Review by CannabisLecter

Reviewed: 06/02/08

Fun at some points, but after the inital shock wears off, it feels like a step backwards

When I had heard about Grand Theft Auto IV coming out in April, I was extremely excited. San Andreas just happens to be one of my favorite games of all time, and I was very skeptical that Rockstar would be able to top such a great game. I eagerly awaited for months, avidly consuming any trailer or media story released about the game, and finally bought it on release day. The game was extremely impressive upon first playing it, but after a while, I really started to get the feeling that I had already been there and done that. While this game has a lot of things going for it, there are certain factors that really make it feel like a step backwards for an otherwise excellent series in videogaming. Let me break it down:

Graphics- 10/10
The graphics are extremely impressive to me not just because of the textures, the attention to detail, and all that jazz. It is because the graphics never seem to falter in such a huge gaming environment; wherever you are going in the game, the graphics hardly ever hiccup (I've seen texture pop in at least once or twice during the game, but it's nothing to freak out about). The lighting is superb. The cars look excellent, sometimes even detailed to the name of the ride being plastered on the back, while is a cool touch that adds realism to the game. The characters don't look bad either. The city is completely fleshed out and every block is unique; neon signs and what have you illuminate nearly every nook and cranny of the city and attention to detail such as this really makes the city come alive. Ghettos are ghettos, and the affluent sectors of the city are clean cut. In addition, the water effects are amazing. The graphics of the game are undoubtedly the most impressive feature of the game, but unfortunately, graphics do not make a game.

Music- 5/10
Due to the nature of GTA music, it's hard to review this part of the game without being subjective. It really all depends on what kind of music you listen to. Personally, I think the previous two games (San Andreas and Vice City) had a lot more variety in the tunes and were on the whole more enjoyable to listen to. GTA IV has somewhere around 4 rap/hip-hop stations, which is cool if you like hip hop but those who aren't crazy about it such as myself found this to be somewhat superfluous. The rock station is pretty good, and in addition to that one and the rap stations there are two techno stations, a latin station, a jazz station, a hardcore punk rock station, a reggae station, and two talk radio stations, among others. The talk radio (WKTT) is absolutely hilarious and I would encourage anybody to give it a listen. The music isn't bad and is in good quality, but like I said, this area tends to be more subjective than the others, so take this score with a grain of salt.

Sound- 10/10
The game sounds amazing. Each car has its own distinct noises, as well as the various weapons you acquire throughout the game. It really is something to be able to identify what weapon somebody is using just by hearing the shots. The car crashes sound realistic, as well as pretty much anything else you can think of. There isn't much to be said here that hasn't been said already.

Controls- 7/10
To me, the game controls very solidly and is a huge step up from previous iterations in the series. The only real thing that grates my nerves is you have to turn your character around to be able to aim at him (free aim), and lock on aim doesn't always target the person immediately shooting you. This can be a pain when it comes to completing missions, because in intense firefights it's critical to be able to return fire, and having to wrestle with the controls sometimes to kill the person immediately shooting you can cost you the mission. A lot of people complain about the cover system, but personally I've never had any problems with it. In fact, using cover helps eliminate the issue mentioned above because most of the time your enemies are all right in front of you, and being in cover allows you to pick them off one by one with ease. If there is any complaint with the cover, it's that there tends to be a split second of time between entering and exiting cover where you can't control yourself, but that's extremely minor. Steering, while much harder than previous games, is not due to faulty controls, but rather the desire to have the cars control more realistically, which they do. Overall, the controls are pretty good.

Gameplay and Story- 3/10
Of course, there's nothing more importantly than the gameplay, and great gameplay is what the GTA series is known for. While the game offers plenty of things to do (driving, shooting, racing, building relationships, etc etc), the main feeling I experienced midway through the game was repetition. The game starts off fantastic- the plot is very rich, the missions are new and exciting, and the graphics and city still have that "WOW" factor. Once that wears off, it becomes a painful thing to sit and finish the game. It feels like you're doing the very same things over and over until the end; mostly driving from point A to point B, and then engaging in a firefight with a bunch of thugs. Needless to say, this gets old FAST, and if it weren't for the taxi cabs that warp you to your destination, I might have never finished the game. Like I said earlier, the game's story line starts out great. Niko is a very likable character, and easily my favorite protagonist in a GTA game thus far. You'll face situations in the beginning such as shared struggles with your cousin, and the beginning of Niko's involvement in Liberty City's underworld by meeting various crooks, and then killing most of them. It's quite engaging up until the point where the main villain starts to take over and Niko has to hide out for his safety, and then you'll get bombarded by all sorts of other characters from the city while your conflict with the villain gets put on hold for most of the game. I found many of these other characters uninspired copies of each other who really didn't add anything to the game. Characters such as Playboy X, Elizabeth, the McRearys, among others all felt like characters I had seen in previous iterations of the game, and I really didn't care about my relationship with them, with the exception of the hilarious Brucie,who feels completely unique to the series. I found him annoying at first, but he is one of the few characters that grew on me. Speaking of relationships, the game mechanic for building them is another one of those things that gets old really fast. Sure, it's fun at first taking your friend out around town doing various activities and getting to listen to the often hilarious dialogue, but in the process of doing this for every single character, the activities become old extremely fast and in the end really doesn't feel worth the trouble. While some activities are worth it (free taxi rides, a weapons dealer), others (car bomb, gang of thugs) really aren't worth the effort. However, all of this griping about the characters and storyline aside, the game does resolve itself nicely in the end, which gives off a feeling of satisfaction rather than the game ending with a whimper. More about the gameplay- the majority of the missions consist of driving to point A to point B and then engaging in a fire fight. While you could really say the same for any GTA game, the lack of variety in missions is disappointing especially considering the superb missions from San Andreas. The stealth missions are gone, as well as the taxi, ambulance, and firefighter minigames from previous games. Another thing that is missing is the ability to fly a jet, but due to the size of Liberty City, I would find this unnecessary, and while it would be cool to have, I don't blame the developers for leaving this out. Bicycles are nowhere to be found, as well as the RPG elements of stat building from San Andreas. Some loved it and some hated it; I was in the former. You can no longer upgrade your weapon skills or your driving skills. This game as a huge disappointment for me, because building those stats and seeing my work pay off was one of the most satisfying things about San Andreas. But enough comparing the two games; on it's own GTA4 does the shooting and driving components well, but I can't help but feel like they could and should have added more depth and variety to the game especially considering it is the starting game of the new gen.

Multiplayer- Everybody tends to play multiplayer for different reasons or play for different things, so I'm not going to give this part of the game a score. I will add, however, that the multiplayer is very fun, depending on what you play. The co-op missions are a blast to play, as well as the races and the objective based games online. The normal deathmatch mode, however, is done much better in other games and feels like nothing special. The real meat of the multiplayer is the objective-based games and teamwork, which feels very rewarding in the end. If you like to play multiplayer for those reasons, I definitely suggest giving it a try. The game comes with a free trial version of Xbox Live Gold, so there's no reason you shouldn't give it a go.

GTA IV to me seems like the product and victim of excessive hype and expectations, which it absolutely delivers on during the first few hours of the gameplay. It is after the amazement of seeing this game for the first time and the wow factor diminishes that things become disappointing real quick. On any note, it's still a fun game, but feels too much like a step backward for the series.

Rating:   1.5 - Bad

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

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