Review by soulseeker09

"Give me Liberty."

This is a review of Grand Theft Auto IV.

First, I would like to state that I have experience in the Grand Theft Auto franchise. From Grand Theft Auto III to San Andreas and so on. I myself like many other fans of the franchise thought that nothing could top GTA San Andreas…and then came Grand Theft Auto IV. This game has been criticized by fans as the ‘worst GTA ever' but all this GTA veteran has to say is that this(in my opinion) is not only the best Grand Theft Auto game to date but perhaps the best game I have ever played.

You assume the role of Niko Bellic, a man of Serbian descent arriving in Liberty City by boat all the way from Europe. He has come here to find his cousin Roman whom has been living in America for 10 years, hoping to start over and escape his past. Roman has been sending e-mails claiming that he has a mansion, money, women and is living the American Dream. However, upon arrival Niko realizes that reality is very different and that his cousin is heavily in debt. As things take a turn for the worse Niko will be forced to earn money one way or another to help Roman and so the story unfolds.

So why do I give it a 10 out of 10? Simply because the story here is amazing. What makes it so good is the fact that it is so close to reality. It is basically the story of two people struggling to survive in a cesspool of a city that respects only one thing: money. Even more it shows exactly how cold and cruel the modern world is and how overrated money is. It alternates between comedy, tragedy and drama just like in real life. Apart from that the story is also expertly written featuring a large cast of characters and they all breathe life in to it separately. The protagonist, Niko Bellic is also regarded as the best protagonist seen in a Grand Theft Auto game yet which is also true given his personality(which I will not spoil). Finally, the story lasts about 40+ hours which is very good because it maintains its quality from beginning to end.

Honestly, I cannot stress enough how good the story is. It is emotional, funny, dramatic, engrossing, it delivers a clear view of the cold, relentless reality and all that in a believable and realistic way. You can criticize the other parts of the game if you want but the story here is Oscar deserving.

Rockstar never exactly excelled in their games as far as graphics were concerned(see Manhunt for example) but Grand Theft Auto IV delivers here as well.

On the technical side, the graphics are not without a few flaws but come quite close to perfection. First of all the frame rate is steady for the most part although there were some times where it dropped. Do not let this get to you however because it happens so extremely infrequently that I almost forgot about it. Animations on the other hand are flawless and there are no graphical glitches at all. Technically, the graphics are mostly excellent. The few, infrequent frame rate drops are forgettable. There is nothing else to say.

On the artistic side, the game shines here as well. First of all, the character models are very detailed. You look at the characters' faces and you can see that they are fully interactive. Every expression looks very good and the attention to facial lines and wrinkles is surprisingly good(if not a bit too much though). Textures in the game look amazing as well with every car being very detailed and even blood that splatters looks realistic especially on walls or on the ground forming a pool. Another thing that surprised me in the graphics is that if you shoot a person many times in the chest or the back you can actually see bullet holes and blood stains forming on them. Firearms are also well detailed and pleasant to look at. All in all the ‘bad' thing about the graphics is that car damage looks so nice that you might actually end up crashing your car just so you can look at it.

The graphics in Grand Theft Auto IV are simply awesome. A slight drop in the frame rate is just not enough to drag this part of the game back. Not when everything else looks perfect and works excellently too.

This is probably the longest section in the review because of how much variety the game offers. Simply put, you will almost always have something to do in Grand Theft Auto IV.

Let us start with the game's missions, shall we? Grand Theft Auto IV features a large number of missions(around 90 I think) and they are all special in their on way. You will start by doing small things like stealing a car or intimidating someone into paying the debt they owe and will progress to more dangerous missions like taking someone out. The thing about the missions however is that things are not always straightforward and sometimes you will take a more subtle approach. What I mean is that in some missions before you do the actual mission you will have to, say, send an e-mail and let the situation develop first. These more subtle approaches are a welcome change of pace and give the game more depth. Another thing I would like to mention about the missions is that some of them which include killing someone, allow you to choose between doing so or sparing them. The repercussions of your choice are not usually story-altering but there are others that have more palpable consequences. Finally, near the end of the game you will be presented with a choice that will have a direct impact on the story and the ending. As such there are two possible endings. Some people have further criticized the story claiming that both endings are bad but in essence one of the two is actually a lot better than the other. Even if the outcome is nothing important, the liberty(oops!) of making those choices adds a nice touch to the already incredible roster of missions.

Next, the gunplay. The gunplay in GTA IV is improved and when compared to previous games it feels a lot more realistic. The targeting system is changed in the way that now you can target different parts of your enemies' bodies(see controls section below). What makes the difference in this game however is the new cover system. In GTA IV you can attach to cover in just about anything from a wall to a car to even a dumpster. When doing that you can move along the wall(or whatever it is you are using as cover) freely, you can blind fire and above all you can stick your head out to see where your enemies are hiding, target them and shoot them when they come out to take a shot at you. This cover system makes firefights easier than previous installments and a lot more realistic as in that you will no longer open fire standing still in the open waiting to get shredded like a brain-dead idiot.

