"Impressive," the echoey voice in my head whispered as a sunset-soaked Liberty City dock appeared in front of us. We're back at Rockstar's London HQ gawping at the first we've seen of GTA IV since its infamous delay. What a difference six months makes.
Of course Rockstar's 100" TV might have something to do with it, but IV isn't looking dated considering it should have been out for a few months already. In fact, it's running visibly smoother at the beginning of our demo. Niko stands on the waterfront at a dock in Broker. It's the kind of rusty, tramp-ridden area of town you'd expect to find flaming barrels and lots of pigeons and that's exactly what surrounds us here.
"The game is in a very, very different place now," boldly claims our Rockstar tour operator for this particular trip. "It's improved in virtually every single way imaginable. When we first showed the game a year ago, we said it was really early - it was the earliest we've ever shown a GTA game. A year later and just three/four months away from release you're looking at a game that's virtually complete."
There's still a lot of polish going on behind the scenes and the painful process of licensing IV's typically massive list of tunes is in full swing. But what's in front of us right now is looking rock solid.
Even with all the gorgeous building and cloud reflections in the water, and impressive real-time shadows skulking across the street, the framerate is bang on. Which is very pleasing to see after a jittery 2007 demo left us a little concerned that GTA IV wouldn't be quite as fluid as we'd hoped.
Back to the flaming barrels and tramps; the much smoother Niko is off to see a man about a dog. It's the first of a handful of unseen GTA IV scenarios we're being shown. Niko hops in a motor and drives through the shoddy streets of Broker to meet Brucie, a bald, violence-obsessed gangster wannabe (sounds like the boss) - exactly the sort of mentalist the Daily Mail would probably argue play these games in the first place (yep, that's the boss).
Car physics are just as impressive as the first time we saw GTA IV running; axels bounce and react with bumps in the road and vehicles genuinely look like they're made of different components, rather than being a box on wheels.
Niko met Brucie through his cousin Roman, who set him up on his journey to Liberty City. Brucie's set up in a garage round the corner from Roman's taxi depot. This demo has been conveniently set-up so we don't have to drive far to get there, in fact, it's just a short drive around the corner. Niko strolls into what looks like an abandoned garage, though there's a dirt mechanic fiddling around underneath a car. "Hey? Hello? I said HELLO!" Niko treads on the prone mechanic. "Motherf**cker! What'd you do that for?! Brucie! Some f**cking Pollock asshole for you!"
Character animation has been noticeably touched up. Facial expressions on GTA's cast are particularly pleasing on the eye, helping to convey the game's trademark humour on characters' faces.
Niko's here for a job. Roman and Niko aren't exactly well off for cash at the moment, and Brucie's going to give Niko a job that'll pay the bills. "Sometimes people f**k over people over, ok? And the people that f**k other people over need to get f**ked," Brucie explains. "I need you to whack some people, although they're in hiding."