Grand Theft Auto IV
Poetry Has Been described as the hot rawness of suffering and experience, analysed with the benefit of distance. I forget who said that. Someone who fancied themselves as a proper smart arse, for sure. The point is, if your partner tells you they no longer want to be with you, you shouldn't whip out your iPhone and start tapping a sad limerick into your Notes application. Give it a couple of hours, until you're properly over it.
The last thing I'm trying to do is compare videogame reviews to poetry (for a start, videogames don't rhyme, and they're never written by poets), but something about that old English lesson rings true with Grand Theft Auto IV. The madness of the game's release earlier this year, the plague of perfect scores, the unprecedented positive two-page review in The Sun, the man who got stabbed in the queue... it's over now, and the PC version won't make such a splash.
Which isn't particularly fair, because the PC version does most things right, and is a better experience: you've got the easy change between mouse and keyboard and gamepad - with both working excellently, and both especially useful in different situations. You've got the user-defined radio station, which is slightly simpler to use than in GTA3, which felt a tiny bit like hacking. Let's get the basics out of the way quickly. You play Niko Bellic, an East European who has been mentally toughened, and morally blunted, by the Bosnian conflict.
City Of Dreams
Attracted to Liberty City by the colourful lies of his cousin, Roman, he arrives to find that all is not as he expected. Far from finding himself neck-deep in those lovely titties that ladies have, Niko finds he has to bail his cousin out of debt, and prove himself to the local characters and gangs, all of whom require him to drive around and shoot people.
So GTA4 has the same structure as previous games. The world is more complicated, but the fundamental business of completing the game is deflatingly identical. Considering the effort that's gone into the game to make an immersive, fluid experience, it seems like a '90s relic to have cutscenes triggered by driving onto a blue circle (or yellow arrow) but that's how it works. There are just more stylish transitions that make it feel a little more movie-like.
Even with the missions, it can still feel like you're being spoon fed step-by-step instructions - and the continuing lack of mid-mission checkpoints can lead to real mission fatigue - but that's about the extent of my bitching covered. There's a lot to frustrate and annoy in GTA4, but since when could you enjoy the pleasure of success without tasting failure? Exploring the world and interacting with the characters that provide the real addiction and fuel of the game: you'll become oddly fond of the steroid junkie, Brucie. You'll enjoy the company of Packie and his extended fl family. Despite the lingering simplicity of the GTA gameplay, the world is rich, detailed and just so much of a damned pleasure to spend time in that you can forget the lack of fundamental renovation.
You can watch TV or catch up with Liberty City radio stalwart Lazlow's descent into Alan Partridge obscurity. Walking around, things happen. The city is harsher - cars will drive into you now while crazy homeless guys will get escorted into a police car. Driving slowly towards someone will cause them to hold their hands out convincingly. Walk into a businessman, you might start a fight Do the same with a muscular security guard, they might run away screaming. Bump into anyone else and they'll drop what they're carrying and walk off, in a drugged stupor. It's not perfect It's just very, very good.
Apart from the world at large, there's a much deeper relationship with key people in the game. It's a system that puts the depth of Far Cry 2s buddy system to shame, although with a cost to your sense of relaxation. Interaction with these people takes place through your mobile phone. And it's this phone that fills the time, eliminating any sense of free time, exploration and rampagehunting that GTA3 had. If you have any kind of social phobia you'll turn the phone off - as you meet more people, they'll all call you and want to hang out.
Whilst trying to avoid spoilers - a faint absurdity, given that everyone's been talking about the game for six months - this method of allowing you spend non-productive time with the characters is strikingly effective at one twist in the game. It gives a certain... plot development a savage sting, to have voluntarily spent non-productive time in someone's company, when you would have rather been doing something else. It's so precisely like some real-life relationships that reproducing it in a game so naturally is a genuine stroke of genius. For the other relationships, however, their demands maintains a sense of continuing obligation (they can stop liking you, if you ignore them) without a correspondingly steep payoff.
Free cab rides are only good if you're penniless, and the free weaponry from Little Jacob is rarely required, as you don't get your guns confiscated at the hospital, and can always reload the last autosave, which happens after every successful mission and date.
With exploration, multiple mission chains, the always excellent radio stations, and your phone going off, the world is never anything other than hectic. If you throw the frankly piss-taking side mission of shooting 200 pigeons to unlock a helicopter into the mix, then you begin to wonder if you need the hassle.
As far as the combat is concerned, the PC version is an improvement, and the addition of cover makes it feel up-to-date. You can use mouse and keyboard, a gamepad, or swap between the two. This makes the game easy to control, but the combat still falls somewhere between basic, repetitive and enjoyable.
