A couple weeks back I read an article wherein Moby, the pint-sized electro funk genius mentioned that in and among a booze, drug and women addled binge some years back he counted GTA amongt his many vices, including a three-day binge on the Play tour bus. When he wasn't doing yoga.
Just this month I did exactly the same thing and I've never experienced anything like it in my time before. Granted, we've all had rip-roaring gaming marathon sessions when something ships, but when it's GTA, one month before the rest of the world plays it, it's an entirely different kind of beast, an entirely different kind of trip. There's a fizzle to it that doesn't come with any other game. Period.
As shamelessly whorish as it sounds, GTAIV is quite possibly the most breathtaking game of the last decade. It outdoes its predecessors in every sense of the word, while at the same time not forgetting its roots, you the fan, and what makes GTA games such an insanely funny and euphoric experience in the first place. Yes, this instalment is rooted far more in contemporary times than any other GTA to date, but it does feature the series' most enigmatic leading man: Niko Bellic, an Eastern European mission machine who shoots first and asks questions later all because he wants to get paid.
Niko's history has been shrouded in secrecy, with our only knowledge of his coming to Liberty City being that he followed his hapless cousin Roman on account of countless emails promising riches, bitches and good times, none of which are anywhere to be seen when he arrives at Liberty's port and through the doors of Roman's cruddy apartment.
We also know that he's in Liberty looking for someone. Who's that? Well, I really don't want to ruin the experience, so I'm going to tickle you with - rather than spoil - some of the best story strands and key moments.
What is revealed is that Niko has done some bad things while serving in a war in Eastern Europe. Very bad things. And the reason why he's come to Liberty is to hunt down and snuff out two traitors who double-crossed him during the conflict.
Both surface during the course of the story but in true GTA fashion, entirely not in the way you'd expect at all. The script - penned by Dan Houser and Rupert Humphries - is tight, riddled with countless quotable lines, hilarious, nasty and has more memorable characters than Martin Scorsese's entire filmic back catalogue. Influences are worn on its sleeve (if Vice City was Miami Vice this is The Sopranos with an Eastern European sheen) and it seems Houser and Humphries drank from the same Kool-Aid as some of the greatest modern storytellers of our time. Even some of the best scribes in Hollywood would have a tough time cooking up an epic tale like this up. No wonder the Tinsel Town suits want it so bad.
It's good to talk
When you arrive in Liberty and pull up the map, it's split into three islands and divided into boroughs. The first of which is Broker, Roman's home, base of operations for his taxi business and your first digs in the city.
What becomes immediately apparent is Roman's total ineptness. He's a dreamer, a man with an addictive personality, and debts up to his eyeballs and on the wrong side of some very nasty boys right from the moment the curtain is raised.
One of which is Vlad, a real bastard who you end up pulling jobs for and in turn meet some of the game's key characters that drive the all-consuming plot forward.