Niko sits perched atop a high-rise building in the financial district of Liberty City, the wind swirling around him. He is crouched, poised, surveying everything. He can see hundreds of buildings in the distance - houses, skyscrapers, shops, towers, all in glorious detail. He can see cars driving below, oblivious to the chaos that is about to ensue. He can see a blinding blue sky, almost cloudless, and an aeroplane casually gliding overhead. He can see a river, one that dissects the city, glistening below. The Liberty City skyline is busy to say the least. But it is not the skyline or the beautiful view that Niko is interested in. Oh no. He is interested in the three unsuspecting Mafia henchmen whose job it is to keep people like Niko out of the building site they are protecting.
This is the third mission we've been shown during our behind closed doors super secret showing of a brand new hot off the press build of GTAIV on the Xbox 360 (the game will also be coming out on PS3), a title that's sure to bust the gaming world wide open when it's released on April 29. Hyped isn't the word. We'd say anticipation for GTAIV is beyond a level our mere mortal minds can truly comprehend. Is it unfair to expect Rockstar to fulfil those expectations? Nah.
What follows is a tentative claim, considering we haven't actually got our hands on the game yet, but from what we've seen (the game is all there, Rockstar is currently polishing and ironing out bugs) GTAIV looks like it's going to make happy even the most stingy of GTA fans. In fact, we'd go as far as to say it'll delight them. And, if you're not a GTA fan, GTAIV might just turn out to be the one that changes your mind.
Back to the rooftops and the mafia problem. Niko has been given this job by a Liberty City gangster called PlayboyX, who Niko has already spent some time with on a mission earlier in the game. Just before Niko set out, he enjoyed a cutscene where he met up with PlayboyX at his ridiculously plush pad in Algonquin (Manhattan). PlayboyX is your typical rude boy US gangster, all bling and guns - "this is my town!" he explains. We're scared to argue.
Niko, however, takes it all in his stride - his military background back in Eastern Europe has provided him with a steady, non-fussed air. PlayboyX needs someone like Niko, someone hard as nails and with a death wish, for this particular job, and Niko needs the money, although he makes a point of telling PlayboyX "I'm not low budget". So off you trot, ready to cause some chaos.
Niko and PlayboyX get in a car and drive. You're in control of the car of course, weaving in and out of traffic towards your destination, clearly marked on the mini-map. It's during these more laid-back sequences that you really get a sense of the graphical detail of Liberty City, an area smaller than in previous GTA games but packed to a much higher density and with a much greater sense of verticality. Mere streets are wonderfully detailed, with bright neon signs, loads of cars, intriguing shops and rolling poster advertisements demanding attention as you cruise around. While we're not convinced by GTAIV's water (in which you can swim) at night window lights impressively reflect in it. There's some noticeable texture pop-up, too (the game is still being worked on and a consistent level of 60 frames per second isn't confirmed), but Liberty City certainly has a next-gen, heavily populated feel to it. The streets are literally teeming with life - people are everywhere. Lifting the lid on Liberty City is like lifting a boulder and finding millions of ants underneath. The people certainly look as if they're minding their own business and getting on with their daily lives, drawing out money from cash machines, jogging, smoking and chatting. We'll reserve ultimate judgement for the hands-on of course, but it all looks mightily impressive.