Exclusive GTA:IV Preview
Not much is known about the next Grand Theft Auto game aside from the fact that it's in development and set to release in October of 2007 on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Mac. Speculation has run rampant about the game's setting and features since the release of GTA: San Andreas, but Rockstar has kept quiet.
Something Awful has long enjoyed a close relationship with Rockstar (as is evident by the "SA Goon" ranking in GTA: Vice City and the inclusion of white people in GTA: San Andreas), so when the time came to reveal the juicy details of Grand Theft Auto IV, the maverick game company continued its tradition of bucking the system by giving us the scoop to rather than one of the big gaming magazines or websites.
Fans of the series have long been wondering where GTA4 takes place, but it turns out they should have been wondering when. The game is set in the futuristic city of Maeba Prime, which one environment artist describes as "Blade Runner meets Star Wars meets Mrs. Doubtfire". Skyscrapers covered in neon lights and gigantic holographic billboards dominate the skyline, laser guns and light sabers (with the clever brand name "The Lucas") are common, and all wrist watches are digital.
What about the radio stations that gave previous GTA installments so much personality? Many of the popular voice actors - including Lazlow - are back, only this time around they will be playing their old characters' descendants who happen to have the exact same jobs, sound exactly the same, and hold the same opinions. And the music? Instead of coming up with hours of futuristic music to fill the airwaves, Rockstar decided to only include current music and label each radio station as "classic".
While the core gameplay mechanic still revolves around stealing modes of transportation as you explore a free roaming environment, there are no real streets as we know them in Maeba Prime so most of your travel will be done in the air or through the densely packed crowds of people on the walkways that span the gaps between buildings. Here's a quick rundown of the many ways you can get around Maeba Prime:
- Bicycles - With neon wheels
- Jetpacks - Only slightly harder to pilot than the helicopters in previous games
- Pedestrians - Approaching a pedestrian from behind and clicking the left analog stick will allow you to clamber up onto your target piggyback style and ride him or her around. Many hours can be wasted by having them run at top speed into traffic or toward the ledge of a building, then diving off of them at the last second.
- Flying cars
- Flying boats
- Hovering airplanes - Can't fly, but can hover a good foot and a half off the ground
The gang at Rockstar have taken note of the tight controls in Saints Row which allow you to aim precisely in all directions both on foot and while driving. This interesting decision to put the player in total control of the action, they feel, is a gimmick.
GTA4 uses an advanced version of the lock-on system, where every single npc within drawing distance of your character is automatically targeted at all times. Pressing the attack button will use your current weapon on a randomly selected target (there are typically 80 or more on screen at the same time - impressive!). You can remove individual people from your lock-on list by simply clicking down on the right thumbstick while tapping the left thumbstick to the left or right to cycle through your targets, then pressing the left and right trigger buttons simultaneously to confirm your choice.
Instead of just having the option to shoot straight out of your window to the left or right while in a vehicle, you can now shoot directly forward into the dashboard or backward into your gas tank/fuel cell.
The stylish cinematics and pulse-pounding missions we've come to expect have returned, but this time they're new! Here's a sneak peek at some of the actual dialogue for one of your mission providers, a teenage hacker/gang leader voiced by Kevin Spacey.
Chapter One - "Damned If You Do, Damned If You Dough"
Billingsley: So you're the new guy in town, just strolled in and already acting like you own the place. You gotta earn my trust, son. Our rival hacker gang, the Bitboys, are a bunch of straight up bitches. Go show them we mean business by having a bunch of weird ass pizzas they don't even want delivered to their hangout. You have thirty seconds to do this, and you can only use the payphone across the city.
Chapter Two - "Pain In The Glass"
Billingsley: Not bad, that pizza stunt should knock the Bitboys out of commission for good. By now you've probably heard that we're the biggest dealers of illegal stained glass in Maeba Prime, right? Well I need you to take this incredibly slow and dilapidated hovertruck full of very fragile stained glass in a clockwise lap around the entire city and then bring it back here. If there's a single scratch on that glass you will fail. Also, you will be escorting three robots who tend to run in separate directions from each other and knock into pretty anything they see, including your hovertruck full of fragile stained glass. If one of them wanders more than one block away from you, you will fail. If the cops see the large print on the side of the hovertruck that reads "ILLEGAL CARGO" and pull you over or touch your vehicle, you fail.
Chapter Three - "The Heat Is On"
Billingsley: Good work with the stained glass, dawg. The Bitboys are somehow back in action, and they're having an ice cream n' strippers party to celebrate. I want you to fly this remotely controlled nanite into their hideout and adjust the thermostat so that their ice cream melts, putting them out of commission for good. Your nanite will emit a wailing siren sound to alert the enemy of its presence, and it can not withstand an attack of any kind. Good luck.
Chapter Four - "Pane In The Ass"
Billingsley: Nice work with the ice cream, homey! I want you to take that hovertruck full of very fragile stained glass in a counterclockwise lap around the city, tailing one of those robots you escorted earlier. If you get close enough for him to see you, you fail. If you let him get out of your sight, you fail. If you can pull this off, we'll have full control of the city for reasons I can't explain.
These features alone would make for a fantastic game, but as you might expect there are tons of additional activities and surprises in GTA4. For example, the workout system in San Andreas has been greatly expanded. For every step you take your character loses one pound, and for every ten seconds you stand still or sit in a vehicle your character gains three pounds. The constant struggle to stay somewhere between morbid obesity and terminal emaciation adds a layer of strategy to an already compelling experience. And that's just one of many features that affect your appearance, I haven't even gotten into the frequent crippling seizures which afflict your character during missions and permanently goof up his facial muscles unless you rapidly press a sequence of buttons in the correct order.
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