Grand Theft Auto 4 (GTA 4) Discussion
January 23, 2008 - It's been a while since our last look at Grand Theft Auto IV. The last time we had seen the game, it was "on track" for its October 2007 release, but still clearly in need of some polishing. This time out however, a good six months since our last viewing, things were different. Gone were any framerate inconsistencies, and Rockstar was no longer hiding elements of the game from us, like the use of Niko's cell phone or dialog bits that needed to be muted from our delicate ears. Indeed, the extra time taken for development was very well spent, and GTA IV looks to be just about done...
Our demo began with a mission entitled "Search and Delete", a job suitably chosen to show off some of the game's new interesting options and mechanics. Brucie tasks Niko with the job of taking out an informant named Lyle Rivas. It's an easy job on paper, except that Lyle is in hiding and no one knows of his whereabouts. That is, except for the police. The men in blue would probably be reluctant to give up his location to a man wielding a gun store under his jacket, so Niko finds himself an empty police car and gets behind the wheel.
Before he starts the engine though, Niko fires up the in-car computer and searches through the police department's criminal database for information on Lyle. This is one of the new, and possibly very powerful, features in GTA IV. If you know someone's name, you can run it through the database and see what pops up. It'll be interesting to see what happens when you search for Niko Bellic over the course of the game...
In the case of Lyle Rivas, the computer comes back with his last known hideout. Heading to the always useful map, you can then drop a marker at his supposed location, or anywhere else in the world, for the in-car GPS system to use. Every vehicle in the game will be able to give you street-by-street directions, with nicer cars featuring voice commands. Should you never want to read, you can turn voiceovers on for every car. One cool touch is that different cars will have voice directions given in an appropriate accent, so European automobiles might have a sooth female voice with a British accent while US vehicles might have a robotic male voice.
When you get to Lyle's pad, he flees and heads off in a car. Chasing him down, we then got a look at the new in-vehicle shooting mechanic. You're no longer only able to shoot directly out of either side window. Instead, you now have a movable reticule that will allow you to pinpoint anywhere around you, including straight in front of you.
The cops will spare no expense for your disposal.
During the chase, we also got a look at the new chase cam. Tapping a face button will leave the camera situated behind your car, but will focus the camera's direction on your target, allowing you to see where it turns much more easily. It looks to have been implemented rather nicely, acting more cinematic and natural than jerky and pinpointed.
When Lyle's car was finally spun and taken out of commission, Niko leapt from his ride and the game's use of Natural Motion's AI-based physics took over. Instead of seeing Niko simply roll a couple times in a pre-canned animation and stand up like in past GTA games, he instead flips feet over shoulders and tumbles very realistically down the side of the road. It's a brutal exit, one that makes his place and actions in the world seem all that more realistic. A second implementation of Natural Motion's tech was also seen here, as Niko raised his hands to cover his head as an oncoming car screeched to a halt just in front of him as he was climbing to his knees.
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[Edited by insomniac, 1/23/2008 9:32:23 PM]
The site is watched over by a handful of men with sniper rifles situated on cranes, so Niko and Playboy X head to a nearby skyscraper and use a window cleaners' lift to get to the roof. We're told that the lift is not limited to this mission, and that you'll be able to make use of a number of them throughout the game to scale buildings without having to head inside. Once on the roof, picking these guys off is as easy as switching to a sniper rifle and steadily taking them out. One cool thing here is that after a missed shot, the enemies don't automatically realize where the shots are coming from and so begin firing off into the air at random spots. When you do take them out, you're treated to a nice camera view of them flailing to their deaths below, with one guy smashing onto an SUV in the parking lot below him. Like jumping out of a car, these falls aren't pre-canned, so you'll see something different every time.
There's no lack of explosions in GTA IV.
Once the snipers are clear, Playboy X says that following you into the construction yard would make things too confusing and that he'll stay put to keep a watch over things. Leaving the coward behind, we get a really good look at the improved combat mechanics down below.
