Review by myforwik

"GTA has gone backwards, a step down from SanAndreas!"

Most people have played GTA: San Andreas, so in this review I focus mainly on talking about the short comings of this game compared to GTA:SA, rather than repeating how GTA games play in general, as it plays almost identically. In this game you play as Niko, an immigrant from some place in east Europe. You start out doing missions for your cousin and eventually you are forced to kill people, which just gets more people angry with you and gets you into more missions. The game consists of a single city with about 4 main islands connected via bridges. These unlock as you progress through the missions. You don't have to do the missions, you can just drive around and cause havoc, but as I am about to show you, there is considerably less to do, and it is less fun to do it.

The game is much easier and seems shorter than any of the past PlayStation 2 versions. I reached the end credits after 21 hours of game play (of which I guess at least 6 hours is in cut-scenes - I watched them all). I got wasted about 30 times and never got busted. Playing again and skipping the cut scenes (almost all of which last several minutes) I was able to complete the game in under 10 hours. There are just under 100 missions in the main story and few variations in how they play out. Most involve go here, pickup this car, go here, kill them, then drive back to here to end the mission. There a couple of longer missions towards the end, but most missions are very quick and easily over and typically involve only 1 fire fight with anything from 1 to 20 people, and last 1 – 5 minutes. Very few missions are 'open ended' if any. Your choices of how to do a mission largely come down to if you are going to go in the front door or jump the back fence, which almost makes no difference, and you only have this choice in 2 or 3 missions. Despite being an ‘open' world, the game is extremely linear. There are no stealth attributes at all. Most chase missions are scripted, so even if you blast rockets into the cars they won't stop, as there is a scripted way as how the chase ends, so it can break into a fire fight. Few dynamics seemed to play out in any missions – they all ended up being scripted and play out the same way every time. I also noticed that very few mission have unexpected twists, in San Andreas there were plenty of times where you end up doing things you really weren't expecting, this rarely happens.

To get missions you use your phone or the internet. Your phone rings at scripted times. Personally I found the whole set up annoying. There will be times when it seems there is nothing to do and you sort of actually have to wait around for someone to ring. Its better just to have the markers on the rader.

There are not many weapons. You get pistols and submachine guns, two rifles, snipers rifles and rocket launcher as well as grenades. Pretty standard stuff, as you would expect you almost solely use the SMG in cars and the rifles out of cars. You can get a weapon pretty early, so apart from the first 1 or 2 missions I never used un-armed combat, which is a shame because it has the ability to punch, avoid, block etc. Not sure why so much effort was put into it. Likewise you can disarm people, but I never did it apart from 1 mission where you are prompted to do it as a sort of tutorial. What's the point when there is no stealth element anyway? You can sneak up by crouching and knife people from behind, but usually they would have to be a sentry on a roof far away from other baddies, else everyone becomes alerted.

The police radius evasion is sort of lame. To get rid of a wanted level you just have to move a certain distance away from the last police officer to spot you, that distance gets bigger and bigger for more stars. What happens is as you start to get out of the circle zone more police spawn ahead of you out of the zone. Usually this means you end up stopping just outside the circle zone, you don't keep driving because police ahead will see you. The radius also means that in some parts of town its literally impossible to escape police, the only way to do it is to drive to a large island with heaps of streets.

The story is interesting but annoying. You go from one bad guy to the next doing work. At the end of the game you really don't feel like you have progressed up the ladder much. You get no real reward either (nothing like San Andreas where you buy houses etc). The ability to choose who lives and dies in a few parts of the game is nice, but ultimately the ending is disappointing after the effort you put in. It would be fair to say that the main character achieves very little. The lesson of the game seems to be that all baddies no matter how 'high up' actually achieve very little for the constant fighting they have to do. It can be an emotional ending that makes you think, but in the end it's just a lame ending that does everything except reward the player.

There is a distinct lack of vehicles compared to GTA:SA. There are no planes or push bikes or hide on mowers or bipeds or anything unusual. Helicopters and boats play an almost insignificant role in the game and appear in a few easy missions. There are some trucks, but none with trailers (at least not any that require you to drive them in the missions – I did see some parked but never bothered to see if the trailers were attached). Over-all I was underwhelmed with the variety of vehicles. Yes there are plenty of different cars, but most handle almost identically with just minor differences (Such as acceleration and momentum stopping). I think I was forced to use a bike in maybe 2 missions. The main reason you don't use bikes much because they simply aren't around. In many areas there just seem to be no one driving bikes at all. Also the more realistic driving physics make using a bike totally undesirable, as you will go flying of the bike if you have an accident and loose large amount of health. When being chased and shot at on a bike, they will hit you a lot with bullets. Also the rare sports cars simply don't spawn anywhere. They appear at select parts in the main story and some submissions, and randomly at races, but that's it. So when you get a good car, make sure you park it and save it at a safe house.

