GTA IV Review – A Liberating Experience

GTA IV Review – A Liberating Experience

Did the final game make the cut – we think so

by SithLordJim

©2008 Jim McIntyre

“`To be honest straight up, I have never really enjoyed or managed to really get into what became of the Grand Theft Auto series from 2 onwards. I found the frustration that came from the poor controls, horrible aiming system, lack of any sort of narrative depth, and unlike-able characters far outweighed any joy I could derive from mindlessly killing pedestrians.

“`I admit that these games were revolutionary in their sandbox approach to gaming, but I struggled to enjoy the games at all. It was with these thoughts in mind that I approached Grand Theft Auto 4 looking for something to hate. Luckily my search has so far been fruitless. That’s not to say GTAIV is without faults, I merely mean that it’s numerous strengths by far outweigh it’s few faults.

In GTAIV you play as Niko Bellic a Russian immigrant. Niko moves to Liberty City in the hopes of living the “American Dream” with his cousin Roman, who runs a cab business in the city. Roman is mixed up with the wrong crowd, and as Niko you quickly get to also get mixed up with them. Both Niko and Roman are incredibly fleshed out for videogame characters. You will without a doubt find yourself empathizing with them.

The biggest thing GTAIV accomplishes is a sense of realism not before seen in a video game. All the game’s elements come together perfectly to form a world that feels authentic, realistic, and like a living city. The amazing realism and attention to detail makes simple things like watching a pedestrian walk or watching them sail through the air after you have slammed your van into them awe-inspiring.

In previous games you have had a mobile phone that you could not use, except when people rang you for missions. Now you have a phone that you can use at your whim. The majority of the game-play now revolves around the phone. Dates, hookers, and cabs, as well as numerous other things can all be organized through your phone. Need a police car for a mission? Simply dial 911 on your phone and wait for one to be delivered.

As you progress you can upgrade your phone for a better model. You can also customize your wallpaper and ring-tones. You can also call your contacts to simply hang out with them, and there are a variety of activities you can do with them and dates. Each person will enjoy and dislike different activities by becoming good enough friends with these contacts, you can unlock special abilities to call for through your phone, such as getting a cab to come to you or buying weapons from the boot of a car.

The internet can now be accessed through internet cafes. From there you can check your email, browse dating sites, and also browse a myriad of random websites. There is a surprisingly large amount of content on the in-game internet. The net ends up working as a great distraction from the main story.

Not that you will want a distraction. The missions are all incredibly varied, amazingly cinematic in their execution, and most importantly a hell of a lot of fun. The frustration that was often found in failing missions in previous titles has been almost entirely avoided. You can now restart any failed mission simply by selecting a text message on your phone. I thought this was great as there was nothing worse than having to drive back to where you picked up the mission, and then driving to actually do the mission, again and again

The police system has been redone and is much improved. There is still the standard wanted star ranking system, but there is now a search radius. This is represented on your radar by a flasing circle, which you can out run if the police lose sight of you. This new system creates some incredibly intense car chases. Two of my more intense ones still stand out in my mind.

The first of which began with me attempting to swim to the shore after I had crashed over a railing in a car I stole in front of the police. It ended with helicopters and boats gunning me down, just near the shore. The second occured after I had been out drinking with Little Jacob. You have no doubt heard about the drunk driving, and it is incredibly disorientating. I managed to run down an old lady and then had to attempt a drunken getaway. Lots of people died, but I did manage to escape

The aiming system is much more useable in this iteration of the series. By holding down the left trigger you can lock to enemies, and by partially holding the trigger down you can free-aim. When you are locked onto the enemy you still have some control over the aiming so you can target specific body parts. The cover system is my biggest qualm with the entire game. The cover button is assaigned to a fairly strange button for such a task and the system tends to be fairly sporadic in it’s actions. It is by no means as bad a cover system as in games like Kane and Lynch, but it’s certainly got nothing on the cover system of games like Gears of War.

Graphically it looks great, but is not without it’s hiccups. There is the occasional pop-in during cut scenes and even more occasional frame rate issues. Those few issues aside the graphical detail is astounding and while it may not be the prettiest game on the 360, that is to be expected considering how much is constantly happening all at the same time.

The dialogue is without a doubt the best in any Xbox360 game to date. Every aspect of the dialogue is top-notch and even though it maintains the humor that Rockstar is notorious for, it now adds an emotional intensity not before seen in a Rockstar game. It creates a narrative that has depth as well as an enthralling and memorable storyline. Even the dialogue that has nothing to do with the story is interesting. There were many moments I found myself walking behind someone talking on the phone listening to them chatter away.

Things like the ability to customize your ring-tone, the interference on the car radio when your phone rings, and girlfriends calling to check up on you all add nothing to the game-play, but work together beautifully to create incredible realism. As someone who hated many of the previous games in this series, I can say without a shred of doubt in my mind that this is a game you need to play. It is not perfect, but its definately the closest to perfection the games industry is going to achieve for a long time. It is one hell of an experience.


