A busy past couple weeks in game mags! Not only is the biggest game of the year out in stores, but in a rather magnanimous gesture on Rockstar's part, nearly all the print mags had enough access to GTA4 to get timely reviews into the issues in readers' hands right now. Of course, seeing this $100 million game project that's been all over the mainstream media for weeks get covered by these dinky little 100-page mags is... well, quite a juxtaposition, but...

Anyway, read on to discover how all the top mags handled their GTA4 coverage this month, and how all the non-Xbox/PS3-related mags prepared their counterprogramming. Ciao for now!

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PlayStation: The Official Magazine and Official Xbox Magazine have almost the same cover style, PTOM featuring Niko Bellic circa dawn in Liberty City and OXM depicting him in the Matrix behind a big GTA4 logo.

OXM has 13 pages of coverage (which includes everything but the kitchen sink and even has a few pages of strategy added to the end) and the blasphemous score of 9.5 out of 10, while PTOM's "exclusive review" (maybe they were the first ones with access to the PS3 version, I dunno) runs seven and plays it a bit more straight, concentrating on the full experience instead of all the little details. (PS3 owners might be disappointed by its lack of discussion about topics particular to the system, but those sort of hardcore folks are probably reading online reviews anyway.)

Both OXM and PTOM have hot exclusive stories on Shaun White Snowboarding, and both even pitch the pieces on their respective covers. Otherwise, highlights include OXM's "Franchise Re-Animator" (a look at old games that could use a revival), PTOM's exquisitely titled "6 Racing Games That Aren't Gran Turismo 5," and their back page written by John Davison, who discusses the obsession of developers to go "mainstram" with their titles.

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Electronic Gaming Monthly's GTA4 review runs six pages, with Andrew Pfister's blasphemous "A" score keeping the game from achieving straight A+ perfection. More importantly, though, this is the first EGM "theme" issue in a while -- in addition to a massive preview feature of retro remakes (one that makes Splatterhouse look like a Western horror answer to Ninja Gaiden), there's a bunch of neat pieces comparing peripherals new and old, an OXM-style "revive these games" bit, and Seanbaby spending two pages talking about Captain N.

GamePro spends only four pages on GTAIV, but screw that stuff -- Lego Batman is here, and the seven-page feature (written by Hugh Sterbakov, a comic-book writer in real life) is remarkably witty, done up to look really exciting and featuring a lot amusing (and well-drawn) "Lego games we'd like to see" sidebars. The Spawn Point front-end section includes a lot of nice short pices this month (I liked the "Most diabolical video-game villains" bit, which includes Mike Tyson), even though some of it is printed poorly in my copy.

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Play, despite being the only video-game mag this month to get a two-page spread advertisement of GTA4 (all the others get only one page), doesn't review the game this month. Sonic the Hedgehog Unleashed is the cover story, and even though one's first reaction is undoubtedly going to be "Woo, Sonic is a werewolf now,"

Dave Halverson has the wisdom to let the developers do most of the talking in the massive feature that unfolds inside -- they may get picked on a lot (the developers, not Dave), but you have to appreciate the charisma and inspiration they have going. There's also a nice 4-page piece on Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan, which the game reichly deserves. (Death Jr. Root of Evil gets a 9.0 in this issue, too, which I think I'm reasonably safe in saying will be the highest the game will see anywhere.)

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Nintendo Power likes cartoon Aerosmith more than the real guys, and who wouldn't, really? Inside is bits on four music games, starting with the DS Guitar Hero and moving on to much nicer-looking things in short order. For the hardcore folks there's an interview with the Takahashi brothers and a look back at all the manga NP's published over its lifetime.

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PC Gamer, now certifiably the only PC mag in the US, celebrates with tons and tons of Warhammer coverage. Damn, there's a lot of Warhammer to choose from if you're a PC user. A valiant effort is made on the editors' part to keep non-fans interested with a wealth of historical and background on the franchise. I like it.

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Finally, two new specials this time around. Metal Gear Solid: The Complete Guide is in the same flavor as Future's Halo 3 special last fall; if it were a little larger in size and had a fancier binding, you could pass it off as an Edge-produced coffee-table production. Tons of Kojima, tons of retrospective, tons of character info, tons of everything related to the series. Just as much worth the money as the Halo 3 one-off, I'd say.

Beckett Massive Online Gamer Presents Ultimate Guide to World of Warcraft is repacked reprint material from Beckett MOG. At least it's perfect-bound and has decent page quality...

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also executive editor at PiQ magazine.]