Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto IV
Grand Theft Auto IV Cover
Platforms Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows
Genre Hyper Realistic Sandbox Action
MtAMinutes to Action 4
Keep Playing? Definitely
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Grand Theft Auto IV is the long awaited and critically acclaimed action-adventure game released last year on the Xbox 360, PS3, and Windows. It's the first major iteration of the series since Grand Theft Auto III and in just over a year has sold 11 million copies. A lot was riding on this game and it seems that Rockstar delivered, but I will judge that for myself.

I've played almost all of the Grand Theft Auto games over the last few years, it's amazing how mainstream the series became after GTA III was released. Rockstar has since released the first two games for free for the PC and I reviewed the first hour of GTA 2 a year ago and my friend recently reviewed the first hour of Chinatown Wars (I also have a full review coming of the game in the next few days). Grand Theft Auto has swept the world by storm, so let's get into the latest monster, Grand Theft Auto IV for the Xbox 360.

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - Seems like Grand Theft Auto IV is one of those games that knows I'm starting a new game for the first time as the opening cutscene begins. There's some screaming and we get a look at some interesting whipping action going on... Ah, Liberty City, the land of opportunity. Niko and someone else are discussing their futures in the city.

01 - Someone is mixing diamonds into a soup, weird. The title flashes by, wow, this cutscene sure is cruising by fast. A car is unloaded off the ship Niko was on and they step on Liberty City land for the first time.

02 - Niko looks a little unsure what to do until someone drives up and picks him up. Very typical GTA opening. It's his cousin who describes his night with two women, "the land of opportunity." Nice to know the humor has survived to the Xbox 360. His cousin is quite drunk and Niko takes the wheel.

Grand Theft Auto 4 Niko

04 - We're heading for the "mansion" and I get control.

05 - A terrorist threat means we can't explore the whole city, also pretty typical GTA. I pause the game to check out the map, man, this land is sprawling. Also looks pretty familiar after playing Chinatown Wars.

06 - Controls seem great, and the city is beautiful, even at night. There's a GPS in the corner and Niko and his cousin talk the whole way there, mostly about women.

07 - We arrive at his cousin's and head inside. The cutscene begins anew and we check out the pad. It's kind of a dump with cockroaches all over. Niko is quite disappointed with the situation.

Grand Theft Auto 4 Niko Cell Phone

09 - His cousin Roman did quite a bit of lying about his life to his family back in Russia.

10 - Niko talks about his past in the war, will there be a flashback? Nope, his cousin falls asleep instead. Not quite a happy family from Niko's point of view. Roman leaves.

11 - I get control again inside, I can save in the flat and sleep if I'd like.

12 - I leave Roman's dump and head out into the glorious streets of Liberty City. Pedestrians are angry, taxi drivers are even angrier, and my first mission is minutes away.

14 - There's a diner next door to Roman's that I head into, I can buy a burger in here but that's about it.

Grand Theft Auto 4 Niko Roman

16 - What the? Two guys jump me in the bar and start beating down on me, I run out of there and they chase me down the street to Roman's office. I head in and another cutscene kicks off. Niko meets Mallorie, his assistant, and a creepy guy in a green smoking jacket. Roman owes him money.

18 - Niko and Roman leave and hop into his car. We're going to a hardware store, I get to drive.

19 - From the conversation in the car, Roman is going to a card game. Guess it was just a drop-off though, Roman gives me his old cell phone and takes off.

20 - I'm just sitting in the car watching out for loan sharks, Roman calls me and we talk for a moment, he's still playing.

21 - Hey, I'm parked in hte middle of the road and a car actually drove around me! Amazing! The loan sharks show up and I call Roman to warn him, can't I kill them?

Grand Theft Auto 4 Niko Climbing Truck

23 - I pick up the fuzz after running over some peds but I'm able to drop Roman off at home without losing them. Once I got the cops on me the GPS zoomed out and a circular zone appeared. I think you're supposed to escape that.

25 - I head back inside by Roman. Hmm... the loan sharks are bugging him, Niko breaks one of their arms and kicks them out. Mallorie calls Roman and they argue a bit, I need to go pick her up.

27 - Not too far away, Mallorie and her friend Michelle get in, first I need to drop Michelle off. Mallorie tries to hook us up, Michelle actually seems interested.

29 - Both girls get out and I automatically call Roman, he asks him where to get some new clothes. I think Niko is interested too.

31 - It's some sort of Russian owned shop, I wonder if I have any money. Well, I bought the pants for "free," that doesn't really make any sense, but whatever.

Grand Theft Auto 4 Niko Exploding Car

32 - Man, Niko's default walking speed is slow... I give Michelle a call and ask her out on a date. She says yes, wow. I set a waypoint on the map to her place and take off.

34 - Holy crap I hit a tree at high speed and Niko flew out of the car! WOW.

36 - As I arrive to pick up Michelle, Roman's taxi stalls out, Niko yells at the car as he tries to start it. Funny stuff. Roman calls then to tell me he's cornered by those Albanian loan sharks, hey man, I'm on a date here.

37 - The game shows a variety of places you can take girls including a bowling alley and strip club. We get a up close view of some of the entertainment there.