©2008 Jim McIntyre

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20 thoughts on “GTA IV Review – A Liberating Experience”

  1. I loved GTA iv… for 10 days. then the missions got boring and samey.

    Rockstar dug themselves a big whole when they made San Andreas, it was a bar that no game could ever go past, imo

    They do not deserve the perfect scores, but I guess when you have only 2-3 days to write a review, GTA iv leaves nothing but a sweet taste to your mouth 🙂


  2. @ sithlordjim

    ahh, that’s the point. Ok, I agree with you. This little thing can definitely jar on the nerves.




  3. Well I don’t feel any game deserves a full 10/10 if it has some glitches of annoyance that are irregular from gamer to gamer. 10 would indicate an almost perfect game, which really, to date, we’ve never really had. So a hairs breath away from 10 is damn fine for any game . . it would be my form of what a 10 would be, ie: 9/8/10 (98%) . .


  4. hey

    thanks for replying mate. im an aussie too. 😀

    not a fan of the series? I reckon its great. love the whole ‘choose your own adventure’ (kind of) thing.

    Thanks. yea my url is:
    getting round 500hits p/day. 🙂

    thanks sithlordjim. just read about it possibly being released around October. read this: “”




  5. I have had the pop in in quite a few cut scenes and also get it every time I go to Brucie’s garage.

    Im aware of how the thumbstick works with the cover system, but that has not been why my struggles with the cover system has occured. Should just agree to disagree on this one. Theres enough people angry I did not give it a ten as is :p


  6. See the reason you are probably going to another surface to cover behind is because you press on the thumb stick in it’s certain direction and it goes there.

    I have not had the problem of getting out of cover only for Niko to just swap on to the opposite side.

    I have only had Texture pop-ins when delivering cars for a character, and the garage always takes 2 seconds to load every single texture in there. But you never see it further into the game after you deliver all the cars.


  7. No the .2 off wasnt just because of the cover system I said it was mainly. It also wasnt to do with the fact that it felt like it was on the wrong button. I just had a lot of problems with it. There were numerous times he would take cover on the opposite side of an object I was trying to take cover on. It just did not feel as polished as the rest of the game, so the issues I had with it really stood out.
    The random pop-in was also quite frustrating and it seems to happen increasingly often the further I progress.
    As I said it was an amazing game. Its just not a perfect game.


  8. I wanted to say GJ for making N4G fame though the site is annoying me lately being overrun with sony fanboys that just wont quit it.


  9. Sorry i have to disagree with you on that one Sith. I find the cover system very helpful and handy in times of need and personally it is a great addition.

    What button would you have assigned it to mate A.? I think RB is perfect for it. I my self would not give it a 10/10 for the few graphical glitches in the dumbest of places where you would expect them not to be and some character glitching which has made me re-try missions over and over again and does get annoying.

    Losing .2 points because it is sporadic at time isn’t a good enough reason for me to warrant a .2 point lose. Most people won’t understand* when they play it. They may not have the same trouble as you.

    But then again that is my opinion. But being it as silly as because it is assigned to the RB lol i laugh.


  10. @ Cavacalade
    The reason it lost the .2 is mainly due to the problem the cover system has. You will understand when you play it.
    Unless a game is perfect I dont think it should be given 10/10. If you were marking an exam and saw a wrong answer you would not give them full marks. Why should GTA be an exception to the rule when it isnt perfect?


  11. Which point made you decide to give a 9.8 rating? Which thing is worth the missing 0.2?




  12. Hey Kane, silly Spam filter through your post in the bin, can you re-send it please with the url in it again, I’ll try and intercept it fasterthis time . .have put your name in as a ‘rule’ this time which should stop it being junked.


  13. Hey Kane, I don’t think they have started working on the PC version, nor is there one confirmed for release currently. I could be wrong though, but I am sure it will come out on pc eventually.


  14. @ KaneBT – thanks for dropping by, and yes, Jim has whet my appetite for the game even more now. And like him, I wasn’t a big fan of the series, but it has definitely got me looking forward to my copies arriving in the mail, and picking up my CE edition tomorrow nigh Midnight Monday at GAME-au . . at their Midnight Launch.

    Can you slip us your url mate so we can check it out, if you have a website that is . .?? Always willing to support fellow gamers where possible. Even if we are Australians hehehehe.


  15. @ sock – yes, Jim played the Australian Censored Edition for several days prior to the embargo being lifted. Another member has also played the same censored version for almost a week now due to DVD-Crave shipping mix-up, and will be submitting an “extensive hand-on gameplayer analysis of it within a day or two.

    SO stay tuned. Thanks for dropping by as well . .


  16. Thanks for the review man!

    Even more excited about getting it now! 🙂

    Hope its as amazing as it sounds.
    Any idea if all the same features are availabe on the PC version? youd think so…


    KaneBT – Your Ultimate Technology Resource


  17. Awesome review, mate! I found out a lot of stuff that I didn’t know and I am even more exited now than I was before! The in game internet and mobile sound very detailed and I hope that the radio stations are just as funny as the talk back in San Andreas. All in all, top notch review.

    (I just reviewed your review…) lol


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