My eagerly awaited copy of GTA IV arrived at work yesterday. I'd ordered the special edition which comes in a huge cardboard box containing a metal lockable deposit box. Inside this is a fabric Rockstar bag, a Rockstar keyring, two keys for the deposit box, a CD of music from the game, a nice art book and of course the game itself.
My introduction to GTA was the third game on PS2. I loved it at the time. The first game I'd ever encountered where I could choose between ploughing through missions or just playing in the world. Simply getting in a car and caning it around the city was fun. I played it until I finished the main campaign missions, with the climactic battle at the dam.
Vice City had me equally hooked, though I haven't finished it by a long shot (and most probably never will). Towards the end of my playthrough some of the missions just got too hard and annoying for me to continue with it, but I played enough to open up the entire world (including a great moment where you take over the mansion in the middle island) and had some great times.
San Andreas was where it all went wrong for me. The main character didn't come across as interesting or likable to me. In fact none of characters did it for me - they were just a bunch of one dimensional gangsta rap stereotypes. The "Yo homies" style of dialogue was just laughable for all the wrong reasons. It was as though they were trying too hard to be "down with the kids". Also, the PS2 version I played had a really poor framerate. I didn't bother playing past about 6%.
Back to the last night... On a busy evening of cycling home from work in heavy rain and visiting a mortgage advisor who likes to talk (a LOT), I managed get a couple of hours of gameplay in on GTA IV.
I was worried the game may be overhyped (Halo 3), but so far this game is a massive return to form for me. The title sequence is incredibly slick and very quickly you meet some fun and interesting characters. Without spoiling anything I've done a few missions, been bowling on a date with a slightly creepy woman and generally just pootled around the world taking in the sights. It hasn't been particularly violent so far either (though that won't stop the Daily Mail/Jack Thompson brigade from asserting otherwise). The only fighting I've had to do is to protect Niko's cousin from debt collectors.
The attention to detail is incredible, right down to the interference in the car radio when your mobile phone is about to ring.
The only problem I've had so far is that dialogue is sometimes drowned out by background noise or music. It's probably just a bug in the 5.1 sound mix (other games have had similar problems for me which have been patched), but I've turned on subtitles for now which neatly solves the problem, with the additional bonus of automatically translating to English when characters speak in another language.