Grand Theft Auto 4 was a landmark game. It gave yet another reboot to the already rebooted Grand Theft Auto series, arguably the most prestigious video game in the West. It has a 98 on Metacritic, making it by that measure the best game of modern times. Whatever your stance on the gameplay may be—which has received its fair share of flak in the three years since its release—the graphical steps that the team at Rockstar North took to create their fantasy replica of New York were a major step forward.
The game really didn't look very good though. Until now.
The graphics in GTA4 suffer from a problem enemic to many modern games of large scope. When developers have to create graphics for massive areas that can be navigated freely instead of tight corridors that can only been seen from a few angles (Mass Effect, Call of Duty, etc.), they have to lower the graphical quality of every object in the game. Programming a game in such a way that it will run not high-end PCs only, but on normal ones as well, never mind the much less powerful console systems, requires compromising the graphics even further.
These points have always bothered hardcore PC gamers. They most often own expensive PCs and update them frequently. They know how to overclock and cool those PCs to get the most out of their expensive hardware, and how to tune the settings of games themselves to make them look as beautiful as possible.
Far Cry ushered in a renaissance for this type of gamer in 2004, leading to an era of super high end games that made anyone with less than $3,000 to spend on PC cry from shame and envy. Unfortunately for them (me) that era has ended. Crysis 2, the successor to Far Cry and arguably the finest graphical achievement in the history of gaming, Crysis came out for Xbox 360 and PS3 as well as PC, and is optimized to run on even stone aged hardware of those consoles. It looks great on expensive PCs, but not anywhere near as good as it could have, had it been developed exclusively for them.
Thanks to noted modder Ice La Glace, Grand Theft Auto 4 no longer suffers from that problem. He has put together a compedium of GTA4 mods into an overall graphics mod called iCEnhancer—most notably a set of vastly improved shaders compared to those in the original game. It is unlikely that, even if you own and can run GTA4 on your PC today, you will be able to use iCEnhancer. It will not work very well on any but the most high end of PCs. But just look at the video above. It was recorded using an old version of the mod and makes the open world of GTA4 look as good as the tightly controlled one of Gran Turismo 5.
While this video is as close as most people will ever come to being able to experience this mod, if you are lucky enough to possess a high end gaming PC and want to see what GTA4 would have looked like it if it were made for you, download immediately. It is breathtaking.