The cover system that we had seen briefly before was now highlighted in full, with Niko deftly moving between hiding spots. Once under cover, you're able to move while crouched against an object to keep to safety, as well as blindly fire over or around objects. You'll be safe from fire, but you'll also have a hard time hitting your target until you lean out. However, grenades don't require dead-on accuracy and can be useful when tossed blindly. Some of the cover in the game is destructible, allowing you (or the enemy) to chip away or destroy your hiding spot to get a clear shot at you.
It's a bad idea to point a gun at Niko.
While the cover system is obviously new, so is the aiming mechanic. The targeting button is mapped to a trigger, allowing you two modes of aiming. Pressing the trigger half-way enacts a free-aim option, allowing you to point your gun wherever you so please. It's not the fastest way to aim from target to target, but will surely be useful in some situations, like when you want to target a vehicle's tires, for instance.
Pressing the trigger all the way toggles a full lock-on, but much has changed since the GTA games of old. You can now use the right analog stick to hone your shots and aim for specific body parts, allowing for targeted headshots or bullets to the legs, which will send a victim immediately to the ground. Headshots are now one-shot kills, making the use of the right analog stick all the more important. All of these changes may sound like they enhance the play mechanics, but they also look to change the feel of firefights. Instead of shootouts being somewhat chaotic exchanges of bullets to the closest targeted enemy, they now look to be much more methodic and, perhaps, even deadlier
Creeping up to the scene, Niko can implement a bit of stealth and try to deftly steal the truck. But, given that our demo presenter cheated himself into a full suite of weapons, he decided to toss a few grenades and rockets into the crowd. Cover was again made use of here nicely, both by Niko and the enemy safeguarding the truck. It was especially evident in this scene, filled with thugs to the brim, that the AI has really been turned up a notch since the last-gen GTA titles. Instead of standing out in the open and popping off shots, they took cover behind whatever was near them, and whenever they'd change positions, they'd duck and run to the nearest safe area.
Yep, rocketlaunchers are back.
Once they were disposed of, the truck seemed an easy target, but one last Triad hopped in the cab and took off. Niko had little option except to grab onto the back and get dragged through the streets on his chest until he was able to lift himself to the back. Climbing to the roof, he inched forward, rolling from side to side as the truck took quick turns. Once at the cab, a cutscene took over where Niko slid in, capped the driver and kicked him out of the door. All that was left to do was ditch any nearby cops and carefully drive the truck to its target.
Though it wasn't a complete mission, we did get a glimpse at one of the game's friend activities where Niko and his cousin Roman go drinking for a bit. Well, a bit may be an understatement as they come falling out of the bar, drunk as skunks. The Natural Motion tech takes over once again, with you having to carefully control Niko while his legs seem to have their own agendas. If you change direction too quickly and cross up your legs, you'll fall over. After one of these many spills, we saw Niko use the side of a parked car to help him get up, which was rather impressive. Once back in the car, the controls don't look to get any more lenient. The camera swings from side to side and we're told the controls work against you to an extent, making something as simple as staying on the road a bit of a challenge at this level of intoxication.
Helicopters will be one way to get around Liberty City.
To end the demo, Rockstar found a pontoon boat and cruised Niko around the waterways for a while. The water looks fantastic, as evidenced in the existing trailers, and the boat hopped and skipped over the waves as they beat down upon its sides. This mostly served as a quick tour of the seaside, but one last use of the rocket launcher sent another boater diving off his ride and into the water before his vessel exploded. Again, Rockstar's use of the Natural Motion engine in the game has paid off extremely well from what we've seen.
Grand Theft Auto IV is looking fantastic at this point. The framerate has been solidified (on the 360 at least - PS3 demos are coming soon) and the gameplay looks to be wholly intact. There's no official release date yet, though we should be hearing about that sooner than later, and we fully expect Rockstar to keep with its previous fiscal Q2 timeframe (which means by the end of April). We, for one, can't wait for its release.
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