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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 April 2008, 06:39 GMT 07:39 UK
GTA IV to 'drive next-gen sales'
By Jim Reed
Newsbeat technology reporter

Grand Theft Auto IV is shaping up to be the biggest console release of the year when it hits the shelves next week, according to industry watchers.

Screen grab from Grand Theft Auto IV

Analysts at Screen Digest say the game will drive sales of next generation machines like the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

Piers Harding Rolls at Screen Digest said: "There are just a handful of big brands and GTA is definitely up there with them.

"The previous games in the franchise have all been fantastically successful. It is really unique in the industry."

Over the years, the Grand Theft Auto series has been called everything from a design classic to a threat to the safety of our children.

Top five title

The game's developer, Edinburgh-based Rockstar, is not the publicity loving type. But then, it doesn't need to be.

An incredible 70 million copies of the game have been sold since 1997, placing it in the top five selling titles of all time.

So don't expect the same pre-release hype that you find with something like Nintendo's Wii Fit game.

Instead Rockstar is relying on reputation, word of mouth and careful, targeted marketing.

Over the last year, fans have been fed a slow drip of news, screen shots and video about the game.

Screen grab from Grand Theft Auto IV
New technology promises a more believable game world

The plot, for any gamer hiding under a stone, doesn't stray too far from the tried and tested gangster theme.

You play Niko Bellic, an Eastern European who comes to the United States in search of the American Dream.

Cue a lot of driving, shooting and explosions around "Liberty City", codename for a slightly redesigned New York.

No real change there. But GTA IV does promise some genuine innovations.

First, there's the use of procedural-based animation technology developed by mathematicians at Oxford University.

In the past, 3D graphics have relied on a set of predetermined animations.

Real physics

If an oil drum explodes, for example, it will explode in a set way described in code by the game's programmers.

The new technology, called Euphoria, is based on real physics.

It promises a more believable game world where characters can fall off ledges, bump into each other and collapse to the floor.

Then there are the movie-like production values. Previous Grand Theft Auto titles have used famous voice actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Ray Liotta.

The film-style cut scenes and trailers live on in Grant Theft Auto IV.

Screen grab from Grand Theft Auto IV
Previous GTA titles have been released on the Playstation first

But the game makes full use of next generation technology. The graphics are more realistic and, from the trailers at least, the game appears to take itself more seriously.

That's not to say there won’t be celebrity involvement.

The fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld appears as a guest DJ and the a famous comedian crops up as an extra in the game's comedy club.

If there is one company that will have mixed feelings about the release it is Sony.

The Japanese electronics giant has been desperately looking for a key game that can drive sales of its Playstation 3 console.

Previous GTA titles have been released on the Playstation first with other formats coming months or even years later.

When Rockstar announced a simultaneous release, it sent small shockwaves around the industry
Piers Harding Rolls

But Grand Theft Auto IV will go on sale on April 29 on both the Playstation and the Xbox 360.

To make matters worse Rockstar has entered into a partnership agreement with Microsoft to release future online updates exclusively through the Xbox marketplace.

Piers Harding Rolls at Screen Digest said the deal could undermine PS3 sales of the game.

He said: "GTA was always synonymous with the Playstation, so this is definitely a coup for Microsoft.

"When Rockstar announced a simultaneous release, it sent small shockwaves around the industry."

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