Review by Dart94
"Killing civilians can only be so fun."
Ah, Grand Theft Auto. The king of all video games. At the time I'm writing this, this game has supposedly grossed 500 million in sales, a very impressive feat, to be sure. This was the title that pushed me over the top and convinced me to buy a next generation console. I've been a fan of the GTA series since GTA II on the Playstation. Up until this point, they've never failed to disappoint, but I can't help but feel that GTA IV is nothing special. It was a let down.
I think I know why, too. Because of the repetitiveness. When GTA II first came out on the original Playstation, it was an extremely fun game even though the graphics were horrible and there was no storyline. You basically went around killing people and stealing cars. That was it. I loved it. (Hey, I was probably like 11 at the time, I was easily entertained). Then GTA III came out for the PS2. That was truly an amazing experience. Being able to interact with a good storyline and have 3D graphics made for a very enjoyable experience. The last game released (GTA V) featured several new features and improvements, which I'm sure just about all readers of this review would be familiar with.
That brings us to GTA IV. The most dramatic failure to be noted (which isn't necessarily the fault of Rockstar) is that unlike the massive and pronounced improvement that took place when the GTA series jumped from the PS to the PS2, the jump from the PS2 to the PS3 has, unfortunately, little new content of interest. The main improvement was the graphics, which in my opinion, wasn't that much of a leap either. (Game-FAQs features screen-shots of both games, so you can check for yourself). But the new and improved Liberty City has little to offer that the GTA fan hasn't already seen. I will elaborate below.
The graphics are much crisper, and there is much more detail. There is nothing to be upset with per se, but the improvement over the previous title, which was on the PS2, is mediocre at best. The PS3 handles this game well, and there are virtually no lag moments or graphic "pop ins" that I've experienced. Additionally, you no longer have a load time when walking into buildings, which is nice. The cinematic scenes are also well done, graphics wise.
Beating up random civilians, chasing drug dealers, and getting into shootouts with police - those all sound really fun, right? Indeed they should be fun. And yet I've found myself being bored by the typical GTA themes. If you've never played a GTA game before, my guess is you'll find these things really exciting (it also helps if you're still in high school). But having played almost all GTA titles, the same old stuff just doesn't do it for me. I find myself avoiding these activities rather than looking for them. Aside from violent acts (stealing cars, slaughtering civilians, etc.) you can do things like go to so-called strip clubs (the women don't show nudity) or play side games (which are far more annoying than fun), and that's about it. You can also browse the internet, which has very little content.
There are positive, new features to gameplay though. For one, Nico (the main character) carries with him a cellular phone which he uses to communicate to his friends and cohorts. By gaining friendship with people, you earn their "special abilities" which you can access through your cell phone. These include things like getting free cabs, planting cars with explosives, and losing wanted stars. However, this goes both ways. To get these features you have to take these people out and waste your life by going to a fast food restaurant or playing those mind-blowingly dull mini-games. Another interesting feature is the police computers, which can be accessed from inside a police car. They allow you to search a database of suspects and perform hits on said suspects. The random civilians are also improved, they now have several different voices/character models and behave more normally. In my opinion, these few interesting features do little to save the gameplay from repetition.
Storyline / Main Missions (4/10):
The storyline is poor. Without spoiling too much: Nico wants revenge. Along the way you meet all sorts of "interesting" characters; blah, blah, blah, you know the drill. Same old, same old. I found myself skipping the cinematic scenes early on in the game out of sheer boredom. I simply couldn't bring myself to sit through them (they seem unusually long).
The main missions help this score. There are definitely some cool missions in here. Several missions are the redundant, errand-boy style, unfortunately. (Where you shuffle people around town, and maybe kill some guys here or there). By the way, Nico is the whipping boy of Liberty City. You do the dirty work for everyone.
The controls have changed from the last GTA. Hand-to-hand combat now offers several features (block, kick, punch, alternate punch) which makes it a little more interesting. As far as shooting goes, you hold down R2 to lock-on, and half hold down L2 to free aim (if you hold it down all the way, you start shooting sporadically, which is annoying). This score really suffers from the driving though. You'll notice this immediately. The driving controls have changed, but that's not really the big deal. The problem is the physics of the driving. You have three options 1) Drive slowly, 2) Go careening/spinning out of control at every turn by using the handbrakes, or 3) Go crashing into random objects/people at every turn. It's extremely annoying, and there's no way around it. You will suffer every time you have to make a turn. I've heard that Rockstar did this for the sake of realism. If true, I find that to be a very ridiculous idea. Firstly, the driving is not realistic. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, very little in the world of GTA is realistic. Think about it. Why should have to suffer through "realistic" driving?
Sound effects (9/10):
As long as you're not offending by the F-word (you'll be hearing it quite a lot), the sound effects are good. I typically elect to turn the radio off, but the commercials and songs are decent enough. I felt the talk radio stations didn't have the same effort put into them as in previous games, unfortunately.
Other things to note:
I'm not sure if its just because I've matured or what, but the Rockstar humor in this game just doesn't do it for me. I haven't found myself even smiling. As far as humor goes, its the same old, same old. The radio stations try their luck (and aren't as funny as the previous ones), and you'll see remarks here and there as you progress through the game. There are no planes in GTA IV, although there are helicopters. It should also be noted that Liberty City is a significant shrink in size from the previous GTA. Another issue I had was Rockstar's clear and unbridled mockery of those in the political spectrum who don't hold their own views. I guess Rockstar wanted to make a point to their admittedly 17 year old fan base?
Anyways, in summary, I'd recommend this game if you're relatively new to the GTA series, or if you have psychopathic tendencies. Otherwise, I'd recommend that you rent first, and see whether or not you agree with my review. I know I wish I would've rented this one first.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 05/12/08
Game Release: Grand Theft Auto IV (US, 04/29/08)
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