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Grand Theft Auto IV
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this game isn't for kids in any way. This new version is as controversial as its predecessors, letting you lead a life of crime, shoot police officers, drink and drive, and have sex with prostitutes. It features pole dancers and lap dancers at a men's club and is laced with profane language that pushes the envelope (much of it peppered throughout the over 100 songs played on car radios in the game). The star rating given to this game is based on the quality of the gameplay within the context of adult gaming and isn't an endorsement of the violence within the game.
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What's it about?
Without question, GRAND THEFT AUTO IV isn't for younger players because of its graphic violence, sexual themes, and coarse language. Yet the game will be extremely popular with adult gamers because this sequel lives up to its hype in the game-play department. Available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Grand Theft Auto IV lets you play as Niko Bellic, a tough-looking character who arrives on U.S. shores from somewhere in Eastern Europe, expecting to live the good life with his American cousin, Roman, who lied to Niko about his posh lifestyle in the New World. In fact, Niko is a scheming loudmouth who owes money to loan sharks because of gambling debts and lives in a cockroach-infested apartment the size of a walk-in closet. Nevertheless, Niko decides to help out Roman with his rundown cab stand and keep thugs off his back until he can figure out how to make money and connections in Liberty City, the same town as 2001's Grand Theft Auto III, modeled after New York City and New Jersey. Plus, you'll discover a few hours into the game there are other reasons why Niko left his homeland.
For the uninitiated, Grand Theft Auto games offer \"sandbox\" play, meaning you can virtually go anywhere and do anything in this fully realized 3-D city with pedestrians, traffic, and storefronts. Played from a third-person perspective, this includes carjacking any vehicle, listening to more than a hundred songs on car radios (as well as very funny DJ banter and commercials), and playing mini-games such as billiards, darts, bowling, or arcade games. Niko can go on dates, swim, surf the Net, and purchase clothing and weapons. But it's the seedy missions that unravel the lengthy single-player story. In-person or on his cell phone, Niko will be asked to perform missions that include escorting Roman's friends, taking out drug dealers, evading police cruisers, racing to one end of the city before someone else, flying a helicopter, or retrieving stolen money. And how you go about a mission may vary, such as carjacking a cop cruiser to gain access to the police computer to look up an informant: you can call 9-1-1 on your phone so a police car comes and then take out the cop; shoot at pedestrians until the police come; or stealthily steal a cop car from the police station.
Is it any good?
For the first time in the series, Grand Theft Auto IV offers high-definition graphics, including smooth animation and lip-synching, varying weather effects, and a new physics engine that models everything authentically. This sequel also adds more hand-to-hand combat and optional in-car GPS to help you better navigate this city. Without question, though, the biggest new feature is something gamers have been asking about for years: multiplayer. In Grand Theft Auto IV, up to 16 gamers can play online in a host of game head-to-head modes, like "Cops & Crooks," or cooperative missions like "Hangman's NOOSE." Xbox 360 gamers will also be able to download bonus missions and other content later this year, via the Xbox Live service.
Of course, the controversy this game will garner is unavoidable. As with past GTA titles you can shoot at cops, drive into pedestrians, or request "services" from a prostitute and a lap dance from a stripper. This sequel is also laced with plenty of foul language and you can drink and drive, though your cousin calls you a "bloody idiot" for doing so. Again, take heed of the "M"-rating. Aside from a slightly choppy frame rate at random times, where the action stutters for a bit, and hard-to-read green GPS directions on your mini-map, there is little to complain about with the gameplay mechanics of Grand Theft Auto IV. Adult gamers will find a single-player story that can easily last a month, not to mention the ability to hop online and play with friends. In short, this highly-polished sequel will gratify adults who will get a long "bang" for their buck. But don't let your kids anywhere near it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why kids -- who are not the intended audience -- play this game. What is it about the game that appeals to them? Do they understand why this game is inappropriate for young people?
You also might ask your kids if they think video game violence is different from TV or movie violence. What affect does it have on your kids when they initiate the violence within the game or do something clearly outside of the law? In the game, they can break the law with no consequence.
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.