Review by RingsOfUranus
"The series that never got it quite right."
Slavic. Niko bellic is Slavic. It's made clear throughout the course of the game. I just wanted to clear that up right off the bat. That being said - You play as Niko Bellic; a guy whose life just doesn't seem to go in the right direction. It's one misfortune after another, in fact you learn very early in the game that everyone he knew and loved died in a war, and he's come to America in search of a better life. Niko's cousin, Roman has tempted him with wonderous e-mails about the paradise that is America. Now, when Niko arrives, low-and-behold, he's found himself in a poor part of Liberty City, only to discover his cousin, Roman, is not leading the luxurious life of glamour with super models and sports cars, as he led Niko to believe. Roman infact, owns a taxi service and has one girlfriend, whom cheats on him regularly with a Small time Russian mob boss. Now, that aside, Niko is quick to forgive his cousin for his lies and quickly finds his place doing 'odd-jobs' for various people throughout Liberty City, in the classic GTA sense. Here in-lies the gameplay, where, as with all prior GTA games, the faults begin:
One of the contstant draws of the GTA series is the sandbox environment Rockstar essentially created. To the point that all sandbox-shooters released anytime inbetween Vice City and San Andreas were considered "GTA clones" (Mercenaries, True Crime, etc). This remains intact in IV, however UNLIKE Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the game area is all one big city. And big it is. Liberty City is probably about the same size as San Fierro, Los Santos, and Las Venturas put together, (The three main cities of San Andreas) but without the desert, rural forest regions, random military bases, rivers, lakes, cliffs, mountains, and genuine explorational value of San Andreas. There's just really not a whole lot to look at. Most of Liberty City looks just like every other part of Liberty City, and there's nowhere to go outside the city itself. The biggest draw of San Andreas, for me, was that you could spend, literally, MONTHS exploring the open game environment, and still not find everything there is to see. This has been all but done away with in GTA IV, and infact most easter eggs customary to the GTA franchise have been done away with. No more Monster trucks, hover crafts, jetpacks, planes, parachutes, go-karts, car modding or Urban Legends surrounding Bigfoot, UFOs or leatherface. It's all just, gone. Those things that set San Andreas apart from all other GTA games and made it almost seem like a stand alone title are gone. GTAIV just takes itself too seriously, with very little of the tounge-in-cheek humour and witty radio commentary that made the series famous. That bein gsaid, the radio is also bland and forgettable, compared to the amazing audio line-ups in Vice City and San Andreas. So if you're a hardcore fan of previous GTA titles, especially SA, I think you may be very disappointed here. But enough comparing titles, let's move on.
Shooting has been remastered for GTAIV- It now uses a shooting style somewhat similar to Gears Of War, in that you're able to take cover behind any object, blind shoot and switch between auto-target and manual aim as you please, depending on how tightly you press the left trigger. The big problem here is that GTAIV has serious collision detection issues (As per usual with any GTA game). Cover-fire and blind shots don't really work the way they should because you can easily be shot through the wall or whatever you're hiding behind, due to poor collision detection. This makes it virtually useless (Especially in online play) and the game turns back into the familiar run-and-gun shooting style the series is known for. So while a nice effort, the new shooting system comes up useless and can even leave you at a disadvantage. The weapons also seem distraught in power capabilities. When the pistol will kill an enemy quicker than the RPG, you know your guns need a power re-tuning. This also makes online play unusual as the pistol is actually the weapon of choice for all online modes.
Driving and transit:
I'm not sure I'll ever understand what was going through the developers heads when they decided it was a good idea to change the GREAT driving controls of San Andreas, and make it seem so that every car is skating on ice. Albeit, cars are no longer prone to flipping over and catching on fire, but try driving one of these bad boys when it's raining. Car damage IS much more realistic. Cars will now dent according to how hard and where you hit something. Shooting the cars will leave bullet holes exactly where the bullets fall, and shooting the windshield will leave holes relevent to the shots fired. Blood from run-down pedestrians will even remain on the grill of your car. However the new driving scheme is so annoying, I much prefer taking a Taxi everywhere I go in game. (Which in all honesty, shouldn't even be an option) With the addition of Taxis, is also the Subway. The Subway is the most useless feature in the game, by far. Subway stations aren't even listed on the game map, and will take you only to specific places, where as taking a taxi will actually warp you anywhere in the game instantly. It is fun to push people in front of an oncoming subway car, but that's about the extent of it. All in all, this isn't the epitome of driving games by a long shot, and genuinely took a huge step backward with the new controls.
Graphics and physics:
GTAIV uses a RAGE physics engine, which gives realistic physical movements (Especially when being run down by a car or flying through the air after being jetted off a motorcycle) and gives the game a much-needed aspect of realism in the environment. To accent that, random NPCs are almost like individuals; They're all randomly generated, so you never really see two people walking down the street who look the same, or even similar, really. Each person seems to have places to go, things to do, books to read, jobs to go to, taxis that need flagging, important cell phone conversations...It all just helps create a realistic environment that makes you feel like you're not the only person walking around Liberty City. The visual quality, however, is still lacking, as GTA always seems to have. The character models appear to be the same as those used in San Andreas, though with slightly more detail and form tossed in. Niko's character is actually the star visual aspect of the entire game- being by far the most detailed model and actually stands to par with graphical expectations of the next gen..Everyone else, however, still look bland and pixely, even by PS2 standards.
Online play can be fun for a while, but please don't buy this title specifically for it. It gets old very quickly and there just isn't a whole lot to do. And, like I mentiioned earlier; the pistol is the only weapon needed.
The story is probably the best in GTA history, flaunt with plot twists and tear-jerker moments, but it's too bad they didn't structure a little more game in here to go with it. GtaIV has lived up o my expectations, by being completely half-assed and feeling rushed-to-production, just as ever. Though unlike the most previous GTA title, they cut out all the explorability, which for me, was one of the only aspects the game had going for it. If you've got nothing better to do, it might be worth picking up GTA IV just to draw your own conclusions, but don't go out looking for a great shooter and choose this over Unreal Tournament III. Don't go out looking for an adventure game and pick this over Assassins Creed.
A 6, out of 10.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 07/28/08
Game Release: Grand Theft Auto IV (US, 04/29/08)
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