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Tuesday, April 29, 2008


HOW can Grand Theft Auto IV ever live up to the expectations bestowed upon it? From its first unveiling over a year ago, hype levels have been steadily escalating towards the stratosphere, and surely it would be impossible for Rockstar to satiate the lust of those deprived of a fresh Grand Theft Auto experience for nearly four years?

It's clear that this iteration of Grand Theft Auto is a markedly different beast to its predecessor San Andreas, and whatever your feelings about the last outing there's no doubting the series' new direction works towards creating a more immersive experience. Nearly all vestiges of videogame signifiers have been shorn away and for once it's perfectly valid to state that playing the game is akin to watching a cinema blockbuster. The HUD has been refined, appearing only when Niko is engaged in action, and the omnipresent map at the bottom left of the screen is often all that remains to remind onlookers that this is an interactive entertainment.

Videogame artefacts such as hidden packages have been omitted – though those who have a fetish for collecting need not worry, as in their place is a series of collectables of a more naturalised manner - and the jumps that have long marked out the Grand Theft Auto games are more subtly implemented. Indeed, it was only after a few hours play that we realised they were still there, so well camouflaged they were amidst the architecture of Liberty City.

And what a creation the city is. Grand Theft Auto IV's Liberty City is one of the finest worlds we've seen in gaming since we gallivanted around the Hyrule of Ocarina of Time. It's a world that lives and breathes with its own authenticity, and with an effortlessness that has rarely been glimpsed in gaming to date. A storm comes in and the lighting engine paints the streets of Broker with a melancholic taint, with passers-by erecting their umbrellas in the downpour and those more ill prepared raise their suitcases above their heads and run for cover, while in the background a lone saxophonist plays under the shelter of a band stand. The sun shines and the streets burst into life, light rays bouncing off the pavement and glistening over the bonnets of traffic. The level of detail informs every aspect of Liberty City, with even the most secluded alleyway exuding its own atmosphere and conspiring to make Grand Theft Auto IV's world one of the most complete witnessed to date.

This whole world is painted with its own distinct perspective - yes, this is a more realistic Grand Theft Auto than ever before, but it's also one of the most stylised entries, with a filter applied to the graphics attaining an effect that's akin to pointillism and at times can seem almost impressionistic. That's not to say there aren't occasional dips in framerate or texture creep, but none of this ever impinges on what is undoubtedly one of the most achingly beautiful videogame creations to date.

Above all it's a gritty creation, with the more down to earth and grimy nature of Niko's story reflected in each brick that builds Liberty City. At the beginning of the game, when confined to the Broker District by a terrorist threat, Niko can take a peek at what lies ahead of him in his quest, his view of the peaks of the skyscrapers of Algonquin filtered through the dirt of Liberty City that blights the lens. These details stretch to the interiors as well – this is a world of squalor, and no more is that evident than when climbing a flight of stairs to Niko's first abode in the slums of Broker, the strip lights humming and a muffled television audible through the door of a neighbouring flat.

This Liberty City is unmistakably a mirror image of contemporary New York, and with this fresh focus Rockstar has delivered one of its most potent satires yet. From the terrorist alert that initially locks down the city to the feeds from Weasel News that beautifully ape a certain real-life feral news service reporting on Niko's more outlandish escapades, to the mayoral election that is so brutally fought out over the airwaves between the fictional Michael Graves and John Hunter, it's never too difficult to ascertain the real-life sources for Grand Theft Auto IV's swipes.

Spyware targets frustrated GTA IV gamers
Gamers desperate to get their mitts on Grand Theft Auto IV are being targeted in an opportunistic spyware scam. Spam emails offer prospective marks free entry to a draw offering a PlayStation 3 loaded with the much-anticipated game as a prize.

In reality, these illicit emails are loaded with spyware designed to swipe personal financial information from compromised PCs.

Grand Theft Auto IV for the PS3 and the Xbox 360 was released today to delirium from avid gamers. But some wouldbe buyers have been left disappointed as game stores have been unable to fulfill demand to the extent that even a minority of fans who pre-ordered the game have been left empty-handed.

Spammers are seeking to exploit this disappointment with a carefully targeted spam scam.

Consumer-focused spam filtering firm ClearMyMail claims that more than half of the junk mail being blocked by its service on Tuesday is Grand Theft Auto IV-related. The vast majority of the junk mail messages offer the opportunity to win a PlS3 complete with the game.

"We are seeing unprecedented levels of spam in relation to the game; with more than half of the spam our service is blocking relating to Grand Theft Auto, most of which contain viruses and spyware," said Dan Field, Managing Director of Field advised keen gamers to wait until they can legitimately purchase the game rather than fall victim to "opportunists" capitalising on pent-up demand.

Stuart Rowe, chief operating officer at online retailer, said the game has created unprecedented demand. "We're experiencing trading levels similar to what we would see in the run up to Christmas, taking over 80 orders per minute at peak times," he said. "We have had to recruit extra warehouse staff to work through the night to ensure product arrives on the day of launch." ®

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