The Grand Theft Auto series explodes onto next gen with all it's trademark gameplay elements. Great single player story

User Rating: 9 | Grand Theft Auto IV PS3
In Brief

The Good:
-Incredible wrote and executed story and cast of characters with terrific acting
-Vast, well realised game world
-Wide array of missions and varieties.
-A lot of things to get up to when not progressing through the story
-Online play makes it debut on GTA (despite it not feeling the polish of other titles online play)
-Massive life span

The Bad:
-The improved combat system still feels lacking
-You get a sense that traffic tries to ram you off the road on purpose which is becoming irritating as it remains title to title.
-Not as bad as past GTA titles but you feel as though too much time is spent travelling between missions.
-When a lot of explosions occur on screen the frame rate drops like a piano down a flight of stairs
-Abysmal enemy AI

The British Houser brothers (fathers of Grand Theft Auto) passion for movies and projecting them whilst injecting heart and soul in game worlds brimming with life explodes onto next gen systems that is as subtle as a slap around the face with a refrigerator door.

Grand Theft Auto is the video game industries biggest heavyweight and there is no title out there that receives as much constant anticipation and hype from player and critic alike as this does. It is a cash cow and it deserves to be (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was in the top 10 charts on the PS2 for years). RockStar resists the urge to cash in on it with the dreaded yearly updates (you know which companies I'm referring too) and could of played a lot safer with its production choices and game inclusions. It puts so much effort and attention to detail in and draws almost everyone who picks up the game to play it for over 50+ hours and better still there is so few critics of people who purchase the game that there is more thin lipped politicians (the dignified ones that help themselves to your tax payments to squander on things like pornography or a moat around their garden) that are wrongly blaming this game (wrongly) for the negative influence this game has on our young. I must stress however, if you are a parent reading this review by being sensible and researching that if this game is suitable or not for your children that this game should strictly not be played by anyone under the age of 18 (the games rating). The violence is one thing but there is a lot of adult themes and dialogue that shouldn't be seen or heard by youngsters.

You play Eastern European refugee Niko Bellic as he exits a cargo ship and descends onto Liberty City in chase of 'The American Dream'. He quickly learns that life in the USA isn't as rosy as it seems as we take a journey through the criminal underworld and climb up its ladder. What I find particularly incredible about this game is that it tells Americans that their country isn't perfect by long means and it does it without being patronising and at the same time it helps them reflect on how it is a great country and how they take it for granted at times. What always amazes me is that gamers are constantly neglecting the story in GTA titles for having a riot through the massive varying city world. GTA IV is no different. It has the fantastically told and directed story that has the same exceptional dialogue and acting from both the voice over actors and the motion capture crew. This does have a serious baseline to the story but in essence it is a black comedy and never afraid to have a bit of a laugh at itself in the process.

The characters as you would expect by now are incredible too. They manage to be theatrical while not being beyond the means of unbelievable, what I believe to one of the series best signatures the fact is that some characters can be based on a particular stereotype but never, ever feel clichéd, which makes them all live for a very long time in the memory (rather than gaming's seemingly new approach of having generic, unforgettable ones). A rare achievement in Hollywood itself.

Where Assassin's Creed didn't have a clue how to keep the gamer occupied in its open worlds GTA blows it clean out the water. There is around 95 missions but it's very rarely that you feel as though 'Christ's sakes I only did this 20 minutes ago' and offers you a wide variety of side missions with my personal favourites being the Gone in 60 Seconds style missions. Brucie (it's not long before you meet this guy and he leaves a lasting impression) gives you a car and where to find it to steal in exchange for cash to the ones where you have to track the cars down yourself. What I hate is hidden items in the world (in this case, pigeons). There is 200 here to find in the game and (if like me) you can only find say 195. There is no system that tells you with ones you have already found and are forced to visit all 200 locations again if you use a game guide. The overly long travelling between missions has been improved but still feels present. The game does try and make this an event however when your character receives phone calls or you have a conversation with the characters in the car with you.

The only area of criticsism of this game seems to be on the graphics side. I have heard too many people call this title 'San Andreas quality on next gen', what an absurd comment. I am constantly baffled by people demanding the absolute highest graphical displays whilst expecting massive game worlds to traverse. The Elder Scrolls, Fallout 3, MAG come under the same criticism. Yes the textures are pretty bad on the game but the game more than makes up for it with the city brimming with life and amount of objects on the screen. Another negative comment I've heard refers to when night descends into the game world and its varying weather conditions and the cell phone that appears on screen (that can actually be used to contact friends, and receive texts and mission offers) but the fact is this game was created primarily for the HD market. The simple fact of the matter is that if you are lucky enough to own a high definition television this argument dissolves into nothingness.

The game doesn't just aim for generic acceptable levels of graphical prowess; it does actually excel a lot of effort in place. Liberty City at night when the lights come on, looking across the city and seeing the vast distance, the sense of speed that is generated when driving and the way the sun and the city reflects off the seas ripples and (depending on the weather) wave ferocity is BEAUTFIUL.

There is one aspect in my eyes that has been the Achilles heel in all Grand Theft Auto titles and that is combat (which I find odd people tend to ignore considering some of the minor gripes they come up with). They have gone to a lot more effort to improve the system and implemented a basic cover system but it does feel as though they did the rest of the game first and started work on this towards the end of the deadline. As I said it is improved but it still scrapes being called 'acceptable'. You can use the classic over-the-shoulder Resident Evil 4 style of aiming but using the games lock on feature is by far the best option to use.

The city here is (as you'd expect) is unequalled by all its open world rivals. The varying districts from the business sector draped with skyscrapers to the decrepit slums of the lower class to the varying neighbour hoods within them. Not only do they have their own look and feel as well of the architecture to the people that roam it. There is a vastly new array of buildings to enter which should please a lot of fans that demanded it.

If there is one gripe I have with the setting is RockStar calling it Liberty City. Where Metal Gear Solid 4 makes you relive classic gaming memories and recapitulates the magic of an older title when it returns you to Shadow Moses you feel no similar feelings what so-ever to the Liberty City of Grand Theft Auto 3.

Online competition finally makes its way to the series. Where as I'm not entirely sure implementing this feature when the combat is little to be desired but people are playing lag free in the game world frag fests and seem to love it. It's not all for nothing however; you do earn game money to spend on your single player experience.

The car handling and wide selection of vehicles (also spreading to water vehicles) has no reflection on real world counterparts but it is fun driving about and when you dive online for street racers it is the most fun (in my personal opinion) that can be achieved from it.

What makes the Grand Theft Auto franchise so special is the stuff it gives you to do when you aren't progressing through the story. There is the stunt jumps, different clothes shops to kit out your character in new threads, go for a game of Pool or darts, enter a street race, play a game of qub3d, go for a meal or drink in varying shops or go and watch a comedy (look out for Ricky Gervais on stage or a cabaret which can all be done alone or you can call a friend/ girlfriend and take them with you to join in and grow their fondness of you giving you access to that characters unique ability which will help you through the game.

The acclaimed radio stations return too. Excellently scripted and each station offers a diverse range of tunes and now there is the inclusion of television and internet that feature the trademark Grand Theft Auto whit and humour you've come to know and love.

As always you can be an absolute b*****d and go around causing mass murder and driving around the city with the police in tow. This brings me onto another gripe. You can have the fastest Italian supercar in the game and the bog-standard police cars can not only keep up with you at full speed but quite easily over take you.

Grand Theft Auto IV isn't the best game ever made but it is a colossal undertaking that will keep the fans happy and get the new comers hooked. Worth every penny.