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Kill 'Em All: Grand Theft Auto makes its triumphant return 

click to enlarge American gangsta.
  • American gangsta.
American gangsta.When stores open at midnight on the day of a game's release, you know it's big.

Grand Theft Auto (GTA) IV is the first installment in the popular series designed for the latest game systems. The Grand Theft Auto series was the first notable game outside of the RPG genre to introduce open world game play back, which it did back in 1997 with the release of GTA 1. Now, 11 years later, with GTA 4 the evolution of the series continues.

You take on the role of Niko Bellic, a Serbian who's come to Liberty City to meet up with his cousin and find that special someone. The core game play remains intact. Players navigate a massive interactive city while completing missions that earn you props in the organized crime world.

One of the series' stand-out features is that players can ignore the main plot and just drive around filling their criminal fantasies. Killing virtual people on the street may not seem like fun, but after five minutes in Liberty City most folks will be running from the law and beating pimps with baseball bats. The way that GTA brings out the worst in people is part of the beauty of the whole series.

With GTA 4, designers have addressed many of the game's previous shortcomings. You no longer have to creep back to a safe house to save the game after each successful mission - the game stores your progress every objective. You no longer have to haul yourself across town to reach far-flung objectives, as you can sit back and let a cab take the strain.

The game makes players feel like an independent character in a huge world. As in Vice City and San Andreas, you have a mobile phone and you gain contacts as the game progresses. You can call them up to ask for missions or just to help out. Some contacts have special abilities. If you're stuck for a ride or need some heat to get the job done, you can get a friend to send a cab or turn up with a trunk-full of shooters. It lends the people you meet and the world you inhabit a previously missing feel of authenticity. Relationships develop slowly. As your standing with other characters increases, new opportunities present themselves.

Thanks to a far more advanced driving engine, ripping around the city is more fun than ever before. Your cars have a real feeling of weight, and the handling feels fairly realistic. There are some nods to realism that were previously lacking. Slam into a wall too fast and you'll be thrown through the windscreen; take out a motorbike at speed and the rider will soar through the air. The environment is also destructible. Cower behind a thin wall too long under fire and it will gradually be shot away. As you would expect, the game is vast. When you're not playing the main missions, there are games to play, girls to date and clothes to buy. But the core game play is so solid that you have an awful lot of fun finding out what Liberty City has to offer. It's slick, it's vast and it's fun. And, when you're bored of the free-form antics, there's always the on-line play.

Grand Theft Auto IV ★★★★✩
Rated M for Mature, Publisher: Rockstar; Platform Playstation 3, Xbox 360 Retail, $59.99.


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