Rockstar's new game, Grand Theft Auto IV, has been making waves yada yada yada. I'm not going to bore you with my impressions of the game, not only because you should already know enough about the game to make an educated decision about whether it's your thing, but because I haven't played it yet. (Thank one dvddesign for that.) However, I do have a copy of the game's Special Edition in my possession and, in an effort to justify my purchase for the next month, we find ourselves at the start of another Illustrated Review of the 360-flavored version of Rockstar's latest moneymaker.
As always, a note of clarification: having not touched a single bit of the game, or even removed the shrinkwrap, this review offers no analysis as to the success of the game and its strengths and weaknesses. Instead, this is meant to be a critical look at the Special Edition packaging to determine whether or not you should drop an additional $30 on top of the next-gen game pricepoint. As of this moment, Gamestop has ceased selling the Special Edition of GTA IV, but both the 360 and PS3 releases are still in ready supply at Amazon and various other retailers. You shouldn't have much trouble finding a copy, even if it's not as abundant as the Halo 3 special editions.
Before I begin, I must confess that I seriously debated how to go about shooting these pictures. I finally have a "real" camera, which would offer better pictures and more control than my MacBook Pro's built-in iSight camera. However, doing so would remove any reason to stick my shaggy head in the shot, and I know some you enjoy that for whatever reason. Which one should I proceed with?
Honestly, there was no contest.
So here we have the box. It's cardboard. It's white. It has a logo on it. And there's some angry Slavic man looking like he's going to kick my ass for smiling so much. If I didn't feel intimidated by his stare, I would almost consider keeping this box out in my room as though it were a promotional display in a store. PS3 owners take note: your box will not feature an Xbox 360 logo - something about licensing - and has a picture of some hooker (slut? ho'bag?) seductively licking a lollipop. I think I'd be more inclined to keep Sony's variant near my bed for...reference...but oh well.
If you're curious, this is not another box, but the back of the previous box. Looks alright, if a bit minimalist, and I think anyone will make the New York City connection that Rockstar seems to be pushing.
And here we have the main attraction, the star of the show, the big man himself - the actual game. Honestly, there's nothing special here, and I'm not sure that's a bad thing. The box art is the very same one used for the regular release of the game, featuring the now iconic multiple-box layout popularized by GTA III. I can't tell for sure, but the logo also seems to be embossed a bit, which is kind of classy. The reason why I'm not getting upset over the lack of a special cover is because the regular art works so well, I'm not sure why I'd want anything different. So Rockstar, you get a pass on this.
Due to certain circumstances, I am unable to open my copy of the game, but thankfully Gemsi was able to provide me with some inside shots of the case. The disc looks fairly standard, as expected, but the manual is notable in that it's not presented as a standard book of instructions.
From what I can tell, it is a guidebook for Liberty City, similar to manuals in previous games. I always love it when manuals go out of their way to add character to a game, and this is no exception. Also included (but not depicted) is a map of the game. Let's say there's no picture of it in the interest of avoiding spoilers, because I know you lot love to obsess about those.
Now that we've established some of the more mundane elements of the package, let's examine all the bonuses you receive for shelling out $30 more. First and foremost is The Music of Grand Theft Auto IV, a soundtrack comprised of the game's main theme and selected tracks from the in-game radio station. The music is quite diverse and, even though I dislike most hip-hop, tastefully chosen. In particular, the tracks by Greenskeepers, The Rapture, and Fela Kuti resonated with me, so if the full radio stations are anything like this selection, I'll be highly impressed.
This is a photo of the tracklisting. Or alternatively, you could navigate to Amazon's page, where they offer previews of the songs and the ability to purchase it in MP3 format. Just remember, if you decide to take advantage of Amazon and Rockstar's music partnership to purchase music from the game, take care not to purchase a song you might already have on this CD.
Next we come to The Art of Grand Theft Auto IV, over 65 pages of concept art and renders from the development of the game, as well as a description of the game's art direction. I have to say, this is the best art book I've ever acquired from a special edition. The hard-bound book is just so diverse and well-presented that it's definitely my favorite part of the package. I really liked seeing concept art like the page I'm turned to in the picture, where the artists mix GTA IV's more realistic style with the more exaggerated caricatures of GTA III. When combined with the soundtrack, it's easily the most compelling reason to order the Special Edition.
Now, when you open the initial white box, before getting to all the goodies, you must open a second box. This is the most confusing inclusion in the bundle: a logo-emblazoned lock-box, suitable for...I'm not really sure what. Do they expect me to lock the game up every time I'm not playing it? I honestly don't think that's necessary in the least. Is if for keeping my valuables in? In that case, why wouldn't I just buy a more sturdy lock-box than the rather flimsy one they provide me with? Is it for keeping the bonuses in? I don't see the reason why I'd want to unlock the box when I feel like looking at the art book again.
I suppose that, as a lockbox, it certainly works. It holds the stuff that comes in the package and has a lock which is secured by two provided keys. However, I can't see myself employing this for anything useful. Besides that fact, lock-boxes have always struck me as rather useless. Sure, they deter an initial theft, but all a kleptomaniac would have to do is steal the box instead, then break it apart at their own leisure. You're only delaying the inevitable.
Along with the keys, GTA IV's Special Edition offers a Rockstar keychain, featuring the company's logo. Unfortunately, the picture gives the appearance that it is flat, when it is in fact suitably chunky and unlikely to snap in half. Not much else to say about it beyond pointing out the fact that you can put it on your key ring and...have another thing on your key ring.
The final item included in this large collection is a duffle bag featuring Rockstar's logo. I feel this was a good choice, because while it might have been more obvious to stick the Grand Theft Auto IV logo on the bag, it would have surely become outdated as soon as the inevitable sequel were released, rendering the bag stylistically awkward. But enough about that, I've got an issue with this bag: it's rather small. As such, I can't really see myself using it that much. If it was a little bigger, maybe it could be utilized to cart around a 360 and some gear, but as it is, I couldn't fit in much without feeling like I was going to rip it.
Inserted into the bag for a size reference is one DK Bongo Controller. It comfortably fits it, but adding much more than that might be pushing it. (This picture also displays the deliciously cheesy inner padding, covered with Rockstar's logo and lightning bolts like something out of the 80s.) I dunno, maybe the bag might be more useful for other people, but I just can't see myself finding much use for it.
Finally, I'd like to mention an additional bonus that Amazon threw in for preordering the game, a license plate based on New York's plates. This is actually a pretty cool bonus, marred by one small defect: the plate uses "1V" instead of "IV" in the lettering. I'm no expert on license plates, so maybe there's a reason for this, but I do know that it just seems kind of weird to me. Also, it does not fit into the lock-box. It's no big deal, I just thought I'd try. (Note: Amazon no longer offers these with their orders.)
So where does this leave us? $90 for the game, a CD, an art book, a keychain, a lock-box to hold it all in, and a duffle bag to hold that in. Notably, there is no "Making Of" documentary, which is a shame, because if any game deserved a mini-documentary, it was this one. Should you buy it? For $80, I would insist every gamer buy it. For $90, though? Well, you have to ask yourself if you'll find a use for the lock-box or duffle bag. If the answer is yes, then jump on that shit now before they run out. If you can't think of any situation where you would use those two items, though, then you might want to reconsider and evaluate how much you would appreciate the other bonuses.
On a scale of one to ten winged-unicorn-bear-knights, Grand Theft Auto IV Special Edition gets:
Pros: Large amount of bonuses, amazing art book, handy soundtrack sampler
Cons: Inclusion of lock-box and duffle bag depends on buyer, no "Making Of" documentary