Grand Theft Auto is many things: a popular video game and a controversial subject, among others. It's also a brilliant satire wrapped in an ingenious crime story inside an interactive masterpiece. It really is.

In Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto IV, Liberty City lives like Frankenstein's monster, a concrete- and billboard-plastered jungle sparked to life and spoiling for a fight around any street corner.

Come ready, come wary, come emotionally steeled: it's Liberty City as you've never seen a fully interactive metropolis before. The ninth iteration in Rockstar's acclaimed - albeit controversial - series wields the fruits of its astonishing $100m budget so effectively, in fact, that it's difficult to imagine this deluxe sandbox and crime spree simulator being a single penny better.

Just some good ol' boys

Most of what you do in GTA IV still boils down to hustling jobs, stealing cars, trucks, and motorbikes of all makes and sizes, chasing and frequently stabbing, beating, or shooting enemies by land, sea, and air, and evading the law (only when you're caught, of course). Missions come in twos and threes and are usually conveyed through a convenient pop-up mobile phone, as are calls, contacts, text messages, and plenty of bling-tones if you've got the money and inclination to buy upgrades around the city.

The phone lets you manually dial outbound as well, which allows you to optionally interact with numbers cleverly strewn on or around signs and on websites in internet cafes sprinkled throughout the city - you can even dial 911 to summon a police car for help or just to engage in a little extra-brazen car-thievery.

Lining up money jobs through the phone's a snap, too, once you work yourself into the good graces of employers, who'll send you on missions ranging from taxiing patrons and vehicle jacking, to intimidating the stubborn or just plain stupid - even the occasional hired assassination.

Grand Theft Auto

I'm Niko from the block

Being Niko Bellic - the illegal East European immigrant you play for the game's duration - is a frantic tarantella with fate. He's a soft-spoken tough guy able to kiss or kill on a dime.

His early jaunts where he almost innocently intimidates or roughs up Liberty City's delinquent payees quickly devolve into a violent scrabble through a bullet-clawed, thug-fouled, cacophonous urban labyrinth in search of money, sex, respect. And, when all those evaporate (as we know they ultimately must), he looks for a sense of identity, place, and belonging.

Niko clambers off an industrial freighter in Liberty City's harbour as the game's opening credits roll, wearing his ideals carefully under his sleeve. But he quickly becomes embroiled in escalating feudal battles between warring powers who cat-paw him around until he's forced to take matters in hand and come to grips with his own sordid history.

NEXT PAGE: you want this one, or is it my turn?

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  1. I'm Niko from the block
  2. You want this one, or is it my turn?
  3. Large and in charge and the satire runs wild
  4. Shattered glass and plastic
  5. Eeny meeny miny moe
  6. Grand Theft Auto IV screenshots page 1
  7. Grand Theft Auto screenshots page 2

Grand Theft Auto is many things: a popular video game and a controversial subject, among others. It's also a brilliant satire wrapped in an ingenious crime story inside an interactive masterpiece. It really is.

You want this one, or is it my turn?

Once you ease into the new controls for shooting and driving - they tend to feel a little wobbly at first if you're a series old-timer - Niko walks, jogs, sprints, springs, swims, shimmies along ledges, and scrambles over walls like a well-oiled and appropriately rag-doll-slack killing machine.

Working out the timing and sequencing of his punches and kicks comes quickly, as does manipulating his considerable arsenal of knives, bats, Glocks, sniper rifles, Uzis, shotguns, rocket-launchers, Molotov cocktails, and much more.

Vamping off the stick-to-cover-and-shoot scheme found in a game like Gears of War, GTA IV lets Niko press against and slide laterally around objects, peeking out to free-aim fire, lock onto body segments (legs, torso, head) or in heavily suppressed situations, fire blind, which all told makes gunplay dramatically more organic and tactically satisfying than it ever was in prior versions.

Deadeye Bellic

As I was exiting the rathole of a safehouse run by Niko Bellic's brother Roman, someone outside muttered, "We don't want you in this country." This was all I needed to raise Niko's fists in anger and get myself booked minutes into the game.

Jostle the natives, and they'll bark out protests, swear like sailors, strut and angle their way into your face, and sling ethnic slurs like motormouth xenophobes.

If Liberty City is mostly Manhattan through a fishbowl, it's certainly an edgier, shorter-fused version. Cheers to Rockstar for deepening the social subtext - your immigrant background and occupational history factors hugely in escalating plot points as the story accelerates toward its epic two-way conclusion.

