Grand Theft Auto IV Hands-On

Rockstar Games offered us a chance to play GTAIV ahead of its release. We raced over to the London studio to see how the game's shaping up.

Grand Theft Auto IV is looking superb. Perhaps even more importantly, it's looking finished. The millions of eager fans who were disappointed by the game's postponement can rest easy, because bar a major catastrophe, the game should make its planned April release date. Having played it for two and a half hours at Rockstar's London offices, we can report that the game is running smoothly, has relatively few bugs, and is as intricately detailed as we'd hope a GTA game would be. In fact, playing five missions and exploring two of the game's massive districts was almost too much to digest in one sitting, and we left intoxicated by the amount of new characters, areas, and gameplay that it has to offer.

The new cover mechanic means you can blind-fire for the first time in a GTA game.

Our demo kicked off at the beginning of the game itself in a mission called Jamaican Heat. Niko has traveled to Liberty City on the back of a promise of wealth and opportunity from his cousin Roman. Once Niko arrives, he finds the truth to be very different, and we join them both in the office of Roman's taxi firm. Roman is fielding phone calls from angry customers while Niko is pacing up and down the room. Niko is then tasked with going to meet a character called Little Jacob, a Jamaican stoner whose main interests lie in the acquisition and use of drugs.

The voice-over work is pretty much finished at this stage, and it's of the same high quality that we've come to expect from the Grand Theft Auto series. Little Jacob's vocal style makes him pretty hard to understand, but there are subtitles available should you need them. The incidental conversations still help to flesh out the characters in GTAIV, and they've become even more well-rounded thanks to a multitude of dialogue recordings. Conversations change depending on how you approach missions, so if you have to repeat them, you're unlikely to hear the same exchange the second time. We played one assassination mission that took place on a train platform, and the preceding cutscene changed completely when we approached the target from a different angle.

GTA: San Andreas really upped the ante in terms of character customisation, given that it let you completely change your appearance through exercise, diet, and clothing. GTAIV ditches the role-playing game elements, but you'll still be able to customise Niko as well as take him for a bite to eat. During some of our downtime in Liberty City, we dropped by a discount-clothing store and swapped his standard jeans-and-jacket combo for a more sportswear-oriented look. We were able to buy sweatpants, a sports jacket, boots, and sunglasses during our visit, and although it was hardly appropriate attire for an Eastern European crook, we liked being able to go into a shop and change clothes before a mission. After that we headed to a local diner, and in another nice touch, the staff and customers put their hands in the air. Apparently everybody thinks you're about to rob them when you forget to put your weapon away.

Scaling tall structures and admiring the city is one of the simple pleasures of GTA IV.

Although Rockstar has often pushed the envelope in terms of story, characterisation, and music, it has been criticised in the past for poor control systems. San Andreas tried to improve things with auto-aim and lock-on, but the combat still felt muddled and imprecise. The controls have evolved once again for this outing, with subtle changes made to the locking system; targeting is handled on the left trigger, and it automatically locks on to the closest enemy in sight. If you fire with the right trigger, you'll shoot at the body of your enemy, but this is nonfatal and it can take more than a few shots to bring your opponent down. However, flick the right analogue stick upward and you'll aim for the head, where it's one shot to kill. Though this takes more dexterity to pull off, it's worth attempting if you want to take successive enemies out in one fell swoop. In addition to the new aiming system, there's also a new cover mechanic that uses the right bumper on the Xbox 360. It's not quite Gears of War in terms of run-and-gun action, but using cover does let you consider your targets from safety before popping out to fire, or even blind firing if you're in real trouble. You can also hold "A" to run between cover, and though it's not done to the same extreme as in John Woo's Stranglehold, you'll see enemies pulling off slides and rolls as they move between cover.

These small adjustments certainly refine the regular combat of GTAIV with respect to its predecessors. However, the biggest improvement has undoubtedly been in drive-by shooting. In previous games, you were limited to firing left and right out of the car at fixed right angles, but now you're able to shoot freely by holding the left bumper and moving the right analogue stick. When you first move to aim, Niko smashes out the window of the vehicle and a targeting reticle appears. It's still slightly fiddly if you're trying to drive and shoot at the same time, but we managed to take down a whole gang of drug dealers on our first attempt.

