Review by Thirdrail1

"GTA4 - Two steps forward, two steps back."

Good points:

- The new Liberty City is amazingly huge and detailed. When you see what your 360 is actually capable of doing... wow.

- Quirky npcs with some amusing dialog. Brucie seems to be based on Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and he's very funny. Random street people have a lot more dialog too. You constantly find npcs having conversations. They're all pointless, but entertaining.

- Multiplayer game types are varied and fun. The GTA Race mode alone is worth the price of admission.

- Televisions work. Comedians perform at comedy clubs. Magicians and performance artists do shows you can attend. The artificial pop culture of the GTA universe is better than ever.

- You can take taxi rides. You can even pay them extra to "hurry", which apparently translates into "Drive like a total maniac!" in the language of taxi drivers. It's fun to watch, and an excellent simulation of what it's like to take taxis in third world countries.

Bad points:

- Most of the side missions (taxi, ambulance, pimping, train conductor) have been replaced with less fun equivalents, or are just gone entirely. You can technically be a taxi driver, for instance, but each and every fare requires you to call back to dispatch with your cell phone. Like most of the cell phone functions, it's an interesting idea that just doesn't convert into actual gameplay very well.

- The multiplayer menu and game search system is terrible. Just terrible. Among the worst ever implemented in any online game. You can't search for games, or choose to host (or not host! Hosts are randomly selected.). You just get sent to a room. If you don't like the room, and look for another, you almost always end up back in the room you just left. The system causes nothing but problems. In the race modes, for instance, there are something like fifty different vehicles available for racing... which is cool... or would be, if people weren't sheep. With so many cars, boats and helicopters and dozens of tracks to choose from, you see the same two vehicles (supercars and motorcycles) and the same two or three tracks over and over and over again. You can't search for a list of games to choose from, so you're just stuck where the system puts you. The only way to get out of the race you're in is to switch game types entirely (lame!), or to actually start the race, then search for a new race from inside the one you don't wish to be in. So the race you never wanted to be in loses a player (prize money goes down for those who stay) and you waste time starting a game you have no intention of playing, just because it's the ONLY way to get to a second server. And again, you'll just get shunted into a random room, so this process may get repeated several times. I've used the racing as my example because that's what I've played the most, but every game type seems to have similar problems. In the co-op modes, many players have decided there's more money to made if they play four man missions with only three members, so the first three people in a room kick the last person. All the co-op modes have long load times (because they start with cut scenes), where you're technically in the room, but you still see a loading screen. The result... the fourth person to connect gets booted before they can willingly leave, which kicks them all the way back out to the single player game... where the process of pulling out the tiresome cell phone and reconnecting to multiplayer begins anew. It's really unbelievable that Rockstar spent $100 million developing GTA4 but somehow couldn't afford to hire anyone that had ever played a game online before.

- You can party up to play with friends, but not in most of the ranked game modes. Not even the ones that are co-op missions. Yes, you read correctly... you are NOT allowed to play purely co-op game modes with people you know. This would make more sense if the ranks actually meant anything, but all you get for leveling up (which is a LONG process after the first few levels) is a couple new outfits for your avatar. Half the time you can't even tell which clothes are the new ones, because they're mostly very plain and similar looking. It's a very strict system for one that offers no actual rewards and couldn't possibly affect gameplay.

- The cell phone, which in theory is a cool idea, quickly becomes an annoying gimmick. Mostly it serves to disrupt the flow of gameplay and provide a less functional interface for all the things you would like to be easy.

- The incredibly detailed and huge new Liberty City only has one character to play. And he's very much like every GTA anti-hero... a killer with a soft spot. It's like turning on Oblivion to find you can only play one pre-designed character through a story you've already heard half a dozen times.

- NPC interactions don't make sense all the time. You get text messages from people crying for your character's attention (Niko, I love you! I need to see you RIGHT NOW!!)... then when you return those messages, you get in trouble for waking up the person that just started the conversation. But call that same person back two seconds later for a job or special ability, and they'll happily send you on a mission or call the DA for you or whatever. Call them back two seconds after they cheerfully send you on the mission, and again you wake them up, and get yelled at... it really destroys the illusion that the npcs are anything other than menu options.

- The (finally) fun asset system from PSP Vice City, where you could own and upgrade things like brothels and casinos, has been totally abandoned.

- A lot of little things are clunky. Changing clothes in single player is needlessly difficult and time consuming. The camera aligns oddly when you take cover; often you end up shooting into the wall even though your crosshair shows a clear shot. You can get thugs to assist you... they'll kill or die for you... but they won't get on elevators. Hand to hand combat now has a counter system... considering what a small part of GTA fist fighting really is, you might think they'd just make their counters FUN and easy to use... but no, they're as challenging to implement as the most demanding hardcore fighting game. The side games like pool, bowling, and Cubed are all terrible (think basketball in San Andreas). The worst bit of unpolished game... the Y button. Yes, the button you press to get in and out of cars. It's sketchy and unresponsive, particularly in multiplayer. It's very noticeable and extremely disruptive in a game that revolves so heavily around getting in and out of vehicles.

Points of interest:

- Rockstar blatantly stole the driving interface and car physics from the Driver series. The cars all feel exactly like Driver cars, not GTA cars. I always liked the feel of Driver better anyway. People who hate braking or survived the previous games with continual e-brake powerslides are in for a rough transition.

- More than any of the past GTA games, this one focuses on out of the car action. Much of the story mode feels like a third person shooter that happens to have a lot of cars in it. (Remember Mafia? The car/pedestrian mission balance is more like that.) It's got a sort of wonky cover system, and many of the missions have a "poor man's Gears of War" feel to them.

- The GTA series... which has been getting in trouble for its indecency since at least the ps2 days... finally seems tame. The average chatter in most Xbox Live games is far more sexual, politically incorrect, and violent than anything the game has to offer. It's kind of funny to have the game tastefully cutting sex scenes and covering nipples... then you click into multiplayer and it's the usual cadre of 11 year olds screaming racial slurs and threatening to violently rape all who oppose them.

- With a patch to fix the abysmal multiplayer interface, correct cell phone continuity and timing, and repair the occasionally infuriating Y button, GTA4 would be a 8/10 for single player and a 9/10 for multiplayer. I have no idea if those fixes are coming, but I really hope so. The multiplayer interface, as it stands, will severely limit the longevity of online gameplay. In fact, a number of my friends have already finished single player and gone back to CoD4 online, since it's such a hassle to play GTA4 with anyone you know, and most of us have a friends list for a reason.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 05/19/08

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


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