Easily one of the most anticipated games ever, Grand Theft Auto IV is finally out and is selling by the boatloads. Has it been worth the long wait and massive amounts of hype? Yes and no. It is certainly a huge game with tons of insanely cool little touches and tidbits that tickle gamers in all of the right places. But in terms of gameplay and graphics and storytelling, it all feels awfully familiar. Find out our final verdict on GTA IV right here in our full review.
- Title: Grand Theft Auto IV
- Platform: Xbox 360
- Publisher: Rockstar / Take Two
- Developer: Rockstar North
- ESRB Rating: “M” for Mature
- Genre: Third-Person Action
- Pros: Decent story; easily the most polished GTA; multiplayer; cell phones and cabs make the game faster and easier; good sound
- Cons: Pretty much the same game we played 7 years ago at its core; no system link; graphics aren’t stellar
I’m not going to bother with the usual “You can do this and this and, oh wow, it is so great!” spiel that reviews usually start with. You can read that in any of the other GTAIV reviews/previews out there. Instead, I’m just going to dive into the nitty gritty.
And that is, simply, that I’m afraid that I don’t see what everyone else seems to see. Some people see “Game of the Year 2008” and a “10/10”, but I see pretty much the same game we have been playing for the last 6 ½ years. This is a polished up GTA 3. That isn’t a bad thing, certainly, and the game is good fun in most every way. And I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy it (and the 4.5/5 9/10 score should show that). But it isn’t really all that different from previous games. It does innovate in a few key areas, but in most ways it is more evolution than revolution. And in my mind, that isn’t GOTY material.
What It Does Right
GTA IV does do a lot of things right, though. The addition of the cell phone is absolutely genius and changes the pace of the game completely. Being able to call people for missions or simply to go hang out is very cool. Also, being able to take a taxi to any missions and just skip directly to where you are going is probably the best thing GTA has ever given us. Trying to go back and play an open world game without these features is going to be painful. Other little side features such as being able to surf an in-game Internet or tracking down criminals with the computer in a police car or watching the hours upon hours of TV shows in the game is a blast. The “Republican Space Rangers” TV show is the funniest thing I have seen in a long time. The protagonist in the game, Niko Bellic is a surprisingly good, deep character that is more of an unwilling participant than the “do whatever it takes”-type of characters from previous games. The supporting cast is also noteworthy because they are a varied lot and really give the experience a different feel depending on which one you are currently around. Just like real life friends. And, above all else, just driving around listening to the radio and doing your own thing, which is what this type of game is really about, is still very fun.
What It Does Wrong
It isn’t all roses and chocolates, however. The core gameplay is still basically the same as we had in GTA 3 in the Fall of 2001. It has been tweaked, certainly, and you can’t deny that effort has been made to improve it, but it is basically the same. Take the mission structure, for example. You still drive to missions (or, thankfully, take a cab), shoot people, and then run away from the cops. Lets take a look at these aspects. The driving is improved over previous games and is much more realistic. A junker handles very differently from a sports car. But it is still a matter of fitting a square peg in a round hole as to whether you can actually get across town in one piece because the driving still just isn’t all that good. The on-foot controls have also been improved, but still aren’t that great. You can now use cover and blind fire at enemies, which is nice, but you also still have to wrestle with the camera in order to try and actually see what you are doing. Recent previews that said the game plays like a first-person-shooter were greatly exaggerated. Simply moving around the game world on foot is sort of hit and miss as well as you get hung up on objects and in doorways and trying to find the perfect position to stand in to talk to people or order a hamburger or do other things in-game is more difficult than it should be. The controls just feel at the same time sluggish and imprecise.
Another issue I have is that the game is smaller and there is less to do than in San Andreas. I can understand the desire to have a more focused game that tells a better story, but the story isn’t really all that important. Like I said above, the fun in sandbox games comes from being able to create your own fun and goof off. We play through the story once (and, realistically, many people never actually beat these games), merely to unlock the rest of the islands, and then never touch it again. So why take away our toys? GTA IV has a smaller land area. Has fewer vehicle types. Has fewer weapons. And also has fewer side missions than SA.
And speaking of the story. While I find the characters involved great, the story itself is kind of boring and predictable. It is basically the same tale that has been told by every other crime simulator-type game out there. Also, it just seems completely silly at this point to make us unlock the rest of the map as we play. It is the exact same storytelling pace and structure as the last three GTA games. I guess I expected something different.
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