Grand Theft Auto 4

gta4_logo_screen001 In a word: wow. 

This game blew away my expectations, and with all the hype surrounding the game, that seems hard to do.  I think the best feature of this game is the scope.  What I mean by that, is that while other games do some things really well, and forget other things, or seem to tack them on as afterthoughts, this game seems to do everything it normally does very well, but also a ton of what would be considered "icing on the cake" very well, too.

The Look:

The look of the game is great.  There is definitely the usual Rockstar stylization that most if not all of their games get, but it's just a coat on the surface of this SUPER realistic environment.  Many buildings have bump-mapped surfaces, including a lot of the roads, making your headlights shining on them look incredible.  The amount of "extras" in the game (the NPC's in geekspeak), are extremely varied, and though I have seem the same one a few times, it's few and far between.  The cars are also in the hyper-realistic range, with spoofs of everything from Geos to Lamborghinis, Humvees to Kawasaki motorcycles.  Rockstar never really gets much attention from their vehicle modeling, but it's not something to be ignored.

The Feel:

The control on foot is incredible, including a cover system which seems like a watered-down Gears of War scheme.  It's really great, seeing as how that was about the weakest link in previous GTA games.  I feel like I have control over who I'm targeting now, and not just at the mercy of who the the computer feels I should fire on.

The driving is taking a little getting used to, but in a few days, I'm sure I'll have it down pat.  It feels a little looser than most video game driving, but the physics engine gives different cars different weights and handling, so generally if you don't like a certain scheme, you can always bail on that vehicle and get another one.

Speaking of the physics engine, it does some remarkable stuff not only with vehicles, but with people, too.  They really seem to have realistic reactions to nudges, shots, speeding cars, etc.  I've attached a demo of the engine, called Euphoria, to highlight its coolness.

The Experience:

If there's one word to best describe this game, in my opinion, it's 'scope'.  Lots of games do some stuff well.  Some games do one or two things PERFECTLY, but I've never seen a game of this size do SO much SO well.  With as large of a city as they're having constantly streamed and at my disposal, the resources for that alone seem like they'd have the Xbox at maximum capacity, but the environment here is just a playground for all of the other stuff.  There's dating, a virtual internet with email, racing, plot missions, side missions, mini-games like bowling and darts, a comedy club with virtual versions of real comedians headlining, lots of radio stations, a social site that's stat-tracking, and more.  It's everything you've played in other GTA games, plus about six other games, thrown into one, and done really well. 

I didn't even touch on the multiplayer, because I think that will be an episode of ActionCorp.  If you've played it, please leave me a comment about what you think!