Review by horror_spooky

"Make Your Decision"

I am a huge fan of the Grand Theft Auto games, and I have been ever since Grand Theft Auto III was released on the PlayStation 2 about seven years ago. If it wasn't for pure dumb fate, I never would have picked the game up. I was young, too young to purchase M-rated games, and my mom wasn't too keen on purchasing M-rated titles for me. We went to the store and I wanted to buy Metal Gear Solid 2, but instead she bought me Grand Theft Auto III because she figured that Metal Gear Solid would have been too inappropriate for me.

The reason I tell that story is because it takes a special kind of game to keep a memory like that lodged in my mind seven years after its release. The sequels that followed that legendary game, like Vice City and San Andreas, only served to solidify Grand Theft Auto's place as one of the most popular video game series of all time, and everyone has been anxiously awaiting the first installment of the legendary franchise in the seventh generation for years, and now that this installment has finally come, people will wonder if all that hype amounted to anything.

Yeah, it did.

Starting right off, I'm going to get into one of the main focuses of any Grand Theft Auto game and that is, obviously, the cars. There are a ton of different models of cars for you to steal, ride in, etc. and some classic cars of the Grand Theft Auto franchise return like the Banshee and the Sentinel. Stealing parked cars isn't as simple as it was in the previous games, though, because now Niko (the character you play as) will have to bust a window, unlock a door, and then hotwire the car. To do this, you are told that you have to rapidly press the trigger buttons, but most of the time you can just hold down one of the trigger buttons to get the car to work. I don't know why this is, but I feel like it may have just been a lack of polish on the behalf of Rockstar. However, a little broken mechanic as meaningless as that doesn't do anything to hamper the otherwise nearly perfect gameplay.

Shooting out of your car is a lot easier this time around, and you can now use more weapons instead of just a standard submachine gun to unleash hell from the safety of your vehicle. You can also use your pistol and drop grenades as you drive along. To shoot out of your car, all you have to do is hold down a single button and then Niko fires out of the window at wherever your reticule is pointing.

Some cars are, obviously faster than others, some are bulkier than others, some are more damage-resistant than others, but some cars flat out do something that none of the other vehicles can do. If you still a police car, for example, you can search through a useful criminal database to take down some criminals and you can turn on your sirens to make traffic go to the side of the road as you speed down the highway. Taxis also are very useful in this iteration as you can ride in one as a passenger (I'm serious) and fast-travel to any location you want in the city, as long as you have unlocked that area of course.

Hitting people with cars is also a lot more fun this time around due to great rag-doll physics that rival those found in BioShock. People hit the grill realistically and roll up your windshield or fall under your tires in a spray of blood.

Cars aren't the only vehicles at your disposal, but there isn't as many vehicles in Grand Theft Auto IV as there were in the previous games. There are no fixed-wing aircrafts, which means there are no more planes to utilize, but there are still helicopters. There are no tanks, but motorcycles and boats do return. Car handling is improved drastically, for some cars, and making sharp corners is easier than ever before. Motorcycles are still a way to get killed easy by flying off of them and boats are still annoying to control, but they aren't very prominent in the game so you won't have to hassle with them much.

Speaking of flying off of motorcycles, a pretty brutal new feature in Grand Theft Auto IV lets you actually fly through the windshield of your car! While this can be annoying sometimes when you're trying to complete missions, it can also be downright hilarious as well.

Ever since Vice City, visiting restaurants has become a staple in the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and Grand Theft Auto IV retains this tradition. There are diners for you to visit as well as a few fast food chains. There are vendors on the streets as well that sell hotdogs and peanuts. You can also buy pop from pop machines. What is the point of all this eating and drinking? Unlike San Andreas, you don't gain weight, so instead all of this food is used to heal you. First aid kits also heal you and you can collect body armor to get that extra edge of protection.

