GTA IV (PS3, 360)

April 29, 2 a.m. - 1 hr 45 min playtime

There's something almost overwhelming about the first time you take control of your character in a GTA game. After that first cutscene wraps up and you're standing there with full control over your character, there's so many decisions to make. I've been dying to see the new Liberty City ... do I run around stealing cars and explore the new world? Then again, I've been wanting to try out the all-new online multiplayer. But wait, I've heard the story is fantastic ... maybe I'll do some missions ....

No matter what your initial decision, this game makes a great first impression and is noticeably more polished than the previous games in the series. For the first half hour or so, I was driving around a fairly run-down ghetto area. However, I was amazed when I turned a corner that offered a view across the river and first saw the Liberty City skyline. This game is beautiful, which is more than I could say about the three PS2 offerings. (Note: read our previous reviews for Vice City, San Andreas,

Liberty City Stories (PSP), Liberty City Stories).

It takes quite a bit for me to laugh out loud if I'm home by myself playing a video game, but I had two laugh-out-loud moments within 20 minutes of seeing the opening cinema. When I stole my first car, the owner tried to run back and grab the handle of the door as I drove off. My car sped up as his body was being dragged along the road by his hand (made all the more hilarious by the new physics engine). I took a quick corner, and his body flew up in the air and got slammed by an oncoming vehicle, sending him flying.

The second moment was at the conclusion of my first "date," a night bowling with a new lady friend. I drove her back home and parked in front of her apartment. As Niko and the girl exchanged final pleasantries about how much they enjoyed the night, a speeding ambulance smashed into my car, sending it (as well as me and my date) flipping down the street. It's stuff like this that makes GTA such a unique and often hilarious experience. Each player is bound to have hundreds of these incredible "Holy shit, how did that happen?" moments as they play through it. Despite what the media and Jack Thompson want scared parents to think, it's more about moments like these than the "OMG I CAN GETS HOOKERS AND KILL COPS LOL!!!1!1" factor at this point. Fans of the series are over that novelty ... we need more than that to keep us coming back. From what I've played so far, it's delivering bigtime.

Update: April 29, 3:58pm - 3 hr 37 min playtime

My immaturity has cost me. In the middle of a mission that required me to catch a train, I realized that there was an old woman standing in front of the tracks waiting. As the train arrived, I had no choice but to walk towards her and press Circle to push her in front of it. As I had hoped, the train demolished her with a satisfying squish. Cue sirens, cue me being shot to death by cops and failing the mission. It was worth it.

I've decided to switch over to the Playstation 3 version of GTA IV after a couple of hours with the 360 version. Cutscenes look noticeably better, and there are minor visual upgrades when driving around Liberty City. I noticed far less pop-in and texture loading as well.

I also test drove the multiplayer for about an hour on the 360 version. There's definitely fun to be had, but it's kind of confusing getting your party into a match when you're first tinkering with it. It could also dearly use a quick mute function a la COD4 or Halo 3, as the first thing I heard in the game lobby was a barrage of ethnic slurs. So far I've played Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Cops N' Crooks, and Hangman's Noose. My favorite moment by far would be taking my friend up in a helicopter, then attempting to murder him by nose-diving it into the ocean and jumping out at the last second. Unfortunately, he survived and we were forced to swim to the shore before we could shoot each other.

Another date of mine didn't go that well. As I walked her towards a bar, I decided to shoot a hot dog vendor in the face with a shotgun, and the cops took pursuit quickly. I ducked into a magic show and tried to blend in by sitting at a table, but the cops found me and promptly took me down in a hail of gunfire.

Update: May 1st, 2:23am- starting over

I've decided that I'm going to switch back to the 360 version after numerous hours with the PS3 version. I'm not sure if it's my VGA cables looking better than the PS3's HDMI, but I'm thinking the edges on 360 are looking a bit smoother. This might just be my TV's settings however, as numerous reviews have stated that PS3 has the slight visual edge over Xbox.

Either way, most of my night has just been catching up to where my PS3 escapades left off. I'm now completely caught up and have focused on a lot of multiplayer on the 360. Team Mafiya and GTA Race are a blast, and even Deathmatch has some hilarious moments. The highlight of the night so far was definitely the 16-player highway race in which every player could only drive the Faggio moped. There's a lot of fun to be had in multiplayer for sure.

Update: May 1st, 4:28pm- 6 hr 37 min playtime

I'm in a virtual internet cafe within Liberty City, and there's a full-fledged "internet" within the game itself. I found a dating site, and searched for women in the area. My first result was a woman whose screen name was Mittens, and these were her "Likes":

"I like cats, duh! I like drawing three little paw prints on greeting cards so it looks like they signed it too! I like dressing them up as the founding fathers and having our own little purrfect thanksgiving dinner. I like really violent sex."

I've honestly laughed out loud more in the few hours I've played this than any other game in recent memory. The writing is clever as hell, and some of the stuff on the Liberty City internet is Onion-caliber.

Update: May 4th, 7:23pm- 8 hr 24 min playtime

I'm really starting to appreciate the way Rockstar has approached the additions to the GTA formula. Rather than the "bigger, bigger, bigger" mindset they had with San Andreas (Jetpacks! Harrier jets! Hovercrafts!), they've really focused on the little things this time around, and it shows. Pedestrians have a much wider variety of actions and personality, and it really adds to the feel of a living, breathing city. You can just drive around the city as an observer and find plenty to keep you entertained. I was cruising around the lower-class area of the city and saw a man being questioned on a corner by some cops. They were accusing him of some kind of credit card fraud, and I sat and listened to the whole conversation. It ended with the cop pulling a gun on the man and ordering him into the back of his patrol car. I decided to get out of my car, shoot both cops through the window, and help the criminal flee. This was not a scripted event or mission that Rockstar included in the game, it's an example of the kind of fun you can simply create by yourself in Liberty City.

Update: May 6th, 12:41am- 10 hr 44 min playtime

I think I must have a little Lee Harvey Oswald in my DNA, because whenever I end up on the run for shooting someone, I run to a theater and I'm promptly caught by the cops.

When it comes down to eluding the law, GTA IV has a much improved system than its predecessors. Instead of a blanket wanted level that follows you everywhere, the cops will just search the area around the crime right after it's been committed. Shoot a gun in the air and the search area won't be too wide, just a cop or two looking around the area. Murder a couple cops however, and you'll see that the law is searching all over the island for you, often by helicopter. It's a great system that feels a little more realistic than the previous one.

Final opinion:

In the end, GTA IV is a more polished, more gritty, and more realistic game than its predecessors in the series. However, it's largely the same experience. There are nice additions with the phone feature, the optional social life, and the greatly improved combat and physics, but the core gameplay hasn't changed much. Mission structure is still along the "follow this guy for a while and then kill him" variety, and no amount of technical upgrades can change that. Many review sites and publications were quick to give this game perfect scores, but it doesn't quite warrant that. A ten should mean that a game is absolutely perfect, and GTA IV is not. Fantastic, controversial, hilarious, gigantic, varied, beautiful...yes.

Despite falling short of complete perfection, GTA IV is still an absolute must-have for anyone with a PS3 or Xbox 360, and is without a doubt the best game in the series.

Graphics: 9.0

Sound: 9.5

First Play: 10.0

Replay Value: 9.5

Gameplay: 9.0

Overall: 9.4


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