Check out this great photoset by Flickr user and virtual flâneur Matthew Johnston comparing locations in New York City to their virtual counterparts in Grand Theft Auto IV's Liberty City (hat tip: teleclinica).
I've been playing GTA IV over the past week and am extremely impressed by the depth of the game, both as a satirical city/culture sim and as a compelling multithreaded narrative. And despite the usual outrage that accompanies a GTA release, the reviews in the mainstream press (and everywhere else -- the game rates an incredible 98/100 on metacritic.com) suggest that this iteration of the series is something of a watershed moment for gaming. The Onion A/V club, for example, went so far as to compare the game to the much-lauded TV series, The Wire. Here are a few more perspectives, sampled from major press outlets:
Grand Theft Auto IV is a violent, intelligent, profane, endearing, obnoxious, sly, richly textured and thoroughly compelling work of cultural satire disguised as fun. It calls to mind a rollicking R-rated version of Mad magazine featuring Dave Chappelle and Quentin Tarantino, and sets a new standard for what is possible in interactive arts. It is by far the best game of the series, which made its debut in 1997 and has since sold more than 70 million copies. (New York Times)
Each player will encounter a million different facets of this virtual world at his own pace and in his own unique order. It's the sort of experience that you can't get from any other medium, and no game has ever done it better than GTA IV. The reputation of the series might be too far gone for nongamers and politicians to appreciate the depth and richness of this amazing game. But Grand Theft Auto IV is not an orgy of death. It's a living, breathing place—and when you're forced to kill, it's nothing to celebrate. (Slate)
The Guardian: How Grand Theft Auto smashed the system
At the heart of it all, there is a modern interpretation of the American Dream as immigrant experience. Lead character Niko Bellic is a Serbian national with a violent military past who arrives in Liberty City via a rusted container ship. He is the archetypal outsider, striving to start a new life in the Land of the Free; a Vito Corleone for the 21st century. There are also themes of ethnicity, race and identity in contemporary America, of heritage and culture, of the struggle to fit in. When Niko arrives, he's quickly forced to assimilate into an Eastern European criminal underworld. For him, there is no escape from the old life, the old country.
Of course, all this stuff lurks in the background and doesn't have to interfere with the anarchic action. Plenty of people might play the game without ever realising its true complexity - but it might give you something to think about the next time you launch an RPG down a crowded Liberty City street. (The Guardian)