Bowling has become a very popular sport in the gaming world, much due to Wii Sports I think, and even Grand Theft Auto allows you to bowl. Bowling is pretty interactive in the game, and you can also participate in darts and pool as well. Besides achievements, these activities are good to do with friends that you meet throughout the game. These friends will hang out with you and go to places like strip clubs, comedy clubs, or bars with you. What is the point of hanging out with these people? Well, if it's a chick, you just might get laid, and plus if they like you enough they will allow you to utilize their special ability. Your cousin Roman, for example, can be used to send you a cab after he likes you enough.

The entire combat system has been given a facelift and has taken cues from some other major titles in order to improve itself. Influence from Gears of War, Resident Evil 4, and Assassin's Creed is all shown in Grand Theft Auto IV, and that is, for the most part, a very good thing. Melee combat is reworked so you have three different combat options and you can also dodge punches in a system that is very similar to the sword fighting in Assassin's Creed. However, it is very difficult to dodge punches until you spend a decent amount of time fist fighting. Cover is a very important part of the game and Niko can take cover behind pretty much anything, but sometimes he'll take cover behind things that leave him right in the line of fire when you definitely did not want to go there. The camera is borrowed from Resident Evil 4 in that it's over-the-shoulder when you are using weapons and you can aim freely, which is a breath of fresh air from the flawed weapons system in the past Grand Theft Auto games.

When you shoot people, they will respond to where exactly you shot them. That means if you shoot someone in the leg, they will fall to the ground, holding their leg, and try to crawl away. If you shoot them in the stomach, they will stand up and walk away trying to put pressure on the wound. This works beautifully and definitely adds to the excitement of the game.

Missions play out similarly to the previous games with a few exceptions. Some missions you won't be able to complete right off the bat because a day or two must pass in the game, so instead you can complete other missions while you're waiting for the time to come to complete the other mission. Also, some story missions are optional. The most important change though is that some missions give you a choice. You may be given the choice to kill a guy or let him live, or you'll be able to choose who out of two people you will kill. The choices you make in the game will affect the overall story and they definitely give you an even larger sense of freedom.

There are plenty of destructible environments; so much in fact that you may be reminded of Rainbow Six: Vegas. I remember one of the earlier missions in the game where I had to raid a drug house and I shot at a guy who hid behind a wall. I was thinking, damn, now I won't be able to hit him, but my jaw just dropped when my bullets destroyed the freaking wall! There are plenty of jaw-dropping moments to be found in this game and it does keep things fresh by introducing new gameplay mechanics with almost every single missions. Pure genius.

There are a lot more buildings available for you to explore and a ton of Easter eggs to find, with some of the more special ones referring to the landmark Grand Theft Auto III.

The main story missions aren't the only missions available to you. There are, of course, side missions including ones that involve picking up people for your cousin's cab company, hunting down criminals as a vigilante, or partaking in street races. There are some assassination missions and package deliveries as well. All of these side missions give the game even stronger legs. With all of that, which was expected, there are even secret missions where you have to come across a person on the street for it to be initiated. You'll probably find these missions by pure dumb luck and when you do find them, you get pretty excited because these missions are usually some of the more entertaining ones.

Radio stations in the Grand Theft Auto games are looked back on fondly, but Grand Theft Auto IV adds more mass media for gamers to enjoy. You can now watch the TV and enjoy some stand-up comedy or some original cartoons that are actually pretty funny. The internet is also available to you now and you can view blogs, browse dating sites, and check your e-mail along with a ton of other stuff.

Hidden packages in Grand Theft Auto IV are a little different this time around. No longer are you picking up random packages you find along the streets, but instead you have to shoot pigeons. No, I am not kidding, and they take the place of the hidden packages found in games passed.

Rockstar recognizes that some of the GTA clones have made improvements on their timeless formula, and this includes the successful Saints Row. In Saints Row, routes to your destination are highlighted and it made traveling around a lot easier. Grand Theft Auto IV utilizes this system and you'll wonder how you ever played without it. It's seriously that useful.

