The Holy Grail?

I don’t often read game reviews. One reason I try to stay away from them is to maintain the integrity of my own critiques. Reviewing videogames is an important part of my job description, and I want my words to be as original and truthful as they can be.

The other reason I avoid reviews is because sometimes I think reviewers are living in a different friggin’ reality than the one that I’m experiencing. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy getting a bit of a different perspective on things, but some of what people say about certain games makes me want to hand out awards for being dumb… or drugged.

Such is the case with Grand Theft Auto IV reviews. I’ve been playing the game for a while now, and I enjoy it. I would definitely recommend that gamers try it out, but wouldn’t expect it to be universally loved. To be completely honest, it feels a lot like any other 3D Grand Theft Auto game, and it certainly won’t be finding itself on my list of all-time greats anytime soon.

Somehow, though, the general consensus in the world of videogame critique is that GTAIV is the best thing since, well, ever. I was talking to Kyle last night, and he made me painfully aware that the game has claimed the #1 spot on the all-time lists at both GameRankings and Metacritic. I was stunned, and wondered for a moment if I was dreaming. "GTAIV?" I said to myself, "The best game of all time? What the hell are these people smoking?" So I began to read what I obviously missed in this shiny, online-enabled, feature-stripped version of a game that we’ve been playing for six years. This is what I discovered:

People are enamored by Liberty City

I agree with this; the city is huge and detailed, bustling with activity, and operates totally independently from the actions of Niko Bellic (unless of course he comes careening off of a garbage truck at 90 miles per hour and hits a group of union workers sitting on the stoop of a building by the park while the cops are chasing a thug down the street a block over). Rockstar has indeed created a rich environment to play in, and I applaud them for that.




Nobody has been told a good story lately

I’m sorry, but GTAIV‘s story is not as good as people seem to have convinced themselves that it is. The whole point of the game was to find "that special someone" from your past, and when you finally did, there was very little fanfare at all. That would have been fine if something of substantial gravity came up to overshadow it, but it didn’t. Sure, there was a kidnapping, and that was a great mission, but an impromptu kidnapping and rescue is not quite the same as a lifelong hunt for someone who was responsible for the slaughter of your entire circle of friends in the most traumatic time of your life.

The final conflict was completely contrived and almost nonsensical. That last "villain" to be dealt with played a fairly minor role until the last mission, routinely dishing out assignments and acting in a generally amicable way toward Niko. When the hell do mafia bosses go on drive-bys, anyway? Aren’t there "soldiers" for that? Additionally, don’t you think Packie would have been just a little more upset that his SISTER was killed than a guy who just met her a week ago and had never even seen the inside of her apartment?


"Oscar-worthy" is an overused phrase

I liked the characters. Their performances were very colorful and genuine; they feel like real people — people you get to know personally. They lead you to either love them or hate them, which is the goal of any good dramatic actor. Only a couple left me feeling completely indifferent, and the biggest gripe I can conjure up about their dialogue is that some of their accents and ethnic colloquialisms sounded unnatural. That aside, dialogue was top-notch, but calling it oscar-worthy is a bit of a hyperbole.




Improved controls mean flawless gameplay

Well, that’s very debatable. The controls are absolutely better than in past GTA games. Combat, especially has been tightened up, allowing players to lock on, free-aim, use cover, and climb over obstacles on their way to erasing their enemies. It feels much more complete than the old GTA combat system, and allows for more complex firefights. Shooting it out with the killers of Liberty City is much more engaging and fun this time around, but it’s not without its flaws and still manages to feel clunky on a consistent, albeit less frequent basis.

Driving in GTAIV is different than in past games. There are actually a few applicable laws of physics now, so each car will handle differently than the rest. This makes rollin’ down the streets feel a lot less like the Cruis’n series, and more like a mildly sophisticated driving simulation. It’s a good change. That being said, it’s not really a whole lot of fun to drive around when you’re trying to accomplish goals. Remember all the crying that accompanied Wind Waker‘s sailing? That’s sort of how I felt about GTAIV‘s driving as I progressed further into the game. Thanks for the cabs, Rockstar, or else I may have just given up on trying to get to my damn missions. PS: That’s not how gamers should feel.


"The missions are amaaaazing, and NOT repetitive at all"

Unfortunately, the missions in GTAIV are far less creative than what we have seen in the past. More than half of what Niko does in GTAIV involves the following 4-step process:

1. Get mission assignment
2. Go to highlighted location
3. Fight or chase
4. Chase or fight

A few of the missions stand out, as one might expect, but the ratio of truly interesting story missions to mundane and repetitive ones is disappointing. There are plenty of optional tasks to perform on the side, but within each category of mission, again, the weight of repetition bogs the experience down. That’s not to say that there is no joy in completing missions, because they have to have been at least somewhat enjoyable for me to have completed the game. It’s just that GTAIV makes me feel bipolar; sometimes it’s really fun, and other times I just want to put it on the shelf and forget about it. It really depends on the mission.




"It’s so feature-rich!"

So Niko’s Liberty City adventure has added a bunch of new stuff to the GTA equation, including internet browsing, friendships, dating, social events, and a nifty cell phone that acts as a hub for your entire digital-age existence (and serves as a nice throwback to the payphone-based mission acquisition of the original GTA). These are fine additions to the franchise, but they’re offset by the things that have been taken away.

First of all, money is damn near useless in GTAIV, save for an Xbox achievement, so that incentive to succeed is gone. Your hard-earned cash can get you ringtones and wallpapers for your phone, a few outfits from the clothing store, or the occasional gun when Niko has thrown his away, but that’s about it. You can’t buy businesses to increase your fortune or additional safehouses/garages to save your game and store your vehicles. Actually, there are no garages at any of GTAIV‘s safehouses, which is a big buzzkill. Parking your Infernus in a "reserved parking spot" on the side of the street doesn’t exactly give a person the same feeling as filling up multiple garages like an episode of Cribs.

As for character growth and customization, Niko won’t be getting any haircuts or tattoos, nor will he be hitting the gym or improving his stats in any way. GTAIV has done away with that sort of character customization. Instead, Niko develops as a character through narrative and experience. We see and hear his views shift as the game progresses, which is refreshing for a GTA game, but he isn’t the most dynamic and affective character videogames have to offer by any stretch of the imagination. Even the "big moral choices" that many have touted are little more than choosing who to kill and who to let live. Either way, not much is changed. This was a very disappointing aspect of the game.


"The multiplayer is huge and awesome!"

Well, yeah. It’s pretty awesome.


Hmmm, now that I’ve pretty much reviewed this thing, I might as well give it a score, huh? Okay, to satisfy the arbitrary rating-seekers, I give it a :-) out of :-D


GTA4 Rating


There you have it, my rant-turned-quasi-review of the most overrated game of the year. The point of all this is that GTAIV is not the be-all, end-all second coming of the gaming gods. It is a solid game, just like the rest of the series, but let’s take a minute to remember what it means to be a "perfect" 10, shall we?


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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