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Grand Theft Auto IV review

£39 inc VAT

Manufacturer: Rockstar Games

Our Rating: We rate this 4.5 out of 5

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 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 IV Expert Verdict »

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
  • Overall: We give this item 9 of 10 overall

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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