GTA 4 goes on world-wide release tomorrow (although numerous retailers have starting selling it), and while it'll undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest games ever made, its effect on the industry as a whole might not be so great.
You see, GTA 4 is so brilliant, so far ahead of pretty much ever other game released on consoles to date, that it's going to be hard to get back into the groove of playing 'normal' games.
It might well be unfair to compare every future release to GTA 4, but it has set a benchmark that, even only a few years into this console generation, might not be bettered. Open-city action games are likely to feel the full impact, with THQ's Saints Row 2 and Midway's This is Vegas both looking dated before they've even been released.
It's not that they look like bad games; they just aren't going to be GTA 4. I loved the original Saints Row and, perhaps foolishly believed GTA 4 wouldn't be all that different. In reality GTA 4 seems like it's a generation ahead in terms of game design.
It would be wise for publishers to hold off on new releases for a while. GTA 4 took me 40 hours to play through, and that took quite a bit of dedication over a few days. If you're only playing it for an hour or two per day and want to dabble with online multiplayer, you're not going to need another game for well over a month, and you've got the fun of just messing about to keep coming back to.
GTA 4 has practically sentenced every May release to an early sales grave. Looking down the May release schedule, it's SEGA's high-budget free-roaming-esque Iron Man that looks to be at most risk. Although it looks like a perfectly solid movie tie-in, are people even going to go and see the movie when they've got a 40-hour epic sat at home?
You'll be playing this for monthsThe one game that might actually benefit is Ubisoft's Haze. Due out exclusively on PlayStation 3 on May 23, the large increase in PS3 sales due to GTA 4's release might just give the FPS a much needed sales spike. Ubisoft must be hoping that PS3 owners want something new four weeks on from GTA 4.
They might, but expectations will be at an all-time high - expectations Haze probably won't be able to live up to. It's not until late May and early June that the release schedule really starts to pick-up. Hopefully the shadow cast by GTA 4 will be a little smaller by then.
From a critic's point of view, GTA 4 is a bit of a nightmare. I know every game can't be created equally and that Game A might have a budget 10 times that of Game B, but it's not as if GTA 4 has been released at £100. It's the same price as every other game released this generation.
We've had 10s before. For me, Gears of War stands as one of the greatest action games ever made, but it didn't completely obliterate every game that went before it - it was just that extra bit special. GTA 4 on the other hand is so far ahead of its rivals that it makes you wonder what other developers have been playing at.
There have been plenty of excellent games released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, games we thought were truly next-gen, but it seems we've been fooled. They might have looked great, but most were just old games in new clothing. GTA 4 feels new and exciting, and full of possibilities. It's a game that's has limitations just as all the others, but when playing it you feel like you can do anything. Until that feeling goes away I don't think I'll want to play anything else.
Has GTA 4 changed gaming forever? Will it be the only game you buy in the next few months? Let us know in the comments section below, or in the forums.