Grand Theft Auto IV Hands-On
At last, we get to play the biggest game of 2008.
By Adam Doree
Here's something we've been waiting to blurt out for weeks now: Kikizo was the first online media ever to play Grand Theft Auto IV. Ultimately meaningless, since the handful of media that have played the game all go live with their hands-on impressions at the same time (and we know you're reading our one first), but we still found this quite exhilarating. It just worked out that we were first, and for two short hours with the controller in our hands, we thought we were the bollocks.
- Announcement HD Trailer (March 29, 2007)
- Living the American Dream (April 11, 2007)
- Preview 1: Welcome to GTA IV (May 25, 2007)
- Preview 2: Gameplay, Missions & More (July 25, 2007)
- Preview 3: Big characters, big deals (January 23, 2008)
- Preview 4: Hands-on Impressions (February 28, 2008)
- Preview 5: Multiplayer and more (April 8, 2008)
- The GTA IV Review (May 1, 2008)
All First-Hand GTA IV coverage:
Of course, this hyperbole would have vanished faster than Sprunk at a swinger party if the game in our hands had played anything less than gloriously. After three previous private demonstrations of the game where we just got to watch and discuss, it's time for the bottom line.
And the bottom line is good news. In the rawest control terms, Grand Theft Auto IV offers a weightier, more physical gameplay experience than any of its predecessors, whether on foot or driving. And at the same time, the impression we started to get of the sheer freedom in a city this dynamic (but not oversized), together with far superior characters and voice acting than ever before has us convinced this is a game even more compelling than San Andreas .
In a way, it has been torturous to have sat and watched Rockstar demonstrate the game to us in the past, since few game series beg to be picked up and played as much as GTA because of the limitless sandboxy stuff you can do. But in addition to offering diversity and choice, Rockstar's challenge with GTA IV was always more likely to be in bringing it all together nicely, and in improving the usability, structure and pacing of the game beyond San Andreas.
Setting up meetings with people, pissing them off if you don't show up, your variable level of friendship with them, the improved line-of-sight based wanted system, mission accessibility and choice, and using your cellphone as a communication and organisational device are all elements that make this experience mesh together more naturally and logically than before. And because there's no loading and everything feels so seamless, there's an immediacy and impact to the experience that screams true, powerhouse gaming.
A good example of this is the retry system. Once a mission has been initiated, when you run out of heath and emerge from hospital (or if you're busted and emerge from the police station - except without your weapons), you can simply press up on the D-pad to pull out your cellphone and find that you have a text. Press A to read the text, and you'll have the option to immediately retry the mission. You can, of course, ignore it and travel to the mission at your own pace, or even take on other missions instead. It's one of many ways Rockstar has put thought into making everything about GTA IV more user friendly, wrapped in presentation that suits both the series' established values and its new, modern-day setting.
Let's start with the gameplay on its simplest level: the controls. Here's a breakdown of all the controls in the game, as we played it on the Xbox 360:
Grand Theft Auto IV Controls
|On foot||In car|
|A||Run (Hold to jog, tap to sprint)||Hand brake|
|Y||Enter car||Exit car|
|Click left stick||Crouch||Horn|
|Click right stick||Look behind||Look behind|
|Left trigger||Lock on/target||Brake|
|Left bumper||Call cab||Shoot|
|Right bumper||Take cover||Handbrake|
|D-pad up||Use phone||Use phone|
|D-pad left/right||Cycle weapons||Cycle radio stations|
On foot, Niko is every bit as agile as we had imagined from watching Rockstar play before. Now that we could do what we wanted, we tested this out to make sure we were satisfied his movement is as refined as possible. Walking around, running faster, doing sudden stops and turns, running into people, things or moving vehicles, jumping up to platforms to save walking, are all things you never question the realism of when playing. A large part of the success in the way Niko controls as a character is down to his outstanding dynamic animation, which uses a heavy dose of physics calculation as we've discussed in previous previews. Niko can also look up way higher than CJ was able to in San Andreas - perhaps because there was nothing particularly high up to observe as there is in the towering Liberty City.