One of the things that has been most drastically changed in GTA IV is the Wanted level. In previous games it was simple; if a cop spotted you doing a crime, whether that be accidentally getting in the wrong car, accidentally stabbing someone in the forehead or accidentally flying a remote control bomb into a traffic jam, then the cops would come after you.
The more you resisted the cops and the more grievous your crimes got, the more you would be pursued and the more vicious the narks would get. At low stages they might search for you for five minutes, chasing you down in your car and being a bit annoying. At higher levels of evilness the helicopters, stingers and guns would come out.
Always though, escape was just a matter of running away for long enough, grabbing power-ups to reduce your Wanted level, completing missions or driving through a pay ‘n’ spray.
No more. In GTA IV things get a lot more detailed and instead of just having a very general run away and hide mechanic, the game gives you a clear indication of where the police are and the area they are searching for you in – you can’t miss it, it’s the big flashing circle on the mini-map. To get away from the police now all you’ll need to do is get out of that area, avoiding any squad cars on the way.
It’s a clever change, leaving the general idea of the escape completely intact, but making the whole thing more challenging and more realistic in a cinematic kind of way. The more you irritate the lawmen, the more determined they become to find you and the larger the search area grows and the more resources they put towards the task.
Don’t expect escaping from the police to be easy either – Liberty City is a veritable maze of back alleys and side streets, not all of which go somewhere and not all of which are marked on the map.
There’s always a learning curve involved with any Grand Theft Auto game when it comes to getting the lay of the land. At the start of every game you’re overwhelmed by the sheer size of your sandbox and you’ve no idea how you’re ever going to find your way around. Eventually though you get to grips with it and by the mid-point of the game you can recite street names in your sleep.
When it comes to GTA IV though, that learning curve is so steep that it’s no longer a curve at all but a vertical line shamefully spearing our inability to our chests. Liberty City is just too big.
Rockstar knows this though and the game comes with a good number of features to help players hit the ground running – there’s a full colour map in the box, a mini-map and in-game GPS, you can lay your own way points and there’s a nifty Taxi service and subway system that you can use at your leisure to skip to critical destinations.
Besides, most of the time you’ll be just be cruising around and mowing down people for the sheer hell of it. You won’t care where you’re going.
Taxis are a positive boon to the game in this respect, but they’re also handy from another point of view – most of the cars for the first part of the game handle like a fat arse on the wrong end of a greasy broom. That’s not fun in any respect, especially when you start thinking about splinters.
Speaking of cars, these too have undergone a bit of a change. Damage models are now much more detailed and subject to more believable (for the most part) physics. Explosions for mortally wounded cars are much more dramatic and beautiful, but cars can also stall and breakdown completely before they reach this stage.
Niko will interact differently with cars too, smashing windows to get inside parked cars and ragdolling when he jumps out, spattering blood on the bonnet when hit by a pissed-off passer-by. It’s these little touches that really make the game, bringing it from an everyday sandbox to the next level up.