GTA IV Premier Site Preview

The Call From Rockstar
As you may know by now, Rockstar Games invited GTA webmasters to come to New York from April 21-23. Sometime in the last week of March I received a call from Mike Torok at Rockstar Games. I was sitting in class when I got the call, and the message said that he wanted to talk to me. Somehow my mind started racing to conclusions about playing GTA IV in New York, but my heart kept me calm enough to call him back. Mr. Torok casually asked me if I was free for Apr 21-23 to come to NY and play GTA IV.

Of course I wanted to! I checked my schedule, noticed that the week of April 21 was exams week, saw that I had 3 exams within that time frame, and said, "Hell yes I am coming!" I have waited 6 years for this opportunity, so I wasn't going to allow college to get in my way. I spent the next few days frantically running around to professors trying to move my exams. Then when I got it all worked out, I studied hard, took my exams early, and started packing for the following Monday!

Arriving In New York

Now, we all know that Rockstar likes to keep things secret, which of course always turns out to be more rewarding. They kept all of us webmasters in the dark about the trip. I knew what time my flight was, and I knew I would be playing GTA IV, and therein was the extent of my expectations on the trip. I got on the plane and upon arrival at the baggage claim in Newark, NJ, I saw a man holding up a sign reading "Kyle Papke".

This driver, Carlos, told me that all expenses were paid and I was in good hands (Rockstar Games). He asked me where I was going and who I would be meeting, and I said, "Carlos you know as much as I do. We are in the same boat." He thought this was funny and so we got to talking about Rockstar and Grand Theft Auto. Carlos seemed to believe that I was some kind of VIP. At least for the next three days that would be true.

Carlos dropped me off at Hotel Rivington. I went up to the desk, told the woman my name, and she informed me of my upgraded room with a soak tub and that all expenses were covered. I'm blown away and this star treatment. Then she hands me a Rockstar bag filled with swag - stickers, LCPD shirt and sweater, Swingers hat, and a real Statue of Happiness. At this point it was clear to me that an amazing experience was already under way.

Meeting The People
I stashed my stuff in the hotel rool and went next door to a restaurant where the other webmasters were, one Canadian and the Americans. From PlanetGTA was Jordan, illspirit and Andy from GTANet, Zidane (and myself) from GTAGaming, and G-Wizz from GTA Warehouse. I was introduced to some of the hosts and event organizers, Nathan Stewart from Rockstar's PR team and Chess Hubbard from UR Chicago.

Later this group would join up with another host of Rockstar's PR team, Alison Brash, who was out taking the UK webmasters on a tour of New York. We met Psy from GTA4.tv, Jevon and Adamcs from GTANet, and Chris from The GTA Place. All in all, this was 10 webmasters from the premier GTA sites gathered in one place about to experience GTA IV a week before the rest of the world.

Day 1: Single Player
At about 7pm the group was sent upstairs of the hotel to the penthouse on the 20th floor. We walk inside and right at the door are Nate and Alison. They give us a brief talk about being lucky to be there and respecting Rockstar's wishes, in other words, a verbal Non Disclosure Agreement. They told us that unlike the journalists, we would be given a completely free reign over what we wanted to do in the game. After we agreed, a switch was hit and these white screens all lifted up in the center to reveal 10 big HD tvs hooked up to 6 PS3s and 4 360s and all were running GTA IV.

First, we all sat down and watch the intro together. This is the best intro yet! It is a very artsy cinematic. I won't say anything about it other than it flows beautifully right into the game. The end of the intro and beginning of controlling the game are seamless.

Next, we all took a station and went to work on GTA IV. Now, I am the kind of person who likes to unlock everything first, to allow myself much more limitless opportunites when screwing around. Everybody else seemed to be enjoying driving/crashing/killing around the city, and I did this as well, but I wanted to see the story so I jumped right to missions. Niko first does some cab drivng missions for his cousin Roman. As Niko becomes aware of trouble that Roman is in with loan sharks, he starts to take care of trouble. That's as far as I will tell you about the storyline so you can enjoy it for yourself.

After playing it for 8 hours straight into the middle of night, I had completed 32 of 80(?) missions, which was 22% of the game. I ended with $20,000 in cash, so this shows you how hard cash is to come by. For the longest time I had between $1,000 and $3,000, because when I died I had to buy a new uzi that set me back $1,500. Rockstar told me that it took between 30 and 50 hours to beat the whole story.

You start out in Broker and Dukes, then you work in Bohan, and then the middle island Algonquin. This is as far as I unlocked. As I was going through these missions, I noticed them getting progessively harder. I have to say that I was a little bummed that I had to stop once I reached Algonquin, because the missions were getting more challenging, more complex, and more interesting. The majority of the earlier missions felt like tutorials for the rest of the REAL game. This only makes me even more eager to beat the rest of the story.

