'Grand Theft Auto IV' breaks U.K. record

Gangster-themed game sells 609,000 copies

LONDON -- "Grand Theft Auto IV," the gangster-themed computer game that earned both critical acclaim and strong criticism, broke first day sales records in Britain, according to an industry body's initial estimates on Thursday.

The Entertainment Retailers Association, which represents 5,000 stores selling games, music and films, said the game -- published by Take-Two Interactive Software Inc -- sold about 609,000 copies on Tuesday.

That beats the previous record held by an earlier title in the same series, "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," which sold 501,000 copies on Oct. 29, 2004.

"The past 24 hours have been like it's Christmas all over again for our members," ERA director Kim Bayley said in a statement. "GTA IV is a phenomenon."

The game centers on an Eastern European immigrant who deals drugs, shoots police and beats up prostitutes after falling in with a crime syndicate.

Its release was one of the most hotly anticipated in the gaming world in years. Fans queued outside shops around the world to be the among the first to get a copy.

The association said the 40-pound ($79.52) game had eclipsed big releases in the film and music industry.

The PlayStation 3 version of the game scored a perfect 100 in reviews, while the Xbox 360 title achieved a 99, according to Metacritic, an aggregator of gaming reviews.

However, one parents' group in the U.S. described it as "crude, crass, disgusting and violent."