A belated release is nothing new for the series though, PC gamers have had to endure the long waits for the last three games so we're kind of used to it now (even if the franchise did all begin on the humble desktop platform).
The hype surrounding the game's April 2008 release on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 was enormous and it is undoubtedly one of the year’s biggest hitters. It was released to critical praise and it's on the short-list for the coveted AusGamers Game of the Year
award for 2008. You can find out everything you need to know about the console release right here
in AusGamers’ in-depth review where it was awarded a respectable 9.3 out of 10.
But we're here today to talk about the Windows PC version and although we're not going to give it a separate score rating from the console offerings, we'll take a good look at the differences and additions to help any readers make an educated decision on whether to purchase or not. Consider this an addendum to our existing review
First up is the obvious one – display resolution. While the console versions capped out at 720p (1280x720) the PC lets you scale much higher. Our test machine for the game is an Intel Core2 Quad @ 2.4GHz, 4GB RAM with a Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX, running Windows Vista 32bit and netting a Windows Experience Index of 5.5
. On this system, GTA IV defaulted to the desktop resolution of 1920 x 1200, dropping us into the lush in-engine intro cut-scene which immediately looks much crisper than its lounge-room counterparts.
Frame-rate will no doubt be an issue for anyone with system specs below this. A benchmarking utility is included in the game and on these defaults my system averages around 35 FPS. Lowering quality seemed to have little effect on overall performance and there are segments of the game that still ran notably sluggish. This is a PC that competently runs games like Crysis and Age of Conan so keep that in mind if you're running anything less and are a stickler for the slick frames. It does look very tasty with everything on, but it's likely consumer PCs that could run this at 60 frames don't even exist yet.
A staple difference of the PC game is of course the installation process and this one is no slouch. Grand Theft Auto 4 PC comes on two DVDs and takes up around 15GB of free space. In addition to the hassle of having to change discs a couple of times during the install, you'll also be installing the Games for Windows Live application for the multiplayer portion and registering or linking an account for that, as well as the Rockstar Social Club app and registration. Then there's the game's online authentication and the obligatory CD Key entry - all told, a pretty exhausting process. In fairness however -- even though it took the better part of an hour before actually getting into the game -- the process did go off without a hitch. It's also worth noting that although the game uses Securom protection, it omits the draconian multiple install limitations of other recent titles.
So now we arrive in Liberty City, a spectacular free-roaming world where you can jack cars, go bowling, catch a show, shoot people, pick up some takeaway, fly a helicopter into a crowded street, you know... the usual. Not discounting the wide variety of activities and exploration on offer, it's all intact, just that if you've played the console versions, don't expect any new story content or gameplay mechanics - it's all identical.
So what else is different or new? The main gameplay difference is in the control mechanism. Grand Theft Auto 4 plays quite well on keyboard and mouse and comes default configured based on the standard WASD movement setup. Any modern shooter fan should feel right at home here and if not, there's a decent custom config menu. Showing its console roots, the game also includes complete gamepad functionality and an Xbox 360 pad or similar can be used simultaneous to your keyboard and mouse. Useful for anyone that wants a controller for driving/flying, but keyboard and mouse for gunplay.
Mouse and Keyboard undeniably makes things like sniping and headshots much easier, it also makes shooting while driving an absolute breeze. The downside is a lack of analogue accelerating/breaking on the keyboard, but then you have the option of a controller if that's your preference. The only real issue I had here was not being able to invert mouselook in helicopter – annoying, but not a deal-breaker.
Now onto the biggest new feature: the replay video editor. User-created content environments seem to be the flavour this holiday season with the likes of SPORE, Guitar Hero World Tour, Little Big Planet and Banjo Kazooie and for the PC version of GTA IV, Rockstar have joined the party. It's not an entirely unique concept, PC games like the Quake series Half-Life and pretty much any other PC shooter worth its salt have offered in-game demo recording which, through the help of community created editing software, enabled the production of some pretty complex machinima. What Rockstar have created here though requires no community intervention - a complete editing suite is included out of the box.
During any point of gameplay, you simply hit F2 (or whatever key you wish to assign it to) and the game will save a recording of the last few minutes of action then simply bring up in the in-game mobile phone menu to launch the video-editor. While it's not exactly Final Cut Pro, the tools at your disposal, as simple and intuitive as they are, are actually still pretty sophisticated and powerful. There's real potential for creative types to produce some impressive clips here. The entirety of the intricately detailed Liberty City is your stage and the vehicles, weapons and citizens are your props.
It's all polished off with an export and share function– there's even hi-definition options. Via the newly created Rockstar Social Club, you'll be able to share, compare and rate videos with other users and Rockstar sponsored competitions are already kicking off to encourage content creation. It's not something every Grand Theft Auto player is going to be interested in, but no doubt adds some great bang for buck for creative types. Of course you can record multiplayer games too, so the best videos are going to be the collaborative efforts.
Now about that multiplayer, this is the area where the game unfortunately gets the thumbs down from this veteran PC gamer, it's admittedly marginally better than the console version, but still just not damn good enough. Utilising Microsoft's Games for Windows Live platform GTA IV PC makes it simple enough to hook up with your friends for a bit of quick mayhem and adds the reasonably useful Achievement support, Leaderboards and rudimentary cheat protection that are the benefits of that system, but at a cost – peer to peer network functionality and the frustrating auto matchmaking that's pretty much standard on console networks.
Lack of a dedicated server is really a big failure of this game as a PC title, particularly now that the player limit for multiplayer has been increased to a mayhem-inducing 32 players (over the console's 16). Waiting several minutes for matchmaking only to pop into a game full of opponents that jitter around the place because they're on the other side of the world isn't my idea of a good time and it's just so disappointing to think of how fun this game could have been if we were given the ability to run our own localised servers – the way that games like Quake, Half-Life and Battlefield have done for years.
That said, creating your own party match with locals on your friends list is still a workable solution and is certainly the way to go for getting the most out of the video editor and multiplayer in general, you're just going to need enough friends with a copy of GTA IV PC and coordinate things yourself to get it happening.
All told, the game that wowed us back in April is still intact here and now exclusive PC gamers have the opportunity to see what all the fuss is about. You'll really want to check your PC specs before opening your wallet though, as it's very system intensive. The video editor is a welcome addition and while it's not for everyone, will no doubt add countless hours of more enjoyment for those that dig that kind of thing. Multiplayer functionality is a let-down, but realistically, it's no worse than the console offerings – PC gamers are just accustomed to better solutions.
If you've never played the game and you have a decent gaming rig, PC is the platform you'll want to play this game on - nine months later, it's still one of the top titles of 2008. If you already own Grand Theft Auto IV on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 and find the idea of creating videos appealing, that might justify a second purchase – if not, save your coin cause there's not much else new here.