Grand Theft Auto IV Reader Review
The Grand Theft Auto series of games is a much loved one. It ushered in the age of the sand box and player freedom a natural part of todays gameplay landscape.
The latest installment got a resounding 10/10 from all major reviewing sites and both the official XBox360 magazine and the official Playstation 3 magazine. Having finally played through much of the game. I am now ready to offer this readers opinion.
What GTA IV Got Right
This section is filled with the things about GTA 4 that made me smile or simply sit back and enjoy the game.
In which our avatar Nico finds himself stranded. This is a great technical achievement on the surface. It looks much like New York city and every place you visit has a distinct and pleasant look to it. From the cars and characters hanging around the street corners, to the back allies and derelict plots, this game oozes attention to detail.
Driving around the city just seeing the sites is great and is almost enough to make you forget the main quest. They have captured the feel of New York life as well as any game could expect to.
Unlike fanboys and screen grabbers. I have no issue with the graphics of GTA 4. They are better than any previous versions of the GTA franchise and I found that I didn't notice any pop-up or slowdown unless I had managed to make the wanted bar go to 5 stars. I was disappointed that driving took too much concentration to allow me to admire the scenery. However, that's just like real driving so I'm not going to bitch about that.
The sounds of Liberty
The choice of music and the ambient sounds of the city really do add to the atmostphere. This is one part of the game that really shows that some genuine love and attention was placed on it.
It was about time that GTA got some of this. The Cops and Robbers game is particularly funny. Playing as the robbers I stole a car. The boss hopped in and we legged it to the escape point in a thrilling chase. The second round as the cops had us all rush to the robbers location and end the battle in under two minutes. Overall I'm very pleased with the miltiplayer and it makes a much refreshing change of pace.
What it got wrong
Sadly this section seems more fleshed out that I would like. After 4 itterations and nearly 10 years of history behind it, there are still the same bugs that everyone has complained about for many of those years.
This being a GTA game. I automatically expect there to be a lot of TWOC and drive action. Sadly, the car Handling is just off enough to make cornering a rediculously perilous affair. Braking in any car results in the car refusing to turn or even stop in a reasonable distance. It seems that anti-lock brakes were never invented in the world of Liberty City.
All of these car handling issues combine to make any driving mission (which comprise most of the game)absolutely attrocious to do. Going in a straight line is fine. It all goes wrong when the car you are chasing decides, quite rightly given there's a gun toting thug chasing them, to turn. That's pretty much the point at which you can kiss the mission goodbye. Turning at speed is always accompanied by an all too fatal skid, followed by losing 10 - 15 seconds getting the car back pointed in the right direction. Often leading to being told you've lost the person you were chasing.
The next time around you'll remember the corner and brake early. In other words, GTA IV makes you learn the driving routes of missions before you can complete them. Many of which (Brucies races for instance) require a lesson in patience.
I would even suggest maybe taping the controller to your hands so that you don't accidentally throw it across the room in a fit of rage.
To be fair though, you do get a decently handling car later in the game. The problem is that if you park it anywhere but in a designated parking space, you loose it and have to find another similar one. This happens sometimes during missions too!
Another major issue I had with the game. Something which suprised me, given the praise given to it in other reviewers comments, was the story. It is supposed to follow the moral dilemas of Nico and the hard choices he makes in Liberty City. Maybe I was playing a different story? Maybe I had control of a different Nico? who knows. It would seem so from the way my version of Nico seemed to preach about morality on the one hand and then accept without question any immoral assasination missions he got. This was after meeting a guy for all of 10 seconds.
Every story based mission went something like this "Hey Nico is it...go kill this guy for me....he's at this location...ring me when the jobs done...oh and pleased to meet you". Ok so I added the last bit about being pleased to meet him. The point is that the Nico I played was a complete ass. He killed without reason or remorse and I had no say over any of it. The story simply refused to progress if I didn't kill people for no reason.
This appears in both the good and bad sections for different reasons. The scope of the city and the attention to detail make it a joy to look at. The down side of this is that 99% of the city is just that i.e. textured blocks that you can't go into. You can drive down the best looking shopping avenue in the game and not be able to enter a single shop! At least in Saint's Row I could rob pretty much every shop going. There were multiple shops of the same type on a street and I could enter all of them. This seems like a step back in time for me. The key point is why didn't any of the big name reviewers spot this? It get's pretty boring driving about Liberty City when you know that you can't actually get out and rob a store or hold up a bank.
In Saints Row, I remember being able to use my phone to call any number I saw about the city. Numbers were usually conveniently left on bus shelters and billboards. I would call them and get either a funny message or a service that I could actually use like the taxi cabs. In GTA 4, a game where the phone is apparently a new amazing addition, it seemed to have less use and arguably a more clunky interface. I could call my cousin Roman for a taxi ride or I could call one of my numerous friends and invite them out to play pool or darts or sex clubs or eat or etc. etc. If I dialed a number I saw on the street 9/10 it would simply result in a dead line after a few rings to acknowledge the number was part of the game. No fancy message, no funny guy answering the other end. Just a long annoying beep after a few rings.
It also started to get very annoying about half way through the main story, when people were constantly calling me for social get togethers. People who I would never in a million years actually want to socialise with! You can switch the phone off but, then you actually MISS the story missions too.
GTA IV is without a doubt the best GTA game in the series so far with one caveat. It's only the best if you haven't played San Andreas. The reason for this is that shortly into the story you realise that GTA 4 is actually recycling about 60% of the story from San Andreas. Your troubled brother is replaced with your troubled cousin for instance. The crooked police are replaced with the russian mafia. You are even asked to deliver a lorry with a bomb and made to leave town after killing the wrong person (wrong as in apparently they had connections).
The hype for this game, fuelled as always by the rivalry between Sony and Microsoft fanboys, coupled with the strange need for seemingly legitimate reviewers to give the game a perfect 10 is worrying to say the least. Were they simply caught up in the hype machine or was it Take 2 and R* working some PR magic? I can't tell you which it was but, having now actually played through the game, I know it wasn't because GTA 4 is a major advancement to the genre. The city in Saint's Row is at least as large if not as texturally detailed as Liberty City. That city also had better bar handling too. I guess I'm just going to have to wait for Saint's 2 for my next fix of fun sandboxing or else stick to GTA 4 multiplayer.
7 / 10