Review by Richtor

"Well... it's different."

Review of the SINGLE PLAYER game ONLY!

I love frozen pizza much more than the stuff offered by national chains like Pizza Hut, Dominos, etc...

There's a point to this I promise.

Frozen pizza has come a long way from when I was little. Back then, the best stuff was the Red Baron pizzas, which back then were more like Tony's pizza is now. Even the best stuff was cardboard flavoured, never cooked right, the toppings were low quality, and so on. Over the years, improvements have been made that have changed this food entirely. Flash freezing processes ensure toppings that are as fresh as the day they were chopped up; self rising doughs that few of the big pizza chains can compete with are available, and now they even stuff the crust with cheese. The advancements in this food have been phenomenal, and have turned something that was just a quick and occasionally tasty treat into delicious comfort food.

Now, what if you went into your local grocer, and picked up the newest entry into the DiGiorno pizza line, touted as a new and improved pizza, but when you bit into it, you discovered the rising dough had been replaced with the old cardboard style, the toppings were all freezer burnt like those pizzas of yesteryear, and someone had sucked all the cheese out of the crust.

That is what I realized after I had spent about 15 hours with GTA IV.

Now, my love of pizza aside, I'll get into the specifics of what went wrong with Rockstar's latest effort. First, the good:

- detailed environment
- competent gunplay
- a (very)few instances of outstanding voiceover
- witty dialogue
- television stations and internet rife with satire
- anything with Bas Rutten can't be all bad

The bad:

- large cast of extremely unlikable characters
- detailed environment, once you scratch the surface, is just facade, like an old Hollywood soundstage
- repetition on a grand scale, more akin to learning a foreign language than to playing a game
- story not compelling
- borderline broken driving system
- giant, obscene mound of tedium at every corner

And finally, rounding out the bad, they took everything that was fun about Grand Theft Auto(San Andreas in particular) and got rid of it.

I have been playing Grand Theft Auto since the demo for the very first game appeared on the internet. My friends would come over before the game was released, and take turns on the time limited demo, driving around liberty city, trying to complete 1 or 2 missions before the timer ran out, or just screaming down the street in a Bulldog trying to find enough pedestrians lined up to get a GOURANGA! I've watched the series change a lot over the years, from the brilliantly balanced gang system of GTA2, to the leap into 3d with GTA3, up to the pinnacle of the series so far, San Andreas. They've added a little extra meat here, improved the dough of the game there, and in San Andreas, they injected enough cheese in the crust to cause a coronary.

Enter Niko Bellic. Niko is an Eastern European of uncertain decent. From the Balkans from what I could gather. He is an ugly, little man in more sense than one. He has no moral conscience, and will do anything anyone tells him to do, regardless of the obvious consequences, or the dubious nature of the person giving the orders. The only pleasure he takes in life is in drinking away the memories of his daily deeds. He is a scumbag whose ONLY redeeming quality is his occasional witty remark.

Herein lies one of the main problems with GTA 4. Niko, and the vast majority of the characters you encounter, are not likeable, identifiable people. They are scum of the earth, with very few exceptions, and interacting with them is boring, frustrating, and tedious. Whereas CJ returned to Los Santos to bury his mother, and was drawn into an ever unfolding plot that kept the defense and betterment of the old neighbourhood at it's center, Niko is just a man looking for revenge.

Without spoiling things, Niko encounters many other characters who are comparable to him in sliminess. He does many jobs for them until work runs out(for whatever reason) and moves onto the next employer. The player is left with a never ending series of moments that, at first, one likes to believe are part of some glorious story arc, but in reality the events don't have a god damned thing to do with anything. With one or two exceptions, they are stand alone events. And unfortunately, they all PLAY exactly the same. Drive here, shoot this person, lose your wanted level. 30+ hours of drive here, shoot this person, lose your wanted level. All it takes is a handful of missions to see everything that the game has to offer in terms of play experience, and from there, it is simply a matter of trudging through the rest of the crap to advance the story, which left a bad taste in my mouth upon completion. Oh, but you have a cell phone that you can buy wallpapers and ringtones for. Take that, Volition!

Games have very rarely made me want to quit playing, and it's even rarer that one defeats me. Usually, a case like that is a result of a frustrating difficulty level. GTA IV made me want to quit playing very early on. But I trudged on because "It's GTA! Any minute now they're going to throw me for a loop and introduce all sorts of new features." It never happened. But I continued trudging on at the possible reward of a compelling story. That never happened either. What's there is pretentious, full of holes, and, in the end, literally pointless. I've wanted to quit games before, and stuck with them, toughed it out, and been rewarded by completing them. I mastered Gun Valkyrie on XBOX and my hands still ache when the weather changes. There wasn't much to the story or characters in that game, but when I finished, I felt like I had accomplished something - rewards need not always be tangible(unlockable content, cheats, etc) After completing GTA IV, having found absolutely NOTHING fun to do in the entire game except watch Kat Williams and Bas Rutten on the little televisions, the thought that STILL enters my mind is this "What the **** did I do that for?" A lot like reflecting, in a sickened state, on a hard night of pointless drinking. What the **** was the point of that? At least drinking makes you feel good for a little while.

Yes, the game is pretty, in a cold, grey, ugly sort of way. Better to say it's detailed. But the details have no substance - the buildings are all facades except for a couple of them. The cars are nice to look at, but there are not very many models to choose from, and some of the different models are nearly indistinguishable from one another. If they were customizable, that wouldn't matter. But they're not. If they were fun to drive, THAT wouldn't matter much. But they really aren't. The gunplay is adequate, but there is a long list of other games that do it much better. You can call friends and spend time doing things that are even MORE tedious than the main story missions, if you want, but you have to invest a LOT of time into your friends to see any rewards, and when you do, don't be surprised at how worthless most of them are. And that's it. Drive here, shoot this person, get away from the cops, take your cousin out to the tyeety bar to get a virtual lapdance, play a game of darts, get hosed... and that's all there is to it.

If I knew then, what I know now, I would have saved my $50, bought a real dart board and a bottle of tequila, and had fun getting my real friends wasted. If you're thinking of buying this game, why not just do that? And pick up either of the Saints Row games if you want something FUN to play.

Reviewer's Rating:   1.5 - Bad

Originally Posted: 12/09/08

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

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