GTA IV is a long and overall highly entertaining sequel and reinvention of a series many thought had grown stale prior
You're back in Liberty City, this time assuming the role of Balkan illegal immigrant Niko Bellic. As a way of escaping his tainted history, Niko escapes to America in search of fame and fortune as promised by his cousin Roman. However upon arrival things aren't quite as they seem, and in reality Roman has financial issues with Loan Sharks and mobsters who otherwise step all over his life. So it is up to Niko to sort out this mess by doing what he does best, getting his hands dirty. In GTA IV missions will have you stealing cars, assassinating influential characters and befriending key figures who control Liberty City.
But of course, like in any GTA game before it, you can throw all that out the window. You go on a masochistic spree of hijacking cars, killing innocent bystanders and of-course being a real hassle for the police. Which is great because Liberty City is so much grander in size than it was before. The amount of depth pumped into the city can't simply be described in small details and it all makes up for a fascinating and original experience each time. Although it's not so much overwhelming either as it were in GTA San Andreas as gone are the silly RPG mechanics to do with your fitness and skill, so you can eat as much fast-food in the process too including burger joints and hotdog stands darted throughout the city.
The game has also been designed to be far more flexible and less annoying to play as police searches can be evaded and be rid of, without the need of painting your car or finding badges. Retrying missions is as simple as a click of a button now rather than having to waste the time and effort driving there and messing up again. You can also experience the world in so many different ways than ever before, through not only the radio and cinematic story played throughout GTA IV but on the TV and even the internet (yes, that's right, GTA IV has it's own faux internet) all designed to mimic the real thing up to ads, internet porn links and email services. And of course, you can play on the arcade machines too which feature a Tetris like puzzle game.
It is possible to visit bars, strip clubs, bowling alleys and play darts at an Irish Pub, which can be visited alone or with a friend of Niko's during the game. This can be done using the phone which, like anything else in the game, is very similar to the real thing, really. If you wanted to pull a prank on the police, call 911 using the phone and you'll be able to bring them to your location. Like in GTA Vice City and San Andreas before it as well, the story is progressed through the numerous phone calls made to you, but you now also get text messages and emails on your PC about places of work and opportunities.
It is a rich and different experience from any previous GTA game before it, but easily better than anything else before it. However if that isn't alarming enough of a change than the new controls system ought to give fans a shock as the aiming system and driving have been altered and tweaked to make GTA IV feel more as if it is two games in one, with a complete shooter and driving gameplay mechanics implemented into the game.
If you're a fan of third person shooters then you'll feel right at home with GTA IV's cover and fire system and it's far better than the ropey designs of the earlier games. Like Gears you can pop up from cover by holding the aim button (which can be set to lock onto targets if you wish) and fire away with the fire button. As for the driving, it is much more realistic than any previous GTA game before it and fans of games like Gran Turismo will be familiar with how each car is supposed to handle and drive as they should. Some would say it is a controversial change and players will dislike it from the get-go but ultimately the changes/additions feels adequate
What isn't different however is the subtle humour of Grand Theft Auto. This is taken a step further with stand-up comedy sketches featuring Ricky Gervais. There is also the return of Lazlo - the perverted and egotistical chat show host and various spoofs such as the internet cafes suitably named "Tw@" and even TV shows like Republican Space Rangers which makes a mockery of the US' foreign policy.
The actual story and characters are much improved in GTA IV thanks largely to the higher level of interaction possible due to the developed internet and phone features of GTA IV however also because they're professionally potrayed due to the high quality voice acting and graphics now possible. But the main missions aren't quite so as compelling as they were on previous GTA games due to a lack of variety in design (most missions have you murder someone and lay-low or steel something and lay-low). Choice missions between who dies and what you decide is as varied as GTA IV goes.
There are also a few quirks with the controls like manoeuvring around can feel a little clumsy especially when jumping. Also GTA IV has a poor physics engine that often doesn't make sense and makes the game far more frustrating to play, especially when you crash during missions (it sends you flying through the windscreen). Missions can also be annoying again because although there is the ability to now retry failed missions, it is always from scratch rather than from a checkpoint which can be frustrating on the longer ones. There is a multiplayer mode though, but it has to be accessed through the phone which can prove to be a little annoying if you want to simply jump in and play against other players anyway. It has a few original game modes but is poorly designed and not as well developed as you'd expect.
Graphically GTA IV is a interesting blend of a realistic and gritty New York (or Liberty City as the game prefers to call itself) but it seems to contrast from the comic-like colours preferred in both the character designs and game illustrations, the game also has a few draw-in issues especially on 360. The PS3 version does have the inclusion of six axis controls and longer load times (minus the install procedure of course) but plays the same as the 360 version besides that.
But clocking in at around 30 hours anyway, GTA IV is a long and overall highly entertaining sequel and reinvention of a series many thought had grown stale following San Andreas on PS2. Because of this irreversible reinvention, the fan bases may be split between whether or not old and unrealistic GTA is better than new and life-like GTA. Eventually the old fans will come to though and experience one of the best next-generation titles on offer as well.