Day 2: Experiencing Grand Theft Auto IV

Statue of Liberty We had an early start on Monday, Alison was taking us around New York to do some tourist type stuff. I barely got any sleep the night before despite having an insanely comfy bed, I just wasn't tired for some reason. I got up around 7AM and watched TV for a while before Alison called my room. We met downstairs at 8AM when a nice Cadillac Escalade picked us up and took us to the entrance for the ferry to Liberty Island. After queuing for ages and going through a fairly pointless security check, we finally boarded the boat.

We went straight up to the top deck of the boat which allowed us to get some pretty good shots of the skyline and bridges, as well as the Statue of Liberty itself on approach to it. We stepped off the boat and began walking around the Statue of Liberty. While we were snapping pictures, Alison talked about how Rockstar have recreated the island "down to a t" in GTA IV, so much so that she actually pointed out where health packs and gun pickups were! Alison had booked us an audio tour, so we got our headphones and walked around again, listening to some interesting and some not so interesting talk about the history of of the statue.

When back on the boat we took the opportunity to ask Alison a few questions. I asked about the release of the PC version of GTA IV, but unfortunately got the infamous "no comment" response. Alison mentioned here that the authors of the official Brady Games strategy guide were in Rockstar's offices for a full 2 months, spending each day playing the game and gathering all the information they needed. What's interesting is that there are two authors this time, rather than just one which has been the case for all the previous games. The fact they needed all this time just goes to prove how much content the game really contains.

Back on land, we went into downtown New York and got to see famous landmarks such as Wall Street and Ground Zero. Walking across Brooklyn Bridge was next on the agenda, where I took another bunch of photos of the skyline and views of the city. After the 1.13 mile walk over Brooklyn Bridge we stopped at Grimaldi's, a pizzeria, apparently the best in New York according to Alison. She was probably right, the pizza tasted great. We soon made our way to the subway station in order to get to our next destination, the Empire State Building.

The subway by the way, is full of interesting people, one such person was a guy trying selling passengers packs of batteries which looked as if he had found them on the floor and wrapped them in plastic himself, obviously nobody paid attention to the man! Moving on, we queued for a pretty long time in the Empire State Building and went through yet another security check, we finally made it to the elevators which quickly brought us up to the 80th floor, for the next six floors we took the stairs to avoid a 20 minute wait for the next elevator. Eventually, we were rewarded with some awesome views of New York, and were able to get some great photos of the GetALife (MetLife) building, Chrysler Building, Flatiron building and Times Square tower, among many others.

MetLife Building

Meeting the others, and watching the introduction

Before going back into the hotel, we popped into Economy Candy, a store situated opposite our hotel which Alison seemed quite excited about visiting. This store was huge, and literally piled to the ceiling with candy. Since Rockstar were paying, we grabbed numerous bags of varying types of candy, including a whole box of caffeine gum to help us through the long night which lay ahead, coupled with the arduous task of playing GTA4 that awaited us!

GTA webmasters chilling

We headed back to the hotel where we waited for the American (and one Canadian!) webmasters to arrive; illspirit and Andy from GTANet, Zidane and Kodo from GTAGaming, G-WizZ from GTAWH, and Jordan from PlanetGTA. We chilled for a while and some of us went down to the bar for a few drinks. We would soon be invited up to the penthouse suite on the top floor at around 8PM. Once inside we were greeted with more awesome views of the city, and more excitingly, 10 large televisions, 6 of them with a PS3 hooked up, and 4 with an Xbox 360. Each with GTA IV running and paused waiting for us to play!
Various Rockstar employees were here now, Alison, Bill, Nathan, Joe, Mike and Bill to name a few. We were asked to all get around the sofa so we could be shown the introduction to GTA IV. Psy found himself to be the lucky webmaster with the controller, and was given the go ahead to start the game up. We sat and watched one of the best introductions to a GTA game, arguably the best in fact, as a couple of Rockstar people snapped pics of us. The introduction finished and began the first mission, "The Cousins Bellic" - we didn't all want to watch Psy though, so we each headed over to a TV and set ourselves up, I got a PS3 as other webmasters had already gone to the 360's which I originally intended on playing - nevertheless, this is where the real experience began! We had plenty of supplies: candy, caffeine gum, red bull, coke, and basically anything we wanted, we were all set for the night.

Playing Grand Theft Auto IV

Starting the first mission, I immediately noticed the new vehicle handling. It's quite a bit different from previous games, and take a few moments to get used to. You do need to use the brake when cornering, and careful use of the handbrake can also help. Holding the handbrake will cause you spin out if travelling at speed. It's great seeing Niko being thrown around inside the car when cornering violently. Everything is so much more realistic. One of the more noticable things being the damage models. I tried smashing into a wall at speed and was surprised by the massive damage to the front of the car, even the wheels got bent inwards and I noticed the handling change straight away. This was also the first time I saw Niko get thrown through the windsheild of the car, such was the impact (see folks, always wear a seatbelt!). I completed the first mission by driving Roman back to his place.

The next thing I did was explore the city and admire the stunning visuals. One of the major changes you'll notice is the graphics, everything looks great up close, but the filters used on distant objects, namely trees, will take some getting used to. The filter used applies a sort of blurry effect, making them seem almost like a painting, as you will probably have noticed on recent screenshots. This minor complaint is completely made up for when the game isn't giving you great weather, though. Rain makes the city look amazing, and incredibly realistic, the same can also be said for the city at night time, it's awe-inspiring to say the least.

