"If it Doesn't Turn You Into a Sociopath, It's a Fun Game"

The first thing I noticed when I started to play Grand Theft Auto 4 is its vastly different feel from previous games. It has a much darker and immersive feel than the past Grand Theft Autos, because it has a gritty color scheme, and the physics feel like they have more weight and momentum to your movements – both in and out of the car. The story is involving, and it's a story that goes well with the feel of the game. Your man, Niko Bellic spends the game fighting to stay alive against several people who want him murdered, contrasting past games' glitz and glam conquer the city theme. Those aren't the only improvements; the gameplay mechanics are also revamped and done well.

Physics. When you're driving in a car that you've stolen in Grand Theft Auto 4, you'll feel more weight to it. You can no longer pull of 90 degree turn at maximum speeds. Instead, you need to slow down somewhat before you attempt that turn or else you might wipeout. In a sentence, I could sum up the car physics as less arcade-like. The on foot movement has also been changed. Niko takes a few steps to slow down and stop after sprinting. In addition, movements are fairly realistic whether Niko is running, pushing someone out of the way or jumping. Explosives will blast characters in the air and people will roll down stairs when they get shot. These are some of the things you can expect from next-gen GTA physics.

Gameplay Mechanics. A brand new cover system has been added to this GTA IV, which is one of the best features added to the new Grand Theft Auto. It's fairly simple, all you have to do is press a button and Niko will take cover near the closest object (Walls, cars, garbage cans, etc.). This prevents the situation in past GTA where you would run in to a room only to get wasted by a large group of enemies inside. With the new cover system you can press yourself up against the wall and pull a jump shot or blind fire before heading in. It's not a perfect system since you occasionally take cover behind an object you did not mean to take cover behind. There are also more opportunities to climb in this game, although many of these places are scripted specifically for certain missions. You can also hang now and at certain (scripted) parts of the game climb on top of moving vehicles as seen in the game trailers.

The Lock-on/aiming system was given a much needed improvement. GTA was always critiqued for its sub-par aiming. While GTA IV's system isn't perfect, it is obviously an improvement over past games. Now when aiming the camera will swing behind Niko so you can see what you're aiming at, just hold down the lock-on button. Once you've selected a target you can zoom in (with certain guns) or switch targets. All this makes firefights run much more smoothly than in past games and it feels fun to play through the firefights, using cover and blind-firing. Although, I suppose the reason why this game is somewhat easier than past games is because the lock-on/aiming system easier to use. There is still a challenge to the missions though.

Missions. The story missions are one of my complaints about this game. There are ~90 of them in all and they resemble Grand Theft Auto 3's missions more than Vice City and San Andreas. They're a bit repetitive, usually consisting of you having to kill this person or steal that person's car. It's not really a chore to play through them, it's more like you start to think “didn't I do this already” once you get farther in to the game. The firefights nearly every missions consists of are fun, but many of the missions are just slaughter-fests. You know?

Story. The story helps pull you through some of the dryer missions, however. It basically pans out like this:

You play as Niko Bellic, who formerly served in The Bosnian war. After the war he got involved in criminal exploits in Bosnia and was eventually forced out of the country do to reasons that are revealed bit by bit throughout the game. He comes to Liberty City to be with his cousin, but gets involved in illegal activities again. Before long Niko finds himself wanted dead by several people in Liberty City and worse yet, his past is catching up to him. The core of the story focuses on Niko's journey to protect himself and his cousin from Liberty City's underworld.

An interesting addition to GTA IV is the ability to execute certain people or let them live. There are 6 or 7 of these throughout the game where you have a choice to kill certain people or let them go out of the goodness of your heart. None of these have a huge effect on the story, although some choices give you nice bonuses. Also, there is a “good” and “bad” ending to the game.

Extras. Extras, there aren't as many extras and collectables as in San Andreas, but there are enough to keep you entertained for a short while. The new hidden packages are “Flying Rats” (Pigeons) that you have to shoot and kill. There are 200 scattered throughout Liberty City. Unfortunately, certain missions such as ambulance missions and firefighter missions are missing. Note though, that Vigilante missions have returned which can be accessed by using the police database through a police car. Also, there are Car Service missions which are similar the Taxi missions and then there are Drug delivering missions. Car Exports, Racing and Unique Jumps have returned and there are Car Stealing missions.

