It's hard to imagine how you can improve on the single-player behemoth that is Grand Theft Auto IV. We already covered the main details at the launch on April 29th, and while we're far from finished with the single-player campaign, we thought it might be best to explore the rapidly growing online multiplayer functionality to get a better understanding of Rockstar's vision.

The last time we saw an official multiplayer GTA title (excluding the PSP) was back in 1999 with Grand Theft Auto II. Admittedly, this was hugely entertaining, especially on small maps with lots of players. Things happened so fast that you could barely jump to avoid a sports car baring down on you, and the explosions would hang the entire network. Obviously, nearly ten years later, we're in need of something a little more sophisticated.

In preparation, we fired up our trusty PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles and started the conventional game. Unlike most games out there, you actually access the multiplayer content from within the single-player environment, using your mobile phone. The PlayStation 3 required an 18MB patch before it would connect to the games service, whereas the Xbox 360 connected immediately once "multiplayer" was selected from the phone menu.

There are a few differences between the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 at this point. On the PlayStation 3 version, whatever type of multiplayer game you choose is accessed directly from the "quick match" option. The Xbox 360 gives you the choice between ranked and unranked, as well as a tutorial mode which appeared to be absent from the PlayStation 3.

From there however, the multiplayer options are all the same. We'll take a look at each one, and find out which is likely to offer the best replay value.

Deathmatch

"It's kill or be killed, Capitalism style."

Deathmatch has long been a staple of any good multiplayer game, and while most people tend to use it as just a bit of a warm-up, Rockstar has added a twist in this "Capitalist" version. You will receive $100 for each person you kill, and the player at the end of the match with the most cash wins. You can also loot the corpse of dead players for extra cash, so there's a bit of strategy involved. You may manage to mow down a competitor whilst travelling at high speed along the boulevards of Alderney, but if you can't stop in time and head back for their cash, someone else will get it, potentially putting you at a disadvantage.

There is also a Team Deathmatch multiplayer option for those who prefer to hunt in packs.

Mafiya Work

"Contract work for Kenny Petrovic doesn't come cheap."

We're advised that doing the Mafiya's orders is a cut throat business. In this fast-paced mode, you (and everyone else in the game) are contacted and given a mission from Petrovic, which must be completed ahead of the competition. These missions vary in nature, but typically involve picking people up and dropping them off at specific locations. Whoever completes the mission first is awarded a fat cash bonus, and as with deathmatch, any kills you happen to pick up along the way will earn you $100 each. No surprises then that the person with the most money at the end of the match wins. This is one of our favourite multiplayer options simply because everyone naturally gravitates to a certain location, and the shootouts can become epic in proportion.

Team Mafiya Work adds another level of strategy for the dedicated.

Car Jack City

"What Petrovic Wants, Petrovic Gets."

Car Jack City is a fantastic mode that will push your driving skills to the limit. The idea is to head to a particular car on the map and steal it, then drop it back to a certain location. It sounds simple, but each game we played became rapidly divided between those picking up cars, and those waiting at the drop-off points to kill the drivers and steal the cars for themselves. It doesn't help that the drop-off points are typically in dingy, cramped alleyways either.

Those expecting a quick theft had better watch out - each car is guarded by a couple of henchmen, so if you're low on health chances are you'll die before you get behind the wheel. Some cars are packed with drugs, which will earn you more money when you drop them off, and you'll find that some will barely be worth the trouble financially. Choose wisely, or get someone to help you with Team Car Jack City.

Continued on next page...