AICN Games: Monki Gets his Paws on Grand Theft Auto 4!
Published at: April 15, 2008, 9:06 a.m. CST by merrick
Greetings humans, Monki here with a report on one of the coolest assignments I've ever covered here at Ain't It Cool.
I'm sitting on a sofa at Rockstar Games. A pile of magazines sits in front of me with nothing but cover stories about Grand Theft Auto 4. Across from me is a row of arcade games. Golden Tee, some classics and a "The Warriors" arcade with 30 buttons on it. It seems that only 5 of these cabinets were made.
I sit and read through an EGM while NWA pumps in the lobby. I'm trying to calm myself down. How did I end up at one of the most popular developers in the world?? Soon enough, PR man Steve and the VP of Development (and a guy who helped create Rockstar) Jeronimo Barrera show up, shake hands, and whisk me in to a private room / theater with couches, a surround sound setup, a bigass HD TV and GRAND THEFT AUTO 4.
A little backstory for you. I've mentioned in some of my other articles how I was a huge gamer as a kid. The staff at Skaggs used to have to drag a chair over to the Ikari Warriors machine so I could see the screen while my parents went shopping. I was 5 and could easily outlast anyone who joined in cooperatively with me. From then I went to the NES and graduated to the SNES and Genesis like most kids of my generation.
Sometime around my freshman year of high school I hit super-nerdom and stumbled into the world of BBSes and made friends through the computer. (computer friends?) These encounters led to lan parties. At one of these lan parties, towards the end of a marathon Quake match someone brought out a new top-down racing/shooting game called Grand Theft Auto.
I fell in love pretty quickly. Sliding around corners in the cars, running over entire cults...it was all too much. I've been with the series since the beginning and I had heard nothing but good things about 4.
So here I am, getting to see the next great thing to come out of Rockstar and talking with one of the head guys in charge of the universe in which GTA exists.
Let me tell you...this game is fucking awesome.
We pretty much dove right in. Steve lead the way at first, showing off some of the cooler aspects of the game. He got to talking about your cell phone, which is pretty much the hub of your existence in GTA4. If you want missions, look to your phone, if you want to call a friend to bring you a weapon or a car, use your phone. If you want to jump on multiplayer, use the phone. (More on that later)
One of the cooler things about the phone was the ability to tag a song. You may have heard of Rockstar and Amazon teaming up to bring you the music from GTA4...your phone is the key to that exchange. If you hear a song on the radio you like, you dial a special number and a text message appears notifying you of the song title and artist. If you are a member of the Rockstar Social Club an email is sent to you with a link to your songs of choice on Amazon for purchase.
To me, THIS is what the next generation of games is all about. Connecting your virtual experience to a real-world experience...and Rockstar is doing this in spades.
The main character of the game is Niko, an Eastern European, ex-soldier who has come to Liberty City to meet up with his cousin Roman. Roman has talked of America and how he is living the good life in Liberty City. Of course, when Niko shows up, it turns out to be an enormous lie. Roman runs a cab stand and is in trouble with all kinds of seedy figures within Liberty City.
Steve started walking Niko through the city while he spoke to me about various features in the game...more music than ever...lots of Eastern European music that hasn't been released in America...very cool stuff. But perhaps the coolest thing I saw while he was playing was when he stopped touching the controller. Niko stood still while Steve was occupied with something and right there, a taxi got rear-ended by another car.
What followed was pure magic.
The cabbie and the guy who hit the taxi jumped out of their cars and approached each other. Once they got in to each others' face the fists started flying. Meanwhile, cars are honking for the two vehicles to get out of the way. The two keep slugging away and a cop pulls up. He jumps out with his pistol drawn and both men throw their hands to the sky, surrendering. The cop then drags the cabbie away (he punched first), puts him in the backseat of the cop car and drives off. The other driver returns to his car, gets in and pulls away.
This whole routine was not staged...it just happened, and we were just there in the right spot to catch it all.
Stuff like that...subtle things, like bumping in to someone with your shoulder makes them give you a dirty look as they walk past...authentic dialects from all over the world...all of this makes this game excellent.
We kicked off a mission to pick up a character named Little Jacob. Jacob is a Jamaican friend of Roman's who deals with guns and smokes a lot of pot. While en route to a destination, Jacob started hotboxing the car. At this point I busted out a window in the vehicle and smoke started coming out. If the Devil is in the details then GTA 4 must be Satan himself.
I asked a lot of questions that couldn't be answered, but one of the cooler Easter Eggs was shown to me. Towards the end of one particular mission, Niko ends up next to a burnt-out and run down mansion...the Salvatore's mansion from GTA3. Pretty sweet little egg for us super-dorks who've played all the games. Jeronimo said there were more recognizable features in the game for long-time fans, but he didn't go in to details.
I played the single-player mode for maybe two hours at most, and I could write pages and pages about it all. The handling of vehicles feels more authentic now...the cab rides you can take to any point in the city...cars backfiring in the shittier areas of Liberty City...the water that looks so damn real...this game is so full of detail it is astounding. The gunplay in the game has been completely reworked and seems very similar to the locking-target style of shooting from Crackdown. There is also a cover mechanism you can utilize in tight situations. You can slide in to cover to protect yourself from incoming bullets...you can blindfire over cover to try to pick off enemies.
