Grand Theft Auto IV Reader Review
According to the famous Jack Thompson and his possť of wholesome American moral warriors, Grand Theft Auto is Satan incarnate. It is a training tool crafted by the British to foul up the brains of your closest male relatives (Jack and CNN say only men play this, my girlfriend disagrees fiercely) in an evil plan to retake the United States... Presumably using Tea, Crumpets and Jaffa cakes. Obviously though, Thompson is a lonely old man that uses this particular series to garner some fame while he waits for his own death (Afterall, he lives in Florida) at the hands of one of these GTA-crazed, Hell-spawn, hardnuts that he keeps talking about.
They'll hate it regardless and everyone else will hate it because they told them to, but what about us, the gaming minority?
With every new Grand Theft Auto title, theres a new reject to get your hands on. This time, the reins are passed to a Mr. Niko Bellic, a Serbian with a rough history. He has joined his cousin in Liberty city after hearing the tall tales about riches and women (referred to here respectfully as titties). When he arrives however, he is disappointed by the reality of the situation, but Niko is hiding some secrets of his own from his cousin. Soon enough, you are swept into a life of crime in this wonderfully detailed recreation of New York. Basically what you are in for is more of the same GTA staples like freeroaming environments, murder-your-way-to-the-top missions and shiny cars that attract women of ill-repute to pump away at your... life bar.
One of the big things about GTAIV is the addition of a mobile phone, an oddly versatile weapon in the hands of the criminal underworld. The games many allies will contact you over it regarding missions and you'll often be expected to keep in touch with them, forming relationships that help you out in the long run. Certain allies will provide you with services, or just nag you over it. The mobile phone can be customised by purchasing ringtones and other such things on the in-game computers. Though, at $100 a ringtone someone should call the FBI. You can even pause the flow of the story or join multiplayer using the mobile phone if you just feel like pissing around in the city. After failing a mission an automated text message will appear on your phone which when checked, will allow you to retry it straight away. If you are a shutterbug, you will later be able to take photographs with it.
Graphically the game is very good and the detail is superb. You are hard-pressed to go five minutes without spotting something parodying popular culture, including references to networking sites, scantily-clad teenagers fighting anime tentacle monsters or imported German lagers. Even the restaurants you can visit in the game have detailed corporate websites within the games TW@ cyber cafes, which oddly enough don't overcharge you as much as real internet cafes or contain old men masquerading as a thirteen-year old boy named Scott who REALLY likes ponies too. To add to the realistic front of the package, Niko is able to enter many more buildings than in previous entries in the series which makes exploration just that little bit more varied. You can't go into every building though. The animation compliments the additional detail by being more complex than the wooden characters in the Playstation 2 games. No longer does a character have to feel legally obliged to swing a car door wide open with significant force before stropping in, now they can open doors like normal people. If standing next to a step, Niko will raise a leg to stand on it, he also lands footfalls on each step or stair that he climbs.
The combat system has seen a massive overhaul. Previously a gun fight consisted of you furiously stabbing away at the autotarget while pumping the attack button. More than a few enemies with machine guns and you seriously started looking toward that cheatbook taht they always give you with publications - You know, the ones that you usually throw away. Maybe here, things will be different? Well, Niko got that one right. There's a new cover system which feels a lot like Gears of War or Uncharted: Drakes Fortune. You can target an enemy from this hiding position and wait until they get into a nice spot before popping out and putting them down. You can slide between covers and will need to be quick later on in the game. This gives Niko a lot more staying power than Tommy Vercetti, he is also more durable in general. An early mission introduces you to the cover system before it throws you into any serious firefights though. Now the character's health is wrapped halfway around the map at the bottom left of the screen, with collected body armour completing the circle around the map if collected. You can restore your health by eating, sleeping, hiring prostitutes or using first aid kits. The usual arsenal of weapons reappears here, with happy-hour favourites like the Molotov cocktail, Sub-machine gun, Shotgun and rocket-propelled weaponry.
The Police handle things differently this time around too. Unlike their previous and very violent methods of chasing you down, there is now a radius where they will actively search for you. If Niko stealthily switches cars, it will increase his chances of escape. If you manage to drive or run out of the radius for a certain amount of time, the Police will stop trying to find you. They aren't as aggressive as they used to be, choosing not to fire on Niko unless a serious crime has been witnessed. They also drive a lot less psychotically and don't tend to gangbang you quite as much. When captured by the Police, Niko has the option to run while they are putting the handcuffs on. Though doing this will raise his wanted level quickly. Ironically, Niko can aqcuire the aid of the Police by dialling 911 on his mobile phone, the Police will then arrest anyone who is attacking Niko. Alternatively you can use this as a way of obtaining a Police vehicle. The Fire department and Paramedics can also be called on this number. If you do happen to gain access to a Police vehicle, you can get into the Police computers and check the criminal database. Sometimes this will allow you to act as a bounty hunter.
