Apologies for the lack of retro-gaming activity lately. Having got myself a shiny widescreen monitor I felt the need for something more modern and grabbed myself Grand Theft Auto IV in a steam sale. So far I’m mostly loving it, with two caveats. One is, I can’t race for shit so I’m hoping you don’t have to beat that last Brucie mission to complete the core story.

The other is tough missions that involve lengthy driving before, say, a shootout. After the fourth failure I find having to drive there AGAIN is kind of a pain. I know you can instantly jump to the mission start upon failing, but the problem is when there’s a load of driving between that and where the actual action begins.

For example that Jimmy P mission (“catch the wave”) where you have to clear a load of Russian mobsters out of a warehouse. Jimmy accompanies you and if he dies, the mission fails. Yup it’s that bane of gaming, “protect the hapless computer-controlled ally”. His well-reaonsed tactic: a suicidal charge right through the front door. Once you’ve failed, you have a slooow 7-minute drive across town in a truck. God dammit!

Bitching aside though, I’m mostly loving it. Having a city to romp across is as great as ever. I’m more an open-spaces kind of guy, and I’m hoping a future installment will go cross country San Andreas style, but this is an amazingly convincing faux-New-York we have here. With plenty of opportunities for exploration or random mayhem. I’m not the kind to get off on murdering sprees these days, but I did greatly enjoy parking a helicopter in the middle of a busy road in Manhattan then casually strolling off as if all was perfectly normal.

Story-wise it manages to balance Nico’s status as hired thug with keeping him a sympathetic character. It’s all a bit less over-the-top than previous outings but there are still moments of humour and some colourful characters. Cousin Roman is whiny but I couldn’t help liking him and the rasta guy has some great moments. Also I think the moral guardians should note that crime is hardly glamourised here; pretty much everyone is miserable, paranoid and has a drug problem. And when you finally meet someone at the top of the criminal brotherhood he’s an old man dying in a hospital.

In terms of features I kind of miss the property-buying options, but between missions and random goofing I feel there’s plenty enough to be doing. The “friendship” system can bug me sometimes (ROMAN I’M BUSY DAMMIT) but I think helps you to engage more with the key characters and the rewards are useful. That said I mostly skipped the girlfriends. Not sure Nico’s attempts to get into various girls pants is something I need happening on my screen.

So, yeah, 9/10 so far. Also reminds me that the GTA3 generation is definitely viable material for coverage on this site.

(tip for that mission: Jimmy charges once all enemies immediately in front of him are dead. So leave one alive, and run around the back of the warehouse. The mobsters will mostly have their backs turned, still waiting for Jimmy, so are easier targets).