I warn you, don't buy GTA IV. Trust me when I say this, just don't buy it. I think its injecting heroin or something of similar addictive content through my eyeballs and directly into my bloodstream. You buy this, and you're going to lose a lot of sleep, your significant other (or parents) will start to hate you, your dog will crap on the floor for negation, and you'll be scratching a massive amount of itchy hobo beard that will have seemed to have Houdini'd its way onto your face.
Okay maybe that was a little excessive, but it really is difficult to step away from the true marvel that is Grand Theft Auto IV. There's an achievement on the Xbox 360 version in which you have to finish all of the story missions within thirty hours. I'm disappointed to report that I have miserably failed to attain said achievement. With that said, thirty plus hours in and I'm still into it just as much as when I was just starting.
You're controlling Niko Bellic, a badass illegal immigrant from an un-disclosed country (most will say Russia or Poland). Niko has come to meet up with his cousin Roman in Liberty City to experience the American dream of mansions, sports cars, and large breasted women. He soon discovers things aren't as peachy as Roman's letters led family back home to believe. The tasks themselves will never change, including grand theft auto (of course), murder, assassinations, and drug runs. But the memorable characters, immersive city, and intertwined story backing these tried, tested, and true tasks is what makes GTA IV fun from the point you put in the disc, to the time you take it out to put in GTA V.
The story is non-linear to allows you to roam and explore the city and all that it offers. There are plenty of side missions that I would normally skip until the end when I wanted to continue playing the game further. The way the side missions are all incorporated during play, mostly through the use of a cell phone, is quite ingenious. You'll simply want to take your girlfriend out to play some pool, or go get drunk off your gourd with Brucie the steroid junkie. Why not? The conversation on the drive to the location of choice is relevant to recent events in the story, the games are fun, and when you get drunk you'll actually feel drunk on your couch. The screen goes blurry as you stumble uncontrollably out of the bar with your friend. They'll start slurring "I love you man" or other random but very funny dialogue, meanwhile tripping over your own feet (watch out for those curbs), or crashing your way home if you dare.
It's hard to even summarize the incredible detail within Liberty City. Cops will pull you over if you are drinking and driving. Pedestrians will have a conversation over their cell phone, smoke, and pull out an umbrella if it rains. People do their cardio and jogging in the park. You'll almost never notice the same person twice unless you're looking way too hard. Each car is a different model and colour. One will have a stripe or be a convertible model, the other will not. You and your guest will both put on custom coloured helmets if you hop on a motorcycle (specific to your outfit of course). You can pick up every little object like a ketchup bottle on a hotdog stand. There are plenty of buildings you can enter and explore. You can sit down and watch TV at your apartment for over an hour without repeating material (as far as I'm aware, could be more). Liberty City is host to multiple "TW@" internet cafe's too. Order a baby, look up some classifieds, check and reply to your email, buy some ringtones, get a lawyer, get a date, read up on cars or soft drinks, or read the news, all 'online.' You can go to the strippers (genuinely hot), a comedy act (genuinely funny), or a cabaret show (genuinely grade 'B' material). You even have options with the prostitutes this time around, and the animations go further than just a bouncing car.
Niko is by far the most developed and believable GTA character to date, starting the story off by helping out his cousin Roman with his gambling debts. Niko has a military background, making him a prime candidate for freelance firearms work. He's reluctant at first, and still carries a smidgen of conscience when asked someone to rub out their brother or past best friend. You'll see him get a feel for the job and begin to like it, smirking during dialogue from time to time. This smirk is generally followed by the same reply, in which he'll state "you know my price." Although he does what he's told, Niko is no puppet. Several missions throughout the game allow you to make a decision as to who you'd rather rub out. There are really no repercussions for the decision, but this will change the story for who you will see or hang out with later on. The game allows you to weigh whether or not that person would be better off dead (thus not getting you into trouble for not following orders) or allowing them to live to offer up something back to you later on, like a bonus mission. This kind of addition in GTA IV adds a huge amount of replay value.
The missions themselves are slightly less difficult in comparison with those in previous installments, mostly due to the fact that police don't seem to put on the pressure the same as before. The lack of road blocks and spike strips is a start, but there are two other main things, the first being the new vehicle physics. GTA IV has taken a step closer to reality with its driving, which results in slower turning and accelerating. This is new to the series indeed, but once the learning curve has peaked, it feels more natural and more fun. With the slower turning and acceleration, if a cop crashes just once he'll be out of the pursuit. The cops seemed to gain super speed whenever they wanted in previous titles, bashing your car like it was going to produce wine. The second reason the fuzz has difficulty is because GTA IV does not lower the wanted star level by collecting police bribe icons. GTA IV runs off a radar type system, thus if you only have one star, the radar area (or in other words the area the police will search for you) will be quite small. The more the stars, the larger the search area and more cops then you'll know what to do with.
GTA IV has a great story, and the incredible cinematic cutscenes that accompany each mission do this great story justice. There aren't many titles I can list that sport a long list of characters you'll remember because of their genuinely unique voice acting, facial expressions, and body language. You'll develop favorites and dislike others simply because of these cutscenes and the story that surrounds them. Brucie is by far my favorite character in the story. He'll call you a winner for being an "ice cold motha f***a" after stealing a sports car and winning a race. This of course he'll yell while he does hand-stand push-ups, asking you if you'd like a shot of the shark steroid's he's taking.
