Grand Theft Auto IV Review

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Crime really does pay...


Let's get one thing straight: GTA IV doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. The much-anticipated next-gen incarnation boasts the same mission-based structure as its predecessors, is crammed with a similar cache of challenges and sees no need to retool the freeform, sandbox adventure pioneered by the series back in 1998. What GTA IV does do is polish every facet of the franchise to perfection – from the bustling streets and cinematic presentation, to the brutal gunplay and dizzying car chases – in turn creating the ultimate GTA, a game that will delight the hardcore and newbies alike, and a title virtually guaranteed to be 2008’s biggest videogame.

Ditching the series’ over-the-top badasses in favour of a realistic, downtrodden anti-hero, GTA IV adopts a more mature and less frivolous approach to its murderous plot, a move that will be welcomed by fans who’ll see how the series is growing with them. But while this restrained take allows for a grittier, more believable atmosphere, it’s the little things that make GTA IV an unfettered joy.

From the new GPS that uses coloured lines to guide you through the busy streets – allowing players to focus on the action with the GPS in their peripheral vision, rather than constantly taking your eye off the road to squint at the tiny map – to the stripped-down displays that remove clutter from the screen, GTA IV feels friendlier and more accomplished than its predecessors. Moreover, while the developers introduced clumsy RPG elements in GTA: San Andreas that often brought the action crashing to a standstill, GTA IV’s more streamlined action means players can get straight down to business, gratification coming from seeing their character juggle relationships with key members of the criminal underworld, rather than buffing them out by pounding tedious gym machines for hours.

Other clever tweaks – including the ability to restart missions, rather than trailing across the map to resume challenges – remove the niggling frustrations that hampered previous editions, but where GTA IV really shines is in its combat: unlike the ham-fisted shooting of old, which relied as much on luck as skill, the gunplay is sharp and instinctive, allowing players to lock on targets, nudge the reticule to take head- or leg-shots, or even duck behind cover and engage in tense shootouts. And with improved controls that allow for stylish drive-by shootings, wielding weapons in this latest GTA is more rewarding than ever.

In terms of presentation, GTA IV is also spot on, thrusting players into a colossal city where the wrong side of town is squalid, threatening and has smacked-up hopheads aimlessly wandering the streets, areas in marked contrast to the rich residential districts where the stench of affluence hangs in the air. New ‘ragdoll physics’ – which allow the bodies of virtual humans to react like their floppy, real-world counterparts – also makes the game feel more earthy, and will be an endless source of amusement for sickos as they drive through crowds of bystanders to see their wobbly bodies bouncing off the hood of their ride.

A wealth of new music, cars that handle like real-life vehicles and new multiplayer duels also help make GTA IV the most engaging release so far this year. And while it might have been interesting to see the developers experimenting with a new approach to the carnage, as an evolution of the world’s best-loved gangster game, GTA IV is damn-near perfect.