During the last week of March, 2008 I received a phone call at home from Rockstar Games. While this in itself was a surprise, what they was calling about was even better. Rockstar was inviting the webmasters from the major GTA fan-sites to come to New York City and experience Grand Theft Auto IV first-hand, a week before its release.
I took a train to Penn Station in Manhattan, where a chauffeured car was waiting for me outside to take me to the hotel. I still had no idea which hotel we were staying at. Prior to the trip I had looked up hotels in the area of Rockstar's office to see which was the cheapest and closest. I soon found out that cheap was not on the agenda.
After listening to my driver rant about how I look like Sylvester Stallone, we finally pulled over on Rivington Street, between Ludlow and Essex. Exiting the car, I was approached by two doormen who asked if I was checking in. They led me to a glass door, which, when opened, revealed the lobby to the incredible Hotel On Rivington. Another person had come in just behind me, and followed me onto the elevator to check in on the second floor.
At the front desk, both myself and the then-mystery person received a Rockstar Games embroidered shoulder bag full of GTA4 merchandise, and he introduced himself as Andy from GTA4.net. After checking in, we got on the elevator yet again and head up to our rooms, which looked like something out of an Apple commercial, with high-contrast contemporary styling, and very swank.
I got myself acquainted with the room (switch-operated curtains?!) before heading back downstairs to meet everyone else. The webmasters who flew over from the UK were still out being shown some of the landmarks of the city. I met Casey (Zidane) from GTAGaming, who was waiting with Andy. Eventually we were joined by Blair (illspirit) from GTA4.net, and Jordan from PlanetGTA. We went down the street to Spitzer's Corner Restaurant to grab some lunch (and our bags of donuts, which we had to ask for numerous times and were NOT given to us by Joey). While we were eating, we were joined by Kyle (Kodo) from GTAGaming. Afterwards we went back to the hotel and met Chris from The GTA Place, Simon (Psy) from GTA4.tv, and Adam and Jevon from GTA4.net. After hanging around for a bit we were told that the evenings "festivities" would begin at 6:00pm, in the 20th floor penthouse suite.
Once the time arrived, we all made our way up to the top of the hotel and were greeted with four Xbox360 and six Playstation3 consoles hooked up to ten flat-screen televisions all with GTA4 loaded up and waiting for us to take over. After watching the opening sequence we were unleashed into Liberty City, while simultaneously viewing the Manhattan skyline all around us. Unlike the magazine previews that we've reported on in the past months, we were not limited to specific features or areas of the game. We played from 6:00pm to 4:00am, during which time a seemingly endless supply of caffeine and pizza was provided.
We went to Katz's Delicatessen for lunch, then hopped in a pair of chauffeured Cadillac Escalades to take us anywhere we wanted to go, as long as we were back by 5:30pm. We stopped over in Central Park for a few hours, and on the way back we tried to get a glimpse of Rockstar's office building on Broadway, but were limited to the very inconspicuous façade.
When we returned to the hotel, we had an hour to rest up before a night of multiplayer mayhem. On the elevator ride up, Adam and I met a lady who saw two video game nerds wearing t-shirts and jeans, with the penthouse button pressed. After sharing the story of her reaction with a few others and grabbing enough Red Bull to keep us awake and alert, we were ready to see what GTA IV's multiplayer was really all about.
This time, all ten consoles were Xbox360s so we could all play together. Almost all of the multiplayer modes were available to us. Our favorite seemed to be GTA Race using fire engines or ice cream trucks. A few people jacked some busses and made a blockade through a narrow road, but a quick drop of a grenade out of the driver's window cleared that up pretty quickly. We also played Car Jack City, Mafia Work, Turf War, Deathmatch, and Cops N Crooks. We again played until about 4:00 am, and then hung out on the rooftop for another hour. I didn't get to sleep until the sun had already started to come back up.
After 3 hours of sleep I decided to catch up on the happenings of the internet; not using it for more than 36 hours was making my blood itch. While eating all the candy in the mini-bar and watching re-runs of The Sopranos, I got a call in my room saying that there was going to be a short meeting before everyone checked out. On the roof, Rockstar informed us that the game had been leaked onto torrent sites at around midnight, and, like with when the map was leaked, to not allow any content to be posted on our sites.
Myself and Casey were the first to leave. We said our goodbyes to everyone and thanked Rockstar for inviting us. This was an amazing opportunity, not only to play GTA IV before it was released, but to play it with other people who have the same passion for this video game series that I do.
Personalized invitation overnighted to me by Rockstar Games.
One of the many pieces of GTA IV marketing throughout New York.
Rockstar-embroidered Patagonia bag with GTA IV merchandise.
Sleeping area of my room at the Hotel on Rivington.
Skyline view from the hotel's rooftop. Empire State building on left.
Another rooftop view, this time at night, of the Manhattan Bridge.