Grand Theft Auto IV PS3 / Xbox 360

Grand Theft Auto IV PS3 / Xbox 360
Grand Theft Auto IV has most likely been the most anticipated videogame of all time, even more so than Halo 3. Microsoft realised this, anteing up $50 million to get some exclusive downloadable content to ensure the Xbox 360 version sells more than the PlayStation3’s. Or at least, that’s the theory. All things considered, they’re going to sell by the truckload no matter what but thankfully, GTA IV is one of those rare games that lives up to the hype.

On the surface, GTA IV is pretty much what everybody expected; it instantly feels familiar because it doesn’t stray too far from the successful template that worked so well for the last three instalments. But what slowly is revealed is that the game addresses many of the issues that everybody was willing to overlook on the previous games, meaning that this final product is frighteningly close to perfection.

For example, Liberty City now is a living, breathing city with a population that reacts realistically to your moves, as does the increasingly efficient Police Department, so players have to keep their nihilistic urges to a minimum. Thankfully, death no longer means a loss of all your weapons, so it is possible to go nuts occasionally.

The controls have been tightened up, especially with regards to combat. Despite fewer weapons, they handle a lot better and firefights don’t feel like the crapshoot they’ve been in the past. Driving is still tougher than it should be because the majority of the vehicles feel somewhat tank-like when it comes to cornering. Motorbikes are a more satisfying choice for exploring the city, although they don’t offer the same level of crash protection.

The storyline of GTA IV is much improved as well, ditching many of the clichéd plot points of earlier games, preferring to utilise good writing and pathos instead. Main protagonist Niko Bellic is a veteran of the Bosnian War and seems genuinely pained by some of the tough decisions he has to make as he reluctantly gets pulled into Liberty City’s seedier side. The mission structure might be a little too familiar but the story makes it all bearable.

What is even more impressive is Rockstar’s eye for detail. Playing through the story is only a very small part of what GTA IV has to offer. The city makes for a great playground to simply explore and try stuff out, and as more areas are unlocked it becomes very apparent that there are an awful lot of extras. There are mini-games (including bowling, darts and pool), stand-up comedy clubs (featuring Ricky Gervais) and all the usual stunts and hidden packages, meaning even time-wasting can produce results. It doesn’t end there either: there are a multitude of multiplayer modes that range from straight-forward death matches to co-operative games, and so chances are you will be playing this for a long time to come.

Rockstar has always made the best soundtracks and GTA IV is no exception, with 15 different radio stations to select from, and it’s possible to find out which song is playing at any time simply by placing an in-game cell phone call. But the addition of television shows to watch and an incredibly elaborate faux Internet to surf indicate that this was a real labour of love for the company.

GTA IV is a remarkable game for numerous reasons and while there are still a few technical issues, such as a bit of pop-up and frame rate dropping off, there is little to complain about. It’s very hard to imagine anything successfully prying the "Game Of The Year” award from Grand Theft Auto IV’s hands. (Rockstar Games)