Grand Theft Auto

A doughnut a day keeps the boys in blue at bay

Let's say everything you know about Grand Theft Auto is wrong. Humour me for a moment. Remember the scene in 'Kill Bill Vol. 2', the one where David Carradine tells Uma Thurman that Clark Kent is the costume Superman - an alien - wears to blend in with humans? That that's how Superman views us? "Clark Kent," says Carradine, with obvious relish, "Is Superman's critique on the whole human race."

Sort of the way GTA IV, the quintessential version of Rockstar's sandbox crime opus, is less the lurid celebration of homicidal tendencies the mainstream media sophomorically reduces it too, than a deeply satirical commentary on and critique of contemporary (American) society by legal aliens (British expats) Dan and Sam Houser. To that end, you can almost hear the Houser brothers reacting to all their sanctimonious finger-wagging critics by saying something like

"If you refuse to gaze into the satire, the satire still gazes (smugly) into you."

NEXT PAGE: large and in charge and the satire runs wild

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  1. I'm Niko from the block
  2. You want this one, or is it my turn?
  3. Large and in charge and the satire runs wild
  4. Shattered glass and plastic
  5. Eeny meeny miny moe
  6. Grand Theft Auto IV screenshots page 1
  7. Grand Theft Auto screenshots page 2

Grand Theft Auto is many things: a popular video game and a controversial subject, among others. It's also a brilliant satire wrapped in an ingenious crime story inside an interactive masterpiece. It really is.

Large and in charge and the satire runs wild

You can't swing a rocket launcher (or toss a driver out of a moving vehicle) without striking the burlesque in this epic allegory about opportunity and alienation.

It's in everything from the hours of new television programming you can watch at leisure, from shows like Republican Space Rangers ("Don't worry 'bout collateral damage!") to the brilliant documentary cable spoof, A History of Liberty.

It's in shops with names like Bean Machine ("All Beans Lovingly Picked by Children in Central America") and fast food dives like Burger Shot with its six pound "heart-stopper" burger.

You see it in the simpering smile on the aquamarine face of Liberty City's Statue of Liberty analogue, coffee cup upthrust in lieu of torch. You even spot it in Serbian protagonist and Bosnian war vet Niko Bellic's preliminary choice of hats (American baseball cap or Soviet military winter hat).

You can't walk, sprint, or drunkenly teeter an inch - steal a vehicle, shoot someone, park a truck loaded with dynamite in a warehouse and trigger the bomb - without tripping, tumbling, and ultimately getting tangled in GTA IV's endlessly clever caricature of modern society.

I told you, I get to drive this time

It's tough to comprehensively assess the intelligence of GTA IV's enemies, since it's simple enough to outsmart some opponents by waiting for them to eventually break cover or dumbly expose a limb, letting you shave slivers of health, one at a time, from their circular health meters.

On the other hand, occasionally you'll spot an enemy doing something inexplicably intelligent, like hugging cover responsibly under heavy fire or after losing half health, at which point extraction can be tougher than burning out ticks.

You're also frequently deposited in situations where it's you versus a dozen gunmen, or having to attack in adverse circumstances (while moving on foot or in a vehicle) which more than offsets any accidental or intentional emasculation of the AI.

Regarding friendlies, I've read complaints about the partner AI "breaking." For instance, your pals refuse to follow you through a doorway. It never happened to me. My guys were always solid backups, and the only thing I had to make sure was that Niko provided sufficient cover when his compadres would on occasion elect to rush oncoming or enfilade fire to break an obvious stalemate.

Grand Theft Auto

Catch me if you can

The Liberty City police aren't what they used to be, or at least they aren't as aggressive about chasing you down at the lower one- or two-star notoriety levels.

Once you've been made stealing cars, skipping tolls, charging barriers, or (inadvertently) ramming police cruisers, you have to make your way past a radar search radius that shifts according to your proximity and visibility to the nearest law enforcement, then once you are clear, wait a half dozen seconds without being spotted to shrug off your "wanted" status.

The cops move half as fast (or maybe the AI navigates GTA IV's environments half as effectively?), don't throw up roadblocks as often, and your new GPS system lets you spot patrol cars or on-foot officers, making evasion almost too much of a snap (until helicopters get involved at three stars up, of course).

Given the story's considerable length, the size of the city, and that you can't save during missions, Rockstar probably nixed clingier cops, who might've frustrated gamers stuck between save points and dying repeatedly because of police interference.

You can get plenty of action from the cops anyway by simply strolling past initially blocked-off bridge barriers, which immediately blasts your "wanted" level to the maximum six stars "suicide by cop".

