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Grand Theft Auto IV Review

Robbing you of your free time.

Grand Theft Auto IV has finally hit store shelves and it's landed with a boom. Shattering sales records in the UK, selling nine million (that's 9,000,000) copies during the American midnight release alone, and angering overprotective mothers and pandering senators across the nation – the 2008 Game of the Year has arrived.

GTA IV, for those who haven't seen the sun in over a decade, is the latest game in a series of open-world crime dramas created by what is inarguably the most controversial game developer in the history of the medium: Rockstar. Players are thrust into the role of an Eastern European immigrant named Nico Bellic who has just arrived on American soil. He is lured to the land of opportunity by emails from his cousin Roman Bellic who claims he is “living the American dream” – sports cars, mansions, numerous supermodel girlfriends and more money than he can spend. Nico decides to leave his troubled past behind, fleeing a violent and sordid past in the military to start a fresh life with his cousin. Of course, once he arrives Nico soon realizes that Roman's over exaggerating habits have not diminished.

So starts the riveting story in which you are the co-author. Stuck in a hell-hole of an apartment with your flat-broke cousin, you are forced to do anything and everything to make some money and support yourself and Roman's gambling habit. In true GTA fashion, players start small and work their way up the criminal underground, taking more dangerous jobs for more lucrative payoffs. In the very beginning you may be tasked with killing a lowly drug dealer simply because someone doesn't like him. Near the end of the game you will be involved in intense, exhaustive missions with bank robberies, car chases, huge shoot-outs and enough explosions to fill a Hollywood action movie.

It is this transition from small-time crook to what is more or less a professional thug that is at the core of the story progression and gameplay. Many detractors of the series claim that Grand Theft Auto is simply a game about killing hookers and police officers while doing drugs and stealing cars. In fact, M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) has so far unsuccessfully attempted to get the game re-rated from Mature to Adults Only because there are some missions that actually require you to drive a car while incredibly drunk, complete with blurred vision and sloppy steering. Though these unsavory activities are somewhat commonplace in the game, it is an unfair simplification of the overall package. It's like calling a nuanced and well-scripted Scorsese film “a movie about guns”. Sure, there's violence and depravity abound but there's also movie-quality cutscenes, the best voice acting in the industry, intrigue, betrayal, mysteries, dark secrets from the past, character interaction and development. This is not just a game about murder. This is an experience, a way to step into someone else's shoes and survive on the harsh streets of a fictional New York City by whatever means necessary.

Speaking of the city, I am fully confident when I say that never in the history of video gaming has a fictional world been so completely realized. I've often found myself just walking down the street and marveling at the hustle and bustle going on all around me. Taxi cabs speed down the streets honking wildly at cars that aren't going fast enough for their tastes. Three kids sit on the porch to a ratty apartment building, laughing and talking about skateboards. A man gets a call on his cell phone and starts talking about business deals. A woman gets out of her car and starts unloading groceries. A seedy looking man standing outside an Italian restaurant casually smokes a cigarette and eyes you as you strut past. I cannot stress enough how real the world feels. It is made even more impressive by some of the best next-gen physics and graphics on the market. It came as very little surprise to me when I discovered that GTA IV cost over 100 million dollars to produce and had a team of over 1000 people working on it pretty much nonstop since the Xbox 360 and PS3 were launched.

Their obsessive attention to detail shines in so many little ways. You can listen to the radio and hear some of your favorite music from current times or tune in to talk radio and laugh yourself silly at the stuff they spew. You can go to a comedy club and see Katt Williams perform stand-up or see a magic show with one of your numerous girlfriends. You can get a burger with your cousin and then go shoot some pool before calling it a night. You could even just sit in your apartment and watch TV, complete with parodies of American's Next Top Model, Halo 3, and MTV's Cribs. And, of course, you can spend hours at the strip club spending all your money to have a digital stripper grind all over your lap.

There is just so much to do in GTA IV that you will often feel overwhelmed, as if there is no possible way you could ever finish the game. This is what Rockstar was shooting for. In the next generation of video games, people don't want to play the same thing over and over. “Race here.” “Shoot this.” “Jump over that.” They have proven themselves once again to be the inimitable masters of the genre they invented – the “sandbox” game. They give you a mind-bogglingly huge digital city to play around in and though there are missions and jobs to be completed you are never, ever forced to do anything you don't want to do. Many publications have already called Grand Theft Auto IV the Game of the Year and I am in no position to disagree. This is probably the most polished, compelling, and just plain fun game you will play all year. I highly recommend that anyone that isn't afraid to get a little dirty play this masterpiece of gaming. But who am I kidding? You're probably playing it right now.

--Matt Makepeace

10 / 10

Grand Theft Auto IV (XB360, PS3)

Developed by Rockstar

Published by Take-Two Interactive

ESRB: M for Mature

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