And what about the cops? What GTA game would this be without the local law enforcement trying to crawl in your pants? The police in Grand Theft Auto IV are somewhat less of a challenge than in previous games. The wanted level system is present here as well ranging from 1 to 6 stars maximum. As your wanted level increases the more capable NOOSE(based on the SWAT team) and FIB(based on the FBI obviously) will be deployed. The military on the other hand is absent. Now, what makes the police easier to evade is the new wanted system. This time when you get the police to chase you an area of the map will begin to flash between red and blue. These are your last reported whereabouts. The way to evade the police is to escape the hot zone(which causes the wanted level to get suspended) and stay out of it for 10 to 15 seconds. When a policeman on foot or a police car sees you though(both appear on the GPS with distinctive icons) the zone gets updated with you in its center. As such the key to escaping the hot zone is for the police to lose sight of you. The stars you have attained are white colored but when the police lose sight of you their color becomes gray. Finally, the size of the hot zone depends on the number of stars you have, meaning that the greater the wanted level the more difficult it is to evade the cops. All in all, getting away from the cops with 2 to 3 stars is fairly easy. The old Pay n' Spray shop exists as well but I myself never used it to lose the cops.

A new element introduced in this game are the character friendships. In the course of the story Niko will befriend some characters and you can participate in a number of friendly activities with them. These activities include mini-games like darts or pool and other things like eating or even watching comedy acts(performed by real-life comedians and they are REALLY funny). Keeping your friends happy will increase their like and respect percentage towards you. Should they like enough they will do favors for you. These favors are character specific and range from selling weapons at a discount to sending a couple of goons to help you out. Unlocking the friends' favors aside these activities are a nice and welcome change of pace to the games' missions.

There is a number of side-missions as well such as unique stunt-jumps you can find, races you can participate in and vigilante missions. There are also 200 flying rats(pigeons actually) to find and exterminate, the equivalent of hidden packages in previous installments. Personally, I found these 200 flying rats(needless to say I had outside help) but they are so many and so well-hidden that finding them is a major hassle. I can clearly say that the only reason to even attempt it is for the trophy and 100% completion. All in all, these side-missions are fun and worth the time to complete them…except the flying rats.

The last thing I will mention about the game play is the cell phone. Unlike previous GTA games the cell phone has been greatly expanded. First of all, you can make phone calls yourself. You press the directional button up and you bring up the cell phone menu. You have a phonebook, an organizer, a camera and the like. The cell phone is used to arrange activities with your friends, open storyline scenarios and can also be used to check the time.

As I mentioned, the game play offers immense variety. It is almost certain that you will ALWAYS have something to do in Grand Theft Auto IV.

The controls in Grand Theft Auto IV feature some immense improvements over the previous installations.

First of all, I want to clarify something that has been criticized time and time again. The handling of cars is considerably different than it was in previous titles and I remember people claiming that controlling cars is impossible in this game. One user even wrote how they “didn't have control of the car for the largest part of the game”. Truth be told, controlling cars is more difficult in GTA IV but this is only because the physics has been modified to be more realistic. As a result the cars' handling feels a lot more close to reality and personally I like this difficulty, only because it feels just right. Apart from that, Niko's movement also feels different. It feels heavier but in a realistic way and he is capable of performing different actions such as climbing small walls or fences and can even shimmy when hanging from a ledge.

The targeting system has been modified as well. When you auto-target an enemy(because there is manual targeting as well)the crosshair defaults on their chests but by simply moving the right analog stick you can aim at their feet or even better at their heads for an instant-kill headshot. This can make gunfights easier and when coupled with the cover system you can clear small enemy armies quickly and effectively.

The ONLY problem you might encounter in the controls is in the cover system. Occasionally, when sprinting if you press the cover button you may end up attaching to a wall other than the one you wanted. Even that however happens very infrequently and is a forgettable problem.

The controls in GTA IV are simply excellent. Not only are they easy to master but effective as well. The classic control scheme is also available but after you master the new one you will never want to go back to the old one.

The sound in GTA IV is also superb.

First of all, the voice acting is nothing short of perfect. All the voice actors deliver their lines like they have put their hearts in their roles and not just the main characters but the people heard in the radio as well. Furthermore, just about everything else sounds excellent and realistic too, from the firearms to the explosions and the car crashes. And the radio? There are different radio stations that offer a variety of music ranging from rap, rock, heavy metal, r n' b, techno etc and all of them great songs that will satisfy anyone. There are also 3 talk radio stations that are also funny to listen at.

Solid voice acting, great soundtrack and sound effects make this a very pleasant-sounding game. Nothing else needs to be said.

Multiplayer is never the criteria with which I pick a game but things here are actually quite good.

The multiplayer brings about some very good, competitive game modes. These include deathmatch, team deathmatch, race, GTA race(which is basically a no holds barred race) and others some of which are team missions against AI enemies. There is also a free roam mode which allows up to 16 players to run loose in the city. It also offers a ranking system based on points which are labeled as money you earn in games. The maximum rank is 10 but from what I have read in order to reach it you must accumulate 5.000.000 points which, believe me, TAKES TIME. So in case you haven't realized it yet the multiplayer in GTA IV is actually very well made. It is solid, varied, intense and requires some teamwork. The only problem is that I have noticed some lag even when my connection was wired but all in all this is a minor issue and can easily be ignored.

Ultimately, even if you are a ‘single player' like me there is a very good chance you will enjoy the multiplayer in GTA IV. Multi players on the other hand will definitely be satisfied by it.

Pros and cons:
Here we go:

-Stellar, emotional and funny story.
-Varied game play.
-Good number of side-missions.
-Vastly improved controls.
-Realistic sounds and…
-…great soundtrack.
-The protagonist is the best seen so far.
-Well made multiplayer.

Occasional lag in multiplayer.

Final thoughts:
I believe I made this crystal clear with everything I have written above but this game is-by gaming standards of course-a masterpiece. This is clearly and undoubtedly THE best Grand Theft Auto game yet. Rockstar put a lot of effort in this game and the outcome justifies them.

Final score:10/10

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 05/05/11

Game Release: Grand Theft Auto IV (Platinum) (EU, 10/16/09)

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