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No game has ever made me take a weeks holiday from work on release week but this one. No game has ever had me queuing outside a store at midnight on release day (let alone the fact I'd been kickboxing training that day and was pretty tired and sore) but this one. To put it simply Grand Theft Auto IV when taken as a stand alone game is one of the most enjoyable games I've ever played.
You play Russian immigrant Nico Belic, a low level criminal looking to live the American Dream and also plotting revenge for a 'incident' in his past (I'll not go into this as it would spoil part of the story for you). He's pretty messed up but a good guy at heart who I became more attached too the longer I played the game. He's pretty intense and vilolent but also funny at times, sort of like Tony Montana in Scarface. The story is compelling and filled with twist's and turn's as Nico searches for wealth and the truth to a deep burning incident in his military past. The story is complemented well by the surrounding characters (who I'll talk about more later), who each seem to have their own live's going on regardless of yourself.
There is a massive amount of content in this game. The story mode will take you 25+ hours, but once that's complete you realise thats only 65% of the game. The other 35% is accomplished by all sorts of things such as street races (very enjoyable with a fast car), assassination missions, stunt jumps, shooting pigeons, and committing the crime that is the name of the game - Grand Theft Auto - stealing expensive cars on order. Plenty here to keep you going.
The controls are excellent and easy to use. The new cover system and use of the trigger button for your fire arm makes gun fights much easier to play (more on this later). In car the controls work fine with a new refined driving system, while on foot the controls are pretty much the same as past games.
The graphics are the best yet for any GTA game. The people on the streets designed are to a high level, the cities are even more impressive, light reflects of car windows and metallic finishes, not to mention the excellent weather effects.
The sound is excellent, with the game having a soundtrack and full set of radio stations filled with many well know artists, and some comedic sketches. Listen out for Ricky Gervais in there.
The Xbox live section of the game is pretty good, even just driving around in the foyer (free roam of the map) is alot of fun as you can enter areas like the airport without being chased by the police. The only problem I had with it is the ability to lock onto targets. Its my opinion in multiplayer it should only be 'free aim' as when you can lock onto a target it becomes a test of whos weapon is more powerful, not who is more skilled.
Unlike the past GTA games this story is more rags to better rags than it is rags to unbelievable riches. Theres no owning your own record company or Garage etc on this one, so it feels a bit more realistic in terms of what you achieve by the end of the game. Dont get me wrong its still a enjoyable trip to some powerful criminal positions but its certainly not to the extent the others went to. The game is laced with dark humor which may not be to some people tastes but I think most people who purchase these games already know what to expect. Some of the cut scenes are comedy gold.
The new cover system for gun fights takes this part of the game to a level not achieved on previous games, allowing you to be able to systematically take out large groups of people one at a time without having to take much damage (if your good enough). Also you can now target a person while they drive and take them out, leaving them to slump forward onto the wheel and accelarate uncontrollably forward.
There is many fantastic levels, such as a bank job thats straight out of the film 'Heat', that offer a pretty decent challenge even to experienced gamers. The overall story can be completed in roughly 25-40 hours if you really hammer it and dont spend much time exploring, although for me this takes away a large part of the GTA games as I love investigating the city and looking for new things.
You now have a mobile phone which can be used to play music on, activate missions or call friends/girlfriends to activate activities.
The city itself is perhaps the most impressive part of the game. Its basically modelled on New York and New Jersey area, with more real life landmarks than I care to mention. The detail level is immense, everywhere you go it feels like a real living breathing city with people going about their daily lives oblivious to you. You'll often see people talking on their mobiles, smoking, withdrawing money from ATM's, even some people preaching on street corners which just adds to the ambiance of the game. The sheer amount of cars and people on screen at once at some points is awesome (try south of Time Square for a good example).
The map is actually smaller than in San Andreas, but there is little to no areas with nothing in (deserts, countryside etc) and it takes longer to walk across this map than it did in SA due to the detail level of the cities. Less is definitely more in this case.
The driving has been made alot more realistic than in previous games, it really feels like your driving a car with real steering as opposed to the arcade handling of past games. This may feel a bit weird at first but it doesn't take long to adjust to. Another feature is the new controls for driving using the trigger buttons which makes driving much better, with the pressure sensitivity of these buttons acting like a normal car accelerator.
A massively improved feature on GTA:IV is the ability to get taxis, pick exactly where you want to go and skip the trip. This enables you to cover hugh sections of the map in very little time which is quite useful the further you get into the game. Be warned though if you have a over reliance on taxis you wont learn the map.
Theres plenty of other characters such as Nicos taxi driving cousin Roman, steroid filled Brucie, and Rastafarian gun runner Jacob (with a heavy Jamaican accent) among others. The first time I met Jacob I thought his accent was heavy, when I met his friend 'Badman' I suddenly though 'Jacobs accent isnt that bad actually' as badman sound like hes straight out of a Jamacian ghetto and I really struggled to understand him, thankfully there is a subtitles option.
A fairly new feature is the ability to go out with your friends (in San Andreas it was only your girlfriends and there wasnt much choice of activities) and do fairly normal things such as go to a club, go bowling, play pool, or even go on a helicopter ride. Each character has their own favourite pass times which when participated in gains you a percentage of how much they like you. Once you hit usually over 70% often the characters make some sort of special ability available such as free cab rides or cheaper guns. It can get annoying the amount of calls you get sometimes asking you to go out with a character, specially when your travelling to a mission location but all in all I think this is a nice feature, and the rewards make it worth it. You've got to love it when you get them drunk and they are falling over everywhere!
You can now go visit comedy clubs and watch different short performances from Ricky Gervais and Katt Williams, with a one by each comedian new for GTA. This is perhaps one of my favorite new features. You are able to watch TV and access the in game internet now, with many TV shows (I recommend the mens room with Bas Rutten) and fake webpages for your enjoyment. Some of the internet is interactive and you also receive news and extra jobs by email.
May people were dissapointed that many of the extra features in San Andreas are missing from this GTA game. There is no planes this time round although the airspace may have been a bit small for the fighter jets from SA, theres no gym, no need to eat just because you havent for awhile, no tattoo shops, no barbers etc. You can still buy new cloths, but at the end of the day you dont buy GTA games to personalise your character, if thats what you want then buy the Sims or something.
Certain missions have choices to be made which impact the rest of the game which also adds to the game life as once you've finished the story the attraction is still there to go back through the game and make different choices. Add this to the achievements and xbox live and you have a fairly decent gamelife span.
Overall this game is my favorite yet in the GTA series and I recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed the past games or likes gangster movies.