GTA IV: The First Mission Pt. 1
25th Jul 2007 | 17:00
Even if it was called 'Free-roaming Mafia shooter IV' Rockstar's new GTA would still be the biggest game of the year. That's because even without the brand, the hype and the moaning lawyers, it's shaping up to be a bloody impressive game.
Ushered in to a dark room by half of Rockstar's PR department (they're protective of their baby), we're greeted by a giant leather sofa, a giant HD telly and a bowl of sweets big enough to give Ronaldinho serious toothache.
This is our second look at the game and we were promised a lot more action than what we saw (or didn't) in the first demo. This isn't the first mission in the game, rather the first mission Rockstar has shown anyone.
The theme of the second look is 'small fish in a big pond', and there's no better representation than when Rockstar boots up Star Junction - GTA's equivalent of Times Square - and little old Niko is blanketed by the bright lights of Liberty City's busiest corner. The code we're seeing is a couple of weeks old; the licensed soundtrack is still work in progress, voiceovers aren't all in and the lighting system has the occasional hiccup, but the scale and detail is already mighty impressive.
The night sky allows the bright lights of Star Junction's building-tall signs to illuminate pedestrians - who all move very naturally thanks to a new centre of gravity. Without even moving we can see newspaper stands, bus stops, hot dog vendors (where the Left Bumper apparently buys you a hot dog - we're on a 360 pad) and a giant news ticker listing the weather for every corner of the city.
Out Rockstar PR aides promise that Star Junction is representative of all the detail lavished across the full game, which sports New York boroughs renamed to Broker (Brooklyn), Dukes (Queens), Bohan (Bronx), Algonquin (Manhattan) and Alderney (New Jersey). "All the streets are named as well," he notes.
But we're tired of staring at the buildings and admiring walking animations; we demand action. Ahead of our threats to walk out the door without putting our Drum Stick wrappers in the bin, Niko hops on a nearby motorcycle and speeds up the street, to visit Rotterdam Hill and Little Jacob, who's a bit like the Del Boy of firearms.
Finding that special someone
This morning in Liberty City Niko has a bit of a problem. A local police officer by the name of Francis McCrery has some dirt on Niko, and he's asking for a few favours to keep him quiet. The first of these favours is to take out a lawyer who's causing him trouble but the task is going to take Niko the whole day to complete.
Little Jacob, a man with the guns in his car boot, is GTA IV's answer to Ammunation. The game is set in October 2007 and it's quite tricky walking into a gun store and buying an Uzi. It's not realistic and not possible. Instead, you'll find your shooters in Alleyways and the boots of cars, and our mate Little Jacob is sorting us out. There's a healthy selection of Uzis, rifles and grenades in the back of his motor, but the demoing Rockstar chap opts for a pistol and wracks up as many ammo clips as he can carry.
"Niko's still trying to build a life for himself and he's getting to know the circle of friends that his cousin Roman knows," we're told. "As he evolves, he starts taking care of business and proving himself, he then starts to be trusted by a lot of these guys who he'll later come to rely."
Now that we've got some fire power, Little Jacob takes off in his car and Niko's off to the local internet café to execute the second leg of the mission. The internet plays an integral part of today's modern life so it's no surprise to see it also playing a key role in GTA IV.
The sun's starting to come up now and the shadows of buildings and objects stretch across the street. Niko walks out of the shady alleyway and flags down a cab with a typical Manhattan whistle.
Cabs are another example of the polish and detail that's gone into the fourth instalment. If this were GTA III we'd get a glowing marker and a destination menu, but Niko's cab ride is far more visceral. The camera jumps into first-person and the driver leans over the seat to ask Niko where he's off to. Using the fare machine you can mark exactly where on the map you want to go.
Once we've marked out the internet café on our map (which, in typical Rockstar fashion, is called TW@) it's simply a case of sitting back and enjoying the ride. Paying a double fare will cause the cabby to put his foot down, and you can skip the whole journey if you wish, but Rockstar fancies giving us a good look at the Liberty City streets.
Graphically it's comparable to a grittier Saint's Row, but the magic really is in the detail. The road is no longer just a flat texture; there are random pot holes that dip and manipulate vehicles in a realistic way. The number of cars on the road at any one time has been massively increased, and each has its own characteristics. And dents.
The variety in buildings is impressive. In previous GTAs you could instantly tell between the useless 'filler' buildings and the places that actually require your attention. In GTA IV every building looks as though you could walk straight in to it - although obviously you'll only be able to enter a selection of Liberty City's real estate.
Taking it inside
And that's the most impressive part of GTA IV that we saw. Arriving at the cheekily named TW@, Niko pays his fare and walks straight inside the building. No loading times, no glowing markers, just a seamless progression from exterior to interior, which is wonderfully detailed. The café is littered with desks, computers, chairs, plants - even coffee mugs. The interiors of GTA IV don't look to have suffered at all graphically from being in a massive, free-roaming world.
Back on topic and we're here because Niko has decided that the easiest way to get up close and personal with his lawyer target is to apply for a job interview. "I always wanted to be a lawyer," he jokes. GTA IV's virtual web browser lets you surf a whole number of pages written by the same team who scribe the rest of Liberty's City's comedy billboards, shop fronts and radio stations. Using Liberty City's homepage Niko navigates his way onto Goldberg, Ligner and Shyster's (the Target's law firm) to submit his dodgy-looking resume (which you can read in full!).
Everything online is place holder for the moment so there's not much point going into detail, but it's immersive and we're promised there'll be plenty of fun things to do in the final game. Will it tie into Xbox Live and PSN though? A Swift "no comment" but the possibilities are massive.