38 - After the montage, Niko knocks on Michelle's door and is invited inside. Niko observes that everything there is new and Michelle replies that she's a neat freak.

Grand Theft Auto 4 Niko Cops

39 - I guess we're going to a "fun fair," what exactly is that? Ah, the carnival.

41 - We arrive at the carnival but it's not even open so we decide to go bowling instead.

42 - Wii Bowling this is not, heh. You use the right stick to flick the ball down the lane. I bowl a nasty split my first time. Michelle's turn, she seems like a nice girl so far, lonely though. She picks up the spare.

45 - Well, she thoroughly whips me in the five frame game we play 30 - 66. Maybe next time...

47 - Michelle is just as mysterious as Niko, they won't admit to each what they "really do."

49 - I take her home and the game tells me that the date went well and now we can go on more dates. I guess I should probably save Roman first though.

Grand Theft Auto 4 Niko Motorcycle

51 - Interesting... Roman got beat up because I went on the date, maybe you weren't really suppose to protect him? Well, now I have to pick him up at the hospital.

53 - Niko tries to convice Roman that he did not do anything with Michelle, but Roman is oddly proud that his cousin would choose a woman over himself in a time of need. Weird family.

54 - I think I'll spend my last few minutes in Liberty City exploring and causing some havoc.

55 - Ugh, never mind. Roman called and he's in trouble again, Niko promised he wouldn't let him get hurt again, so here I go to save him.

58 - Roman is getting beat up by two thugs and while I have almost no health from getting beat up in the diner, I manage to take them both down with some timely punches. Another Albanian appears and we chase after him in Roman's car.

60 - I chase him across town, up a stairwell, and into an abandoned building, only to get knifed once and killed. Oh well, that's the end of the first hour of Grand Theft Auto IV.

Grand Theft Auto 4 Niko Shotgun

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 4

What I liked: Surprisingly, I'm really getting into Niko and his mysterious backstory. Who is this guy? What is his past? Rockstar is definitely developing him all out from the get go. Compare him to the unnamed hero from Grand Theft Auto III who just nodded to everyone, Niko and CJ from San Andreas actually feel like real people! Just Niko's conversations with Michelle reveal an interesting side to the guy, he seems to be multi-layered and deep, I look forward to learning more.

Can't go much further without recognizing the game's biggest and most important character: Liberty City itself. The city is vibrant and full of life. Pedestrians roam the streets, there are hot dog vendors and prostitutes, police officers and thugs; never a dull moment, even when just standing around (see minute 16). This is something the series has always excelled at, and GTA IV takes it up a notch or four.

Hand to hand fighting was actually pretty decent, you've got your classic Z-targeting system with a few different buttons for punch and kick along with the opportunity to disarm your opponent and turn their weapon back on them. Too bad I didn't get into any gun fights during the first hour, I would have liked to have seen how they've evolved that system.

What was awesome: Graphics, sound, music, presentation, etc. Everything is awesome. GTA IV is leaps and bounds better looking than its predecessors on the PlayStation 2, it's unbelievable. I have to admit, some of the Unreal Engine 3 offerings on the Xbox 360 look a bit better, but that doesn't diminish what Rockstar has developed.

What I didn't like: The driving, specifically cornering. Maybe I'm too used to the arcadey controls of Chinatown Wars, but I had a lot of trouble taking corners in GTA IV. You can get going pretty fast in this game and turns come up quick, the L button serves as the normal brake, and the A button serves as the handbrake. Unfortunately, even with all these options I still had trouble. The normal brake is way too weak and the handbrake immediately sends you into a 90 degree skid that will seemingly accellerate you faster than what you were going before. Someone please tell me "you're doing it wrong," and give me some advice! The great driving is what makes this game!

The first hour could have also used a fun, epic mission to really kick things off. Instead, we just get drive from A to B missions and some bowling. It seemed like the final mission of the first hour could have had some potential, but the awkward driving (and my low health) held it back. I know there's gotta be a big one coming up...

Gameplay: The driving has gotten a bit too realistic for my taste, hopefully I'll get used to it but the game could use a little more Burnout and a lot less Gran Turismo.

Fun Factor: Driving is still intense, and fun though, as long as you don't have to turn. Going off a hill is still awesome and the entire game's atmosphere makes me just want to drive around and experience it all. Hand to hand fighting was also not too bad, better than I expected. Though why wasn't I given a gun? This is Grand Theft Auto, right?

Graphics and Sound: While the characters look great, it's still Liberty City that impressed the most. Everything is even more special after playing Chinatown Wars and driving down the same streets in both 2D and 3D. In terms of sound, the pedestrian comments are still around, while I didn't hear anything particularly funny, it's nice to know Rockstar continues to keep these classic one-liners. Can't forget the radio stations in the cars either, it's kind of sad when I would rather listen to the music in a video game radio than the real radio.

Story: Niko seems to have a lot of depth, continuing the focus on the story that Rockstar employed in San Andreas. This is one of the biggest reasons I want to keep playing, plus I want to figure out who will backstab me at the end.

Would I keep playing? Oh yeah, I just have one game standing in my way and then it's Grand Theft Auto IV for the next couple months. Can't wait.

Grand Theft Auto 4 Lollipop Girl