The driving model can be oversensitive, so finding a car that handles well is a pain. Comers force you to slow down, the handbrake turn will generally flip you 180°, and the camera can be a pain in the arse in tight corners. But if you follow Brucie's mission chain you'll end up with a car that's a pleasure to drive. Just be sure you park it properly when you save, because I've lost mine.
In terms of the story you're being told, and taking part in, there isn't a game as well-scripted and performed. Some people complain that Niko's character becomes lost to the events of the game, but that's part of it he's making unconscionable decisions, and there's no attempt to disguise the fact that he's damaged from his acti the Bosnian war.
Even though the developers couldn't have scripted Niko for every decision you'd make, there's already so much script that it defies belief. Take the missions in which you drive someone to a destination - if you fail, and have to start again, Niko will have a different conversation with the passenger. If you fail again, they'll say something like "Let's just listen to the radio." This really does make a difference. It shows Rockstar care more than they're required to. It makes the world fuller, more real. And it makes the game easier to love.
Whenever you get the feeling that it's just GTA3 all over again, it's a good idea to go back to the older games, and remind yourself of the chasm between them. Go and look at the cuboid hedges in San Andreas. We've come a long way, and the new RAGE engine does a fantastic job (particularly in the PC-exclusive video editor).
Chases are the most annoying missions, with arbitrary fail distances and those alternately under- and over-responsive car controls.
At other times, it all comes together magnificently. Driving towards a raid, I picked up some blue flashing interest -assuming that they'd magically forget me the second I drove over it, I drove onto the mission trigger point. I was impressed beyond all traces of cynicism when the mission developed into a three-way shootout between the Mafia, cops, and the Irish gang I'd become involved with. This made it easier for me to escape into the river, which led to the whole thing becoming a high point of the game.
The PC version is being sold as the definitive version - as it always is, when it arrives late - and with a full installation that'd fill the entire hard drive of a first-generation 360, we've got the right to expect something special. Rockstar have delivered a fantastic PC experience, marred only by a demanding game engine and the need to reduce the default settings. (Unless you're on a high-end PC, GTA4 will leave you feeling emasculated.)
Then there's the video replays, which have been incorporated into your mobile. If you fancy making some East European-themed machinima, or want to make Niko bum a letter box, then just tap F2 to record the last 60 seconds of action to the hard drive. Then, you can replay and edit the action from any angle. It's a simple but effective process, that guarantees PC creatives hours of fun, and Rockstar plenty of YouTube exposure.
So, GTA4 has gone through its stages of wild acclaim and mild backlash - but the.PC version brings enough additions and improvements to the fundamental GTA4 experience to make it an essential purchase for anyone who hasn't played it yet. And if you have already played it.. you still might be tempted by that bumming a letterbox thing.
Playing with friends
Multiplayer cops and robbers
This is the first time multiplayer's been properly integrated into a GTA game (not counting mods). Not only that, but the PC's version has received a glossy finish. The most striking improvement over the console version is the doubling of the allowed number of players per game: from 16 up to 32. This transforms most of the game's staggering 15 game modes into incredibly hectic (and explosive) affairs. Most of the obvious uses of a huge city, guns and cars have been included in the roster of multiplayer game modes (like 'Cops and Crooks' - teams of cops vs criminals - and 'Race', a standard cross-city racing game), and a Free Mode allows you to dick about with 31 other people without rules.
How Many Times have you been playing Grand Theft Auto IV and had something astounding happen to you, only for nobody else to have seen it? It's the sort of thing that leads to you waving your arms about in the pub desperately trying to emote to your mates exactly how the helicopter blades were spinning when they lopped off the policeman's head. The confused,
disinterested looks they give you as you make the sound effects can be disheartening. They should've been there. So GTA4's video editor is a godsend. It's so incredibly versatile, and it ensures no moment of your game will ever go undocumented. Hit F2 at any time to save the last 60 seconds of gameplay, open up the video editor and cut together that minute of action from any angle you like, changing filters and slowing time if you so please. Then upload it to the Social Club TV, Rockstar's online YouTube-esque answer to watching other players' GTA clips.
If it sounds like I'm faultlessly pleased with the feature, it's because I am (and because I haven't used it long enough to get irate about its niggles - like out-ofbound cameras and no custom sounds). The rest of the game is much as you'd expect, with all the terrible rumours you've heard being mostly true - whether this runs well on your machine is hit and miss. At the time of writing the first patch is yet to appear, so if it's some sort of messianic panacea then all the better.
I've been lucky enough to experience few problems besides a required troublesome Service Packl installation for Vista. The unspoiled fullness of Liberty City has made it unexpectedly, one of my favourite games of 2008.
Often it feels wrong to enjoy a game so much when a great many people are having a hard time just getting it running. It's similar to being a scab during a strike. If Rockstar can get their shit together soon, maybe people can stop being blinded to GTA4's goodness by the game's juddering framerates.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode