PC Review

Grand Theft Auto IV

Still a masterpiece on the PC?

To get GTA IV running on a PC, it's imperative to ensure you're running the latest Windows service pack (SP1 for Vista, SP3 for XP) with your .NET framework up to scratch. Also, you've got to update graphics drivers, C++ redistributables, sound drivers, some more drivers, get your Games for Windows Live up to the latest version (but not using the in-game update button, that doesn't work yet) and weigh an exact pound of flesh which you then send to Rockstar in the included padded envelope, located in the game box behind the manual.

Most of the above is true. There's no point in beating around the bush, this game is pretty demanding on those old technical specifications. The CPU is the bottleneck, actually, and trying to run everything with all the sliders maxed out will probably cause your computer to explode. For example, having the "Detail Distance" option on 10 (out of 100) is equivalent to the performance of the console versions. There's no anti-aliasing support, either, just so you know. I open this review on the technical issue because it's probably the first - and only - bone of contention towards the game. The community is ablaze with discussion about its performance, and at time of writing Rockstar are scrambling to get a patch through Microsoft's certification. Fun fact: even PC's that can run Crysis quite comfortably will have problems with GTA IV.

But it's quite an intricately detailed game, when you stop fiddling with your settings and actually look at it. Watching the shadows alone is enough to realise how much work must have gone into rendering Liberty City, and it's certainly a landscape you learn to appreciate. Love, even. The gaming press unashamedly went a bit overboard in waxing lyrical about its understated beauty earlier in the year, and I doubt they'll make the same mistake here: GTA IV is not remoulding the entire gaming cosmos. The narrative - and I would say there is one, to some extent - is macabre, serious and very cynical. The radio stations seem eclectic, but are deceptively organised. The sense of freedom and choice is still a wonderfully crafted illusion, and the mixture of driving and shooting is just enough to drive the player on.

There's the question of just how much stuff it needs to have loaded up, too. The game runs with the Rockstar Social Club program in the background, a Steam-like application that doesn't have any of the features of Steam and only supports one game. Oh, and if you've bought the game with Valve's aforementioned digital distribution platform, that'll need to be running as well. The game uses SecuROM 7, 2008's most controversial copy protection system, although it's far more lenient than in EA's Spore: installations are unlimited and you can install it on as many PC's as you want.

Looking past all the inherent problems with releasing a game on the PC, the obvious question is how it all plays on the most complicated of gaming platforms. Shooting works just fine with the mouse and keyboard, but driving is a bit of a sore spot: the keyboard is a bit of kit unable to dab the brakes on and off like the analog triggers of the 360 and PS3 controllers. The game is not subtle in its demand for proper use of the brake, so getting a controller plugged into the PC is virtually a necessity here. GTA IV only supports 360 controllers, mind, unless you download and install some emulator software or wait for that promised patch that will allow anything using DirectInput.

The single-player game is still fascinating, and pot-bellied war veteran Niko Bellic is still an endearing chap. The in-game audio is, perplexingly, spectacular and drab, as whilst you'll hear pedestrians recycle their sound bytes indefinitely you'll also sit through plenty of original conversations as you drive people to and fro. For those that haven't kept up with the game since last-gen, a lot of the more eccentric side-quests from San Andreas have been chopped out, and instead you're encouraged to interact with your NPC 'friends' and take them to comparatively menial things like bowling. There's a rather epic bank heist quest about halfway through the game that is wonderful. Of course, all of this was in the 360 and PS3 versions earlier in the year. There's nothing new in the single-player for the PC, if you were wondering, and all the achievements are even exactly the same as the 360.

One of the new things are the 32-person (up from 16 on the consoles) multiplayer modes. It turns the game into a frantic, crazed affair, with a plethora of explosions and some very tight, packed levels. Multiplayer isn't GTA IV's strong spot, though, and it's long-term appeal probably won't meet anything like Team Fortress 2, but it's undeniably fun, a bit of a laugh, and definitely better with 32 players than it ever was with 16.

The other new feature is the video editor. Press F2 at any time and a clip of the last thirty seconds is saved, which you can then take into a little editing suite to tweak, cut and generally play with. After that you can upload it to Rockstar's Social Club, a YouTube-like affair that showcases a few feature clips (although most of these are by Rockstar themselves at the moment) as you load up the game. Some of the uploaded videos show just how ingenious you can be with the video editor once you get to grips with it. It's a splendid little bonus inclusion, and it's the kind of feature that's perfect for the PC.

But, really, the game is very good and perfectly intact. The PC needs more games like GTA IV, and even though the console versions have been out for a while I still consider it an important release. When we originally reviewed it in April, we said it was vital. It still is. It loses a few marks for being so technically daunting, but if you haven't had the opportunity to play GTA IV yet, and you've got a PC that can handle it, then this is probably the best version of the game.

93%
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Because that term has a much wider definition than it used to.