GTA IV Preview 5: Multiplayer Hands-On
The wait is nearly over. We entertained ourselves in GTA IV's vast multiplayer world to make the time pass faster...
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By Adam Doree
First things first: let me be up front and say that today's fifth and final GTA IV preview isn't as (near-comically) detailed as our previous coverage. In our first four previews - 5000-words-and-up ultra-previews which the GTA community kindly described as "standing out above the rest like a Megazord in Central Park" - we looked at pretty much every aspect of the core singleplayer game. Last week we got our hands on the multiplayer side of things.
And, with some fifteen types of multiplayer mode on offer, it's fair to say that Rockstar is NOT messing about: this is arguably as much a fully-fledged online multiplayer experience as it is an epic, 60-hour-plus singleplayer story, all in one game. Unlike, say, Call of Duty 4, which is a proper multiplayer game with a five-minute singleplayer campaign.
- 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:
Another reason for the smaller preview today is it is actually painful to be writing previews at this stage with just three short weeks until the game's release. I could have cried at stages where we needed to reboot the system and the game's front end was right there in front of me (Distinctive GTA IV artwork running on slideshow in traditional style), with 'push start' and the opening of the game just a click away. Now, I really just want to play through this game more than a lot of things which I do often and enjoy a lot. Fortunately, it won't be long until we start playing - and indeed, some magazines have been playing the final review build under Rockstar supervision since a couple of weeks ago. One alleged review of the final game even slipped through the net and went online over the weekend claiming to be the world's first, but has since been removed. I'm told it was fake. It's madness, I tell you. The hype is awesome and we'll bet it's all justified. In fact, if the world doesn't implode from awesomeness upon release of GTA IV then I will be quite surprised.
Rockstar grouped a few sets of online sites together for some heated 8-player matches, each with a mix of four journalists and four of their own staffers. The staffers claimed to be 'actually trying' as of our second match with them, to allow us time to get used to the feel of multiplayer first.
We played six of the fifteen different multiplayer games - Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch (both self explanatory), Team Mafia Work (carry out various mini-tasks against the clock), GTA Race (racing - with no rules!), Cops & Crooks (sort of a bit like CTF) and Hangman's Noose (a special mission). We were playing on a proper online connection, not over LAN or system link, and there was pretty much no lag at all. Rockstar told us it's been tested with hundreds of people up at Rockstar North and transatlantic, and the performance is apparently consistent and solid. We were all set up with voice chat and so on -essential for communicating with other players in many of the team-based modes.
All multiplayer games are easily modifiable in a slick lobby system and allow you to control all aspects of the game. In Deathmatch you can define weapon classes, such as 'Powerful', or for example choose to have only rocket launchers (which we found very difficult since the rockets do not lock on to targets) or even 'only knives'. If you're playing with just knives, things are going to become stealthy, so another useful option is to turn off player markers that appear over people's heads and also turn off people's locations on radar. You can also turn the Police on or off and toggle auto-aim on or off - useful as the auto-aim is very merciful and allows you to mow down moving targets with ease, particularly if you have a semi-automatic weapon. In other game types, you have all the options you'd expect, like vehicle type in GTA Race.
In Deathmatches, you can choose any area of the map in Liberty City, regardless of whether you have unlocked that area in the singleplayer game or not. You can have a match just on Happiness Island if you like (and indeed, we did). Firing a rocket from the Statue of Happiness to the suckers down below is a sight to behold. Maps are typically quite large, so it can sometimes take a while to find enemies to kill in 8-player games if you stray from the group, although the respawning seems intelligent to this end, and with the full 16-players on a map, we expect matches will be even more action packed.
There are endless quirks to Deathmatches (and indeed many of GTA IV's multiplayer modes), not least of which is the ability to hop into a helicopter and really spice things up. Helicopter travel is brilliant - you can lean out of the side in an over-shoulder perspective and shoot bitches on the ground; the cinematic view as the chopper traverses the tangible cityscape is simply awesome.
To be honest, I really was not the best player in the Deathmatches (although Team Deathmatches were more forgiving, since we were each playing with two Rockstar staffers on our teams). One fellow reporter got 17 wins in one match, just hammering in one headshot after another. And she was a girl. Ouch! Nonetheless, Deathmatches are predictably very enjoyable.
Fortunately, I was a lot better at GTA Race - basically coming first in all the races we played. It's no surprise, therefore, that this mode was probably my favourite (along with Deathmatches). We played a series of two-lap races, in which the 'course' is marked out by yellow light beams as waypoints, and upon passing each waypoint the next lights up and the route is marked out on the radar. If it sounds flaky, it really isn't; it works surprisingly well. Roads are not blocked off, so you can quite easily go off course unless you stay focused, but the good news is that spectacular comebacks are quite common: I once came back from despair in 7th place to win the race.
The reason for this variety is because you're racing in GTA world: you can change cars, steal other people's cars, shoot everyone and everything, drop grenades when in pole position and blow things up. Often though I just left the rest of the pack in my dust where their puny weapons could not reach me. You can also race on motorbikes, which is a LOT of fun, and even boats (which we weren't able to try just yet). Our favourite race location was probably at the airport, where you actually race around the runway - underneath planes and everything! It's awesome. We had a lot of fun with the racing, and the strategy with the weapons (you can pick up weapons by driving over them in Race) adds nice depth to the game.