Playing through a few missions I got to learn a bit more about the game. Pay n' Sprays make a welcome return, working slightly differently this time round. If you drive in and a cop sees you, you won't lose your wanted level. If you're not seen though, you'll emerge with a new paintjob and minus your wanted level, the game time also advances 3 hours. Speaking of wanted levels, I feel the way it works now with the police having a search radius on your radar is excellent. 1 star is obviously pretty easy to evade, and it won't take long for you either get out of the radius, or hide, and with only a couple of cops chasing you, this isn't particularly difficult. Once you hit 3 stars though, things start to get a little more challenging. Depending on where on the map you are, 3 stars can actually be quite difficult to evade, at least quickly anyway. I was at the airport seeing if I could steal any helicopters and I attained 3 stars while there, due to the large open space I had cop cars, NOOSE vans and helicopters all over me. It was pretty exciting though. I let myself get busted here just to see what happens. I actually forgot that Niko can now break out of arrests, which is pretty useful and means you can probably go through the game without getting busted once - I broke out of the arrest and started shooting back at the cops, a nearby cop with a shotgun to my back at close range sadly put an end to my little escapade, though.

The good thing about getting wasted now is that you no longer lose all your weapons. So if you die after a long time spent gather supplies, you no longer need to get frustrated and load the game and do it all over again. You of course respawn at the nearest hospital as usual.

After playing a few more missions and messing around for a while, I realised that getting money is not as easy as you might think, and some items are quite expensive. You get about $20-$50 from dead pedestrians, their money drops to the floor and has a green glow around it. Mission rewards at the start of the game are around a few hundred dollars. Buying an Uzi for example will set you back $500, so you can see how money is going to be a necessity.

The bridges to the other islands are all blocked off at the start of the game, clearing the road blocks will instantly get you a 6 star wanted level. Good luck clearing that, the police search radius is pretty much the entire island now! Cop cars by the way, like in the previous games, will give you 5 shotgun shells when you get inside. Ambulances will replenish your health, and NOOSE vans will give you armor - there are probably other useful tips you've learned from the past games which you can transfer over to GTA4.

After playing a few more missions, I got to my first decision making opportunity. Following an intense chase on-foot, the character had nowhere else to run, I was able to save him or kill him. I chose to do the kind thing and save his life, whether or not this will make things easier/harder for me I'm not sure, as missions I did after this didn't seem to involve the character if I remember correctly.

Messing about

Somewhere during the night we had pizza delivered, from "the other best pizza place", Lombardi's. This in addition to beer, red bull, coke, and other foodstuffs, kept us webmasters wide awake and eager for more GTA IV.

Most of my time was then spent just messing around and generally having fun. Some things I did that you may like to do:

  • Drive really fast on a motorbike and have a head-on collision with a car;
  • Steal a helicopter from the airport;
  • Find 'flying rats' - 200 pigeons which are essentially the new hidden packages (I think). They give off an orange glow like most other pickups, and are perched in hidden places around the map;
  • Date girlfriends and try out the minigames including darts, ten pin bowling and pool. Also 'try your luck' with her after the date
  • Unlock the [email protected] Internet cafe and browse literally hundreds of multi-page websites in-game
  • Watch in-game TV shows on televisions
  • Find unique jumps and experiment with the slow motion camera
  • Try out the cover system when in a gunfight

To elaborate on some of the points there, the first is just a great way to see NaturalMotion's euphoria engine at work, and an amusing one too. It's incredible to see Niko's body fly through the air and land in a crumpled mess, looking genuinely painful. Sometimes you'll even die such is the force of the impact.

A flying rat After playing through a number of missions I noticed that a helicopter was spawning at the airport, stealing it got me three stars, but I didn't care as I was able to get around the map a lot easier now, which brings me on to my next point - flying rats. I wanted to check out some famous landmarks, so I flew on over to the Empire State Building. I noticed an orange glow and realised that I had found another pigeon, the funny thing being that earlier in the day while at the real-life building I snapped a picture of a pigeon that landed in front of me on a ledge (see pic on right). I believe the in game pigeon I shot was in the exact same place!

Dating girlfriends is less of a hassle than it was in San Andreas. You'll use your phone to set up dates, or they'll call you. And you have the choice of going to bars or restraunts, or do an activity such as ten pin bowling, which is what I did. The minigames are quite fun and can actually become surprisingly addictive.

After unlocking the [email protected] Internet cafe I literally spent about 25 real-life minutes browsing the websites and laughing at all the hilarious parodies of sites such as dating websites, MySpace and YouTube. There's so much content on the websites it can keep you there for ages. The dating websites even allow you to set up dates, with responses coming through via email. Similarly, the in-game televisions provide some great entertainment. I suggest checking this out, I'll think you'll enjoy seeing the references to some of the past GTA games in some of the shows, and the parodies of celebrity based shows are hilarious.

Unique jumps were pretty fun to try out, insane stunt bonuses aren't in this game, but you'll get a message if you failed or completed the jump, and also if you've already done it before. On that note, the ability to use slow motion (pressing L3) while in the cinematic camera view (holding Circle, or B) at any time during the game is a nice addition.

Finally, the cover system is also a great addition, and early missions will introduce you to this and get you familiar with the controls. I'm sure being able to use cover will be very important when the harder missions come around. Since I only really did enough missions to unlock the second island I can't really say I needed to use it all that much. But then again, every playr will have a different way of completing the missions - that is another thing that makes this game so great. At around 4AM, we all went back to our rooms.

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