Grand Theft Auto IV wasn’t just the biggest, most eagerly anticipated release of 2008, it was also the best.

Previous titles in the series majored on violence and criminality, and although those things are still present in IV, they’re grounded by extra grit, realism and consequence.

Added personality

Your character, Nico Bellic, is not the emotionless mannequin we’ve been used to, he’s an illegal immigrant to the States who’s racked with guilt over the crimes he commits, but can’t see a way to go straight.

Of course, if you want to simply ignore all of that and get on with shooting cops and stealing cars, you can, and there’s a hell of a lot to do besides the main story. For a start, Liberty City is huge and it genuinely feels like a true, living, breathing city, with a population that exists beyond your actions.

Making friends

There are a lot of people you can interact with though. You’ll go through the game making friends, and there are rewards for keeping them happy by spending time with them. There are also plenty of random encounters you’ll have that will generate fun side missions.

However you spend your time, you’ll be entirely drawn into Liberty City, thanks mostly to the awesome presentation. Graphics are gritty and realistic, with each area of the city having a distinct look and feel, while sound effects are about as convincing as they can be, from the incidental dialogue you hear as you travel the city, to the massive explosions and raucous gun fights.

Radio ga ga

True, spend a lot of time with the game and you will find a couple of niggles, from the repetition of the radio stations to the random pop-in of pedestrians and vehicles, but these don’t detract much from what is otherwise a gaming masterpiece.

Oh, and if you can get the Xbox 360 version, do, it’s getting a load of downloadable content in 2009 that the PS3 isn’t.

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Rockstar Grand Theft Auto IV review

A milestone in gaming history, GTA IV is very close to console perfection