Friends in need
Another introduction to the series are friend affection levels. Most of the main characters have affection and respect levels, graded in percentages and accessible from the pause menu. If a friend likes you then they can often be contacted to provide a service. These include free Taxis, guns and bombs. You'll also have to juggle a girlfriend throughout all of your other escapades. In order to increase their fondness for Niko, you can invite them out to a variety of places. You can take in a show at the variety club or go for food. The most interesting things are the mini-games however.
There is a darts game, which is painfully easy. You just have to line up the shaky crosshair over a part of the board and remove your three hundred points whilst ending your game on a double score. The pool game is pretty interesting, though the game sees the need to auto-aim most of your shots, requiring only the correct power to be used to pot a ball. Bowling is a little awkward, especially obtaining the achievement for three strikes in a row. You have very little to tell you if you are doing it right and getting the right throw is infuriatingly random. You can't do all of the events with all of the characters though and they all have their own unique preferences. So choose wisely.
The story has been praised like Paris Hilton in a room full of teenage boys, though really it doesn't break any molds. What you get is the same small-time makes big by killing the competition and helping a relative in need. It does feel like you could be playing any Grand Theft Auto released since it went 3D. The dialogue is for the most part amusing though and the little conversations Niko has outside of cutscenes while driving a friend around are a nice touch.
Obviously Niko will spend a large amount of time stealing and driving cars. Though the cars here look significantly better than anything you will have stolen before, unless you are a fan of dragging old people from their Golfs on a Sunday evening. There's a higher polygon count in that case. There are improvements here as well. In order to steal a parked car, Niko needs to break in and hotwire it. You need to tap the shoulder buttons to quicken this up because it will also trigger the car's alarm. In previous games, locked cars couldn't be entered. When carjacking people, Niko often takes on a context-sensitive approach by using his equipped weapon and modifying his sarcastic quips to suit the person he ripped out. When you have obtained a vehicle, you will notice a difference. The cars handle more realistically, requiring you to use the brakes frequently to take tight corners. Though the brakes can be quite temperemental. All this is made more important by an enhanced damage model that reflects even the slightest bump or scrape. Niko will fly through the windscreen if he collides with something at high speed, he clearly doesn't wear a seatbelt. Thankfully cars do not inexplicably explode when flipped anymore, which makes accidental flippings while on missions that much less punishing. Vehicles are also more resistant to gunfire this time around, unless hit in the fuel tank of course. While driving in a car, Niko can break the window and aim out with several weapons.
Though obtaining your ride isn't as straight-forward as it once was. You can now hail Taxis as they pass on the street and get taken to any waypoints you have on the map for a charge. You can even skip the entire journey for an increased fee. Later on you can organise a free cab from your cousin's company, though the abusive driver may get to you. The Taxi rides can come as welcome relief when you are driving backwards and forwards across Liberty City on missions and relationship errands but overuse could leave you out of pocket. The cars in the game use the in-game map as a GPS system, allowing you to set waypoints. This gives you a line directly to your destination, recalculating if you veer off route slightly. There is also GPS vocal aid which can get slightly annoying. There are also Helicopters in the game, with which you can quickly get around. Motorcycles and Boats also appear around Liberty city if Niko should want them.
There are a plethora of multiplayer modes on offer, while not technically a first for the series it is the first time it has been included to this kind of scope. There are some obvious changes to the game here, the graphics are reduced to compensate for the amount of people present and to reduce lag for instance. You get a basic character creation system in order to get your hands on an avatar, though you can unlock more by winning games and earning money. Sadly though, your hand-crafted character isn't used in all game modes so you may feel a little cheated. The most basic of the multiplayer games is deathmatch, which pretty much speaks for itself - sixteen people and a tonne of guns make for a frenetic experience. The host can toggle a fair amount of options like area size and pedestrian/cop options. The carnage that is caused by this mode is extreme and gains the hilarity levels that only ragdolling through the air on fire can do to you. There are other modes that allow you to undertake missions against other players like assassinations or deliveries, or straight up street races where you can turn your guns on your rivals. The race mode can be very rough though. The other modes are a team-based cops and robbers-style game where the players controlling the Police have to stop the crooks with anything they can get their hands on and turf war is a capture the base-style game. There are a selection of co-operative missions where you go up against AI opponents as well, which feels similar to the main game with trimmings. If you get bored, you can always go berserk in free mode with a group of your friends.
Grand Theft Auto IV is much the same as the previous entries in the series but different enough in the areas that needed improvement. The vast amount of detail will probably hit you hardest. Some of the old niggles still exist though. If you are a Grand Theft Auto fan then it is very good, assuming you can locate a copy. If you are new to the series then it wins a 10 and will be a fresh take on an entirely engrossing and immersive experience and despite popular opinion, it won't make you a stone cold killing machine that eats 6-inch nails for breakfast while throttling kittens with your free hand. However, from playing all of the other Grand Theft Auto games, I will award it a high 9 because it is very much like the others. Especially narratively.
9 / 10