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Grand Theft Auto IV Third Opinion

Escaped the Police, but got a Little Banged up Along the Way

Grand Theft Auto IV Screenshot

HIGH The first few hours of story.

LOW The driving.

WTF Driving into a barrier on an overpass, being thrown through the windshield, falling six or so stories, and still walking away.

I was never a huge fan of the Grand Theft Auto series. The only one I sort of enjoyed being San Andreas, and I had mixed feeling about that one. However, due to an overwhelming critical response, and the return of the annual spring-summer gaming drought, I decided to give Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA4) a chance. After finally completing it, my feelings toward GTA4 are a mixed bag.

First off, the atmosphere was astonishing. I was amazed by all the little things Rockstar did to bring their created world to life. Things like actually having shows to watch on TV instead of just a picture and sound; being able to choose from a plethora of different radio stations while driving, each with their own variety of music and talk shows; and the way everyone pulls over and moves out of the way when I am driving a police car with the siren on. Rockstar also provided many options in places to go; such as playing pool, throwing darts, and even comedy clubs featuring real life comedians. The player may even date and hang out with friends. In fact, doing so is significant to the gameplay, since friends will offer special services when they like you enough. All these elements combined made me feel as though I was actually living the life of the main character, which is rare for the action adventure genre.

Unfortunately, this is where my compliments end. Everything else about the game became flat and annoying by the time I reached one-fourth completion. Take the story for instance. It started out well enough; with main character Niko Bellic stepping off a boat from Russia and entering Liberty City, where he wanted to live the "American Dream" with his cousin Roman. Well not only did Niko quickly discover that his cousin was not living the dream life, but that he was in debt to the wrong kind of people as well. Follow that up with about ten hours of Sopranos style mob drama, and some dialog about trying to escape the past, and you have the first part of GTA4's story in a nutshell. Unfortunately, everything went to hell when the game hit the quarter mark. At that point the story, once focused and well written, dissolved into an unfocused collection of subplots. The game did try to continue the same storyline, but those plot points were often more than four hours apart from one another.

Filling the gaps were many mission strands in which people hired Niko to be their personal hit man and watch over drug deals. While I did like the stories and characters associated with these missions, they had almost nothing to do with the original plot line and the game did a poor job in tying the different strands together; resulting in them feeling more like mandatory side quests and not part of a cohesive story. Furthermore, the only motivation Niko seemed to have for taking these jobs was needing money, but the game never said why he needed it. He was not trying to earn start-up money for a business, attempting to build a drug empire, or anything. There was not even a single bill that needed paying. Because of this, I never felt like I was achieving anything. I was just plugging away with no goals, only doing things because the game asked me to.

Not helping matters much, the controls could have used some serious tweaking. You would think that a game with "auto" in the name would have decent driving controls, but apparently Rockstar's focus was elsewhere. It seemed like every vehicle Niko tried to operate was without power steering as simply making a turn without hitting something was near impossible—without almost completely stopping the vehicle, that is. Besides that, the vehicle would start sliding and skid off the road any time I applied the brakes; not all the time, but about 40 percent of it. Considering that one of the main gameplay elements of the Grand Theft Auto series is police chases, buggy driving controls are just unacceptable (don't even get me started on the check points).

Even so, I cannot shake the feeling that Grand Theft Auto IV should have been great. The atmosphere of Liberty City is something that Rockstar North should be praised for, and I really liked where the beginning of the story was headed. It is just too bad that the buggy controls and the story's lack of focus kept the game from reaching its full potential. Rating: 6.0 out of 10.

—by Coy Simmons

Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 40 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time) and 3 hours of play in multiplayer modes.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3   PC  
Developer(s): Rockstar North  
Publisher: Rockstar  
Series: Grand Theft Auto  
Genre(s): Shooting   Open World  
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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power steering

Yes- not one reasonable turn radius for any vehicle in the entire game... and that includes Nico himself. He has to run in a 10 foot circle to turn around.

Respectfully disagree

While I'm with you on lots of the points you raise, I respectfully disagree with you overall opinions about the story and the controls.

First and most important things first: the story and characters. Admittedly, if you play GTAIV the way I feel it's meant to be played (i.e. doing main errands but also side quests, befriending characters, just roaming around raising havoc) the story arc can feel "a little" disjointed. I myself played it in little story chunks (say, three or four missions in a row) and then spent some other time just toying around; so, coming back to the main story after jumping from a bridge or being wildly chased by the cops felt like I unnaturally shifted to another game. With that in mind, I remember feeling the first third or so of the game was disjointed and chaotic: you run some errands for Brucie and then for another, completely different character, and you feel disoriented and asking yourself «what about my mission?».

I think that was kind of a choice made by Rockstar, since [SPOILERS FROM NOW ON] at about one third of the plot, when you find out the girl you were hanging out with is nothing but another cop, everything clicks into place. You stop wasting too much time running free and start to concentrate on the plot, and the game turns into a huge, intricate, quasi-Guyritchiesque story of conflicting families and you being a mercenary and not caring about who's right or wrong because you need to find the man you were looking for. I remember being sucked in by the conflicts between the Irish and the Italians (you know, national pride and all), and for every new encounter, every new cutscene I hoped to hear something useful about that guy I needed to find. The plot advances at a breath-taking rhythm in the last hours (let's say, after the bank robbery), and it ends in an epic and symbolic last mission that wouldn't have been out of place in a movie or a book.

