GTA4 – yes, it lives up to the hype. I’ve rented (and rerented) it for the PS3, and it’s awsome. It’s true that the graphics aren’t nearly as great as one would expect – a small step up from Vice City and San Andreas, despite the extreme boost as far as graphics horsepower is concerned. However, the physics, detail, and even characters and plot are downright amazing. In addition, I have two words for you: online play.

Let’s start with the physics and detail. When driving, the car loses power while the character shifts. The E brake is a lot more realistic than it was – if you jack it while you’re doing like 100 and try to turn, you will spin further than intended, often 360, even 540+ degrees. It takes a lot of skill to slide around those turns like we used to in GTA3.

In addition, when you hit shit, if you hit it fast enough, you can fly through the windshield. Larger vehicles (like the Hummer and the armored car) have more health, and more inertia. When you hit a telephone pole, if you don’t hit it obscenely hard, it just falls over to an angle – it doesn’t fly out of the ground, but it’s also not an unmovable object.

If you hit too much shit and run the car too hard, the engine dies – it doesn’t necessarily explode, but it stalls and won’t start back up. Although that is generally closely followed by an explosion – which, of course, is preceded by some fire from the engine and exhaust pipe(s). And, when you flip a car, it doesn’t immediately explode – in fact, it may not explode at all. You can just sit there in a flipped car till your heart’s content.

The tires have health of their own. If you spin your tires too much, the rubber eventually shreds off and you’re stuck driving on rims – with appropriate handling. And this is on a per-tire basis, so if one gets shot out, it loses health more quickly. Not to mention, if you hit something (or enough somethings) hard enough with a corner of the car, it can simply lock that wheel up. Which also appropriately decays the vehicle’s handling.

Now, that’s enough about the driving. You don’t spend all your time in a vehicle, after all. Let’s start with the explosions – from grenades and exploding cars/helicopters/etc. In addition to lots of fire, they actually create a shockwave. A shockwave that will throw light objects (like people), and damage (visibly) semi-stationary and larger objects, such as other vehicles and payphones.

The characters are even great. You play as a war veteran from the Russian army (Niko), invited to New York…err, Liberty City by his cousin (Roman), who built a taxicab business from the ground up. You’re hired by various odd characters; from a zealous ex-gangster hellbent on cleaning up the streets, to a wannabe badass who juices on bull shark testosterone when he works out.

You even get a girlfriend (American, named Michelle) who you have to take out on dates to keep happy. And keep it mixed up, you can’t just take her to the bar and play darts all the time.

Oh, and did I mention the online play? You can set up a server with whatever options you desire – last night I was on one who eliminated all weapons except grenades and Molotov cocktails. You can play cops and crooks, where you’re placed on one team or the other, with the goal of eliminating the other team, or killing their leader, or simply getting away. There’s also deathmatch (and team deathmatch), which all FPS players should be familiar with. Then there’s free play – where you just run around killing each other or whatever else you want to do. It’s also worth noting that you can take as many passengers as your vehicle has doors – if you’re in a cop car or other sedan, you can take three other players who are devoted to gunning.

It’s true that they finally removed the tank in its entirety. Which is disappointing – I, for one, enjoyed GTA3 the most when I was going on a rampage in that nigh-unstoppable killing machine. However, everything else more than makes up for it. The game is a win of epic proportions.