Review by neonreaper
"The detail's in the devil."
The Grand Theft Auto series draws criticism and praise every step of the way and has led to one of the most successful series of all time, in both sales and critical assessment. At the same time, it has a load of hatred towards it, and is no stranger to controversy. The previous installments in the GTA III line were 3-D versions of the cities in the old overhead PC GTA games, and each one tried to out-do the former in terms of story, characters, and scope. Not only that, but the soundtracks got bigger, and the shocking behavior you could perform crossed the line more and more.
So now that we've moved to the next level of consoles, what would GTA do next? The answer seems to be that the game is more refined. Also, multiplayer has been added with a great deal of focus.
Niko Bellic is the main character this time around, an eastern European import trying to move on from his past, but his past follows him. He's a deep character, and over the course of the game will reveal what has happened to him, and how it affects his personality and outlook on the world. He seems to be a good guy at heart, but at the same time he's a man and isn't going to take any crap.
Some people might be used to how malleable CJ was in San Andreas. You can throw a ski jacket or camo pants on Niko, but that's about it in terms of customizing him. For some, this is a step back but I really think the intent was to focus on Niko as an actual character as opposed to Niko as a doll.
Other characters have terrific voice acting (as does Niko), are well written and fit their spots in the story perfectly. These characters add a lot of wrinkles and depth to the game. Niko has a cell phone to keep in touch with these people, which leads to perhaps the only negative in the game - people annoying you on the phone. They call and want to hang out and get upset when you don't make plans with them, even if you're busy. I wish the game was a little less persistent in pushing character interactions, but the phone is a pretty nice touch and outside of the nagging, it really does add a good deal to the way you interact with characters, especially when you need to meet up with someone to buy weapons and he'll meet you close to your location if you call him.
The action is fairly easy to get into, auto-lock works well for the most part and the controls feel a little easier to use on free aim than previous GTA games. The amount of weapons seems a bit pared down - you don't get flame throwers and chainsaws and mini-guns like in other games, but I think the far-fetched super violence could be distracting when these games typically offer a ton of story and character. It also draws attention to the violence and random actions, and while GTA is the king of sandbox games, there's far more to it than just crazy violence. But there are plenty of guns and places to use them, that's for sure.
The driving in GTA4 is a bit of a change from previous entries, with an attempt to provide a bit more realism to the controls. It takes a few minutes to get used to the new physics, but they make sense once you get into the game and work very well. You can't take a sudden turn in an SUV at 90 mph anymore, is all.
Multi-player has been added, with various racing, deathmatch and mission modes. The format for entering a room and selecting game options is a bit of a mess, as one person controls the selections while everyone else complains about them. On one hand, the massive amounts of options you have is really nice, but really just lead to complaining and people tend to select from a similar set of options anyway. It might be better to give players the ability to join/search for pre-establish areas and modes, especially in death match but I won't fault a game for giving players so much choice. There's also a free-roam mode which allows you and up to 15 other people to run around the city doing whatever you want to. Did you ever feel like the only thing missing from previous GTA games was the ability to hunt down your friends or make a stand at the parking garage with them? It's here.
The real star of the game isn't the driving, the action, the story and characters, nor is it the multi-player. All of those are awesome, but Liberty City takes the cake. The amount of little details in the game is staggering when you consider all the effort and design that went into it. The playgrounds (you might never even go in one) have these little hippo garbage cans. People put trash out on trash day. All the little nooks and crannies in the city and parks seem to be placed there on purpose. Flying a helicopter into the city as sunset turns to night is amazing. While there's less ground to cover than San Andreas, there's just a stunning amount of detail in comparison. The city feels like it's alive.
Graphically, the game meets the standards you'd expect from a current gen title. On a large scale it looks amazing, and up close it's simply good. The music essentially boils down to whether or not you enjoy the soundtrack. I think it's the weakest soundtrack of the 3D series but it's still full of songs I enjoy, songs I don't mind, and plenty of humorous talk/faux commercials.
Grand Theft Auto IV takes a step back from previous entries and is a lot more refined. Multiplayer is also a blast, though there's plenty of room for improvement. The game is a triumph, and if they could have trimmed down the cell phone annoyances and added a bit more to do (and while shooting missions are my favorite.. a little more variety wouldn't have hurt.), this could have been perfect.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 10/09/08, Updated 01/14/09
Game Release: Grand Theft Auto IV (US, 04/29/08)
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