A Grand Ol' Time
One of the most anticipated games of 2008, Grand Theft Auto IV had a lot to prove coming out of the gate. And it pulled it off in fine style.
The latest installment from Rockstar Games in the controversial series follows Niko Bellic, a veteran of the Bosnian war, as he comes to America to join his cousin Roman and take part in an American dream described so vividly in Roman's letters and e-mails. Sadly, not everything is as Roman has written. Niko discovers that his cousin is mired in debt and under the thumb of loan sharks, with only a small cab service to his name. From here, Niko must make his own way in Liberty City (heavily influenced by modern-day New York), performing jobs for others while trying to help his cousin and resolving a personal agenda.
Players can perform any action they want, legal or otherwise. Attack the wrong person on a whim or steal a car when others are nearby and the next few minutes may be spent running from or fighting the police. Also, players can customize their character's look via clothing stores, do odd jobs for friends, watch TV or go on dates with other characters.
For new players, the game provides a generous learning curve. Early missions teach skills such as driving, hand-to-hand combat, using weapons and targeting opponents.
There's something for everyone online, with such multi-player modes as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Mafiya Work, Team Mafiya Work, Cops n' Crooks, Turf War, Race, GTA Race and Bomb da Base II, each featuring different goals. A solid network interface makes finding the modes easy.
New features really put the game over the top. Where players might have had a hard time finding a specific location, a built-in Global Positioning System feature for all vehicles makes this task simple. Other fun features: the ability to swim, duck behind cover in a firefight and easily restart a failed mission, and an efficient interface that shows your health and body-armor levels.
There are shortcomings. On Xbox 360 the game ran without incident in both single- and multi-player modes, but the PlayStation 3 version exhibited random crashes several hours into gameplay. Rockstar Games says that the bug is rare and that the company is working with Sony to fix the problem. A clipping issue in which an object may become "stuck" on a part of the map exists on both consoles but surfaced only on occasion.
Like the rest of the Grand Theft Auto series, there is controversy. Yes, Niko can be made to do horrible things. And other characters frequently swear. The title's Mature rating is justified.
The game isn't for everyone, but its achievements easily outweigh its bugs and controversial elements. Rockstar has created a full and compelling world for gamers.
-- Chris Barylick
Grand Theft Auto IV Mature; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 ($60) Rockstar Games/Rockstar North Grand Theft Auto IV Mature; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 ($60) Rockstar Games/Rockstar North