This is going to be a short review â€“ thereâ€™s only so much more you can say about a PC port of one of the most talked-about games of the year. So for those who have thus far been ignoring the game as much as possible, or have been hanging out for something to look good on your spiffy new PC, hereâ€™s a quick rundown from our console review:
Grand Theft Auto IV casts the player as Niko Bellic, an immigrant of Eastern Europe lured to the Land of Opportunity by the exaggerated claims of his cousinâ€™s success. His hope that things might be different in the United States is quickly crushed as Niko realises the true America.
In his descent into crime, Niko will encounter a colourful range of characters that, despite each one being a stereotype that contains an aspect of America, are well developed. Nikoâ€™s own development is especially fascinating, as it is tied to the morals of the player.
Along with the narrative, Grand Theft Auto IV uses the game itself to be a simulation of true American culture. Players will return to Liberty City, a city teeming with life at every level. Players can go shopping, go bowling, date, and even get drunk â€“ with the feeling being perfectly replicated thanks to the Euphoria physics engine.
The glistening lights of Liberty City shine on a city thats own make-up is a commentary of America: themed restaurant chains aplenty. Music can only be listened to through radios â€“ complete with adverts exemplifying American culture and paranoia â€“ and each station is a reflection on a genre and its subculture. This is the real America.
Of course, Grand Theft Auto IV is a game, and this virtual world provides the perfect sandbox for play. The city itself is particularly gorgeous thanks to the RAGE engine. Driving round Liberty City is like visiting an old friend who looks better than you remember.
Grand Theft Auto IV offers an extensive multiplayer mode. Surprisingly, itâ€™s enjoyable. There are a variety of game modes in which to take part, from the common deathmatch to more structured affairs like a mode called Cops â€˜nâ€™ Crooks.
The latter sees players set into teams, with one team the police attempting to capture a mob boss, while the second team attempts to get their crime lord to safety.
There are plenty of dramatic moments to be had in both online and offline modes: high speed car chases, firing rockets into helicopters, and running across rooftops. All these are experienced, not told, once again demonstrating the power of video games to let players shape discourse.
The PC Version
So whatâ€™s new for the PC version? Whatâ€™s worse? Whatâ€™s better? And how does it stack up compared to the 360 and PS3 games?
Letâ€™s start with the install process. PC gamers are, by and large, very much resigned to lengthy installation processes, usually followed by a good deal of tweaking to reach the optimal settings. But the GTA IV install process is noteworthy â€“ along with the game itself and its anti-piracy protection software, you also need to install the Rockstar Games Social Club and Games for Windows Live. Now, in order to get the most out of the game â€“ and by that I mean playing multiplayer and even saving your single-player progress â€“ you need to create logins for both of these services. It was pretty annoying for me, but of course if youâ€™re already a member it wonâ€™t be such a big deal. Still, a seamless experience this is not.
Once the 18GB or so of the game is installed, itâ€™ll launch right into it. It does a fairly good job of detecting optimal settings, but if you donâ€™t have a top of the line PC, donâ€™t expect things to run super smooth unless you turn graphical settings down. I tested the game on a new quad-core PC with 4GB RAM and a fancy graphics card, and it ran generally fine at high settings, except for the occasional hiccup and slowdown. However, trying to play it on a slightly older dual-core introduced many more problems, such as graphical glitches (with the most up to date drivers installed) and a few of the bugs that have been widely reported about online.
These bugs and the steep system requirements should make you think twice about getting the PC version. If youâ€™ve got a really good PC, go ahead â€“ in theory, youâ€™ll only get annoyed at all the extra programs that need to be installed. But if youâ€™ve got a midrange computer, prepare to make some sacrifices. And at that point, if you own either a 360 or a PS3, I really believe you may as well just grab a console version.
Beyond a higher resolution for PCs that can handle it, GTA IV for PC also supports up to 32 players in multiplayer, up from 16 in the console versions. As we said in our console review, the game modes are all lots of fun if youâ€™ve got a good mix of players â€“ and doubling the player count just adds to the mayhem. It reminded me nicely of playing the original GTA via modem way back in the day. However, servers were a bit sparse when we tested it out online, so hopefully theyâ€™ve filled up a bit more now â€“ just keep in mind that you wonâ€™t always be able to get to 32 players.
The controls are both better and worse than the console versions. Running around and fighting feels more accurate with a mouse and keyboard â€“ youâ€™ll be able to react faster and shoot bad guys with a lot more confidence. On the other hand, driving is better suited to analog sticks, so itâ€™s a bit of a tradeoff. Having said that, Iâ€™d find it hard to choose between one or the other, so if youâ€™re a PC gamers whoâ€™s used to mouse and keyboard, youâ€™ll do just fine.
Like all the previous GTA ports, you can also stick in your own MP3 soundtrack. Itâ€™s a nice additional touch, although I got lazy after a while and just had iTunes on in the background.
And thatâ€™s really about it. Like I said before, if youâ€™re lucky enough to have a very kickass PC, donâ€™t own a console, and are really keen to get some crowded multiplayer matches going, then by all means head out and grab this game. But if your computer isnâ€™t so mighty, or you own a 360 or PS3, then I donâ€™t think the upgrades are enough to justify it. Grand Theft Auto IV is very much a console-friendly game, and the PC port brings enough problems â€“ albeit ones that wonâ€™t apply to everyone â€“ to make me hesitate to recommend it over the original.