One of the most used new game mechanics is the cell phone. Sure, they played a big part in the past few games, but Grand Theft Auto IV takes it to a whole new level. You can call anyone in your phonebook anytime that you want as well as receive text messages. This is also how you access the game's multiplayer mode and later on you can take pictures with your phone. You can dial random numbers if you want to, but one of the most useful things you can do with your phone is call the police, ambulance, or fire department. Also, a big improvement that the phone provides is that it gives you the ability to input cheats much quicker. Unlike the previous games where you had to constantly tap L1, R2, R1, L2, left, down, right, up, left, down, right, up (yeah, still got it), once you input a cheat you can access it on your phone to provide easy access and it makes it unnecessary to memorize the codes.

There are a ton more game mechanics I could get into, but because this review is already lengthy, I'm going to skip over them and let you discover them as a player. The multiplayer mode is pretty sweet, but my biggest complaint about it is that it doesn't support offline cooperative, which is a pain in the ass at times, but the multiplayer is still passable. Hopefully in the next installment Rockstar decides to include offline co-op to perfect their multiplayer experience.

I've read a ton of reviews where people have bashed the story, but I have no idea why they would do this. Grand Theft Auto IV provides one of the best stories out of any of the games and provides multiple paths. There are a ton of twists and shocking moments and more people get killed off than in Desperate Housewives! (sorry for that). Sometimes the story is funny, sometimes it's messed up, sometimes it's heartbreaking, but it's always awesome. The basic premise is that you are a Russian immigrant who has come to Liberty City to live with your cousin, but you end up getting absorbed into a life of organized crime. Sounds pretty generic, but trust me, the story blossoms into something truly amazing and rivals the best mob stories this side of The Godfather and The Sopranos. The only problems I have with the story are that there are some minor plot holes and there are maybe too many characters. The reason I think there's too many characters is that sometimes you'll completely forget about a person that'll show up later because you've met so many people already.

At the very beginning of the game when you realize that there is practically no loading times as you travel around the city, you will probably be in shock. Seriously, Grand Theft Auto IV has almost no loading times and the loading it does have is very short and painless. It makes you wonder why games like Oblivion and Mass Effect had so much loading when a game that does practically as much, or maybe even more, than them has virtually no loading times. Grand Theft Auto IV also sports an amazing amount of physics and shows damage realistically. There are a ton of locations to travel to and there are some pretty awesome lighting effects to go along with it. The weather effects are kind of blame, however, and the pop-up is pretty bad. The character models are great, except their faces look weird sometimes. Glitches are present, but they aren't a problem most of the time…except for when the freaking game crashes!

Voice-acting is top-notch and very emotional. The radio stations are still funny, but the soundtrack isn't as powerful as previous installments. If you fail a mission and have to play through it again, the characters will say different things to keep the game from getting on your nerves. Guns are explosive and all of the sound effects are more or less perfect.

For someone who is new to the Grand Theft Auto series, this latest installment will probably take thirty some hours to complete, but for the more experienced GTA player, the game will probably take upwards of twenty-some hours to get through the story missions. After that is done, you can enjoy the multiplayer (if you have Xbox Live), complete side missions, and unlock some achievements. On top of all that, there are branching story paths and even an alternate ending to give you plenty to do. Grand Theft Auto IV will last you weeks upon weeks upon weeks. I promise.

Throughout this long review, I have listed numerous problems that Grand Theft Auto IV has, so that will probably leave you wondering why on earth I gave the game a perfect score. Simply put, I rate games based on how fun they are, not how pretty they look like some reviewers do. Grand Theft Auto IV is the most fun I've had on the Xbox 360 and is probably the most fun I've had with any video game ever. The game provides just so much to do and so much to discover that it'll take you forever to get bored with it. My only major complaint is the lack of offline multiplayer modes, but hopefully Rockstar can add this feature in the sequel. Grand Theft Auto IV was a fun ride and one that shouldn't be missed by any gamer. It was fun to revisit Liberty City, and I can't wait to do it again.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 05/19/08

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

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