Grand Theft Auto IV Preview - 27/07/2007

What can we expect from the fourth game in the grand series? Our thoughts on the next-gen theft and auto inside…

‘Ha ha’, the Xbox 360 gamer cries, ‘we have the big 3 now!’ Or that’s what Peter Moore wants to hear from homes across the globe this October, as made clear by his ‘we got GTA, Halo 3 and Madden on one super console’ speech/boast at this years E3. But why has hijacking Rockstar's controversial franchise away from Sony got Peter Moore in a tattooed tizzy, and what can the ol’ knicker-Xbox-glory do with the brand?

Uncle Ben from Spiderman has cottoned us all on to the saying: with great power comes great responsibility. The increased power of the Xbox 360 over the PS2 and Xbox means Rockstar have a greater muscle to deliver more than a Scarface or Boyz N the Hood clone, as previous incarnations made tongue-in-cheek odes to. For the first time since people begun slyly looking over their shoulder and jotting down the test answers from the person sitting next to them, a whole city is now able to be faithfully copied onto one disc. Well, almost. There’s now so much freedom, that the entire island of New York and its various boroughs within can be imagined with a staggering amount of detail. Obviously not every street and hobo can be digitally recreated, however, famous landmarks such as the Chrysler building, Times Square and Wall Street are mapped in for your illegal pleasures, and the Bronx, Statan Island and Manhattan are on offer for you to explore and unlock.

In a departure from the cartoony and stylised violence of the previous GTAs, IV features a heavy emphasis on realism, (my, violent videogame protester Jack Thompson will be pleased!). The two trailers released from the Rockstar camp have confirmed that the brand is moving away from the petty criminal actions of mere theft n’ auto, and into a more real-world scenario. The moody backwards glances and door-kicking escapades of the second trailer and the, well, arty shots of buildings of the first all but confirm this. So, it’s out with the jet packs, in with the shuffling gait. This switch from over the top videogame violence to an altogether more cinematic quality doesn’t mean fun gets pistol whipped to the sidelines, oh no, as the trailers also featured lead character Niko dangling from Helicopters and ghost-riding cars into petrol stations, with explosive results. It’s merely the way Rockstar present the action that makes the latest in the series look more visceral, feel more satisfying, and seem more, well, Rockstar.

Unlike the flowery-shirted Tommy Vercetti and BMX-riding CJ, the focus is as much on the city as the lead character. So it’s not just Niko who will behave like an intense, seedy anti-hero, the city will too. Taking on a new verticality that Hitchcock himself would be proud of, hundreds of buildings will be open to explore. This not only takes the action away from the crowded streets, but offers new game dynamics. For example, there’s the ability to take elevators up to top floors and dangle people over the edge. It’s not confirmed whether this is confined to certain missions, but I know I’d love to drop a corrupt cop and a coin off the top of a skyscraper in my own free time and see which reaches the ground first.

In a recent press conference, Rockstar have said to place an emphasis on the character of New York and its various peoples. Rather than the faceless NPCs of sandbox games such as Crackdown or Saint’s Row, people will go about their daily business with a certain twinge of realism. From shopping, watching ‘random news’ scroll by in Wall street, and even kicking in tramps in true Clockwork Orange style, the city is sort of Rockstar's romantic ode to the more dirty years of New York, before mayor Guilliani ‘cleaned up the streets’. The new physics system, euphoria, ensures that when you speed-by doing 70 in a stolen police car, people aren’t confined to act as a stand in for road kill. In a recent demonstration, an NPC is shown to fight for balance as the ground around him is manipulated. This new dynamic is probably a good introduction on Rockstar's part, and a way to combat the possible overly-realistic offerings.

The controversy that surrounded the previous games sprung out of your ability to execute any civilians you wanted with an array of weapons. If civilians now fight for their lives and act as real people would in that situation, will you really want to shoot them and watch as they writhe in pain? Actually, don’t answer that…From the physics system, to the interiors of the city and the NPCs' newfound personality, Rockstar are trying to make you feel less like the wheeling dealing centre of the city, and more like a gruff, tracky-wearing microcosm.

In fact, Rockstar have announced trouble fitting everything on once disc. Who can blame them when one of America’s busiest and richest environments is called to turn into software. It’s amazing, then, that a multiplayer mode has been rumoured. Rather than have a glowing radar pointing the way to your buddy, (once again, the focus is on realism this time) you’ll instead have to use the internet to locate them. As their wanted level increases, so will their notoriety, therefore, making them easier to find. It’s not said how their police notoriety will give them away thus far, but I’d love to tail police cars as they make their way to the scene, or even see CNN-style news flashes. With Niko getting his eastern European mitts on a mobile this time, you could even ring your mate to get his location, and maybe have a chat about the weather before deciding upon a landmark to meet under. If this seems a tad unlikely, a more reasonable suggestion is the ability to phone up ammunition or car dealerships to have them drop by products instead of you hauling arse to their shops.

Alas, this preview has turned into speculation and conjecture! Well, all we really have to go on at this point are two trailers and a behind-closed-doors demonstration that Rockstar gave to a small crew of game journos. However, a lot is hinted at through these tiny glimpses into Niko’s world. There is no doubt that this is GTA on a grander and more realistic scale, with not only a larger play area than San Andreas, but a richer and more detailed one at that. That means less country-side-filler, and more yellow taxis, white-collared business men, and giant stone ladies holding torches. Come October 22nd, the world will be united by a grubby little eastern European named Niko. Here's praying he’s our ‘special someone’.

- Ben Griffin


Rockstar Games
Rockstar North
PS3 - Xbox 360