Grand Theft Auto IV – Everything you need to know, part 1

Thumb - Image 1Finally, after two years of waiting, Grand Theft Auto IV (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) will be sitting on shelves in just a few days. Before you run out to get yourself a copy this Tuesday, let’s recap on what we know about the game so far.

This is the first of a two-part series we’ll be running for Grand Theft Auto IV (yeah, the game’s that huge). So, head over to the full article for half of everything you need to know about Grand Theft Auto IV.

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Finally, after two years of waiting, Grand Theft Auto IV (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) will be sitting on shelves, just waiting for us to get our grubby paws on it. We’re betting you can’t wait to get yourself a copy, and neither can we. Before you run out this Tuesday though, let’s recap what we know about the game so far.

This is the first of a two-part series that we will have for Grand Theft Auto IV (yeah, the game’s that huge). Here, we’ll talk a bit about the game’s history and the tech that powers the game. After that we get to introduce you to Niko Bellic, the guy whose shoes you’ll be stepping into, and then we’ll take you on a tour around Liberty City, land of opportunity.


Before we dive headlong into talking about the game, let’s take a breath, step back, and take a brief look at the title’s history. Why? Because it’s Grand Theft Auto.

The Grand Theft Auto franchise - Image 1 The Grand Theft Auto franchise - Image 2 The Grand Theft Auto franchise - Image 3 The Grand Theft Auto franchise - Image 4 

Grand Theft Auto IV continues a very strong tradition inherited from its predecessors. For those of you who’ve played the previous games, you’re likely to remember how big of a jump GTA III was from GTA II, catapulting the franchise into the third dimension. Grand Theft Auto IV aspires to make just as “seismic” a transition from San Andreas, as GTA III did with its predecessor.

The Grand Theft Auto franchise is a lot of things, it’s a successful, yet hugely controversial series; it’s a pop culture icon; it’s a pioneer of the sandbox genre; suffice to say, it’s a myriad of things to a lot of people. Its role in the industry cannot be overstated, GTA IV is a huge, huge deal for the major players.

Consider the game’s publisher Take-Two Interactive for instance, the company has a lot riding on this game, earlier in 2007, the company revealed that they suffered a loss of US$ 60 million, a financial dent that a game like GTA IV would go a long way towards healing. Knowing everything we do about the game though, it’s definitely got the potential to make such an impact that the embattled publisher will probably rake in enough cash enough to keep them going until Grand Theft Auto 10.

This is not even to mention Take-Two recently doing the tango with Electronic Arts. In case you haven’t heard, EA is currently trying to take over Take-Two, and you can bet that GTA IV’s performance in the market will have a lot to do with how that little episode will end.

Grand Theft Auto 4: The Xbox 360 Elite mod - Image 1 Sony and Microsoft have a lot riding on this game as well, great games are always platform sellers, and Grand Theft Auto 4 is being eyed as one of, if not the biggest title to hit the consoles yet.

As a testament to the anticipation surrounding this game, Sony has prepared a PlayStation 3 – Grand Theft Auto bundle that will be released when the game launches, while Microsoft has a wicked SKU with a GTA IV paint job.

Speaking of Microsoft and platform-selling games, a lot of you probably recall that Microsoft risked a huge investment on this game. They paid US$ 50 million to bag themselves exclusive downloadable content for the game, getting the one-up on the PlayStation 3 in the process. Seeing as a lot of people would probably want to get their hands on the exclusive content, it’ll  be interesting to see how this move factors into sales across both platforms.

On the whole though, both versions are the same top down, (except for the exclusive content for the Xbox 360 of course) and a few other minor points. It was revealed for instance, that the PlayStation 3 version will somehow make use of the SIXAXIS controller – what it will be used for wasn’t revealed though. Naturally, the Xbox 360 version will also have an Achievements List and Gamers Score points to be had. Aside from these, the only other known difference is that the Playstation 3 version will have “warmer” colors while the Xbox 360 version will have more “vibrant” colors.


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Perhaps one of the greater jumping boards GTA IV will spring from to achieve its “seismic” affect is the use of two powerful engines to run the game: the Euphoria engine, which will also be used in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and Rockstar’s own Rage engine. The combination of these two pieces of high concept technology working in concert is bound to create fireworks, very pretty, detailed, and realistic fireworks.

The Euphoria engine allows the game to calculate the animations and interactions between 3D objects on the fly, achieving a greater realism. For example, instead of “floating” through people you run through in older games, you have to push people aside now (it goes so well with the game’s theme too).

