Grand Theft Auto IV (5 stars)

Grand Theft Auto IV

David Meikleham tests the hottest game of the year as Rockstar unleashes the new Grand Theft Auto on the world

Typical, isn’t it? You wait two years for the most anticipated videogame of all time and it turns out all wrong. What have Rockstar being doing with their time? The driving feels different. They’ve changed the shooting. And Liberty City is only a fraction of the size of the state-spanning San Andreas. Of course, by ‘wrong’, actually read ‘the best game in a decade’. Yes, the driving is different; it’s far more substantial and satisfying. The shooting system has changed, but with a brilliant cover system and responsive aiming, it now rivals titles like Gears of War. Granted, GTA’s New York-inspired rotten apple may be smaller, but it’s also immeasurably more detailed and convincing.

Liberty City is rammed with a raft of incidental details that make it easily the most immersive game environment ever created. From bars in Broker (where, controversially, you can actually try to drive home drunk), a fully working mobile phone and in-game internet, to a robust ‘Euphoria’ physics engine that lends the world and its characters an unparalleled sense of weight and motion. Niko Bellic, a broken Bosnian soldier and the game’s protagonist, is the real star, though. Believable, vulnerable and, at times, even sympathetic, he’s a far cry from the amoral assassins of GTA’s past. And although you can still mow down malcontents and gun down grannies, you’ll find yourself less inclined, as it feels out of character for this flawed anti-hero.

Combine all this with GTA’s power to make random events feel scripted (like when the right song perfectly compliments a Michael Mann-influenced bank heist) and you have a game that is peerless. And, with almost the entire title made within a mile of List towers, GTA IV is arguably Scotland’s most remarkable technological achievement since John Logie Baird and the television.

GTA IV (Rockstar) available now on Xbox 360 and PS3

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