Previews

GTA IV Multiplayer

Hands-on: Liberty City, 16-players, no holds barred...

CRUNCH! The rim comes flying off of the back wheel of our armoured security van, burst by an eagle-eyed copper aiming from a pursuing cop car. We battle to control the battered van as it swerves across the Liberty City highway, with twenty police cars burning metal behind us, eager to ram us into the nearest lamppost.

The entire Liberty City SWAT team is on our case, after we managed to snatch a notorious criminal boss from their custody at the Francis International Airport. But it's only a short stretch across the city to sweet, sweet freedom, and the rendezvous point is in site...

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Suddenly it looks like it's all over; two loaded-to-the-teeth attack choppers emerge above the sprawling concrete horizon, miniguns aimed and poised to turn us into a flaming chunk of twisted metal. Our task to escape with the NPC convict looks almost hopeless, until we realise that not all the helicopters in the sky are being flown by the police...

As the first police chopper falls flaming towards the road, the second player - with a third gunning from the back of the 'copter - lays down covering fire on the police convoy laying chase behind our van.

The fourth player is laying down covering fire from the passenger seat next to us. This is GTA IV multiplayer. And it's bloody brilliant.

Liberated City
Just like the horribly overlooked Vice City Stories PSP multiplayer modes, GTA IV has fifteen different online games lined up, ranging from co-op shootouts with the police to mental 16-player shootouts across play areas the size of Hackney.

You could forgive the series' previous mammoth single-player games for lacking multiplayer action, but now GTA IV's gone and delivered both.

Starting off in the lobby menu, you can access the character customisation menu by pressing Y. From here you can switch between different player heads, torsos, legs, hats and glasses, and choose the sex of your character.

From the start there are only three or four different selections to choose for each option, but we're told more options unlock as you play through ranked online matches.

Gangster-ed up and ready to go, we hop straight into our first 16-player Team Deathmatch game, on a small cemetery island just off the coast.

Instantly, the GTA IV formula feels perfect for online carnage; players sprawl across the island, picking up guns and armour and staging their own one-on-one (and sometimes one-on-one-on-one) shootouts behind tomb stones and parked cars. Occasionally the odd brave soul will come tearing in from the street, gunning from the driver's seat of a saloon, only to get gunned down and used as cover.

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Thanks to GTA IV's excellent cover mechanic and massively refined aiming controls, it's all a much more strategic - and less random - Deathmatch experience than Vice City Stories. In case you missed it, aiming and shooting has been handled in quite a unique manner in GTA number four; holding down the left trigger locks on to a target, and you can cycle through targets using the right stick.

From here you can shoot at an enemy's chest, limbs or head - but it's not totally automatic. The cursor is locked on to the centre of a target's chest, and from there you can move your aim with the right stick inside a small circle radius around the target - so there's still some skill. Free aim is also instantly accessible by holding the trigger half-way in, which works well.

Cover plays a prominent role in coming out on top, but this isn't Gears of War either. Aiming and where you hit your target also feels incredibly important to winning a shootout. Headshots always equal a one-hit kill, whereas body shots take a whole lot longer.

Of course, this all goes out the window when you kick off a rocket launchers-only match, when cars (and people) get flung kilometres at a time from the brunt of the carnage. This gave us a chance to try out another of GTA IV's new and tactically-pleasing features - the radar, which lets you see other players' locations at all times.

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