You can check out the Salient website here for the Grand Theft Auto IV review, click on the printed version for a closeup, or read it below…
Only once in a while do games really remind you of why you play video games in the first place. Grand Theft Auto IV is one such a game. On the surface it may seem like a mindless romp: running over pedestrians, firing on hotdog stands and soliciting in the service of prostitutes; it is that and oh so much more. Behind it is a gritty story of crime and alliances all encased in a virtual city, showcasing the irony behind American culture.
You play as Niko Bellic, a European immigrant arriving in Liberty City (based on New York City) to meet his cousin Roman who says he’s been living the American Dream. Niko soon finds out that it is anything but and Roman is heavily in debt. This is not a story from rags to riches but as Sam Houser, Rockstar President, puts it, “a story from rags to slightly better rags.” The plot has many twists and turns and Niko’s dark past will inevitably catch up with him. The characters are dynamic and engaging, and there was never the urge to skip a cutscene. Every cutscene is interesting and enjoyable to watch, from the comic relief of Brucie the oddball auto garage owner, to Little Jacob the Jamaican arms dealer who is near impossible to understand!
Liberty City is smaller than the state of San Andreas, but the developers have substantiated that it is better to put in greater detail than large areas of nothingness. In GTA style you have streets to run around in, cars to jack, shops to visit, pedestrians to bowl over. At the beginning you only have access to a section of the city, but once you have unlocked all parts of Liberty City the world is really yours for the taking. The scope is incredible, from surfing the web at an internet café, to listening to all eighteen radio stations and competing in darts at the local pub. The game pokes fun at TV shows such as CSI and 24, and brands like Sprite. Even the series itself is fair game, with the Xbox 360 achievement ‘Warm Coffee’ after taking your girlfriend inside, alluding to the controversial hot coffee mod in San Andreas. Even something as simple as a taxi ride is made satisfying as you sit back and look at Liberty City go on around you, while Niko chats to the cabbie.
In this GTA your mobile phone plays a crucial role. By pressing the up button, a virtual phone comes onscreen that you can call on or receive calls and texts from characters you have met in the game. Once you do enough missions for a character, the phone presents new options and you can go socialising with them in a number of activities such as bowling, dining out, or even visiting a strip club.
The mission structure is pretty similar to previous installments where you head out to a destination on your radar, a cut scene plays and the mission starts with the location mapped to your radar. Although there are variations, sometimes missions start as soon as you answer a call. This time around if you fail a mission you can easily restart it from your mobile phone, which is a godsend after getting fed up with travel time in San Andreas. One small nitpick however, the game does autosave after completing missions, but saving is still a pain as you have to travel all the way to your safe house and save there.
Using the powerful Euphoria animation technology, the animation plays smooth and believably well. For example, if you gently ram into a pedestrian they will lose balance and topple over, then carefully pick themselves up. After a long night at the pub, Niko will stumble around for a good while, falling over easily and using whatever he can to balance himself. Yes it is possible to go drink driving! Be prepared for real nausea as your screen is distorted and your eyes punished as a reward.
Multiplayer has arrived for the first in the GTA series. There is no main menu in GTA IV so like Burnout Paradise, multiplayer is accessed in-game through your mobile phone. It is definitely mayhem as you and up to fifteen others parade around Liberty City guns a-blazing and cars a-squealing. There are fifteen multiplayer modes comprised under team, cooperative, competitive, race and party focuses. Free Mode is the highlight where there are no rules, and you have free roam of the city alongside your mates.
Not only is Grand Theft Auto IV one of the best games ever created but it has got itself into the Guinness World Records for the biggest entertainment release of all time! Rockstar have really cornered themselves now. How can they possibly improve upon this? If you own an Xbox 360 or PS3, you owe it to yourself to buy this game.