem as if it can get here fast enough. With its newly revamped graphics, new level of freedom, and multiplayer, GTA IV is ready to retake the sandbox game crown. If it's as great a leap as GTA III was, we may even see a new approach to gaming birthed.
CCC Former Co-Site Director