GTA IV Review – A Liberating Experience
Did the final game make the cut – we think so
©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.