Speaking of the story it is just fantastic. In the other GTAs, when you meet a boss, there is a brief convo and he tells you what he wants you to do. In this one, when you meet someone you are meeting a real person that you can build a relationship with. The people talk and talk and they have real, definite, and unique personalities. You really get to learn someone's character and it makes it that much more meaningful when you have to save them or kill them. The cutscenes feel like a movie going on that you are a part of. On one mission, I chased a guy onto a roof and he was dangling on the edge. I had the choice to kick him off or pull him up. I'm a humanitarian, so I pulled him up. My good soul would have plenty of chances to become tainted later.

The missions offer a lot of variety. The dialogue changes if you repeat a mission, as well as the outcomes. I was on a date with Michelle while Roman was getting beat up. He called me to save him but I pursued the girlfriend instead, and as a result I had to pick up Roman from the hospital. Then while driving him back to his house, Roman is just spewing a hilarious conversation asking me "if I at least got her titties out" and asking me if I knew about "bros before hos". After the conversation, we reconciled as Roman conceded that it was okay that I chose the girl before him, as long as I didn't do it again. Sure enough, the next time Roman was getting beat up I made sure to rescue him. Later in the day I would restart the game and do this differently by saving Roman first. As a result, Michelle did not let me in her house and she did not call me back for another date.

About the dating game. There are plenty of places to take someone out. You can go eat at restaurants, go bowling, play pool in a bar, play darts, as well as going to a theater which was my favorite. Inside this club were acts on stage and they changed every time I entered. One was a magic show where the magician dropped his apprentice and had to shut the curtains cause she broke her neck, and another show was a cowboy signing and dancing. It was very entertaining and dynamic.

One of the most useful features for doing missions are the taxis. You can hail a cab, hop in the back, and select your destination from the cab's screen. The driver will take you to the mission, and after you're done, you can call a cab to go back. It cuts down on the tedious travel time, but beware, it also makes the city feel smaller. After working for Roman for some time, he will become your friend and allow you to call a free taxi at any time using the cell phone. The cell phone is by far the most useful addition to the gameplay. It allows you to keep your contacts and messages, as well as missions, organized very well.

Some of my other favorite additions to the game are the ingame television in your hideout, and the spoof Internet you can access from the tw@t Internet cafe. The tv spoofs news, tv shows, infomercials, games and it goes on and on, and it's hilarious. At one point we had a bunch of webmasters just watching tv for at least a half hour straight. Watching fake tv inside of a game is definitely next-gen. Additionally, the ingame Internet spoofs myspace, dating sites, and everything else you can find on the web. The web sites even have banner ads that you click which lead to more websites. You can click and click and click and never find an end to the web. Plus, the web is dynamic, meaning what you do in the game updates the internet. For one mission I had to go to a dating site and create a profile, and then try a meet a guy. I had to wait a day for his response to set up the meeting, and then I went to a cafe to sit with him.

There is so much more to say about this game because I really only touched the tip of the iceberg concerning single player. I didn't talk about the graphics or engine because I feel that most people have written so much on that already. I will say that it's all true - it's all so beautiful! Screenshots don't do the game justice. When it's live and running, it's art in motion. I will say that moving the character takes some getting used to, as well as driving. You can no longer speed to turns and slam the handbrake for a perfect corner. You have to brake on your way to the turn and lightly handbrake because if you go too fast you will certainly spin out. The natural motion is really great though. Running down stairs, slamming into cars, and shooting bodies so much fun. One of the best things to do is shoot a guy in the head through his windshield, so that the car keeps rolling into a wall with the driver's head laying on the horn.

Seeing Central Park

Playing GTA IV in a penthouse in New York is quite the experience. So many times I would be playing and forget where I was, only to turn and look out the window to see the beautiful NY skyline in all directions. After a long night of eating nad playing, I slept on a memory foam bed, and then woke up refreshed for some multiplayer action.

First, though, the webmasters would spend the afternoon viewing New York. We took some sexy black Escalades down Broadway to Central Park. We spent an hour there walking around and seeing nature mixed in with the city's diverse range of people. On our way back to the hotel, we of course had to take a stop at 622 Broadway with the faint dream of getting inside Rockstar's office. To no one's surprise, we were foiled right at the receptionist's desk by his excellent grasp of my language. He asked the hard hitting questions like "Whoyou? Whatyou dohere? Youno appointment! Go. Go."

Zidane even tried calling Mike Torok inside the office, but they couldn't let us in. Apparently there are posters and things around the office of games that haven't been announced, so as special as we were, we weren't privy enough to go inside. Anyway, we had better things awaiting us, so we rode back to Hotel Rivington.

Day 2: Multiplayer
All 10 of us webmasters jammed inside the elevator to ride back up to the penthouse. Up there, we see that it has been changed around. This time there are 10 360s around and we met Ethan, the technical guy for setting up the multiplayer. Supposedly the 360s are better for multiplayer because of the headsets. I got to be the lucky one who hosted the first match and Ethan sat next to me talking me through the start up. The host can choose the gametype, the section of the map, if blips are on or off, if police are on, how powerful the weapons are and what kinds, the weather, the traffic, the music, and much more. We started off with a free for all deathmatch and Ethan was telling me tricks for domination. I quickly rose up to the top of the scoreboard, but I do have years of experience on Halo and Call of Duty.

