- You can't ignore the hype and don't pretend not to care. In a few days you'll find out if the most talked-up game of this generation really was worth all the attention it's been receiving since its 2006 unveiling.
We're playing through GTA IV right now, and we're convinced Rockstar's sequel is not only up to the incredible amount of hype (well, most of it), but it's going to be one of the greatest examples of what a so-called 'next-gen' game should be. For the nit-pickers out there, maybe the headline should have read 'Why GTA IV is current-gen'. But that doesn't sound right.
Anyway, it's taken a few years into this current generation to see it, but here's why we think the latest Grand Theft Auto ticks all the boxes of a triple-A game in 2008.
The first entry on our list is also the most obvious; GTA IV simply stomps the competition in terms of scope and scale. The first thing anyone looks for in a 'next-gen' experience is to be impressed technically, and so far Rockstar's sequel has dropped our jaw more than any game in the last few years.
Every time we've played number IV at Rockstar's plush offices, we've poked around the game world looking for the invisible walls and limits of the massively-detailed, content-filled city. Flying in a helicopter over the blinking lights of moon-clad Liberty City, sniping pea-sized coppers on streets literally a mile away, we still haven't found them. GTA IV is impressive, and definitely feels like a step forward.
Trailing all the way back to the NES days, any true 'next-gen' game has surprised the player, either through gameplay innovation or plain old technical development. We're only just beginning to sample the full scope of GTA IV's content, but the City of Liberty has already put smiles on our faces plenty of times.
Aiming at a police helicopter you'll see that you can actually pick off the chopper's pilot, sending the hull spiralling to the ground. Pedestrians act more real than ever, going about their business, visiting shops and even having the occasional car accident.
When trying to steal a car from a man buried underneath the bonnet with a spanner, we even discovered that it really was broken down, and quickly got smacked by the police. We've only scratched the surface.
From the first characters in Pac-Man, to the hour-long cut-scenes of Metal Gear Solid, the public's expectation of what a game should deliver in terms of story and narrative has grown significantly in the last ten years.
Even the comparatively primitive cut-scenes of San Andreas couldn't cut it in this generation, but thankfully IV's impressively choreographed story sequences and action-packed, twist-filled plot promises to shape the meaty, most cinematic GTA gamers demand. It's been described as like "playing a series of The Sopranos" in the office.
Many would argue that online gaming has defined this generation so far; World of Warcraft is still officially the biggest game on the planet, while blockbusters like Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 dominate the sales charts. No game then, no matter how large, could be considered 'next-gen' without a meaty multiplayer portion, and GTA IV's gone all out.
You can read our full hands-on impressions here for a detailed report, but the online mode in the fourth game is really fantastic. If you thought high speed chases through the city in cars and helicopters had you gasping last generation, just wait until you're doing it with 15 real people.
Rockstar has taken this online integration even further with its Social Club, which lists scores and times for GTA players all around the world, and dishes out rewards for the record holders.
Blockbuster Brand Power
This generation games have evolved to become real competition for the big Hollywood blockbusters. As Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello said recently, Hollywood is becoming "scared" of videogames and the box office-smashing profit potential the medium now holds in the current generation.
Halo 3 had film execs blaming games for poor ticket sales, and now GTA IV promises to upset Hollywood more than ever; "The buzz in Hollywood, which I heard from some Hollywood folks...is people are worried whether Iron Man the movie is going to get killed by Grand Theft Auto the game," Riccitiello told the FT.
The episodic, digital delivery and ahem, 'game 3.0', as Valve and Phil Harrison would argue, are the "future" of videogames. Born out of this generation, and still very much in an experimentation phase, downloadable and episodic content are a typical trait of 'next-gen' games, and Rockstar promises to take the bull by the horns.
"I think we will be in a position to market [the GTA IV episodes] not a million miles away from the way the boxed game is marketed," Rockstar boss Sam Houser told Edge. "Our goal will be to fry those Xbox Live servers - we want to have as many people tune in at that moment as possible."