|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 Adam Brown
March 28, 2008 - The Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series has come a long way from its somewhat humble beginnings. The first three GTAs were largely overlooked by most because of their top-down approach to the visuals. While they may have had interesting mission structure and some brief glimpses of future greatness, they were not as successful as they could have been.
GTA III made the leap from the limited top-down world of the previous titles to the more varied and realized open-world 3D sandbox that has now almost become a standard in many video games. GTA III not only created a new genre of gaming, it also succeeded in being one of the most innovative, recognizable, and copied games of all time. While companies will always quickly scramble to copy amazing ideas, Rockstar continues to change the game to stay ahead of their competitors.
As much as Rockstar changed gaming when it took the GTA series from a top-down perspective to a 3D open world, GTA IV looks like it may have a similarly amazing impact. Unlike Vice City and San Andreas, GTA IV seems less like a sequel and more like a refined reimagining of the GTA series as a whole. Instead of giving players increasingly more land and cities to explore, GTA IV instead focuses on just one city, Liberty City (2.0). While Liberty City may have already made an appearance in GTA III, it has been completely redesigned and more realized. Instead of just a mass of buildings that you must steer around while traveling from destination to destination, most buildings will either allow entry or vertical scaling. Opening the GTA world to vertical exploration has the potential to change almost any mission that you are given. Descending on an unsuspecting pimp or sniping a guard from a nearby rooftop are now options that were not previously possible.
Aside from the verticality of the city adding a new dimension to GTA, relationships and character interaction also appear to be a large focus of GTA IV. Instead of the previous title's 'find the blip that gives me missions' approach to characters, GTA IV's characters seem almost human and will require more interaction then just picking up your next mission. One of the major changes that help to make this possible is your cell phone. Your cell phone will pretty much be the most important part of your inventory. You can use your cell to get missions, restart missions, take pictures, listen to music, and most importantly, remain in contact with the people you meet. Some contacts will be more high maintenance than others, but all will become angry with you if they don't hear from you for long periods of time. This can be avoided by just checking in with them or even inviting them to a game of darts at the bar around the corner.
Along with its other applications, the cell phone can also be used to call the police, an ambulance, or a fire truck. Since you are a criminal in every GTA game, it may initially seem that calling the police may not be the best course of action. This remains true until you realize that you can use them as a distraction or as backup if numerous enemies are overwhelming you. You can even just call them up so that you can steal one of their cruisers once they arrive at the scene. Not only is stealing a police car still satisfying, but in GTA IV you will be able to access the vehicle's onboard computer to research various characters and mission targets.
The police cars, in addition to the other vehicles present, will also have GPS systems that will help you to easily find your way around town. The GPS will set up markers on the map that you can follow to arrive at your destination. The system will also automatically readjust your route if you happen to miss a turn or two, so driving will be much simpler than in previous installments.
Another major change in GTA IV comes in its gunplay. After being heavily ridiculed in its last generation iterations, the targeting system has received an overhaul. Pulling a trigger fully will target your closest enemy, while pulling it halfway will enter you into an over-the-shoulder aiming view. This new method of aiming seems like it will be a vast improvement over the previously atrocious targeting system that was available, even if it may take a little time to get used to it. GTA IV will also be borrowing the new favorite feature found in most current shooting games: the ability to take cover. While it will most likely not be at the same level as Rainbow Six Vegas or Gears of War, the ability to use cover in GTA IV will most likely change the way gunfights have occurred in the series to date. No longer will you have to take a clip full of enemy fire while trying to acquire your target; just crouch down behind a barrel or wall, and think about your next move. Taking cover is nothing new at this point, perhaps even being overused slightly, but it will still be a very welcome addition to GTA IV to make the gunplay more realistic and engaging.
While Rockstar remains tightlipped about its online plans for GTA IV, we can definitely expect a very impressive online experience once the game is released at the end of April. Xbox 360 owners, sorry PS3 diehards, will also be able to get some exclusive and sizeable downloadable content down the line that should further cement GTA IV's well-deserved must-buy status. With all of the major and minor changes being implemented, GTA will be quite different from this point forward. Although many things are changing; the witty humor, excellent characters, and amazing experience that one expects from a GTA will remain intact if not immensely improved upon. I know we've all had to wait longer than expected, (GTA IV was originally announced for October 2007), but it definitely looks like GTA IV will easily be worth the wait. Soon we will all get the chance to help Niko attain his version of the American Dream while spending numerous hours playing around in Rockstar's amazing new sandbox.
CCC Freelance Writer