Grand Theft Auto IV Review

Rockstar Games has it easy when it comes to the Grand Theft Auto series. Replicate the real world with increasing detail and people will do a plethora of real-world things, including those not typically permissible by current culture and/or administration(s); what the series is most known for outside of the chin-scratching¬†gaming elite. In the series’ fourth numbered entry, rumored to have cost over 100 million dollars (the equivalent of a single middle-classed Englishman’s salary with current exchange rates), Rockstar has created their most vibrant and realistic world yet. Upon boot, it’s seemingly filled with infinite levels and varying degrees of interactivity. As the numbers reach ever higher on the always depressing sobering “time played” statistic, the aforementioned admiration is significantly reduced, a natural byproduct of current limitations. Even so, Second Life‘s creators should hang GTA IV posters on their walls.

Niko Bellic is that one-of-a-kind protagonist looking to go from rags to riches quick enough to give that pantaloon-wearing f*ck Horatio Alger a hard-on. Like those heads that talk would say, “same as it ever was.” As many know, the series has always existed in a semi-satirical universe centering on an arguably typical but fairly serious storyline inhabited by over-the-top stereotypes. With the latest entry, Rockstar has dodged the Polar Express bullet and missed the deepest part of the uncanny valley, due in large part to the facial and body animations and the mostly top-notch voice acting, exemplified by Niko, possibly GTA’s most likeable character yet. He’s a friendly, easy-going eastern-European with a mysterious past who looks after friends and family with diehard loyalty and a thick accent. Niko’s obviously seen some shit in his day and over the course of the 30-plus-hour story, bits and pieces are revealed in varying ways. While not entirely new, his story makes for engaging entertainment and serves as one of the highlights of the single-player experience.

Grand Theft Auto IV

Yet, it’s hard to take the story seriously when a highly emotional non-interactive cutscene grounded in reality is bookended by interaction in a semi-satirical world where the player can kill dozens of cops and civilians while listening to the game’s extreme conservative republicans on WKTT talk about America in ways Rush Limbaugh and Fred Phelps can only dream of. This disconnect between story and world is one of the game’s most significant narrative flaws; since GTAIV is so open-ended, it only compounds the problem inherent to its very genre.

The mission variety rarely serves the inconsistent narrative, and even when engaging in some of the more unique tasks throughout the game (including a date with a man and wrestling control of the vehicle with a passenger) they usually devolve into simple kill “A” and drive to “B” errands, or simply the latter. The most talked about missions, as evidenced by constant message board chatter, are obvious nods to famous movies such as The French Connection and Heat, but they often become exercises in frustration due to unclear objectives, difficulty, and lack of mid-mission checkpoints. A new replay mission option is added upon failure, but by then it’s too little, too late.

But who needs to do missions anyway when Niko can take women out for a good time and even go on man-dates? Niko’s straight. Most of the other dudes are straight.¬† The only distinction between a date with a woman and one with a guy friend is the possible sex concluding the former, portrayed in consistence with the tone of the gameplay via slow-panning camera outside the building with exaggerated sound effects. It’s about as enjoyable and satisfying as visiting a virtual strip club and getting a virtual lap dance. If you’re into the aforementioned you can justify your virtual libido by telling your girlfriend useful rewards and additional information are gained through building relationships with various characters.

Grand Theft Auto IV

Speaking of other characters, multiplayer was introduced on the console version of San Andreas and has been greatly expanded in IV, albeit with a slew of limited gametypes and a poorly executed party system. The multiplayer modes offer drastically different gametypes, from simple racing to the frenetic mafia work where multiple teams of two complete various jobs around the city. Ranked modes are modifiable by the host and lack the balance found in other titles, discouraging serious skill-based play. Free mode, not the party mode lobby, is a fantastic way to organize your own custom games with friends. Party mode seems to be their way of replicating the Halo matchmaking system. Unfortunately, it’s short-sighted and a little self-important as there is no way to access the lobby free mode options while in game, and after each ranked match all players involved in the party are instantly booted back to the free mode lobby, adding two unnecessary load screens. If problems are encountered during the process, a player or players may be returned to the single-player game, adding yet another series of load screens. It’s painful, but hopefully it’ll be fixed in an “oops, my bad” patch.

The highlight of anyone and everyone’s playing experience has always been those moments generated by random and oftentimes creative usage of the in-game engine and tools provided. A mission may not require a rocket launcher and a fire engine, but why not? This mentality is the very essence of Free Mode, the game’s most depressingly but highly enjoyably bare-bones element. While it’s still very enjoyable to run from the cops with a multitude of other players, it would be even more fun to download or create custom scenarios with varying rules and objectives, all free of charge.

Grand Theft Auto IV

Perhaps the most unique feature to this installment is how it connects to the net. If you have your account linked to the Rockstar Games Social Club, you can view and contribute to a plethora of stat-tracking features such as the LCPD blotter, the 100% club, and many more. The only people as hungry for this much number crunching are either involved in the sports world or currently work for Bungie. Unfortunately, the Social Club doesn’t seem to update very often as my personal stats are out of date and I have no ZITS, the optional in-game text message system used to inform the user of the current song information. Apparently, any “ZITTED” songs appear on your Social Club profile and can directly be purchased via Amazon.com, 40% of which was currently unavailable. It’s an unnecessary but highly welcomed feature not typically seen on the console.

One of the most massive and detailed worlds on the console, GTA IV offers a tremendous amount of content to read, watch, hear and play. Despite this, it’s the same old GTA and more evolution than revolution. The nature of the open-ended gameplay still makes for memorable random and not-so-random occurrences you’ll repetitiously be reciting to friends, but for the most part it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Even moreso, the series is starting to feel reluctant to move forward in storytelling and in terms of pushing the envelope. Don’t believe the hype. More importantly, don’t believe me. Play it and judge it yourself.

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Author: Kyle Stallock View all posts by

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