Day 2: Welcome To Liberty
April 21st, 2008
I woke up at about 5:30 AM and chilled until Alison called my room asking to meet downstairs. At 8 AM we were going to the Statue of Liberty! Sure enough, everyone turned up and we jumped in the Cadillac Escalade which was under our control for the day. The driver took us to the entrance for the ferry to Liberty Island and there was a pretty long wait to get onto the boat, involving an unnecessary security check just for the sake of it.
We eventually made it onto the top floor of the boat and snapped plenty of real-life-screenshots of the city skyline, bridges and as we got closer, pictures of the statue itself. Some ugly chick decided to ruin what was a reasonably good photo of me stood on the boat in front of the statue simply by showing her face in the image, so I have attempted to rectify the situation using advanced photoshopping techniques to remove some of said uglyness. Yes, that is Niko Bellic who I'm there hanging out with.
We walked around the statue, which is pretty impressive, and then Alison got us headsets to wear which give a guided tour of the area as you walk around. That was full of ancient French people discussing making things bigger and bigger until the statue was made. Fun stuff. The more interesting points we'd learned were from Alison however, who pointed out that the island was nearly exactly the same in the game compared with how it looks in real life. One of the funnier moments of the day was the way she pointed out that there was a health pack behind a bush to our right and a machine gun to our left. Who can say that GTA doesn't warp your mind when even Rockstar employees can no longer tell what's real and what's not!
After the walk around the Statue of Happiness, we had a chat on the ferry about the game while we waited to get back to land. Alison gave typical Rockstar "I don't know" / "no comment" answers to any questions about a PC version of the game, but I guess we can take from that something is going on and they're not allowed to talk about it.
After that we headed into downtown New York and visited landmarks like Wall Street and Ground Zero, then walked across the Brooklyn Bridge which provided plenty more photo opportunities. We grabbed a pizza at a restaurant right under the bridge in Brooklyn, which was actually rather good, then found the subway station and took the train to the Empire State Building. After much waiting in line, we finally went through enough elevators to make it to within walking distance to the top, and after almost crawling up the final few steps of the six floors, we had plenty of time to take new photos of all sorts of land marks. The Getalife building and Chrysler building are just some of the attractions that I managed to photo.
Once that was done, we headed back to the hotel and paid a visit to Economy Candy, which is a friggin huge candy store opposite our hotel where you can find every piece of candy ever created. We grabbed a few super caffeinated snacks, namely jolt gum to keep us going through the night. Tonight was the first night we would play GTA4!
After we'd grabbed our candy, we went into the hotel and met with the American/Canadian webmasters who had just joined us. They included the likes of Illspirit and Andy from GTA4.net, Zidane and Kodo from GTAGaming, Jordan from PlanetGTA and Gerald from GTA Warehouse.
After a few drinks downstairs we were called up to Rockstar's special penthouse in the top floor of our hotel which not only had fantastic views, but had about 11 TV's and PS3's all ready to run GTA4. We all sat around the biggest tv on display, and I was given the honours by Nathan to boot up the game and show everyone the intro video. Obviously I won't spoil it for you, but it's better than watching CJ getting arrested for doing nothing at the start of San Andreas. Once the intro video was finished, I proceeded to attempt to play the first mission of the game "The Cousins Bellic", however after a few seconds the Rockstar guys told me that these 10 guys don't just wanna watch me play the game, so everyone went to their own tv's and consoles and got set up. The fact is however, that I was the first of the fansites to play GTA4! Yay for me.
Rockstar let us do whatever we wanted in the game. Unlike magazine previews, we were allowed to access all of the menu's, go wherever we wanted, read all of the stats etc, and believe me, there's a lot of stats. It doesn't just track how many vehicles you've stolen, but how many of each class. How much people like you and what percentage of their missions you've finished, etc. Everything you obsessive stat whores need is included in the game.
The first thing I noticed from playing was pretty instant, and that was how the car handling worked. Well, that was after getting used to using R2 to accelerate and L2 to break. And trust me, you need to brake. Hand braking will almost always cause your car to spin out in a 180 mess if you were going with any kind of speed, and it's fantastic to watch how the body of the car sways and tilts as you hit varying pieces of terrain. The damage models are great and you can have plenty of fun smashing the hell out of any car you like.
The next thing you'll probably notice are the filters on the screen. The game uses a kind of depth of field effect, making everything far away slightly blurry, as well as the various dust particles that fly around the screen. These two features are the main reason for most of the screenshots coming out looking weird. When the game is in motion however, everything looks brilliant. The filters do take a little getting used to, but once you stop scrutinising over the graphics, you'll realize the game play is fantastic and it will all fall into place nicely.
