Keyboard and mouse control is obviously in, too, as is Xbox 360 pad support, but the fact you can switch between the two on the fly represents a middle-ground for players who fancy driving around 2008's Liberty City using analogue sticks and triggers, but using the third-person cover system to shoot up dealers and cops with WASD and mouse-based precision. The only niggle here is that the mobile phone is operated by the right end of the keyboard, away from primary controls, so those who favour keyboard and mouse for all may lose out on the one-handed texting element of driving, unless they can settle on a comfortable alternative configuration.
You can also customise all the usual graphical settings. Although our test machine's monitor is limited by a 1920x1200 resolution, the maximum supported is 2560x1600, and there are options for configuring view distance, detail levels, vehicle density, and the volume of shading. Rockstar also boasts of improvements to the process of streaming content into the world and says the draw distance has been boosted by default. That much is obvious as we drive across a bridge towards the Bank of Liberty during one of the game's showpiece missions, a bank heist with the McReary brothers. The peaks of skyscrapers are visible over the misted horizon many miles away, while the frame-rate, with a pretty firm 30fps baseline outdoors in the sections we see, occasionally ascends towards the magic 60. Indoors, it's never anything but.
Scaling a console game up to PC levels of detail is fraught with difficulty, judging by the number of games that cock it up spectacularly, but Rockstar Toronto appears to be aware that if you're going to tweak a game fitted to current-generation consoles, then you need to be mindful that the new details are coherent with what's already there and that you're choosing the right things to accentuate. PC gamers expect to be able to read the wording on the posters and flyers slapped around the game world, for instance (not for them the Vaseline and airbrush filters of modern 3D console engines), so here they can. If you're playing GTA IV for the first time on PC, you'll find a lot more humour rubbed into the backgrounds, like leaflets in the bank. "Hey kids! Wanna know about credit?"
Without the benefit of placing the 360/PS3 versions and the PC game side by side (which we will of course be doing next month), it's hard to say how effectively the update has been accomplished overall, but the things our PR guide picks out for us - the lettering, the individual leaves on trees, the newly lit lights on top of taxis - are good fits, and the fact we couldn't immediately spot anything else out of place is a good sign. These changes might be slight enough to have PC gamers scoffing, but it's also worth remembering how pretty GTA IV was on consoles. Some of the lighting is exemplary, with one of the best day-and-night cycles in any game this year, and the cut-scene direction and character animation are the equal of anything else in any genre.
All of which leaves GTA IV in a promising state a few weeks from launch. We're still a bit wary of Games for Windows Live, even if it gives cheeky gamers like us a chance to reap the gamerpoints for a second time, but we can get over it. What we really need now, however, is a practical assessment of how much PC power we'll need to get the most out of the spruced engine, and that video editor in particular. Naturally, you can expect to hear about that and see our usual array of forensic comparisons closer to the game's release. For now though, we're fallin' in four-letter love aga-ain.
Grand Theft Auto IV is due out for PC on 3rd December.