I will share some of the early tricks to winning multiplayer. If you crouch behind crover and fire off quick burst shots, as well as leading the reticle near the enemy's head, you will drop them with a few bullets. We moved onto Team Deathmatch. It took both teams about 8 minutes to find each other, but when we did, hell broke loose. There were cars doing drive bys while others were sniping down the street, and yet others were up on rooftops shooting RPGs and causing destruction. Team Deathmatch has to be my favorite mode just for the great balance between free roam and teamwork it allows for.

Next up we tried Race mode, which is only a race around the city. Even better is a mode called GTA Race, which lets you get out of your car and start killing. I didn't do well at these races, partly because I haven't mastered the new cornering, and because other drivers will fuck you over good. The benefit of GTA Race is that once you are knocked off the road, instead of trying to race, you can go hop in a bus and make a roadblock. When the winning drivers are coming back through you can shoot them or blow them up. The one with the most cash is the winner in this mode, so you can never do a lap and still win by killing. The webmasters had a lot of fun doing race modes like Firetrucks only, Icecream trucks only, helicopters only, boats only, motorcycles only, etc.

After that we tried a mode called Cops n Crooks, where one team (the cops) tries to find and kill the mob boss. The team I played on killed the boss within a minute or so, and when we played Crooks, we successfully got away. Then we played Turf War, where you hold points in the city from the other team for money.

Another set of modes are the coop modes which limit the players to 4 or less. In these, you work with 3 friends basically against the AI. In Bomb Da Base Act II, you start off by robbing an amoured truck and drive it to a helipad. There a helicopters comes and we hop in and land on a ship. On the ship we cleared it out and planted two bombs to win the mission.

Overall, the multiplayer is simply amazing. It's impossible to get bored with how dynamic the modes are. I was honestly quite surprised at how much depth it had. It was definitely not thrown in for kicks. The multiplayer was conceived right alongside the singleplayer from the beginning and had as much work put into it as the story mode. When everyone gets online and the Social Club is live, GTA IV's online will take over the gaming world. I like to be humble, but Zidane and I were quite good at killing people. GTAGaming represented well, so come challenge us to some deathmatches after April 29th :p

Going Home
On the last day, I was woken up early to a meeting on the roof. Rockstar informed us webmasters of the leaked gameplay footage and asked us to contain it. We complied to this. Then it was time for people to go home. Zidane and illspirit left, then Andy, and there were a handful of us left. Alison took us to check out SoHo and bought us candy from a store. I ended up being the last American walking around. I got to talk to Alison about grad school and her job as a product manager, which was very cool, because I'm going to the same school that she did.

When my SUV arrived to take me to the airport, I said goodbye, and I was on my way. I spent the next 45 minutes moving about 3 blocks down because it was rush hour and everyone was trying to get into the Holland Tunnel. I don't know why, but I asked my driver about being a driver in New York. He said, "You know what. Honestly I hate it. Very much. Yeah. Beautiful weather today, you love summer right?" I feel for all of you that have to drive in that city. At least in the game, people in your way can be destroyed by an RPG.

Final Thoughts

I have three final sentiments that I would like to share. The first is that I was very grateful to meet the other GTA premier site webmasters. I believe the trip indirectly brought the GTA community even closer together since the webmasters have become friends. I am excited to see more collaborations between our sites in the future.

Secondly, we would like to thank Rockstar for the generous invitation and for being excellent hosts of a good time.

Finally, how wonderful it was to meet the faces behind Rockstar Games. When I helped start this site 6 years ago, I was just a teenager, and playing a new GTA pre-release with Rockstar was just a dream. Now it is a reality. On a personal level, it was very inspiring and motivating to speak to people that have been in my place in school and giving me advice to get through it. I am so much more excited to get my degree after seeing that it could bring me to work for a game company like Rockstar.

In a more general sense, I was able to more clearly percieve the human element behind these games. We may not always realize this, but Rockstar is not a factory where robots produce these games. These are people just like us, they are gamers, and they love what they do. You can hear the enthusiasm in their voice when they talk about the game. They were really excited to take our pictures playing the game and hear our first impressions. They work almost 24/7 and are dedicated to developing for gamers an excellent product and a top notch gaming experience. The only people who set the bar for quality are themselves.

So with that said, it was equally emotionally powerful when they told about the leaks. The people at Rockstar word very hard and put themselves into it because they love what they do. They work toward presenting the best experience for us, so when I heard their voices and read their eyes when they told us about the leak, it was pretty disappointing. Please, do this for yourselves, and stay away from spoilers. Don't ruin the game for yourselves. See and live GTA IV as it was meant to be experienced! Being kept in the dark is one of the greatest things because only light can come in. Let me just say this. It's Grand Theft Auto IV and it's made by Rockstar Games, and deep down you cannot deny that's enough knowledge to prepare for another leap in the world of GTA.

 

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