I managed to play through about 18 missions in the 10 or so hours I played the game, although I devoted most of my time just searching for pigeons. There are 200 of these "flying rats" hidden around the city, and you need to find them all and kill them. They omit an orange glow, as do all other pick ups, so you know you've actually found a pigeon because it won't be moving. Blast it with a gun and you'll get a message counting down how many are left.
I found about 6 pigeons in my few hours of searching, and although I only stayed in the first section of the game, 6 out of 200 certainly seems to show that these things are going to be very hard to find without a guide. Try it that way first though because it's more rewarding finding a pigeon yourself. I still have no idea what the rewards for doing these are yet, if anything, so that's something you'll need to find out when you get the game.
I unlocked the second small island to the North of the map after about 15 missions, so it won't take you too long to plough through the game if you just want to unlock the whole island, although you can go wherever you want. Be warned though, crossing a police roadblock on any of the bridges or sneaking past them in the subway will give you a six star wanted level! This is pretty much impossible to lose in the streets as your wanted radius will be pretty much completely covering whichever island you're on. Find a subway to speed along, and assuming there's no cops waiting for trains to re-centre the search radius and you'll be laughing.
Some other interesting discoveries are that the game is a lot more realistic and more difficult than any of the ones previously. Fall from even a medium height roof and you'll most likely die. Crash your car into a wall at a decent speed and you'll most likely be incinerated. Smash into a low wall and watch as you fly through the windshield and bounce across the ground. In fact, most of the fun in the game can be found by dying. Find a fast motorbike and speed into the side of a car. You'll get launched off the bike, spinning through the air and land with a thud on the ground before you skid a few hundred yards and either die, or get up to fight again.
The funniest way I died was trying to avoid the cops. Two cars were speeding straight towards me, so I tried the old GTA3 trick of jumping towards their car and sliding over it. Only in GTA4, Niko has a real working skeletal system, so instead of just sliding over the car, it basically smashed into both of my legs causing me to do a triple backflip before landing head first on the road and dying. Even more laughter can ensue when you are shot to death by the cops and they don't stop shooting your dead body, wasting hundreds of rounds of ammo making you look as mangled as possible.
Money is pretty hard to come by in the game, and you'll eventually find that buying something like an Uzi (which is one hell of a killing machine), is in the region of $500 for one magazine of ammo. Bear in mind you're getting about $200 for the early missions, and about $20 from dead pedestrians, and you can see why this isn't going to be a rags to riches story.
Pay N' Sprays are also in the game, and are pretty useful especially when attempting to flee anything more than a 3 star wanted chase. When you spray your car, time will advance 3 hours, making it slightly more realistic that the cops would no longer be looking for you.
A few useful tips I discovered are similar to the older GTA games. Steal a police car and get 5 shotgun shells. Jump in an Ambulance and get your health refilled. The best thing is that you keep all of your weapons when you die or are busted now, so you won't need to constantly reload saves. You can even go on a cop car stealing rampage to stock up on shotgun ammo, then die and lose your wanted level and keep all of that lovely ammunition.
A few smaller features which deserve a mention are the ladders. They essentially act like cars. Stand near one and hit Triangle and Niko will walk towards it. Mash the sprint button and he'll climb up it faster. On the PS3 you'll also find a SIXAXIS training mission from your phone which gets you to reload your gun, steer a bike, boat and helicopter simply by waving your controller about. Personally I wouldn't recommend using this to play the game, but it could have been down to the controller I was using which seemed a bit faulty, however I found it incredibly difficult to steer, and the helicopter was next to impossible to fly.
Upon unlocking the in-game internet at the TW@ Cafe you'll realize there literally is so much stuff on there to see and do. I spent 10 minutes just looking through one profile on the game's piss-take MySpace-type site, and there's plenty more to see. Similarly with the TV in Niko's first safe house, there must be a good 20 minutes of footage to watch, all superbly well done.
Find a Unique Jump and you can slow down, or speed up the footage with the right analogue stick, and if you hold Circle while you're driving along, you can put the game in cinematic mode. Hit L3 while you're doing this and you can make the game go into slow motion every time you hold Circle. Great for super slow-mo crashes into hoards of pedestrians.
I could go over the cover system and how great it works, or the amazing realism that the RAGE and Natural Motion engines have brought to the game, or how Niko is immensely detailed, or how going on dates work and how tricky it is to get a strike when bowling, but I'll save that for you guys to experience, or for the forums if you have any questions. There is just so much stuff to cover, it really gives you some idea of the scale of this game. I know for a fact, there are going to be millions of people experiencing millions of "Oh my god" moments, and most of these will be down to the physics engine alone. First impressions after one day of playing this game are that it will most definitely live up to all the hype.