Production values are through the roof all over GTA 4, with both versions being about the best you'll see on each console (full console comparison including video). The day/night cycle creates some unbelievable lighting and the weather effects set mood in certain scenes that will likely change if you need to replay a mission. Quite randomly during one particularly morbid mission the weather turned for the worse, and the sky was filled with thunder and lightning. Some players are likely to never experience the mission the same way, but for that moment it echoed the mood perfectly. Praise for the visuals could go on forever, covering the sublime explosions and resulting carnage to the way characters react to being shot in different body parts.
Equally superb is the audio work, which has most definitely raised the bar for video games. The in-game soundtrack is colossal and varied, and voice work for once really is of Hollywood standard. These are 100% believable characters no matter how extroverted they might be. Rockstar could have released the game in hour-long chunks and it would have been rated up there with the likes of The Sopranos as classic slices of cutting drama. The comical radio talk shows and the hilarious TV shows (viewable from your apartment) are also worth of praise - we'd even pay for more shows released via DLC.
GTA 4 most definitely lives up to the hype surrounding it and will certainly go down as a defining game of this console generation, but it's not perfect. Visual blemishes such as pop-up and a sluggish frame rate plagued previous GTAs, and while nowhere near as bad in GTA 4 these problems are still present. The game puts a visually pleasing blur on distant objects, so your view of the city is still incredible, but as you speed along certain things do pop into view. During the most intense moments the frame rate also takes a dive, but these two complaints aren't enough to prevent GTA 4 from being one of the most technically impressive games ever released.
A problem of more concern is the lack of mid-mission checkpoints. How much this bothers you will be a personal thing, but no matter how long a mission might be, failure at any point will result in you having to start from the beginning. Considering many missions require a lengthy cross-city drive before the action starts, doing this numerous times can be frustrating. You can often take a taxi or one of Roman's cars to your destination, saving some time, but it's a shame Rockstar didn't provide a solution for what could have been a non-issue.
Slight problems aside, no-one old enough to play GTA 4 should pass it up. It's certainly a mature experience - in tone, violence and language - but that actually makes it even more unique. For all the controversy that Rockstar generates, GTA 4 has moved video games on to a point that most developers just won't be able to compete with. We all knew GTA 4 would be a great game and sell millions of copies, but I didn't expect it to shame pretty much every other game I've played this generation.
This review is based entirely on the single-player campaign. Head over to our GTA 4 multiplayer feature for our thoughts on the game modes that will keep you playing for months to come.
You can buy GTA 4 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 at GAME.co.uk.