NEXT PAGE: shattered glass and plastic > >

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  1. I'm Niko from the block
  2. You want this one, or is it my turn?
  3. Large and in charge and the satire runs wild
  4. Shattered glass and plastic
  5. Eeny meeny miny moe
  6. Grand Theft Auto IV screenshots page 1
  7. Grand Theft Auto screenshots page 2

Grand Theft Auto is many things: a popular video game and a controversial subject, among others. It's also a brilliant satire wrapped in an ingenious crime story inside an interactive masterpiece. It really is.

Shattered glass and plastic or NRA party confetti?

Between car heists and semiautomatic melee, every bruiser needs a place to kick it and do a little online dating.

To that end, the internet comes tour de force to Liberty City, and it's a surprisingly less novelty than convenient, even dare-I-say addictive necessity. Once you're set with an online account, you can visit internet cafes around the city to check and auto-reply to email, snag extra for-cash work, scan the news (everything from the TV to the radio to the faux-blogs online), and if you're so inclined, surf hundreds and who knows, possible even thousands of pages of HTML parody.

At one point, Niko even has to pose on one of Liberty City's matchmaking sites as a man-seeking-man, to lure a gay hooligan to a not-so-friendly meet-and-greet.

One if by taxi, two if by motorbike

Confession. I'd only ever dabbled in the Grand Theft Auto games before GTA IV, racing helter-skelter through the storied streets of Liberty City in fits and starts.

I quickly wearied of the bipedal synthetics replicated en masse and sent marching like cut-and-pastes out of someone's feature-fantasy battle-CGI.

That's still largely the case with GTA IV, where for all the hundreds of actors that Rockstar brought in to voice Liberty City's walkabouts, citizens are still more shove or cold-cock than individuals (to be fair, random chatter's much diversified), and you won't find the city noticeably split along factional lines if you opt to wander.

The game won't let you wander for long, either, with phone calls and message interrupting constantly and threatening to downgrade your relationships if you don't respond in kind.

While the sense of rival powers jockeying for territory and commerce comes with your work, Liberty City itself remains factionally static, meaning that you're not inclined to bump into random hostile thugs on enemy streets unless they're a plot point.

EA's "The Godfather" games took a half-hearted stab at making Mario Puzo's New York City factionally dynamic, so it's too bad Rockstar wasn't able or willing to one-up the notion and make the city feel truly alive. On the other hand, GTA IV's intertwining main and side story threads take such precedence that you rarely have time to notice just how little actually changes about the city itself.

Grand Theft Auto

Sniper's skywalk

Where Grand Theft Auto III tended to preen over its outdoor areas, GTA IV invades the great indoors, comprehensively redecorating the interiors of Liberty City cabarets, strip clubs, taxi offices, apartments, gun shops, beer gardens, bowling alleys, art galleries, and more.

Cruise the city, and you'll still note a preponderance of buildings with impenetrable facades and disappointingly blurry textures with illegible text, but - on the whole - the sense of at least externally standing in a living city with distinctive locations and aesthetics is the strongest it's ever been in an urban simulation.

You'll also spend a fair amount of time climbing around or right on top of various city structures. At one point, for instance, you have to run a hair-raising rooftop gauntlet, climbing a half dozen floors from within before popping out on top some five or six stories up.

You then spring from building to building in pursuit of your quarry and cling precariously to jutting odds and ends to cinch nearly zero-sum leaps.

Once you've completed your task, stick around for the view, especially at dawn or dusk - the game's manipulation of lighting is so good, it's practically heart-stopping.

NEXT PAGE: eny meeny miny moe > >

Visit Digital World for the latest digital audio, games and home-entertainment news and reviews


  1. I'm Niko from the block
  2. You want this one, or is it my turn?
  3. Large and in charge and the satire runs wild
  4. Shattered glass and plastic
  5. Eeny meeny miny moe
  6. Grand Theft Auto IV screenshots page 1
  7. Grand Theft Auto screenshots page 2

Grand Theft Auto is many things: a popular video game and a controversial subject, among others. It's also a brilliant satire wrapped in an ingenious crime story inside an interactive masterpiece. It really is.

Eeny meeny miny moe

Hopping online's easy as mobile-phoning your way out of a solo game and into ranked or casual Liberty City-live meet-ups. In addition to conventional deathmatch modes and predictable 2 to 8 player tourneys in which you'll have to competitively steal, escort, or kill for profit, GTA IV introduces clever alternatives such as Cops n' Crooks, a team-based brawl wherein the "cops" try to thwart the "crooks" attempting to get their boss to an extraction point.

Or try GTA Race, an any-way-you-like hot-footer that's about getting from A to Z using vehicles or weapons at hand. And you can even partially counter my criticism of Liberty City's factional superficiality in Turf War, which sets two teams scrambling to hold select areas of a map for as long as possible.