The GTA series isn't particularly noted for its technically advanced graphics, but powered by the RAGE engine that debuted in Table Tennis, GTAIV is certainly a good-looking game. The city stretches as far as the eye can see, which means that Algonquin's tall buildings and bright lights tease you when you start the game restricted to the Broker district. With that said, the RAGE engine accomplishes this technical feat by blurring out the background image in a necessary but visually distracting act of trickery. Hopefully the team will be able to balance this out once it has optimised the game further to allow for a better mix of fidelity and performance. On the plus side, we were encouraged by the lack of slowdown at this stage, and with hardly any other bugs to be seen during our playing time, it's looking very encouraging for the game's planned April release. There are so many incidental details in GTAIV that it's sometimes easy to take them for granted. You still have a small map in the corner of the screen to help navigate, but more expensive cars also have a GPS system. As you drive a Mercedes-style car around Liberty City, a gentle female voice will tell you where to turn to reach your target. It might not always pick the quickest route, but it is clever enough not to guide you down one-way streets. As with previous GTAs, bridges will initially be closed off to restrict players from entering certain parts of the city, but we were able to skip forward in the game and cross the bridge from Broker to Algonquin. The only problem: tollbooths have been included in the game, and speeding through the barrier resulted in a throng of police cars chasing us over. The next time we tried, we slowed down at the window, paid the toll, and waited for the barrier to open.

This city may not be called 'New York' but expect to see some familiar places from America's most famous city.

Our demonstration ended with an assignment called "Deconstruction for Beginners," an assassination mission in which we had to take out some pesky union leaders for a new character called Playboy X. The first part of the mission required us to scale one of the tallest buildings in the city using a small lift; just ascending the structure took the best part of a minute. We were still a good way off from the heady heights of the Empire State Building, which was visible in the distance, but our building made for a spectacular view across the dock. From our vantage point, we were able to snipe a few henchmen perched on cranes before descending and finishing off the leaders on the ground. This particular mission also serves as a tutorial for using grenades, and you can now blindly toss grenades from behind cover to produce some pretty spectacular explosions. It has to be said that in terms of core gameplay, GTAIV remains pretty much the same as the previous games. You'll be playing the same sort of missions, mixing with unsavoury characters, and pulling off crazy stunts during downtime. But the attraction of GTA was always in its sandbox possibilities, and the new Liberty City is the most intricate playground yet. Rockstar was particularly generous when it came to free time in the city, and whereas the five missions we played were fairly regimented, we were encouraged to explore the surroundings.

You won't be taking Niko to the gym, but you can still dress him in some cool threads.

Our final experience in GTAIV came as we got in a car and drove to what may be the geographical highlight of the game. Broadway looks just like the area of New York that it's modeled on, with gaudy neon lights providing illumination for the people and traffic below. Once again, the enjoyment comes from the details, including posters for fake movies and theatre productions that sit alongside the "NAVSAQ" stock-exchange ticker. Driving around, we also found a couple of the 50 stunt jumps that will be featured in the final game. If you get a good run up in a fast car, you can nail massive jumps off of these ramps and clear rivers or barren land in a single bound. The upside of the stunt jumps is that you get recognition (and likely achievement points) for completing them, and you can control the camera to speed up or slow down the action during the jump. The downside is that if you crash into something when you hit the ground, you'll go hurtling through the windscreen.

GTAIV looks magnificent so far. It takes the humour, style, and character of the previous games and wraps them in a sumptuously detailed new city. That said, there's still plenty that we haven't seen from the game--namely the PlayStation 3 version and the multiplayer modes. Although the game is a matter of weeks away, Rockstar has promised us glimpses at both elements ahead of release. In the meantime, consider us psyched up for the planned April release date.

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794 comments
kevinhrs
kevinhrs

nice game... good gameplay n graphic as well

Jazz_Fan
Jazz_Fan

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

chad_giac
chad_giac

thanks WJCJ. AD ME PSN ID: CHADT33

WJCJ
WJCJ

GTA IV fully leaked! Go to dailymotion.com and type in 'GTA 4 gameplay' and you'll come up with almost 20 videos of gameplay footage from pirated versions of the game.

dregghead
dregghead

The game will extremely similar on both consoles why would Rockstar make the game different on one system it would take more work and would aggravate all the fans of the system who got the short end of the stick it will just come down to what controller you prefer to play on so everyone should quit arguing over which system is better and just agree that this is a kickass game

gamerkiduri
gamerkiduri

this games gonna rock , im gonna go to libertycity but i dont know wat airlines to book my tickets on , ps3 or 360 coz i have both.ppl say on ps3. i agree

Thecero
Thecero

hehe l just sold my 360 ^^ but ofc l allrady have ps3 ^^

roblox84
roblox84

This game is the reason i bought a 360. I can't wait

WJCJ
WJCJ

ONE MORE WEEK!!!!!!!!!!!

