The game's emphasis on relationship building too, suggests a more mature approach. Here you'll be able to pick and choose who you spend time with in the game. You can simply call someone up whenever you want and ask them if they fancy going for a drink. Getting pally with your mates in this way opens up "friendship favours". For example, get friendly enough with Little Jacob and he'll provide you with guns for free whenever you want them, saving the need to buy them from a shop. And once you've actually got the favour out of NPCs, you'll need to maintain your relationship with them by hanging out with them to keep them sweet. Ignore them for a bit and they'll start to call you, complaining at the lack of love. Perhaps Rockstar's implementation of the relationship system is in part a result of its decision to drop the character customisation through eating and working out from San Andreas?
We're shown an example of the friendship system in practice. Niko calls Roman just after completing a mission to see if he fancies a drink. Roman obliges and wants to meet at a local bar (get friendly enough with Roman and he'll offer Niko a free taxi service from anywhere in the city, saving the need to nick cars every time he wants to get somewhere). When we get there, the game quickly jumps to Niko and Roman stumbling out of the bar (we're not sure if you'll have in-bar sections), and you regain control of Niko. Both are struggling to stand up, and it's an effort for our demo guy to get Niko to walk in a straight line.
Here we're shown the game's much-hyped Euphoria scalable physics engine in action. Niko and Roman struggle to the car, their character models reacting to the surface and lines of the vehicle depending on how players approach it. They trip over themselves and each other in ultra realistic fashion. On the face of it, this isn't anything important or essential to the game. But dig a little deeper and all these little touches add up. And yes, for the first time in a GTA game, you can drink and drive (the car swerves all over the place and you have impaired vision for a few minutes while the alcohol wears off). GTA was never the most politically correct game series in the world and GTAIV will be no exception (just wait for the Daily Mail to get a sniff of this).
As you'd expect for the first GTA game to be developed on the PS3 and Xbox 360, you've got a greater level of vehicle damage than ever before. Bonnets fly off and cream unfortunate passers by and shooting out tyres has a real effect on enemy cars. Rockstar has also tweaked the way you attract unwanted police attention in the game, with a new police wanted system. Here, you have up to six stars worth of attention from the cops, which will fill up depending on how much carnage you cause. The level of hate will affect the search area in your mini-map, which you have to move out of to escape attention. But there are other options here. Niko can switch cars when outside line of sight and fool the pursuing cops into thinking you've disappeared.
The first mission we were shown in our demo gave us a glimpse of how all of this will work in practice. Niko is given a job from an annoying loud-mouthed wise-cracking gangster called Brucie - "ice cold man!" - who you might have seen from the second GTAIV trailer. Brucie owns a garage just round the corner from Roman's taxi depot, in Algonquin (Manhattan). He wants you to kill someone, someone who is about to go on the stand and put a lot of people in prison, but before you can do this you need to find out where he lives, and to do that, you need to steal a police car, log on to its mobile internet network and search their database for an address. Simple.