Grand Theft Auto 4: The Rage and Euphoria Engines - Image 1The engine also allows bodies to act more realistically: corpses will no longer just act like a limp ragdoll, people who keel over from pain (or other, worse sensations) for instance, will fall more realistically.

The engine also allows Niko to hang on to helicopters and trucks, and in turn also allows these vehicles to try and shake him off.

Euphoria adds one more dimension of realism that’s bound to be fun to watch: intoxication. The engine will allow Niko to really act as a drunk would when he gets hammered. He’ll perform actions like having to lean on cars for balance, or stagger and run into people.

While the Euphoria Engine handles the physics, Rage renders a more realistic environment, as well as enhances atmospherics. The engine handles effects like sunlight and weather changes that will give the city different appearances depending on the time of day. Rage is also responsible for the little details, like textures and reflections. Images seen from the rear and side-view mirrors of cars will show real reflections of the surrounding environment. The devil’s in the details.

Realism is the watch word when it comes to GTA IV‘s physics and environment, it’s amazing how these engines allow an intricate level of detail. For example: if you watched the second trailer for the game, you may have noticed how the glass cracked when bullets flew through a window, or how wood chips flew when Niko kicked a door open. In the game you’ll also notice how heavy destruction from a major fight, will permanently destroy parts of the environment.


In Grand Theft Auto IV, you’ll be stepping into the shoes of Nikolai “Niko” Bellic, a man with a past who travels to Liberty City in search of a new life. His cousin Roman lured him there with tales and promises of the good life.

When Niko finally arrived in Liberty City, he finds out that Roman deceived him, in reality, Roman is only a taxi driver, and heavily in debt. In desperate need of Niko’s support, he made up those stories of mansions and cars to get Niko to come to the city.

Once you start the game, his life is in the palm of your hands (literally). Everything that will happen to Niko from there on out will be up to you: the world is your oyster. Or, to be more specific, your sandbox. Every gamer will have his or her own unique experience of the game in terms of pace and mission order, the amount of content played, the decisions make will ultimately sculpt your unique experience in Liberty City.

Although we can’t tell you how to proceed through the game (where’s the joy of sandbox gaming if we do?), we can suggest that you stretch your thumbs once in a while. It’s been reported that testers have gone through 40 hours of gameplay just to make it through the single player mode; Rockstar remarked that the game can take up to a hundred hours to finish if you’re not in a rush.

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To survive life in Liberty City, you’ll have to expand your connections and go on jobs (so to speak, but we’ll talk more on that later). You’ll get to meet a bunch of interesting characters – a lot of them are shady, to be sure. One such character you’ll meet in the game, and one of the more important ones, is Little Jacob, a close friend of Roman.

What makes him so important you ask? Well, he’ll be your first source to acquire the, um, tools you’ll need to get your “jobs” done. Little Jacob is a Caribbean arms dealer; he’ll be able to provide Niko with weapons that he keeps in the trunk of his car.

Guns? Grand Theft Auto IV has guns? What kind of game is this? Just kidding folks, we’re likely all on the same page here. The Grand Theft Auto franchise is already infamous for its violence; we don’t have to sidestep the subject. In GTA IV, you can kill just about anyone and everyone in the game. You can even kill your contacts if you like. As in previous games, you’ll have to go on missions to earn cash, and you’ll need Little Jacob’s help to get the job done.

Grand Theft Auto 4: Meet Niko Bellic - Image 1 Grand Theft Auto 4: Meet Niko Bellic - Image 2

Violence isn’t the only hallmark of aGTA game though, there’s all that mature-rated content as well. Again, GTA IV is no exception. The BBFC let slip some info detailing just how explicit the games sexual content is likely to be. This is what read in their game listing of Grand Theft Auto IV before they it pulled, apparently because it was posted early:

There will be “undetailed” masturbation scenes, fellatio, and intercourse. sex references during cut scenes, can pick up prostitutes for three different levels of service. The character can also visit lap dancing clubs and request a private dance. While the game contains sexualised dancing and the portrayal of sex, there is no sexualised nudity.

Which is no wonder the game received a Mature rating from the ESRB. GTA fans in Europe probably heaved a sigh of relief  when the BBFC gave GTA IV the go signal, and didn’t have to go through all the red tape Manhunt 2 did. One interesting rumor talks about a scene cut from the game that might have gotten it into the same mess. It’s been reported that this deleted scene “involves a weapon being inserted into an enemies private area.”

The game did run into some snags with Australia’s regulatory board, the OFLC, which forced developers to edit some of the game content. They haven’t revealed which parts have been cut, but at least the OFLC finally agreed to allow the game to be sold in the region.