Game-play largely remains the same from start to end. There would be a tremendous amount of time wasting driving from place to place, so fortunately you can just get into cabs as a passenger and warp instantly to where you want to go. This results in a basic game-play formula that is: Get a cab and go to a locations for a cut scene about a mission. Then get a cab and go to some locations to pick up a person/item/vehicle for that mission. Then get a cab or take that vehicle to some location where baddies are, either a fire fight or car chase, or both, then break out. End the mission and get a cab to the food shop to replenish life. Get a cab to ammo shop to get armor and ammo. Rinse and repeat. Most of the game feels like you are just constantly getting in and out of cabs in-between going to stores and being involved in easy missions. Sometimes I found myself manually driving to locations for no reason, just because the whole process was being tedious.
The city is also provides very little in terms of variety of environments. It is a large mess of tangled roads and highways, most of which you will never memorize or learn, and you have no reason to, as every car has a GPS which shows you every turn you need to make to get to where ever you want. This is almost a requirement in the game, as the maze of roads is just annoying.

Also the money system in the game is badly broken; there just isn't anything to spend money on. You finish the game with hundreds of thousands of dollars, even if you buy full amour and ammo and life before every mission. There is literally nothing else to spend money on. You cannot buy safe houses or anything. All food costs $1 everywhere. Being busted or wasted take away token amounts of money (I never even noticed the amount – it was that insignificant). After about the first 5 missions, money never comes into the game again. This wouldn't be such a big deal, but Niko constantly, from almost the start to the very end of the game, goes on and on about needing money, and this is the main driving force behind the story. But to what point? In the end he doesn't need the money at all.

You can take characters on dates and go to clubs and play games, but the process is annoying. Ring up person, go to their house to pick them up, go to the place, play the game, take them home at the end. In fact most mini games can only be played while on dates, which is annoying, you can't just go and play a game when you feel like it. You have to go through the whole date process, and if you don't follow it rate, the amount that your date likes you will go down, which can have minor but annoying negative consequences.

Graphics are a mixed bag. At night the lighting effects are extremely good, a wet rainy road at night looks almost photorealistic. But everything in the distance is blurry. You can tell the engine works by having extremely low detail for everything in the distance (including cars) and then applying an 'artistic' (ie. Blurry) filter over the graphics. As you get closer to objects the transition is almost impossible to see, but this comes at the expense of everything in the distance (like more than 20 meters away) being blurry. It gave me the impression that I was always playing too far away from the screen, it can seem everything not close to you is out of focus. The best thing about the graphics though is that lights appear no matter how far the distance, so you can look out across the whole city at night and even the most distant buildings and roads are lit up with their lights. The characters and models are probably over detailed, its only in cut scenes that you really get close up to the models. Play is always from a greater distance. They should have focused on removing the blur layer and sharpening distant objects, rather than having high detailed close objects that seem to only be high detail for cut scenes.

Sound effects were all great. Music is just the radio stations with real music, but I ended up turning it off so I could hear what random people on the street are saying.

Multiplayer is weird on consoles. You can't list games in progress. You can either host your own, or join a group of people waiting to play. Most of the multiplayer plays like the single player, in that even in 10 minute death matches, you might only get into 4 or 5 fire fights, as you spend two minutes each time driving to a gun, driving to armor, driving to where other players are etc. Other modes are fun if you can get enough people, but without the ability to list servers it hard to find a time of day where you can actually get 8 vs 8 matches going that are any good. When you can play cops and crooks or team deathma-tch 8v8 the game is awesome fun, but trying to set up such a match is painful. It's a pity that the listing and joining of games is so poorly done and can become annoying. Basically you can only get into games with other people who are looking to play at the same time, not join a game in progress. So it doesn't matter how many people are online playing GTA4, it only matters how many people are looking to join a game. This means even when everything seems to be packed and heaps of people are online, you still only get 4 – 8 people joining a match and almost never the full 16.

The lack of vehicles and lack of terrain except for squeezed mess of city roads, make the playability very restricted. Apart from driving a car around and shooting up some cops, there really isn't much else to do outside of missions. Almost all the extras from San Andreas are gone. No casinos, no triathlons, no players stats to increase, no houses to buy, less races to participate in, I could go on and on. Compared to SA, this game is GTA3 with better graphics and new physics. Unless you are a GTA fan, you could probably wait until they release the next GTA game that will have all these features.

Overall it's very fun while it lasts but doesn't have the replay-ability of the SA due to lack of varied environments and vehicles. It is also disappointing to see that almost everything in liberty city is static. For example you can go to a car dealership and there will be a desk with a person, but they won't do anything. Heaps of businesses have huge signs shop fronts but you can't enter. The only buildings you can go in are for missions and they usually consist of stair cases and one apartment. Over all there is just plain and simply less to do. While the game has better graphics and physics, the game play suffers. It is still a good game and worth the money to buy, but some people may want to rent it for a weekend instead of actually buying it, and its not really a console seller. If you buy a console just for this game, you will probably end up disappointed, as I was.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 05/13/08

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

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