Grand Theft Auto IV is amazing. Period. Exclamation point. Smiley face.

Fans of the previous games in the series don't need me to tell them that. They're all too busy playing the game already. For those of you who are on the fence about the purchase (or somehow missed hearing about one of the most notorious game franchises of all time), here's a quick primer for the latest edition: You play the role of Niko Bellic, a Serbian immigrant hungry for a slice of the American Dream. Upon arriving in America, you're taken through a story that satirizes America's most beloved institutions, from Starbucks to American Idol, while simultaneously telling a gripping crime story that's as good as Scarface. The world you inhabit is completely open-ended—if you'd rather surf the net or race sports cars than follow the plot, that's an option. The end result of this design choice? An immense amount of content that developer Rockstar North has crammed onto the disc, and an all-too-easy way to lose yourself for 100 hours.

Prior entries in the GTA series weren't entirely without flaws. Chief among complaints was the game's horrid aiming system—a crucial function in a game so dependent on one's ability to shoot people. Thankfully, Rockstar's taken this to heart and completely overhauled the system, giving players the chance to choose between automatic target lock-on and more precise analog stick aiming.

Otherwise, the game plays almost exactly like its predecessors. Even the city, a fictionalized New York known as Liberty City, is recycled from 2001's Grand Theft Auto III. Normally, this sort of recycling would be an issue—but in IV, Liberty City has been so graphically upgraded, expanded, and stuffed full of nuance that even those who plumbed every nook of GTA III will find the experience fresh, rewarding, and unique.