Reviews: Grand Theft Auto IV

GTA is Unfunny

As I grew up GTA IV was one of those games that your mom would never let you play. It was a Moral Panic Game, the kinds of game that you wanted to play specifically because it was so taboo.

When I finally did get to play it as an adult, I was just sort of...acknowledging of its existence. You see, I've played so many sandbox games over the years that not only has the genre kind or worn on me as a whole, but that GTA IV lacks an interesting mechanic or setting or story in hindsight. I've played this kinds of game in the exotic locales of Far Cry or Just Cause, on Mars (Red Faction) or in Nazi-occupied France (The Saboteur) or in the Wild West (Red Dead Redemption). I've seen it parodied in the likes of Saints Row and seen have such unique mechanics as RDR's Bounty system (you get hunted even after the chase is over) and SR IV's superpowers.

Now, after having played all those games first, it's actually kind of shocking to see everything played so straight. Yep, there's a Wanted Meter. Yep, there's storyline and side missions. Yep, there's Standard FPS Weapons. About the only thing GTA has going for it is it's goldmine of licensed music and the somewhat awkward cell phone mechanic.

That "Russian Connection" theme song is still awesome, though.

A Chore

That's the best way to describe this game, a chore. Compared to previous installations, and even the Saints Row series, this one fails in so many basic things. First, the controls. Cars drive terribly, taking turns way too long and spinning out all too often. Helicopters are even worse, and motorbikes will clip and turn at the slightest impact, and there's a lot of stuff to hit, especially with all the tedious chase missions the game takes you on. Especially when you have to shoot all the time.

Missions do have some variation, but they are mostly, go here, kill everyone. And there are almost no checkpoints. There is one in the final mission, but that doesn't excuse getting to the end of a mission and having to start all over, including driving there, because your health ran out. And it will run out often, because there is no way to heal yourself in missions outside of health packs in the mission, which are rare.

Music is bad, considering the series is known for great soundtracks this one is awful. So few songs are on each station and most of the time commercials or djs are playing anyway. Combat is, eh. Guns have auto aim, but it's hard to switch between opponents, and sometimes when the target you have dies, it won't let you get a new target without getting out of crosshair mode. Also, sometimes enemies will get up after you kill them for no reason.

The story is okay. It takes until the last third to get really rolling, but then the last missions are so difficult they lose any sense of fun you might have had. One tough spot in particular involves trying to speed up a ramp on a swervy motorbike on a sandy beach with obstacles right in the way, then trying to control a helicopter, fire a gun, and dodge rockets at the same time. He gets away here, or you die? Bye, back to the start of the gunfight. And when you do restart missions, you don't get all your items back, which makes no sense.

The friendship system isn't that bad, actually. They don't call too often and the minigames are pretty fun. The sidequests are a refreshing change as well. Graphics are kind of weird, some characters look good, some don't, and the city is very brown. Last things, picking clothes takes too long, cops come way too easily, and both ending are unrewarding, one slightly less so. Ten words left: Frustrating, boring, don't play, Saint's Row 2 much better.

Good, but overhyped

Well, it is.

In the run up to its release, the game was hyped as a landmark game for 2008, and was initially highly acclaimed by review sites. Having only played the game when it came out for the PC in 2009 (because I'm a lazy bastard who can't save money for a console), I began to realize that the game, while still good, is filled with problems that don't warrant the game being praised as it did.

Let's begin with the positives. The amount of the work put into designing Liberty City is nothing short of impressive, with more than enough believable landmarks, detailing, and hidden gems to outshine the likes of Stilwater, Steelport or even Panau. Vehicle design is also far more convincing than the some of the abominations seen in GTA San Andreas, Just Cause 2 or Saints Row 2; ditto with character and NPC animations. Soundtrack? Not bad.

That said, too much attention to detail as well as the shift towards realism may have been the reason less work was devoted to other elements of the game.

There's significantly less character customization and weapons to dabble with, plus planes (which is understandable) and tanks are absent. There is also a notable reduction of side-missions, with the remaining missions unreplayable once done.

Driving may be annoyingly tougher to certain players as more realistic driving mechanics mean inertia has to be taken into account when braking or cornering, and it's too easy to be dismounted from bikes. While the refined driveby mechanics and more complex hand-to-hand combat are fairly well executed, I couldn't help wondering if the cover system was a little unfinished, as it seemed like more could be done to improve mobility under cover (i.e. moving around corners or switching cover). Plus it's way too easy to die. I'm not even talking about getting shot; falling a mere five floors, getting rolled over by a car tire, getting thrown, or just standing on a moving train with full health may easily kill you; it doesn't happen in GTASA.

The biggest thorn is the friendship system. You just can't avoid friends calling asking to go out even if you set your phone not to take calls, which can become very annoying. The outings themselves can be pretty tedious, as you waste time taking them places.

It's good R* North acknowledges some of these problems with the DLC episodes.