Grand Theft Auto IV - my five cents

It's here. You've got it, we've got it, and everyone's tired from playing the game, rather than doing less-important things like eat, sleep and work. So, here's my verdict on the most anticipated game in the history of everything, writes Tom Parsons.

By the way, it's the Xbox 360 version that I've been playing, but we've also had a look at the Playstation 3 version, and graphically, there's very little between them.

The step-forward that Rockstar has taken in terms of presentation is evident from the very beginning. As the opening credits are slickly integrated into the opening scene, it's immediately clear that you're looking at something that has more in common with a Hollywood blockbuster than a traditional console game.

This is a feeling that continues for the duration of Grand Theft Auto IV. The story is deep and involving, the characters are multi-layered, and the voice-acting is spot-on. Your own character, Niko Bellic, is especially interesting. At first, I wasn't entirely convinced that I'd be able to really relate to him, but as his motives are revealed, and he suffers the emotional consequences of his (your) life of crime, it's impossible not to feel that you're part of him.

Of course, this level of immersion would be impossible if the graphics and sound were below-par, but the good news is that both are very impressive indeed. The hi-def picture is excellent, whether you've got your Xbox 360 pumping out the game's native 720p picture, or upscaling it to 1080p. The city is dark and dinghy in the run-down districts, and bright and vibrant in the suburbs and at the beach. This is the most realistic representation of a city yet seen in gaming. The character models are equally impressive, showing plenty of detail and some quite exceptional body and face animation.

A flatscreen TV with decent black levels and insight will really help to get the picture looking its best. However, if you're having any trouble making out the details in darkened rooms or on the street at night, it is possible to adjust the brightness and contrast from the game's option menus.

The sound in GTA IV is a real achievement too, and really rewards those with a decent surround sound system. The incidental noises of Liberty City surround you constantly, and truly transport you to a living, breathing city. You can even tell the game whether your surround speakers are to the sides or behind your seating position, and it tailors positional sound effects to match.

As mentioned, the voice-acting is excellent, though I did find myself having to turn the sound effects and music down a little, as the speech seemed to get a little lost when using the default settings. Doing this saved me from having to turn the atmosphere-killing subtitles on.

Now, while our primary concern as a magazine is with picture and sound performance, I simply can't write about a console game without giving opinion on the playability, and the good news is that Rockstar hasn't messed-up here either. I'll admit that at first I was surprised and worried about the car handling - driving just didn't seem to work as I felt it should. However, once I stopped driving how I expected a game to want me to, and started to approach driving more like it was real-life, it all came together rather nicely. This quest for realism is admirable, and it also extends to how Nico travels on foot. At first he seems slow and ponderous, but you quickly realise that this is simply a result of him being firmly constructed using real-world physics.

Those who are worried about the new seriousness and darkness in Grand Theft Auto IV needn't be. There are still jokes, filthy words, explosions and ridiculous gun battles aplenty. It's simply that these things are routed to a more three-dimensional character, and a deeper, more realistic story and game-world.

I guess that what I'm trying to say is that you can safely believe all the hype - Grand Theft Auto IV is one of the greatest and most accomplished games of all time.

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