Review by keyser27

"Solid game, but not without flaws."

One of the most interesting and groundbreaking series out there has just released it's Fourth iteration. As everyone already knows, GTA started as an overhead game where you could carjack and commit crimes. One of the really neat hooks of the game was that the soundtrack changed depending on the vehicle you were driving.

GTA 3 REALLY brought the series to the forefront, as it brought the game into the third dimension. The game simply overwhelmed you with how much you could do, and created the idea of a "sandbox" game. 3 was followed by Vice City, which added small things (motorcycles and boats, plus shooting out tires), and then San Andreas, which added a LOT of abilities to the main character, such as getting stronger or getting fat if he ate too much.

GTA 4 was inevitable, and the reviews from most media have put it squarely as the highest rated game of all time, outdoing such monuments to gaming as Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Mario 64. But without the hype, without the fanfare, what is the game like? Is it that good? In some ways, but in others not at all.

Graphics:
The cars and damage are excellent, as are the rag doll physics and the weapon effects. Faces and characters generally look good, but not great, as does the city overall. The city IS huge, and the designers deserve accolades for this, and creating such a large and diverse world. Much ado has been made of the TV shows, but this is hype. While the shows are fine, they look like PS2 rendered scenes. It's a mixed bag, but generally it looks good, but not a huge improvement over last gen (EXCEPT for the cars). There is definitely some frame rate dipping and there is a blurring effect that happens at high speed that really doesn't do the game any favors, but overall it looks good. (7/10)

Sound:
Great. The voice-overs can be hit or miss, (Ahem. Brucie), but the weapons sound decent, conversations sound good on the street, and the sirens and phone calls are very well done. A lot of people beat on the game for it's soundtrack, which COULD have been better, considering of the 16 stations, 2 of them are talk (both making fun of right wingers), and the remaining 14 seem to have MUCH less variety than any other game in the series. One would think you would have a rap station, funk, rock, indie, R&B, country, classic rock, classical, raggae, and 3 more stations (perhaps comedy, latin, etc), but you generally get stations that blend together instead of having clearly defined genres, which I do think is an issue. Sure, the reggae station is GREAT, and so is the Eastern Bloc station, but 3 of the stations are rap of some form. There's a lot of variety there, it's just not sorted as previous entries. (9/10)

Control:
A mixed bag. There is a lot going on here, especially with the new shooting controls (which are largely successful) and the controls on foot (which are largely not). Movement on foot in this game are quite simply not good. While the game has added the ability to use cover, and this largely works, it is by NO means a great system. Those who have played Uncharted are definitely not going to be blown away by the shooting, cover, movement, or (especially) hand to hand combat controls. It's not all bad, as shooting from inside a vehicle at speed is great fun. This rapidly deteriorates when you go inside a building and climb a zigzagging staircase, which is probably one of the hardest feats to attempt in the game at a decent speed. A lot has been made of the driving issues, and the bottom line is, a LOT of this hinges on your chosen vehicle. Even so, a handbrake is NECESSARY in GTA4 to make turns with any sort of speed, and you will find yourself overusing it and skidding out frequently at first. Spending time with it will help, buuuut... driving can be an issue. (8/10)

Environments:
Outstanding. The city is very large and very detailed in ways, yet feels repetitive in others. Still, the dev's have done a very good job at recording a LOT of on street dialog and creating a large city that MOSTLY feels living with a lot of variety. (10/10)

The Details:
People on the street talk on their cell phones. You can switch your high beams on and dim your lights when driving. The cellphone. Calling 911 allows you to direct emergency services to your current location, which means you never have to LOOK for a police car to steal. Dialing numbers heard on radio/tv or interweb ads actually go somewhere. It very impressive to see the level of detail, but you can go through all of it very quickly... sitting at an interweb kiosk for an hour would take through everything there to be seen. Still, it feels nitpicky to criticize that, but after reading other reviews from magazines and web sites, one is given the idea that the TV and Interweb are FAR more fleshed out than they actually are. If you keep your expectations low, you will be very impressed, but given the hype around this title, that is a difficult prospect. I'd be remiss in not mentioning the Police computers, which in my opinion is the coolest new addition besides the cell phone. Just a FANTASTIC touch. (9/10)

The Story:
Worth playing through. Niko is a worthwhile character, as are some of the other characters (Little Jacob was another one I really enjoyed). It's difficult to do this portion of the review without spoilers, but I will keep it to mechanics. At certain points in the story, you will be given the opportunity to make choices that will affect events, and determine what is available to you in the future. It is helpful if you keep relationships you develop positive, such as going to throw darts or shoot pool with people who you do missions with. Balancing your side activities and minigames will leave Niko in a better situation, but these can get repetitive. Quickly. There is some inconsistency to the quality of these activities as well. Billiards (8 Ball) is really well done and fleshed out, while dart (301 double out) is garbage, since it's virtually impossible to miss. These also double as dating activities, which can ALSO give Niko some helpful boosts. As far as the actual story, it's virtually identical to the last three GTA's. You start with simple missions that teach you to drive, or shoot, or use a weapon, or use cover, and proceed onward. There is a LOT of this, so be warned. For all the talk of this game being revolutionary, it's not, and that's ok. GTA fans will love this game, but anyone who has beef with the previous ones will NOT see this as a reason to get on board. The story's plot also is kind of stale, and a LOT of the characters are very stereotypical GTA characters. While this works for some characters and makes them fun to talk to (Lil Jacob), it positively makes some characters so obnoxious you will probably skip their cutscenes (Brucie). Keep in mind, however, that the phonelist IS dynamic, so (just like other GTAs) if you don't like a character, they probably wont be around too too long, but also works for characters you DO like. (8/10)

Overall:
I got this game at a midnight release and played it into the night (as I didn't have to work the next day). Expecting to fall in love and be playing it until morning (like I did with 3, VC and especially SA), I played it for around 2 hours and got bored. I played it the next morning and tried the online, but there were problems, so I jumped back into the story and played about an hour and went back to bed. I forced myself to play it in a marathon fashion later that week, but I still have to say it just isn't as enjoyable as the other ones. While the plot and story elements have been praised ad nauseum, they feel more like a b movie than those of either VC or SA. (8/10)


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/05/08

Game Release: Grand Theft Auto IV (US, 04/29/08)


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