From the outset it is plain to see that Liberty City is unrecognisable from the one you saw in Grand Theft Auto 3 back in the year 2001 - unrecognisable in good ways only.
Firstly as you would expect the level of realism is far greater than any city in the Grand Theft Auto series yet, and Liberty City is now arguably the most realistic game environment ever created - it matches the likes of Assassins Creed and Metal Gear Solid 4, if not surpasses them, in terms of game world realism.
The citizens of Liberty City all appear to have a unique personality as you watch them go about their daily business, apparently unaware of the large numbers of criminals and gangs that walk amongst them, until they're caught in the wrong place at the wrong time of course.
You will arrive in Liberty City on a small boat, in the form of eastern european Niko Bellic, an illegal immigrant who has made his way to Liberty City in his efforts to find his fortune - although he did not intend to find it by following the paths that will soon be placed infront of him.
His cousin Roman has worked his way into some potentially life threatening gambling debts and it's you who has to help him find a way out of them.
As with all GTA titles before it, Grand Theft Auto IV will see you spending hour upon hour doing small jobs like stealing cars, shooting random pedestrians and escaping the attentions of the cops. However, it offers you so much more than ever before this time around largely thanks to a storyline which gives you unrivalled variety.
On many occasions you will find that you do not have to follow orders, such as killing someone, as you could be given the option of letting them escape if they promise to leave the area. Letting people escape is not without it's risks, though, leaving you to weigh up the possible use of that person later in the game against the consequences you may face if your 'employer' finds out you didn't finish the job properly.
This becomes something of a trend as the Grand Theft Auto IV storyline unfolds, and it brings various benefits at different points of the game in each individual case which will ensure you want to play the game time and time again to see what direction the game will take you when you make different choices.
Befriending a lawyer for example will be a great help if you ever find yourself in trouble with the law.
Most of the missions you encounter during the actual storyline mode don't give you this kind of decision to make at the end - and will simply involve you making deliveries of various kinds, or taking out certain people. Of course nothing is that simple, there will at times be numorous enemies trying to prevent you from completing your tasks, particularly later in the game when some of the missions are based on kidnap plots, and a job interview gone wrong.
The police want to have their say on a regular basis too, and it's usually when they aren't written into the mission itself. If you do happen to fail a mission, a new replay mission feature makes light work of giving it another go.
Escaping the police in previous GTA titles was at times ridiculously difficult - this is no longer the case and if anything, it has become a touch too easy and is possibly the only flaw Grand Theft Auto IV has. Your GPS will show you the location of on-foot police in your area as well as those in patrol cars, and will also show a circle around the area they are concentrating on as they hunt for you.
Simply find your way out of that area and avoid the cops for around 10 seconds and they will let you slide.
Rockstar have added new abilities to your character, too, such as the ability to scale a fence or wall and shimmy along ledges - when you are able to get a foothold, and perhaps more beneficially the ability to take cover behind nearby vehicles, walls and objects.
This proves useful time and time again during the frantic gun fights you will inevitably get involved in. You can also lock your aim-reticle on an enemy and have it stay locked whilst taking cover, so you can wait for the right moment, pop up and take him out in no time.
Using the target lock is good and makes dealing with high numbers of enemies in quick time pretty easy to say the least, but you should master manual aiming too as it's a skill you will need time and time again when the aim-lock is simply too slow, as it centers on the enemies torso - precious seconds wasted when you could really do with some head shots!
When you take a step back from the daily grind, Liberty City offers you so much more besides criminal activities. You can for instance head to a number of comedy clubs where you will come across some big name acts, watch TV, listen to the radio or head to one of the TW@ internet cafes and browse the in-game internet - a genius addition to the game!
The internet within Grand Theft Auto IV is made up of paraody websites of real-life sites you would not usually bump into, and it makes for some seriously funny content and brings a refreshing touch to the game that you would never have imagined. There is even a dating agency website where you can have your profile put up, and arrange to meet women throughout Liberty City for a date - and that's not the only way you can build some kind of social life in Grand Theft Auto IV.
As you progress through the game you will build relationships with many of the people you meet, and they all have unique personalities and will enjoy doing different kinds of things. Your friends will be easier to please than any date - it doesn't get any more realistic than that right?
Some dates will enjoy a game of ten pin bowling whilst others will want five-star treatment, posh restaurants, the lot. They even comment on the car you drive, and the way you drive it, and will notice if you happen to wear the same outfit two dates in a row.
The cell phone, another great addition, is almost as essential to you as your guns and ammo! It allows you to keep in touch with your friends, dates and even some of your enemies. You are unlikely to hear the same conversation twice thanks to the brilliant way the cell phone has been implemented into the game.
You can call people to discuss work, a leisure activity or to request a favor from them - the conversation will play out as if it were real - you begin to forget that everything you hear has been scripted!
The cell phone also comes in handy if you happen to hear a song you like during the game, but don't know what it's called or who performs it. Instead of hideous intrusive boxes popping up each time a song comes on telling you this information, you can instead just dial a song-recognition line on your cell phone and within seconds you will get a text message back telling you what the song is - which in my opinion sums up the incredible thought and attention to detail that has gone into Grand Theft Auto IV, and there are loads of tiny features like this that you would never have expected to see in this kind of game that come together and make it a truly unmissable game.
So few will want to miss it, which can only mean millions have it, making the multiplayer modes something worth checking out too! For the first time, Liberty City has gone global and now brings together dirty crooks from all over the world in a wide range of multiplayer game modes.
Yet again, getting online is made easy thanks to your in-game cell phone. Dial up a number and you're transported to an online version of Liberty City, scattered with all the weapons you will have already come to love by playing through the single player mode.
As a game host you can choose from a variety of settings such as friendly fire, police presence - or lack of it, the type of weapons in the game and the level of traffic scuttering around the city. Upto 15 more players can join you as you cause carnage. You will probably come across some lag issues at times, but everything considered the online modes are again a great addition to the game and will keep you coming back to the game again and again when you've completed the single player game countless times.
Simply unmissably. This game is the one reason you need to buy an XBox 360 or PS3 if you don't already have one.
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