We’ve all heard of Grand Theft Auto, or GTA as it’s usually abbreviated. Even non-games-playing pensioners will have seen and been outraged by at least one of the GTA games when it’s been on the news. And it’s an understatement to say that the fourth instalment was hotly anticipated. Indeed, opening day sales figures broke, nay smashed, all the records.
So we booted this up with great expectations, and by Dickens, it didn’t disappoint. In some respects GTA4 is an interactive gangster movie. The cut-scenes are cinematic, the scripts witty and well observed and the production is ultra-slick. Both visuals and sound are fantastic.
As you squeal your tyres rounding a bend in the first of many stolen cars, you’ll notice an incredible attention to detail in Liberty City. Flick your headlights onto full beam and the road glistens in the rain. A train passes overhead on a bridge, clacking and clanking with startlingly realistic sound effects (the surround sound is awesome). Pulling up at the traffic lights behind a cab, you spot an aeroplane taking off in the distance, and the litterbug cabbie ahead drops a crumpled cigarette packet from his open window.
It’s easy to become completely absorbed in the city and the missions you’re given. These are carried out for various different characters, who you keep in touch with via your mobile as you cruise the streets. The more jobs you complete successfully for a certain person, the more your favour will go up with them, and there are always choices to make. Sometimes tough ones; on the edge of a tall building a guy pleads that your crime boss is lying about his misdeeds, but your orders are orders. Do you push him off or show compassion?
The missions range from the more mundane taxi driving jobs to playing protection for drug dealers, which often involves drawing out your piece and blasting away at miscreants in an auto-aim-assisted, third-person shoot-out. Car chases are plentiful and there are some very cool missions where you have to, for example, steal a cop car and pull up various vans, searching for a stolen load of flat-screen TVs (in order to steal them back)!
Other missions require you to ram an escaping enemy off the road, and that always guarantees some serious red light running carnage. And if the cops spot your antics and hop on your tail, you end up with a ring of cars chasing cars, which can lead to some hugely entertaining pile-ups.
Aside from GTA4′s multitude of missions, there are the expected and plentiful side dishes. There’s a romance sideline, with dates to go on and smooching to be done. When you take your girl to see the cabaret, an actual (usually amusingly scripted) on-stage performance takes place. When you go to a bar and play pool, or visit a ten-pin bowling alley, you play a full 3D version of these games.
With the money you earn it’s possible to go shopping for new clothes, or perhaps a new gun (and ammo), or a custom ringtone for your mobile. Turn on the TV in your apartment and there are actual channels to flick around, featuring mock programmes and adverts. The car stereo has a huge range of stations, featuring lots of music genres and some big name bands, both old and new. Flick on the radio and Kanye West might come on, or the Sisters of Mercy with Dominion (you just can’t argue with that).
As ever, Liberty City is an open ended playground with absolutely tons of stuff to do, and a truly breathtaking attention to detail. Yes, it’s brutal at times – there are some seriously nasty characters, and cut-scenes featuring the likes of slow-motion execution head shots – but unless you’re offended by this sort of adult-rated gangster content, GTA4 is a compulsory purchase.