Grand Theft Auto IV is a 2008 action-adventure game developed by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games. It is the first main entry in the Grand Theft Auto series since 2004’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Set within the fictional Liberty City, based on New York City, the single-player story follows Eastern European war veteran Niko Bellic and his attempts to escape his past while under pressure from high-profile criminals. The open world design lets players freely roam Liberty City, consisting of three main islands.
The game is played from a third-person perspective and its world is navigated on-foot or by vehicle. Throughout the single-player mode, players control Niko Bellic. An online multiplayer mode is also included with the game, allowing up to 32 players to engage in both co-operative and competitive gameplay in a recreation of the single-player setting. Two expansion packs were later released for the game, The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony, which both feature new plots that are interconnected with the main Grand Theft Auto IV storyline, and follow new protagonists.
Development of Grand Theft Auto IV began soon after the release of San Andreas and was shared between many of Rockstar’s studios worldwide. The game introduced a shift to a more realistic and detailed style and tone for the series. Unlike previous entries, Grand Theft Auto IV lacked a strong cinematic influence, as the team attempted an original approach to the story. As part of their research for the open world, the development team conducted extensive field research in New York, capturing over 100,000 photographs and several hours of video. The developers considered the world to be the most important elements of the game; though not the largest map in the series, they considered it comparable in scope due to its verticality and level of detail.
It was released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles in April 2008, and for Microsoft Windows in December. Upon release, the game received critical acclaim, with praise particularly directed at the narrative and open world design. Grand Theft Auto IV broke industry sales records and became the fastest-selling entertainment product in history at the time, earning US$310 million in its first day and US$500 million in its first week. Considered one of the most significant titles of the seventh generation of video games, and by many critics as one of the greatest video games of all time, it won year-end accolades, including Game of the Year awards from several gaming publications. It is among the best-selling video games with over 25 million copies sold by 2013. The game also generated controversy, with criticism directed at the game’s depiction of violence and players’ ability to drive under the influence of alcohol. Its successor, Grand Theft Auto V, was released in September 2013.
Grand Theft Auto IV is an action-adventure game played from a third-person perspective. Players complete missions—linear scenarios with set objectives—to progress through the story. It is possible to have several active missions running at one time, as some require players to wait for further instructions or events. Outside of missions, players can freely roam the game’s open world and complete optional side missions. Composed of the fictional city of Liberty City, the world is larger in area than most earlier Grand Theft Auto series entries. At the beginning of the game, players can only explore the first island—composed of Dukes and Broker—with all other islands unlocking as the story progresses.
Players use melee attacks, firearms and explosives to fight enemies, and may run, jump, swim or use vehicles to navigate the game’s world. There is a first-person perspective option when using vehicles. In combat, auto-aim and a cover system can be used as assistance against enemies. Should players take damage, their health meter can be fully regenerated by eating, using medical kits, or calling for paramedics. If players commit crimes, the game’s law enforcement agencies may respond as indicated by a “wanted” meter in the head-up display (HUD). On the meter, the displayed stars indicate the current wanted level (for example, at the maximum six-star level, efforts by law enforcement to incapacitate players become very aggressive). Law enforcement officers will search for players who leave the wanted vicinity. The wanted meter enters a cool-down mode and eventually recedes when players are hidden from the officers’ line of sight.
The game’s cover system allows players to move between cover, to fire blindly, aim freely, and target a specific enemy. Individual body parts can also be targeted. Melee attacks include additional moves, such as dodging, blocking, disarming an opponent and counter-attacking. Body armour can be used to absorb gunshots and explosive damage, but is used up in the process. When health is entirely depleted, gameplay stops, and players respawn at the nearest hospital.
The single-player mode lets players control an Eastern European war veteran, Niko Bellic. During the story, Niko meets and befriends various new characters. They can then perform favours for Niko whenever he asks; for example, his cousin Roman, who owns a taxi service, can send one of his cabs to take Niko to any destination around the city. Cabs are always available during gameplay for quick travel to a destination. Throughout the course of the game, players are also faced with morality choices, which alter the storyline appropriately depending on the player’s choice. While free roaming the game world, players may engage in context-specific activities such as bowling or darts. Other available activities include a vigilante mini-game, and in-game television programming. Niko has a cell phone for contacting friends and starting activities. The cell phone is also used to access the game’s online multiplayer mode, and to enter cheat codes. To access the in-game Internet, which allows Niko to send and receive emails and set up prospective dates with potential girlfriends, Niko can use Internet cafés located around the city. The game also features a subway system, allowing players to quickly traverse through the game’s world.
The online multiplayer mode for Grand Theft Auto IV allows up to 32 players to freely roam across the map. Players decide which game mode they wish to play, including deathmatches and street races. Both cooperative and competitive game modes are available, split into ranked and unranked matches. For players to level up through ranks, in-game money has to be earned. The game also features a Free Mode, in which players have the entire map open to explore, with no end goal or mission to complete. Hosts of the game can control many variables, such as police presence, traffic, and weapons. The multiplayer mode was discontinued on Windows in 2020.