This game is so rich in detail...I have no idea how the hell they packed it all in to one single disc.
We took a short break after all this madness and then stepped in to the next room over where four Xbox 360s and four big-screen LCDs were lined up on a table. It was time to jump in to some multiplayer.
We were going to do some 4 on 4 matches with another group of Rockstar employees somewhere else in the building. There are a bunch of different multiplayer modes, but we were only going to check out a few of them. GTA4 supports up to 16 players online, but only through Live or the Playstation Network...there is no local multiplayer.
I created a character as the host set up the options. The creation is pretty simple...pick a head, a body, sex, outfit...the more you play and rank up, the more options you have to customize your character. Let me also say that the amount of options the host can set up are enormous. You can choose where you want to play within Liberty City, from a tiny area to the entire map. Of course, there are no invisible walls, so if you want to jump in a helicopter and buzz off to another side of the city, you can...but weapons and health only respawn in the area that is decided by the host.
You can tweak everything from pedestrians to traffic to police presence to time of day. Very customizable. We started out with good ole Team Deathmatch. As soon as we kicked off the match, Jeronimo told us all to meet him at the shore where he had stolen a boat. Eventually all four of us were being chased on the water by another boat full of Rockstar folks with rocket launchers and snipers...many laughs and swears were thrown about.
Another deathmatch started us off with nothing but rocket launchers at the airport. Again, we all jumped in to helicopters and buzzed our way towards the high-rises of downtown. I can't express to you how badass a rocket launcher fight is at the top of the Empire State building.
After deathmatching it up, we jumped in to what could be my favorite multiplayer gametype in GTA 4: Cops & Crooks. Cops & Crooks is just that, one group of cops, one group of baddies. The object of the crooks is to escort a "boss" (randomly selected) to an extraction point somewhere in the city. The crooks' map is marked with this location, but the cops do not show up. The cops on the other hand have the location of the crooks on their maps, but not the extraction point. What follows is a race to see which side can obliterate the other first.
During a round where we were the cops, Jeronimo pointed out a neat feature to me. If you aren't driving, but are in a car, you can set a way point for the driver. So, if you are a passenger with the cops heading towards the crooks, you can pop open the map from the menu and set a way point right on top of where the crooks are located. This then is seen by everyone in the car, including the driver. That way the driver never has to lose focus of what they are doing and everyone gets a chance to help out. Simple, but badass.
The cops definitely have the advantage in this mode...of the four rounds we played, none of the crooks managed to escape. This game type is awesome.
After that was the most obvious of multiplayer game types...the race...GTA style. Griefers are going to have a fucking field day with this one.
The host again gets to select the route and the class of vehicle everyone gets to start with (you choose specific vehicles within the class) and you proceed to race each other. Simple as that...except add a bunch of weapons and grenades in to the mix.
We kicked off our 8 player race in a park area of Liberty City. It was a figure 8 course with everyone in some pretty badass rides. What started out as a pretty uneventful blast through the park turned on a dime when one of the people in last place ditched his sports car for a city bus...and then parked it in front of a bottleneck. Gunfire and grenades ensued all while cars were trying to pound their way through the rest of the course.
This happened again on the next course through an airport...at a bottleneck one of the players jumped off his motorcycle and started building a roadblock...and murdered everyone that tried to get through. It was awesome. Oh yeah, and when you respawn, you spawn with a Faggio. The Vespa-like scooter. It is embarrassing.
The final mode we took a crack at was a cooperative mode called "The Hangman's NOOSE." Only four players could join in on the fun of cooperative play though.
The object is to escort an NPC mob boss from the airport to a set location within the city. There are absolutely no designated ways to do this...we went at it twice. The first time was pretty traditional, three of us fought off police officers while the fourth grabbed an armored vehicle and got the VIP in to it safely. We then all jumped aboard and fired at police while hauling ass through the city to the rendezvous point.
Our second attempt was a bit more action-movie-esque. We stalled the cops long enough to grab a helicopter and snatch the VIP...but one of us didn't make it and he had to jump on a motorcycle and haul ass with the police in tow. What followed was the chopper above the motorcycle with us trying to shoot at police cars behind him so he wouldn't get taken out before reaching the final destination. It was intense.
The multiplayer aspect of GTA4 is going to have people going berserk when this thing launches in a few weeks. Recently Rockstar updated their website to include all of the multiplayer modes and give you a peek at a few more characters. Go check it out...in fact the whole GTA4 site is pretty badass.
I could double the length of this article talking more about the game, it got me that jazzed...and I only played it for maybe three and a half hours. I'm hoping against hope to get my hands on a review copy of the game to check out the story...so we'll see about that.
Also, I've got another article heading your way where I talk with Jeronimo Barrera and relay the questions you guys offered me a couple of weeks ago. He's an interesting dude and I think you'll be happy with some of the answers he offers up.
To sum it all up...Grand Theft Auto 4 will beat the record set by Halo 3 for most single-day media sales in ANY form. At least...that is what I think. We'll all get a chance to see on April 29th when this beast hits shelves. I can't fucking wait.