GTA IV played… finally.

So I finally got my hands on GTA IV. It’s only been four months since it was released but the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of a freelance journalist (hahahaha) kept me from getting my greasy paws on it until now.

As the game loads up I feel the usual excitement of wondering what joys await me in the latest incarnation of Liberty City. After the initial visual hit of the opening sequence which is polished beyond perfection it is time to get to it. The main character is a man from the former Soviet Union with a mirky military past by the name of Nico Bellic. It seems he has come to start a new life and is lured to Liberty by his cousin Roman’s big talk of living the American dream. The storyline becomes Rockstar’s usual well-crafted blend of satirising modern America by using stereotypes and references from pop-culture. It’s all very familiar ground.

The changes are apparent instantly as the new driving controls now mirror conventions from the current generation of racing games, using the left and right triggers as brake and accelerator respectively and steering with the left thumbstick. It is a welcome improvement on the classic control system but if you want you can switch back in the options menu.

The other main change is the graphics. Gone are the stylised caricatures to be replaced by slightly exaggerated realistic character models. The environments are every bit as stunning as the publicity screenshots suggested. It almost feels like you are cruising Brooklyn or Queens. I do have one qualm though; the visuals are beautiful but they don’t quite sit the same with the game as the stylised caricatures of the GTA III generation. This makes settling into the game just that little bit harder than with Vice City or San Andreas.

Screen from GTA IV

GTA IV picks up just where the series left off, adopting the more focused approach of Vice City whilst expanding the possibilities for fun available to take advantage of the latest hardware. The new multiplayer options are well-implemented and are proving to be popular on Xbox Live.

There is no doubt that GTA IV is a superb game and is one of the finest titles available of 360 and PS3. Despite all the fantastic improvements and the sheer polish that Rockstar have poured into it, I just can’t help feeling that there’s something missing. Perhaps it’s just disappointment that it is more of a safe incremental improvement on a classic formula than a frontier-pusher. I don’t want to sound like a whiner here but, given how groundbreaking GTA III was, somehow I had hoped for more.

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