My favorite new addition is the Random Character missions, which are triggered when you find a certain person on the street and walk near them. This triggers the mission, usually a short and easy one. However, the trick is finding them since they do not show on your radar until you're close. You can also hail a taxi now and it's very useful since you can get in and select your destination and skip directly to it. This allows you to travel to other side of the city as quick as it takes you to call a cab. Neat.

Two big things that are essential to the story are Niko's cell phone and the Internet. Niko's cell is used to contact friends and employers or to receive calls from them, just like in previous games, except this time you can call friends whenever you want to and ask them to hang out or ask them for a favor (or Character Bonus). The Internet serves as a place to check your e-mails (from friends and from your mother in Bosnia), check the news (which changes as you complete missions, sometimes the headline story is a situation caused by you), and find dates @ lovemeet.com

Dates are something that was around in GTA: SA, however, this time they're much more interactive and aren't girlfriends aren't as pestering. The reason you would want to date is because each potential partner has a bonus you can get from them once your relationship is high enough. This can be cancelling out a wanted level or getting a health boost, depending on the person. These relationships also apply to your male friends, which you meet during the game. In order to raise your relationship you must take that person out for a night of fun. . . this can be playing darts, drinking, playing pool, bowling, eating, etc. Some of these (i.e. darts, pool, bowling) are simple mini-games. Once your relationship with them is up, you get there character bonus.

Graphics and Sound. Graphics in the game are pleasing to look at. When it rains the ground gets wet and lights are reflected. The city lights up at night. Alleyways look dark and Star Junction (GTA's version of Times Square) is bright. Lighting in the game is used effectively and helps the city seem alive. The colors are gloomy and dark on the buildings, which helps establish the mood. Those are contrasted by the neon signs and brake lights in the street. These graphics aren't the best, but they're good and furthermore, they work for the game.

Horns honk and people yell in this game. It's never quiet in Liberty City and it sounds like what I imagine New York City sounds like. I find it satisfying to hear tires on cars screech when you pull a 180, and the sounds of guns and people yelling in gun battles. The voice acting also makes this game seem more interesting when the cultures mix in Liberty City and everyone has their accents intact. Niko accents sounds great and people from Bohan have a distinct Bronx accent, stuff like that is what you can expect from the many voices of Liberty City. And the dialogue is real and engaging. Each character has their own personality. Niko is more mature and advice-giving, but also a bit of a smartass and Roman is less aggressive and more charismatic.

The music in the game doesn't seem to be as high-profile as Vice City's 80's music and San Andreas' early 90's music. Perhaps because it's modern day. Regardless, I found the music to be a bit of a letdown and was really expecting something better. There are some songs you will recognize like the Smashing Pumpkins' “1979” and The Who's “The Seeker”, but for the mostly these aren't record breaking hits. There not bad songs, just not *Amazing* songs, which is unfortunate because I expected them to put some of those in there. Anyway, there are reggae, rap, rock, classics, jazz, etc. It is pretty well-rounded so everyone will probably be able to find at least some songs that they like. News channels and several talk-shows are included as well.

Immersiveness. Lastly, the immersiveness of the city is amazing. Neighborhoods are distinct and the city feels like New York. I could honestly say GTA IV captures the feel of a city more than any past GTA game. A combination of all of the above ensures that. People talk on cells, phones, talk to each other, use umbrellas, run away when you fire a gun. They get out of their car when they hit, cars crash in to each other as well, peds fight and you'll see police chasing other NPCs. Not only that, the advertisements and lights makes it seem like a city. I am impressed by how deep Liberty City feels.

So GTA IV is not perfect or excellent, the missions can get repetitive, music isn't up to par and the game isn't as long as San Andreas. Many parts from San Andreas were left out this time. However, what Rockstar did, they did right and Liberty City has to be the best city they did so far. Immersive and intriguing it's something that's pleasing too look at. There are about 90 story missions and it took me 30 hours to complete the game, although not to the 100%, all extras. And my final recommendation? It's not the best game ever, the game that people expected it to be, but it makes a great effort and is still very fun. I would even say it's still a must-own despite some of its flaws.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 05/14/08

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

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