We recently got a chance to sit down with the team behind Grand Theft Auto IV and sample a handful of the highly anticipated game's new multiplayer modes. Any GTA fan will tell you that adding online multiplayer is a major change for the series, but an essential one in the era of Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, where every high-profile release is expected to offer more than just a linear single-player experience.
At Rockstar's New York headquarters, we tried four of the dozen-plus multiplayer modes over Xbox Live, playing against other journalists and the game's developers. The final game will support 16 players, and the most enticing aspect is the ability to play team deathmatch games over the entire Liberty City map--several square miles of a mock New York City landscape, including versions of Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and New Jersey (sorry, Staten Island).
Team Deathmatch is the standard online multiplayer game you're used to, and GTA's version offers few surprises. The game can use the entire city, or one of several smaller, fenced-off areas, and teams can be evenly divided (8-8) or cut up any way you want, even 15-1. Instead of the most points or kills, the winning team is the one that collects the most money. Fortunately, money is earned by shooting opponents, so it's not that radical a change after all.
The game's radar is on by default, and shows where everyone is--but if you crouch, that hides you from the radar, making for some interesting stealth options. The game's controls have been much improved over previous installments, but aren't really designed for fast-paced online shootouts, making the matches we played a bit awkward.
Cops 'n' Crooks is a much more interesting multiplayer mode, pitting two teams against each other in a classic game of cops and robbers. The crooks must escort one of their team members, dubbed the "boss," to a predetermined exit point on the map, while the cops have to try and kill the boss before that happens. The catch is, only the cops can see the other team on the radar, and only the crooks know where their exit point is. We had a lot of fun with this one, but it seemed biased in favor of the cops--who only have to score one kill (the "boss") to win.
GTA Race was a largely forgettable race, piloting the game's cars around a preset track. The single-player game involves enough high-speed chases that we didn't really feel motivated to show off our driving skills online.
The last multiplayer mode we checked out was Hangman's Noose--a cooperative mode where four players can team up to play through a mini-narrative. In this case, we had to escort another crime boss from an airport to a safe location in the city, while SWAT teams, helicopters, and roadblocks close in, like a noose. Next to Cops 'n' Crooks, this was our favorite, and nearly as much fun as playing through Halo 3's co-op mode.
Grand Theft Auto IV hits stores on April 29.