RD1109
RD1109

I pre-ordered this way back in September. I can't wait. I am so going to take off work for a week.

progamemania
progamemania

it's gta4 and it's next week, i'm telling my boss that i need a 2 week leave right now, coz iam travelling to liberty city baby... .

datniccah187
datniccah187

Can't wait i have my copy pre-ordered, definately calling out of work all week.

reanor2
reanor2

ilovealicea, you don't sound like a professor either. I think you have at least 3 grammatic errors in your own note... silly kids.

ilovealicea
ilovealicea

jubei you just contradicted yourself you tit, funnyest is not spelt like that, its spelt funniest not funnyest so go back to playing your rrod box ( if its working) and stop critizing other people ( Oh and by the way I know im doing just that, but your trying to make a point yet doing the same thing yourself).

saleenturbo123
saleenturbo123

this game is gonna be SO COOL! but to tell u the truth i dont like controlling for the xbox 360 is confusing !!!buttons EVERWHERE!!!! but for the ps3 theres just shapes and r12 and l12, which is more easier to get used to .... but im just saying and the graphics are gonna be the same both ps3 and xbox 360

Thecero
Thecero

creamyzish08 l agre whit you 100%. and ye this game gona rock

stripey1
stripey1

Would you all stop your goddam bickering, its gona be great on both consoles ok!! Ther both kickass consoles with ups and downs and gta 4 will rock on both of em.

creamyzish08
creamyzish08

Jubei_1987 is just another nerdy Microsoft bum boy looking for ways to insult the ps3, think about it gta have been with playstation as long as i can remember straight back to the first on the psone do you really think they're going to let sony down by having bad frame rates and sound when its clearly a more powerful console than the crappy 360. the only reason it might be better than the ps3 version is because they blew 500 million pound or something to have extra content!

Thecero
Thecero

Jubei_1987 m8 l maby cant spell that good, and l have bothe thos game and l have never heard of frame rate or sound problem think it is only europ ps3 who is good then for no one l know or eny one l have asked on game stores have heard about frame rate problem or sound problem. + l aint a fan boy for sony or xbox l just like them bothe but if you see then information of the consols you see that Ps3 is more advansed then xbox360 that whas l whas trying tho sey and then l think ps3 gta4 may be bether grafik sound and more for ther is much bigger dvd tho make all things on. + if you whant tho see a realy cool game and the sice of one map look on KillZone2 2g on one map that is more then eny game have come up whit so look dynakik grafik and more. ( l aint seying Xbox360 sux for it dosent just seying that ps3 engin is more advansed) this game gona rock l hope + whe get sand box that own =D never end game ^^

Jubei_1987
Jubei_1987

Thecero i dont know how you have the cheek to say you think im 12, at least i can spell, the funnyest thing about it is i wrote that last comment being sarcastic knowing there would be loads of sony fany boys near to tears because of it, it is true about framerate and sound problems though, buy orange box and condemed 2 for the ps3, I DARE YOU! lol

WJCJ
WJCJ

11 days until the best game ever...

WJCJ
WJCJ

this game is going to rawk!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Lets hope that the story is LONG and the map is HUGE!!!

doesyeknowthee
doesyeknowthee

it's been said, by rockstar officials, that the xbox 360 version will be superior in the sense of having extra content. also, when they first announced it in 2006, it was going to be exculsively for 360 because rockstar had found it to be superior to do what they wanted to do. i own a 360, but i would much rather play it with a ps3 controller. that's about my only conflict between the consoles. and ps3 usually turns out having framerate issues and small things, but you have to remember, gta iv is technically being adapted to the ps3, that's part of the reason why they pushed it back.

