Review by p0lar_bear

"I ordered fries with that; where are they?"

Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar's latest installment in their groundbreaking and controversial open-ended urban adventure game, did not fail to deliver. We were promised another new-and-improved GTA and got just that. However, a great game is not without its faults, and GTA4 has some, but thankfully not a lot.

Liberty City really gives off the illusion of a living, breathing world. While walking the streets, you will notice people talking to other people, getting called on their cell phones, painting pictures of people and streets. Bums will ask you for money. You can hail cabs and take them to where you need to go. Running into people holding something will cause them to drop what they're holding. Don't expect to be jumping back into the world of Claude or Tony with a new story; Portland, Staunton Island, and Shoreside Vale have been replaced by a better reimagination of the Big Apple; Dukes and Broker are reminiscent of Brooklyn and Queens, Bohan standing in for Harlem, Algonquin is a remake of Manhattan (complete with Times Square and Central Park), and then there's Alderney, a small Jersey city ashamed to call Liberty its neighbor.

As far as the story goes, it's great. It follows the same formula of a zero-to-anti-hero protagonist, supported by a colorful cast of characters, and enough double-crosses to keep you guessing. Anyone interested in a good story will definitely play this game to see what comes next. Unfortunately at times, things are incredibly predictable. There will be moments when you will see a double-cross and get a sense of deja-vu because you saw it coming from about a mile away. On the other hand though, some missions, while being obvious that something will go horribly wrong, don't give away what that something is, so in the end, so players are pretty much encouraged to be ready for anything.

Controls are awkward at first, but suit the X360 controller well, and players can change the control layout to a “Classic” scheme which is laid out similarly to the control scheme from GTA 3, Vice City, and San Andreas on the PS2's DualShock 2. An emphasis is put on control realism; for example, unlike characters in previous games, Niko needs to build up his momentum when going from standing to sprinting, and can't stop on a dime or change directions in the blink of an eye. Vehicles handle much more realistically compared to previous installments, which ends up being frustrating for players used to being able to turn at high speeds without spinning out.

Combat is pretty good, taking the system that San Andreas made and expanding on it a bit. You can free aim and lock on with any weapon, and while aiming, you can click the right stick to zoom in on your target; less if using a handgun, but more if you're using a rifle. They've introduced a cover system a la Gears Of War; pressing the right bumper will quickly flatten Niko against any wall, pillar, or object he's standing near. He can then aim at targets from behind cover and do pop-out shots, or blindly fire from cover at the cost of reduced accuracy. While sometimes a blessing, players may end up taking cover behind the wrong wall, or stuck to the wall when they need to move, resulting in unnecessary damage and frustrating deaths.

Audio is great. Radio stations have a great selection of music to listen to, depending on your favorite genre, and the talk stations have plenty of funny stuff going on. If you find yourself uninterested by Liberty's radio stations, you can always turn on the 360's built in audio player to stream or play your favorite playlist. Cars and gunfire have a good level of realism, muffling over distance or behind a building. People always have something to say when you walk by them, bump into them, etc.

The wanted level system has also been revamped to make more sense. Instead of magically gaining a level when committing crimes, players can now literally get away with murder as long as the police aren't looking, unless it was scripted. Police don't magically pop out of thin air anymore when your wanted level is high, and you can actually lose the cops if you can leave the designated search zone without being seen. It's not as easy as it sounds, though, as the search zone gets bigger as your wanted level increases, and if you are spotted, the search zone gets centered on you. Also, Pay ‘n' Spray shops only work if you are not seen entering one, making it harder to end your six-star killing sprees once they start.

Missions in the game are for the most part, boring, unfortunately, and this is the major caveat of the game. While there are a number of action-packed missions, such as a bank heist, or fighting through an abandoned building to find drugs stolen by a rival gang, a majority of them are very simple; shadow this person, kill that person, steal this car, blow up this group of people, etc. Whereas just about every mission after the half-way mark in San Andreas had an epic feel to it and plenty of difficulty, players able to utilize the combat system well will find these run-and-gun missions to be easy and boring; often times when health hits a low point, players will just come across a conveniently placed body armor or health pickup instead of being forced to fight a little more intelligently. It's also very hard to die unless you try; all you have to do after a mission... heck, sometimes during a mission, is stop at the local Burger Shot for a health refill, and then call a friend to meet you nearby so you can buy body armor off of him. In addition, there are forced missions that occur once you reach certain points, which can get annoying. Fortunately, if you'd like to have some peace of mind after completing a mission, and go save and refill, you can simply put your phone into sleep mode, disabling story mode calls until you turn it back on.

Online play is pretty typical of Xbox LIVE. Things can be great and fun on a good day, while you will be ripping your hair out another day. Weapons don't always fire in the exact spot you aim them in, even if you are crouched and immobile. Hit registration is off sometimes if things are laggy, resulting in two people killing each other at the exact same time. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch games are nothing special. The “Mafiya Work” mode oftentimes boils down to the winner being whoever was closest to the objectives the most. Race mode can be frustrating, as many times you will be playing with people who can't drive, who will plow into you as you brake for a turn, resulting in 10-car pileups. Free Mode is variable in quality; while the thought of having the world open to you and your friends is great, it can get boring if you don't have something to do planned, i.e. raising hell and running from the cops. Co-operative modes, on the other hand, tend to be more fun, but they can only be done so many times before it gets old. All in all, though, it depends on your mindset going in and the people you are pitted with/against.

Replay value is relatively low. There are side missions, things to find, and things to do outside of the story, of course, but there isn't much compared to what San Andreas had to offer. There are also less cheat codes to make the game do weird things for your enjoyment. As stated, a lot of story missions are boring, and the only thing that would warrant a replay of them would be if the achievement for beating the game quickly wasn't met the first time through.

Grand Theft Auto IV gets a 7 out of 10, simply because while it delivers, it seems to forget a few things. While surpassing previous installments in the graphics and realism departments, this game falls short in terms of content and gameplay.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 05/27/08

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

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