When we said the game is really striving for realism, we didn’t just mean its physics. Based on what we’ve seen from the trailers, the developers have really outdone themselves this time around, and in a big big way, Liberty City has been given a total makeover here, with attention to details both minute and ginormous.

This is the third incarnation of Liberty City in the Grand Theft Auto franchise: it’s appeared in the original GTA game, and in GTA III. In GTA IV, for all intents and purposes, Liberty City is your world, your whole world, and your only world. If you’re worried that one city might not be large enough for your adventurous nature, you might want to rethink that stance.

According to Rockstar, although Liberty City will not be as large as San Andreas in terms of horizontal span, it is “definitely the biggest city” in magnitude. Rockstar remarks that considering the vertical span of the city, the amount of buildings you can explore, and the level of detail in those buildings, you’re looking at a city that’s “similar to San Andreas in terms of scope.”

Rockstar Games: Grand Theft Auto 4's Liberty City - Image 1

If you’ve been keeping tabs on Grand Theft Auto IV news, you’ll know that Liberty City was inspired mostly by New York. Liberty City is comprised of five different boroughs; four of them based on New York’s own boroughs (all of them save for Staten Island; New York State Senate Andrew Lanza was pretty happy about it too). The last borough is modeled after New Jersey. Here are each of their corresponding names in the game:

  • Queens – Dukes
  • The Bronx – Bohan
  • Manhattan – Algonquin
  • Brooklyn – Broker
  • New Jersey – Alderney

A lot of landmarks in New York can also be found in Liberty City. Lincoln Tunnel, for instance, is known as the Booth Tunnel, Central Park is named Middle Park, Times Square is Star Junction, and the Statue of Liberty even makes a cameo as the Statue of Happiness. Francis International Airport, which was in GTA III’s Liberty City, also appears in GTA IV. Airplanes don’t play a part in the game though, which is understandable since you’re only going to be in one city in the whole game.

As we’ve said before, realism is the watchword. The developers really went out of their way to make the City live and breathe. You’ll see pedestrians doing everyday things like reading, eating, and dialing on their phones and minding their own business. You’ll even see some of them buying newspapers at kiosks, and groups of them loitering around for a smoke – some of them might even ask you for a lighter. You’ll even hear casual remarks being thrown around like “Do you know in Italy they get three hours for lunch?”

Grand Theft Auto 4 screenshots: Welcome to Liberty City - Image 1Grand Theft Auto 4 screenshots: Welcome to Liberty CityGrand Theft Auto 4 screenshots: Welcome to Liberty City - Image 3

Not every building in the city can be entered, but considering the size of the city, there are plenty of other things to do than barge into random buildings. If you take a stroll around the city you’ll find a lot to appreciate. Maybe you’ll even find the comedy club where Ricky Gervais does a little stand-up.

Besides the sights and sounds of Liberty City, you’ll find a lot to appreciate in the thought and effort that went in creating the game. For instance, if you walk around you’ll find that every street in the game has its own name. And when cars pass by, you’ll sometimes see a driver adjusting a rear view mirror. You’ll even hear the radio stations they’re listening to if you’re close enough (just don’t get run over).

While we’re on the topic: radio stations are still a part of Grand Theft Auto IV, as they were in GTA III. There will be 18 radio stations in the game you’ll be able to listen to from any car – even taxis. GTA IV‘s soundtrack will be pretty spectacular – so spectacular in fact, that you can purchase songs you like (for real, not just in game) via Amazon. We’ll talk more on this in the second part of our feature.

Grand Theft Auto 4: the Taxis of Liberty City - Image 1

Taxis in Liberty City will play a large part in the game, especially in missions. You can hail a cab anytime by whistling, and they’ll take you anywhere in the city. If you like joyrides, you can take your time and just sit in the back and look around town for the whole ride. You can even ask them to change radio stations. If you’d rather get straight to where you’re going, you can also just skip the animation. Seeing as how there’s so much to see in the city though, you might want to choose the former.

If you’re driving your own car (or, *cough* someone else’s car), there’s also another feature that will let you enjoy your ride around town. It’s like a bullet time feature: slow-motion driving that will let you just take in the sights and sounds. We don’t know if this feature will play a part in gameplay, but everyone needs to take it slow once in a while.

If we had to sum Grand Theft Auto IV up in one word… well… we couldn’t. It’s just that grand. Oh wait, that’s the word. It’s grand. That it’s for now folks! Watch out for the second part of our Grand Theft Auto IV feature hitting on Friday, where we talk about the game’s combat system, the various multiplayer modes, and much, much, more.

Buy: [GTA IV (PS3)]
Buy: [GTA IV (Xbox 360)]

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