Grand Theft Auto IV

Living a life of crime has never looked this good

"October 16, 2007!" At its pre-E3 press conference last year, Microsoft showed off a Grand Theft Auto IV tattoo on Peter Moore's arm and gave a happy audience the magic release date for the long-awaited sequel. Following that, Rockstar's game built momentum. The promise of downloadable chapters, the revealing of a photo-realistic city resembling New York City and the slowly evolving story focusing on Russian immigrant turned opportunist Niko Bellic were all revealed, showing a much more evolved GTA experience – one even bigger than Grand Theft Auto III or its sequels, and then the inevitable happened. Rockstar delayed it to spring 2008, giving Rockstar North more time to polish it.

Niko Bellic is the anti-hero, taking the place of Grand Theft Auto III's nameless thug and Vice City's Tommy Vercetti. He's a Russian immigrant with a life of crime and several problems at home. Out of nowhere, his cousin Roman gives him a call, talking about how he lives the "American Dream" in Liberty City; He won't stop yapping about his lavish car collection or his multiple wives. Tempted to renew his life and find "that special someone" (as indicated in the game's latest trailer), Niko hops on a boat and makes his way over to the New York City-themed locale. Upon arrival, he finds the bitter truth – Roman's just a bum driving around in a taxicab, knee-deep in trouble. Upset by his cousin's deception and still hoping to find this mystery person, Niko starts down a dangerous path, one with shady characters providing opportunities galore, with rewards and consequences.

Much like its predecessors, GTA IV lets you do whatever you want. You'll engage in a number of criminal acts, from stealing cars and driving rampant throughout the city to beating up pedestrians in an attempt to make a few quick bucks. There is a storyline, however, and you'll complete a series of missions that'll reveal more about Niko.

What is different this time around, though, is the city you inhabit. First revealed in a trailer back in March, Liberty City went from being a "Nowhere USA" town to a New York City clone. Instead of running through the busy streets of Manhattan, you'll travel through Algonquin. Queens has become Dukes, Brooklyn is now the Broker, the Bronx has been done away with in favor of the Bohan and New Jersey has become Alderney. You'll drive Niko around each of these boroughs, eventually earning more assets and gaining your own sense of the "American dream", rather than the version Roman attempts to sell you.

The whole game has gone through a graphic overhaul. Buildings stand out in even the smallest of senses. Dynamic lighting effects shine over the city, no matter what time of day it is. Niko even has the ability of going in and out of certain structures. Liberty City isn't the only thing to receive a makeover, however.

Player models have more realism this time around. Niko looks like a broken man, one yearning for a better life. Not only will other characters be aglow with such personal touches, but even less significant characters, such as average joes on the street, resemble real-life folk. Even smaller things, such as how a gun discharges its ammunition or smoke emitting from a car's tailpipe, should help lend to the game's visual experience.

GTA IV should also have strong audio support. Like previous games, you'll switch between several radio stations, varying in genres. Custom soundtracks could play a huge part in this, as you may be able to incorporate your own musical selections to the violent proceedings.

In addition, the game will contain multiplayer, but not in a routine MMO (massive multiplayer online) format. Rockstar Games hasn't revealed many details, but it'd be a total blast to go on a car-stealing binge with a buddy through Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. Furthermore, Rockstar still has plans to release the game in two packages. The first is just the game itself for the routine $60 price. The second is a limited edition package, featuring a safety deposit box with matching keys, a Rockstar duffel bag, a special edition Grand Theft Auto IV art book, a soundtrack CD and revamped packaging. This deal will set you back an additional $30, but it certainly looks like it'll be worth it.

Grand Theft Auto IV looks like it'll live up to its hype. Its sprawling environment and thriving gameplay should be more than enough to make it one of 2008's biggest releases. Look for more details and preview updates in the months ahead.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.