Review by jasonethos

"GTA IV is a Great Game, But Not Perfect"

Grand Theft Auto IV may be the most anticipated video game to date. The expectations on my part, and likely yours, have been very high. Does GTA deliver on the newest generation of consoles? Yes, it does...but not without a few slip ups along the way.

Story:

The story is generally not what GTA games are known for, although I've always found them entertaining. In GTA IV you play as Niko Bellic, an immigrant to Liberty City (a twisted take on NYC, for those of you living under rocks for the past few years), who has a difficult past. He comes to America after promises of wealth and babes by his cousin Roman. Turns out Roman is a liar, and has problems with criminals and off the story goes. Niko's saga is a very interesting one, and it kept me interested in continuing the game to find out what happens. Some of the characters are absolutely classic while a few others are duds. Overall, the story is pretty good, and the best in the series so far.

Story Score: 9/10

Gameplay:

In certain respects, GTA IV is a much more polished video game than past entries in the series. In other ways, it has taken a step back.

On the positive side, the gun combat, aiming and hand to hand fighting are all vastly improved. A new cover system makes combat a lot more fun and enemy AI is generally not as stupid as in past GTA games. All this makes a hige difference.

On the negative side, the driving actually feels like it isn't as good. None of the cars can corner very well, and the handbrake now will make any car spin out even with the slightest touch. That's unfortunate, because the driving was an aspect to the other GTA games that, while unrealistic, felt pretty good. Initially I felt that the driving was simply different, and with time I would get used to it. But unfortunately, this aspect of the game just isn't done all that well.

The missions are pretty typical GTA fare: Go here, kill target. Go here steal object, escape. Etc, etc etc. Some of the mssions actually take place in several parts that are broken up and allow you to do other activities in the meantime. Like a mission that has you emailing a person and then waiting for their reply before you meet and kill them. Overall, the missions are pretty fun, as is usually the case in GTA games. Most of them will fall on the easy side for experienced gamers, although there are about a dozen that are more chalenging. There are 90 main story missions in all, and many others that are optional side missions.

Some additions to the game are hit and miss. You now have a cellphone, which is cool for calling contacts and setting up missions. Unfortunately, there is an entire social aspect to GTA IV that I found to be quite annoying. Some of the characters in the game become your friends after you do missions for them. And these friends call you wanting to do things like play pool, get drunk, play darts and go eat. If you ignore them they will like you less. This can get frustating because some of these pals have special abilities that can help you, but only if you are liked to a certain degree. And you may be busy exploring, finding the 200 hidden packages (pidgeons that you have to shoot...but no reward unless you get all of them) or anything else and they will call you. If you decline to go do these fairly mundane and boring tasks with them, then their opinion of you drops.

Speaking of minigames, when you go out with friends or on dates with girls (yes, girlfriends are back, and they also can have special abilities that can help you...if you pay enough attention to them, just like your pals), you get to play these minigames like darts, bowling, and pool. These are really kind of lame minigames in my view and having to be paying attention to all of these people gets a bit tiresome about halfway through the game. They just won't leave you alone. You can turn off your cellphone to avoid the calls, but these people will still lose respect for you if you go a long time without taking them out and having "fun" with them. At least the girlfriends are good for a little "warm coffee" at the end of dates.

The game map is about as big as all of the city areas of San Andreas combined. The city is much more imposing and dense than anything that has come before, and the layout can get rather confusing. The game does give you a hand during missions by plotting a route for you, which is helpful. However, I'm not sure it was necessary to make the map so crazy and the layout so difficult to memorize and master. It may be realistic when compared to NYC, but in a video game it just adds frustration, and decreases your emotional tie to the environment, a must in GTA games.

Gameplay Score: 40/50

Graphics:

GTA IV is a next generation game (or current gen, if we're being honest now). It looks like PS3 or Xbox 360 game, not a PS2 game. It does not look exceptional, but it does not look bad. Considering how far the draw distance is and how much is going on all at once, I would be amazed if the game looked better. In fact, I'm surprised that it looks as good as it does. It has a very good framerate, although many of the game's textures are fairly low rez. The animations are absolutely fantastic, and the physics are amazing. When you hit a pedestrian with a car, shoot an enemy or get thrown through the windshield of your car in a head on collision, you will be satisfied beyond belief.

Liberty City is the most detailed GTA environment to date, by far. There is so much to see and soak up that you can spend hours just exploring and being entertained.

The biggest negative about the graphics is the overpowering bloom lighting effects during the day. It just makes the game look too fuzzy. On the other hand, during the night the city looks absolutely breathtaking.

On final thought on graphics: the game looks pretty much identical on both systems. People have made far too much out of this. There really isn't much difference at all.

Graphics Score: 15/20

Sound:

There are two main sound topics when it coes to a GTA game: sound effects, and radio. In GTA IV the sound effects are magnificent, the radio is not.

The sound effects are just wonderful in GTA IV. Different cars sound different, and it seems as though every pedestrian has their own lines. You don't hear the same lines over and over. It's so well done that I really could hardly believe it. In short, the effects are great.

Dating back to GTA III, through Vice City, San Andreas and the PSP GTA "stories" games, radio stations have always done a great job in setting atmosphere and creating in-game entertainment. I'm sad to say that I think that of all of the 3D GTA games, GTA IV's soundtrack is the weakest. The music ( a subjective topic, I know) is mostly obscure and unknown. There is a classic rock station full of tunes by artists you would know, but the selected tracks are fairly weak. There is a pop station with some artists people would know that is just "okay". There are a few niche stations, like one that has nothing but Bob Marley (one of two reggae stations) and an all jazz station with the likes of Coltrane and Count Basie (quite cool). But as for contemporary, atmosphere-setting music, it just isn't there. The music just says "we went cheap". There are 3 talk radio stations that are the best to listen to, as they are a riot. The commercials are funny as hell too. GTA IV also introduces some TV stations that you can watch in your hideout. Most of these are pretty funny as well.

Sound Score: 15/20

Conclusion:

In so many ways, GTA is an even more fun and thrilling experience than the past GTA games. But, unfortunately, in other ways, it just doesn't match the hype, or the expectations. Rockstar did definitely work hard on it, and there is a massive amount of content jammed into the game. It's too bad that so much of it doesn't hold up to the excellence that is the meat of the game.

Overall Score: 8/10 (rounded from 79/100


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/20/08

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


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