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Prepare yourself for another adventure through Liberty City. Details about Grand Theft Auto IV are finally being revealed after more than two years worth of development by a team of over 100 designers, illustrators and scriptwriters.

Prepare yourself for another adventure through Liberty City. Details about Grand Theft Auto IV are finally being revealed after more than two years worth of development by a team of over 100 designers, illustrators and scriptwriters.

It’s been almost six years since Rockstar Games revolutionized the world of video gaming with the release of their flagship series Grand Theft Auto. Grand Theft Auto III saw the series evolve from a cult gaming favorite–sporting a quirky soundtrack, innovative controls and a two-dimensional, bird’s-eye-view perspective–into a cultural phenomenon spanning three fictitious cities, two decades and dozens of memorable characters. GTA has become one of the most recognizable franchises in gaming history–at least in terms of gaming franchises that don’t have animated mascots.

The world of Grand Theft Auto has focused on offering a sense of reality and storytelling, two components that have created a lot of bad press for the series. It’s not going to get any smoother for Rockstar Games in the press now-GTA IV is an almost exact replication of New York City, with such landmarks as the Manhattan Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and endless swarms of yellow cabs. The Liberty City of GTA III was a hybrid of New York City and Chicago, presumably set during the late 1990s. The Liberty City of GTA IV is meant to look and feel like New York City as it is today. In effect, playing this game will be like visiting the Big Apple.

The story follows the life of Niko Bellic, an Eastern European man who came to America after reading letters from his cousin Roman, already a resident of Liberty City, that detailed a life of decadence and infinite opportunity to chase down the American Dream. Roman is lying through the ink in these letters–in fact, Roman is deep in debt and he desperately needs Niko’s help to stay alive in Liberty City–but Niko is already on his way to Liberty City when the game begins.

This time around, the game isn’t as progressive as the previous installments. You’re not going to spend the first half of the game as an errand boy, making your way from rags to riches, with the goal of becoming a top dog in the seedy underbelly of Liberty City’s criminal hierarchy. Rather, you must learn to fend for yourself as a foreigner in the diverse realm of Liberty City, with Roman as your only contact and friend in the world.

There’s more freedom to the plot development as well. GTA IV will allow gamers to decide whom they work for, if indeed they want to be a lackey. Niko will be able to follow the crowd of his choosing, taking orders and jobs from more than just one boss at a time. The progress will all be very intricately woven and the consequences of working for one criminal organization instead of another will alter Niko’s options later in the game.

GTA IV will feature many of the trademark themes that make the Grand Theft Auto series so popular. Details are scarce right now, but Dan and Sam Houser, the godfathers of all things GTA, have stated that there is a new targeting and weapon system that will likely change the way action games are played. Dan Houser has also said that the soundtrack will be on par with the expectations gamers have of the series, meaning that new radio stations, quirky radio personalities and a wide variety of musical stylings will make GTA IV the best game yet in the series.

The system of selecting outfits for Niko will be as important as ever. Wearing certain clothing or sporting the wrong threads can get you killed, and the wardrobe system will be tweaked and updated from the system used in previous GTA titles. The in-game menu is getting a facelift, too. Rather than an external menu for options and access to a map, Niko carries a cell phone that gamers must use to forge useful contacts in Liberty City. The game will still feature a regular menu and map–which you’ll want, because Liberty City is gargantuan-though once you’ve loaded the game from the start, no time is spent loading or booting up in between mini-games, in-game movies or between deaths and arrests.

GTA IV will be released in mid-October. Rockstar has formally announced Oct. 16 as the day it will ship, though with the six months between then and now, alongside Rockstar’s notorious history of delays and production schedule changes, don’t be surprised to see the actual release closer to Christmas than Halloween. GTA IV will be released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. There is no current plan to release the game with Nintendo.

The Xbox version will have a few exclusive episodes for gamers on the Xbox Live network. Rockstar hasn’t said anything yet about doing something similar for the PS3 version, though again, six months stand between today and the game’s release.

The Housers and the rest of Rockstar haven’t said anything official yet, though it’s safe to assume that this is not the last hurrah for the series. Sam and Dan have dropped hints during interviews that they intend to create a similar franchise-within-a-franchise with GTA IV, just like the connections that were shared between GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas. That could mean that a few other cities will act as the basis for future titles-it could even mean that the series will go international.

Oh, on that note, there won’t be any more airplane flying in GTA IV. Rockstar wanted to make you feel like you were really in New York City, and part of that is the lack of ability to just get away from it all. There will be raving lunatics on the street, gorgeous women to take on dates and hundreds of buildings to explore, but it all takes place within Liberty City’s confines.

GTA IV is already available for preorder on a couple of gaming websites, typically for the same $60 price tag as other new Xbox 360 and PS3 games. If you really can’t wait to get your GTA fix, try playing the newest release, Vice City Stories, on PlayStation Portable. The wait for GTA IV will eventually be over, and Liberty City will be here again, bigger and better than ever, so prepare for gaming to evolve once more.