Review by Hirorock
"Skeptic of the hype? A Fair review of Grand Theft Auto IV."
*Possible Spoilers Ahead* I have tried my best to not reveal plot-important information, but in the case you want to avoid even as little much as story clues you may just want to skip my story paragraph or not read at all.
Grand Theft Auto IV, without a doubt, needs little introduction. It is the first next-gen outing of the series, continuing the legacy of GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas. However, unlike some franchises which have gone to next-gen, GTA IV goes the extra mile by changing just about everything but still remaining familiar. The result is a game which is immensely playable and fun, becoming more and more rewarding as your time investment grows. Yes, there were absolutely times where I became pissed at the game after an unfair death due to a mistake in the games design - yet even at the times where I was having the least amount of fun, I was not tempted to put down the controller. I can't speak highly enough of the gameplay in this respect: it is everything and more of it's previous chapters.
Of equal high mention is that of the story. Niko's trek through Liberty City begins slowly, and the sheer depth of Liberty and all the new things you learn to do make everything feel far too deep to get a grasp on. It isn't long before this melts away, and you know the important characters from the bit part players. There's the protagonist Niko Bellic, his good-for-nothing cousin Roman, the always cool Little Jacob, and one of the best antagonists in recent memory, Dimitri Rascalov. By the end of the game, I was surprised by just how invested I was in Niko and the life he had scraped together for himself in Liberty. Emotions ran so high in the incredible climax: I shot bullets into the air realizing me killing "a special someone" would do nothing for me (ala Point Break), I unloaded shell after shell into the corpse of a certain bastard aboard a ship, ending with a tension releasing grenade, and I eagerly sought revenge like a madman on the one who took away Niko's one way out. Grand Theft Auto IV's ending is surprisingly deep, and is set up to mean the most to you as the player, crafted out of your own choices. It's not as weighted as you may think, its really only the final 3 missions that change depending on a single choice, but it's still effective. High marks all around.
The sound isn't as memorable as other open-world games I have played, but a large amount of work is still apparent even if you're not paying attention. I found myself most often listening to the Jazz and Russian radio stations, which did an excellent job of setting the tone as an immigrant finding my way in a huge, exciting city. However, at the end of the day it didn't stick with me as much as I wish it did. Towards the end of the game I found myself turning off the radio stations just because it was always the same thing repeating.
Graphically, I am very mixed. I understood that GTA IV couldn't look like other next-gen games, being set in a large, complex city. I also am not one to judge a game on graphics, it's really a minimal part of what makes a game great. That being said, most of the texture work of the people on the street is really embarrassing, and only stood out because everything else at least looked good. It really looked at home in the San Andreas, which I can only let go because of how the city looks. Liberty City is absolutely beautiful. I found myself looking forward to things in the game, like during the night thinking to myself 'I cannot wait for the sunrise'. I was on a boat heading to a mission marker when I noticed the silouette of the city in front of the beautiful pink-shaded sky. I stopped the boat, took out Niko's camera-phone and snapped a shot. All of this brings to my last point: Immersion.
Immersion is why I got in to gaming. Immersion is why I find more enjoyment in the story of a game than a good book, and it is this immersion that people who view games as toys don't understand. That said, Grand Theft Auto IV is one of the most immersive games I've ever played, and when it grabbed me, it grabbed me hard. The GTA series has always had big cities, but not since the Liberty City of GTA III was I interested in seeing what was over that next hill. Even the fast travelling system (mostly by Taxi) has the necessary whistling for the cab, getting in, choosing your place in a clever cab-menu, and getting out of the cab at your desired location. Other games have tried and failed at having a huge in-game world and making it exciting all the way through, but GTA IV has finally done it. Even if all the other aspects of the game were bad, I still wouldn't be able to ignore this aspect.
GTA IV isn't the end-all, be-all game that so many critics have been claiming it is. Seeing the 10/10 repetitions from big reviewers raised a large red flag for me, and should at least raise some suspicion from you as well. GTA IV isn't perfect. Most of it's aspects have already been perfected by other games, but succeeds by being the ultimate jack-of-all-trades. It sets a new standard in storytelling and immersion, and remains at a respectable "great" in all others.
(Also, while I didn't even touch on the multiplayer, since most multiplayer doesn't interest me, I will say that I did for a while play GTA IV online. It was fun, especially doing some crazy things in the city with a group of friends, but became boring after a bit. Then again, I just don't like much multiplayer outside of co-op, so take that for what you will.)
+ Beautiful city and lighting work
- Ridiculous textures on some NPCs
+ New Shooting system brings a slower Resident Evil 4 pace - it is WELCOME! [Having just played the PSP GTA: LCS right before this, it was never fresher in my brain how bad the combat needed this]
- The car physics, while deep, become a bit of a chore when each mission sends you all the way across the city. I took a taxi everywhere after about 50% of the game, because it was just boring when each gunfight was punctuated by a 7 - 15 minute drive.
- Also, why do I have to hold X to jog, and nothing to walk? Can't it be the other way around? Please?
+ Radio is well done and adds to the immersion
- Also becomes boring after a while
+ I'm impressed. I like most stories, but its far and few between that a story can get me so invested in it's characters. Bravo and thank you, Rockstar. [Come back to me Karen!]
- If I had to nitpick, I'd say Roman's side is often just touch and go, only appearing later in the game when he has something new to report. For the only family Niko has, he's not a very big sharer, which is incongruous considering how much of a loudmouth he is.
** Special Mention: IMMERSION! Totally my thing, and you know if it's yours too. **
Grand Theft Auto IV
26.5 / 30 = 88%
Rounding up to meet the Gamefaqs scale, that's 9/10. I believe it earned it.
All the above said represents my view along on the game, as every review is completely subjective. That said, I have a lot of video game experience and have tried to be as unbiased as possible, and to not buy into the hype surrounding GTA IV (and there is a daaaamn lot of hype). Thank you for reading!
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 09/09/08
Game Release: Grand Theft Auto IV (US, 04/29/08)
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