It's Free Mode, though, that's probably the future of this game in years to come, with all its vast, untapped potential - if you're willing to put together a disciplined group and pre-stage things like weapons, vehicles, and positions, the possibilities for play-style innovators are virtually limitless.

I love a rainy night

Liberty City does for contemporary cities what Bethesda's "Oblivion" game did for medieval fantasy-scapes. Between the city's poshest gated communities and grimiest industrial haunts, though, it's really the little things that stand out.

It's the guy standing on the corner who hands you a Ben Franklin while coked out of his mind and sharing like a socialist. It's pulling a hundred miles an hour down Shoreside Lift Bridge with Pete Townshend and company stomping out "The Seeker" on LRR 97.8 Liberty Rock Radio.

It's cruising police scanners in stolen cop cars for info on potential targets - even yourself, and the way the camera lens beads up when you pull it south in a downpour and your field of view fishbowls as if to reach out and embrace the panoramic skyline.

Since we're talking a smidgen about visuals, I know some of you won't sleep without a verdict on versions, so here's mine: pick the Xbox 360 for crisper edges and less saturated colours, the PS3 version for an overall smoother and more colour-rich but noticeably blurrier look.

Also, Microsoft wants you to think the 360 version's getting content the PS3 won't, but my guess is Sony (quietly) has its own expanded content plans in the wings, so be wary about version-picking on that basis alone.

Grand Theft Auto

NEXT PAGE: GTA IV screenshots > >

Visit Digital World for the latest digital audio, games and home-entertainment news and reviews


  1. I'm Niko from the block
  2. You want this one, or is it my turn?
  3. Large and in charge and the satire runs wild
  4. Shattered glass and plastic
  5. Eeny meeny miny moe
  6. Grand Theft Auto IV screenshots page 1
  7. Grand Theft Auto screenshots page 2

Grand Theft Auto is many things: a popular video game and a controversial subject, among others. It's also a brilliant satire wrapped in an ingenious crime story inside an interactive masterpiece. It really is.

Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto

NEXT PAGE: more GTA IV screenshots > >

Visit Digital World for the latest digital audio, games and home-entertainment news and reviews


  1. I'm Niko from the block
  2. You want this one, or is it my turn?
  3. Large and in charge and the satire runs wild
  4. Shattered glass and plastic
  5. Eeny meeny miny moe
  6. Grand Theft Auto IV screenshots page 1
  7. Grand Theft Auto screenshots page 2

Grand Theft Auto is many things: a popular video game and a controversial subject, among others. It's also a brilliant satire wrapped in an ingenious crime story inside an interactive masterpiece. It really is.

Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto

Visit Digital World for the latest digital audio, games and home-entertainment news and reviews


  1. I'm Niko from the block
  2. You want this one, or is it my turn?
  3. Large and in charge and the satire runs wild
  4. Shattered glass and plastic
  5. Eeny meeny miny moe
  6. Grand Theft Auto IV screenshots page 1
  7. Grand Theft Auto screenshots page 2

Grand Theft Auto IV: Specs

  • Microsoft Windows PC with 15GB hard disk space (requires Windows Live and Rockstar Social Club membership)
  • Microsoft Xbox 360, Xbox 360 Elite
  • Sony PlayStation 3
  • broadband connection required for online elements
  • Microsoft Windows PC with 15GB hard disk space (requires Windows Live and Rockstar Social Club membership)
  • Microsoft Xbox 360, Xbox 360 Elite
  • Sony PlayStation 3
  • broadband connection required for online elements

OUR VERDICT

To this day, Grand Theft Auto seems almost like a serendipitous fluke to me, a fascinating but improbable tale of two incredibly ambitious brothers almost stumbling into their third-in-sequence megahit by tapping a niche freeform legacy reaching back to David Braben and Ian Bell's seminal 1984 space-trading game "Elite". How Grand Theft Auto morphed from a plotless arcade racer (originally dubbed "Race N Chase") about stealing and selling cars for profit, into an epic crime drama with all the moral subtext of a Coppola or Scorsese blockbuster, is one for the history books. It's also a series that's managed to galvanize and, in some cases, rabidly polarize people over the ethical legitimacy of its violent and sexually explicit content, which to be fair is probably tamer than a lot of HBO dramas and comedy acts. Wherever you stand, you have to admire the brass of the Houser brothers, from GTA IV's opening nose-thumbing BDSM clips or Niko's request for sex by asking his girlfriend Michelle for "hot coffee", to the pumped up TV show "The Men's Room with Bas and Jeremy" "Come to Liberty City," teases Bas Rutten (voiced by the actual super-buff Dutch martial artist) at one point. "And you can get strong in this weak world."

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