WJCJ
WJCJ

12 MORE DAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

creamyzish08
creamyzish08

i completly agree with you WJCJ i also have both consoles and i have to agree that the ps3 is alot better than the 360 and i swear llama girl is some hippy protester for the rights of consoles cant you just leave it

WJCJ
WJCJ

OMG!!! I read these reviews everyday. Im sure that im not the only one that does this. I just know that GTA4 is gonna be GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! =)

WJCJ
WJCJ

To Llama_Girl: I was not sayin that PS3 was better than 360. I was just saying that 2008 was going to be a BIG year for the PS3. I own both consoles anyway. But.....if you ask me......I like PS3 WAAAYYY better than the 360, thats my opinion anyway :)

creamyzish08
creamyzish08

Im getting really pissed off cause im waiting to pre-order this game off amazon and they keep raising the price from £34 to £38 to now £40

creamyzish08
creamyzish08

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Lemonsquare
Lemonsquare

I agree 100% llama girl... All consoles have their downs and ups... Usually people with one of the consoles will try and defend it which is sad, lol. Anyway... looking forward to this game so much, it looks awesome! I love GTA because there are so many different things you can do, whenever you want. I hope there are skateboards and BMXs lol. =]

Thecero
Thecero

Jubei_1987 M8 haha now l begin tho think you ar 12year old or somthing, for how can my and my frend's Ps3 have no problem no Fps problems (fps = Frames per sec) and no sound problem, when whe play online or offline ther is no problem . + thay have allrady sey that this GTA whas the last one thay make ( who know thay maby do more ) and l have bothe ps3 and xbox 360 and l have more Fps problems whit my xbox360 + hmm no one l know have hade ther ps3 on servis for the engin did go down but whe all know next tho all's xbox360 go in for (the 3 ring of death). + read more information of bothe console then you see that ps3 is more advanse then the xbox360. (the last whas for you tho Liama_Girl )

Jubei_1987
Jubei_1987

everyone knows this will be the better game on 360, ps3 version will just have framerate issues, sound problems, like every other multiplatform game, whoever says its going to be better on the ps3 is in self denile. The next GTA after this will be 360 exclusive.

Llama_Girl
Llama_Girl

Here we go another ramble about which is the better console. Most gamers over 25 have grown up with an appreciation for ALL consoles, watching the development of each system and realising the benefits that each different system has to offer; they all have their good and bad points, PS3 is not better than the 360, just as the 360 is not better than the PS3 (as stated by Rockstar themselves). Seems this apples and oranges debate just keeps going on and on with ignorant gamers.

WJCJ
WJCJ

2008: YEAR OF THE PS3

WJCJ
WJCJ

everybody go to FORUMS and check out Official All Known Facts Of GTA 4. It will help you waiting GTA 4 fans alot!! :)

Castlevania1986
Castlevania1986

I'm willing to bet they make the PS3 version better just because its on a better power engined console.

bradly_2795
bradly_2795

Can't wait for this game to come out. Only 14 more days. And to all the people that are saying "buy this for the 306", "this is a reason to buy a ps3", well it's your personal choice. It's good that it's out for both consoles cause then more people will get to experience this amazing game. However for me GTA has always been a Playstation game as that's what it originally came out for and what I've always played all the games on. However the X360 version is definately not going to disappoint those that buy it for that console. (I have both a 360 and PS3 btw, and this is the one game that's breaking my achievement wh*re cycle lol)

creamyzish08
creamyzish08

have to pre-order anyone know the best place to get gta from online.

ckin-
ckin-

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

gamemaster_650
gamemaster_650

Apparently GTAIV may have missing content so it could get past the OFCL. But Rockstar games should release (if missing content) a restore patch. And since their will be exclusive X360 DLCs they should release exclusives for PS3.

haddock07
haddock07

i agree with ed_banger . Dont get me wrong the game will be great and im definately buying it, but i think because of all the delays and the hype building up, some of us will be a bit dissapointed.

haddock07
haddock07

i agree with ed_banger . Dont get me wrong the game will be great and im definately buying it, but i think because of all the delays and the hype building up, some of us will be a bit dissapointed. And whats with all the "its gunna be better on ps3" "it was meant for ps3", its all gunna be the same game no matter what console you get it on.

ed_banger
ed_banger

I must have read each article of this game at least three times over.. I’ve hyped myself up for gta IV so much, that think it’s almost impossible to be satisfied on the release date… 18 days to go lads.

Thecero
Thecero

PS' xbox360 / PS3 Gta 4 is only 2 mod's you DL that is nothing for Online play is the same on bothe consol's meant that Xbox360 get 2 buy 2 mod's (lol then the game cost more) and the online play is the same on the bothe PS3 and Xbox360*