When you are in a footrace or a firefight, Niko has more he can pull out his sleeve to get out of the way of passerby bullets. He can climb up or over anything of reasonable height, shimmy along a tight ledge, and most importantly, take cover. Being able to crouch behind a ledge or slide your way toward a corner will reduce the amount you have to run and gun, and makes for new tactics in GTA gameplay. Health pickups are still very rare, and bullets really hurt from point blank. The hospital bill isn't nice either, reaching $10k very easily. The new targeting system in GTA IV includes the auto lock, but also includes a free shot mode. This allows you to run and gun while aiming, but also allows you to lock on a refine your shot. This enables you to pick off an enemies hand that's poking out the side a little too much, or get a head shot without instantly locking on to it.
Cars in GTA IV are equipped with a GPS navigation system; the nicer ones even have audio instructions (male or female). After hours of play I can strongly suggest you not listen to this GPS system. It sets far too many corners to take, it does not suggest you to go down one way streets the wrong way, it tells you to slow down when speeding, and it beeps just as much as a real life GPS. Cool, great, a real GPS in GTA IV. No. It's a fun sucker-outer. It's really anti-awesome. The point of GTA is to break as many laws, as much as possible, as often as possible, and that includes driving like a total and absolute menace to society. It's a cool thought, and works the way it should (like a real one), but it doesn't add anything to the gameplay. But, if taken away you might still feel a sense of loss at times, which means it isn't a completely unnecessary addition. The GPS does come in handy though, doubling as a police scanner when in hot pursuit. It will show you the location of all foot-patrol, cruisers, and choppers taking part in the chase. Getting away from those directly involved in the chase, exiting the search radar area, and chilling out without being discovered at all for about 10-15 seconds will lose your wanted level completely. Which means it's beneficial to find a hiding spot after exiting the radar area compared to whizzing along a road where another random cop can spot you and report you to dispatch to continue the pursuit.
One thing is for sure, you'll be rockin' to one of the many radio choices while running from cops. GTA IV seems to favour the hip-hop and rap genres, but there's also a mix of rock, hardcore, electro, jazz, lounge, funk, disco, dance, indie, reggae, r&b, and the infamous Lazlow is back for some good old talk radio. The majority of the songs played on these stations are licensed, but some tracks have been made specifically for the game. Notable artists include Blink 182, Bob Marley, The Who, Black Sabbath, Kanye West, Busta Rhymes, R. Kelly, Aphex Twin, Elton John, ZZ Top, R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins, and Barry White. You'll notice a couple other tracks when inside certain buildings, like Goldfrapp's single "Ooh La La." Sticking to its formula, GTA IV doesn't display artist or track names on screen at all, but the game offers an option where you dial up a song-recognition service on your cell phone and receive it in a text message a few moments later.
This isn't the only thing you'll use the cell for either. It keeps the story rolling by keeping Niko in constant contact with each character of the game. Once the character is out of the main story line, if they become a friend or girlfriend, they'll occasionally call up and ask to go out to any of the previously mentioned activities in Liberty City. To keep them happy, you've got to do so at some point in time. You can even be proactive and invite them out to do something by giving them a call. A few characters, like Brucie, will call you up wanting you to steal a car he saw on the street for his auto business, or go on a street race. You'll even receive a call from your friend Dwayne asking you if you just called, as he was in the shower and can't figure who did. The radio even reacts to your cell phone by making that odd static click sound when you receive a call or text. Calls will often be interrupted due to your lifestyle, but you can always wait give them a call back later. If it's important enough, they'll call you back right away. Calls often come at the most inopportune moments (on purpose of course), like when you're in mid-air stealing a helicopter and your cousin Roman calls to ask if you'd like to go bowling.
This review could fill a novel if I were to describe all of the fantastic visual detail in GTA IV. One of the best things to note is the car indentation. Your vehicle is vulnerable to be indented on impact from any angle. A scrape will only scratch the spot that was scrapped, a nudge will only bubble the spot nudged, and a pole will royally mess you up. It sounds like a simple idea, and a feature that should've been included in games like this one a long time ago, but GTA IV is the first of its kind to include it to this extent and it's well received. A car will not explode if flipped over this time around, but cars will stall and if pushed hard enough they will burst into flames, wheel wells and all, telling you to get out of dodge (no pun intended) before the thing blows. The explosions are really a visual treat this time around.
The days of passing the controller along the line and watching friends wreak havoc on Liberty City and waiting impatiently for your turn are over. GTA IV's online play is great, and getting into it couldn't be any easier. Simply select the multiplayer option on your cell phone and choose the type of game you want, and then enter a lobby and wait for the game to start. The lobby isn't a list of names either, as it loads you up into an area with all the others waiting to start, free to do what you like. The lobby scatters weapons around, giving you an idea as to what usually goes down while you wait (although it won't be for long). There are more than a dozen different multiplayer modes to choose from, most being variations of death-matches and races. As a host, you have tons of customization for the match, like specifying and island or the entire map, friendly fire, radar settings, and police, pedestrian, and traffic levels. There are also co-op style games that put you and your buddies in missions similar to those in the single-player story. A territorial based turf wars mode, a carjacking mode, and the co-op missions that support four players are among the best of these options.
GTA IV is the kind of title every gamer must have in their collection to justify their title as said gamer. It's near perfection in all areas, and in all honesty, I won't be reaching for my copy of GTA III anymore whenever I need my fix. Not that the others in between weren't great too, but this is the sequel we've all been waiting for. This is also the first 10.0 we've ever handed out to a game. It's one of those games that demonstrate milestone achievement in the video game industry. Perfection shows, and it should be awarded accordingly. Long live Grand Theft Auto.