Rockstar Grand Theft Auto IV review
It may not be entirely true that crime doesn't pay, but more importantly it's not nice, which is why few of us pull our girlfriend's tights over our head and stick up the local sweet shop.
In the virtual world, morality is rather more flexible, and the Grand Theft Auto series has taken full advantage of this wiggle room. The fourth instalment returns the adrenaline-fuelled action to the lawless streets of Liberty City. It's a town that now resembles a certain New York.
Things have changed for the bigger since previous games. The city now sprawls across four islands, which, as the game progresses, you can explore, exploit or just terrorise. And it's all presented on a truly mind-boggling scale. Steal yourself a car, crank up any one of the 18 superb radio stations on its dial, and you can cruise for hours marvelling at the sheer size of the place.
But this isn't just a sprawling wasteland populated by the odd gangster, mafioso or drug peddler. Rockstar have imbued Liberty City with a frenetic pulse. The streets are filled with cars, people, and opportunities for reckless fun and illicit profit. There are makeshift ramps from which to launch your vehicle skyward, gun shops for the latest in death dealing, clothes stores to kit yourself out in the latest threads, and burger joints and hot dog stalls for restoring your health. You can frequent bars, bowling alleys and pool clubs and, yes, all right, pick up virtual female companions.
A tale of one city
The storyline provides even more to like. You find yourself in the shoes of Niko Bellic, a Bosnian war veteran who comes to Liberty City to pursue the American dream. As anyone who's seen Scarface will guess, that dream comes at a price. Niko is forced to run less than legal errands for his inept brother, and quickly finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into the city's criminal underworld.
Visually and aurally, GTA IV is a treat. The graphics are a vast improvement on previous titles, with crimson sunsets that fade beautifully into night. This splendour is married with incredibly detailed soundscapes - everything from the clatter of a trashcan to the distant wail of sirens.
There are some annoyances, though. For some reason the developers have decided to make you drive with the keyboard while using the mouse to keep the camera behind your car. Ever tried rubbing your tummy, patting your head and peeling carrots at the same time?
And before you rush to order a copy, you'll need one heck of a PC to get it running smoothly. Our test system, with a 3GHz Intel Core 2 Duo and an nVidia 9800GT, was far from low-end, but we found the action stuttering with aggravating regularity. Future software patches may help, but if you're to have any hope you'll need to make sure your PC exceeds the minimum specifications.
As long as it does, Grand Theft Auto IV is irreverent, high-octane, 18-rated fun at its best.