I don't understand why you felt the side quests and secondary characters were not part of the main story: every man Niko works for promises something to him, from turning a blind eye on his misdeeds to directly helping find the man, to the infamous "you need money, work for me". I feel it's there that you're completely out of focus. Niko just arrived in the US and has no clue, no job, no nothing, just a crappy house shared with his (obnoxious) cousin. He obviously needs money, to pay bills, to buy food, (to hire hookers?). Of course Rockstar spared us the annoyance of actually paying bills and buying groceries and so on! It's what videogames (and movies, and even books in a way) are for. Realism and immersiveness (is that even a word?) are not synonyms for 1:1 mimicking of reality, and accepting Niko needs money to live – and thus accepts even the crappiest jobs – is part of the suspension of disbelief. The same suspension that lets you not bother about Niko sleeping every two or three days or never going to the toilet.

Plus, most of those seemingly pointless (though I never felt this way, I have to say) jobs are a way to intrduce you to new characters, their visions, their personal life, and I feel almost everyone belonged, if not to the main story, to the overall vision of Liberty City that Rockstar tried to convey. Sure, there's also a fair share of annoying or out-of-place characters (I could have lived without Dawyne), but if you try to keep yourself focused on the story and stop wandering around in Liberty City it's hard not to see the big picture, so to speak.

Regarding the cars, I had the same issues for the first part of my playthrough. Then I started practicing (I know, I make it sound like a job), learning when to accelerate, how to use brakes and the handbrake, and within an hour I mastered driving (Brucie's races help A LOT), and never felt the controls were clunky or just broken. I'm not saying I'm better than you or anything, just that it's strange reading things like

«considering that one of the main gameplay elements of the Grand Theft Auto series is police chases, buggy driving controls are just unacceptable»

, 'cause when I think of GTAIV the first things that come to my mind are the spectacular chases I put myself into in almost every mission (first time I completed the bank robbery mission I looked around the room to spot where Michael Mann hid). Sure, car controls are anything but realistic, but I feel like they're fully functional and help you immerse yourself in the mood of the game (unlike on-foot controls, which are almost unbearable at times).

I'm not saying GTAIV is a perfect game – far from it, in objective terms. Checkpoints suck, some missions are out of place, the cover system is far from perfect and so on. But, considering how epic and moving the story grows to be during the playthrough, how tight and focused the second half of the game is, how well written and well directed its cutscenes are and how fun it is to play, I personally feel GTAIV is the best GTA ever* and one of the most important games of its generation.

Just my two cents, of course, but today's a lazy day at the office, so I have plenty of time to defend one of my favorite games ever :D

*if you only consider the 3D ones. Otherwise, Chinatown Wars for the DS delivers even more in terms of fun and creativity in main missions and side quests, and I think is one of the most overlooked games ever.

Respectfully Disagree? I wholeheartedly disagree.

IMHO, GTA IV was an incredible experience in terms of environment and playability. It was one of the few games to possess a world that actually felt alive. The graphics in this game, particularly when it was released, were spellbinding. Seriously, this game (arguably) had some of the best rag-doll physics I'd ever seen at the time.

I'm not sure entirely clear on what your issue with driving was, since it's pretty straight-forward. If you drive like a deranged maniac, of course you're going to hit something. Wouldn't you expect the same in real life? If you're still hitting things while driving at respectable speed, then, IMHO, you're not very good at driving.

In terms of story, I believe it'd be rather difficult to offer an interesting narrative without the occasional side-mission. Plus, they're clearly there to provide entertainment. Anyway, Niko's vendetta was clear from the outset. He was on a quest to locate several individuals who had wronged him in the past. In order to accomplish this goal, he began working with others in exchange for information/money. He was also trying to project his cousin from vindictive mobsters. The narrative did a good job of elucidating this fact.

I agree almost in everything

I agree almost in everything in this review.

When GTA3 come out it was completely fantastic although it's many flaws. Vice City improved even more and San Adreas was the peek.
GTA4, of course has great graphics and some things fantastic (as you mentioned the friendship relations and the distractions - pubs, minigames and shows) but the story is off. I agree it has a good start and objective, but all the turns, twists and side missions seems somehow disconnected.

Although I'm PC player I also disliked the driving in GTA4 mainly because of the camera when you turn or even worst when you skid-turn, you have to keep compensating with the mouse or you won't be seeing what in front of you.

GTA:SA was really on point, great scenery with cities and country side (just loved those redneks!), missions were connected because the character's objective change during the game, the physical build-up, the driving, swimming, flying talents improvement has you go it gave the game propose to engage in side quests or activities.
In GTA4 it all seems random and disconnected. If you ask me, I would say that is oriented for console players instant satisfaction instead of building up character game.

In the next game I would like to see a character who is really a Gran Theft Auto guy, whose main activity (in the start of the game) is stealing and selling expensive and luxurious cars, a scenery set like GTA:SA and also build-up talents thing and more slow and more believable objective for the main quest (ex. revenge from someone and not taking over the business killing everyone in the process - the final goal of GTA4 was on point, the problem was that in the process you ended the crime in Liberty City by killing all the bad guys!). I also would like to see not mandatory quests but if you chose to do them it gives you access to certain equipment or talents and you can't do it all, you have to chose only some of them each playthrough - this would give a 2nd and 3rd playthrough a different kick.

Resuming: It was nice to play the game, but it was the first in GTA series I only play once and I can't imagine playing it again, in the other hand GTA:SA is still installed on my system!

GTA IV so unappreciated :(

GTA IV is gamerankings.com s 4th highest rated game of all time.

It was universally acclaimed by respectful publishers across the board upon release.

The main area in which the journalists heralded was the ground breakingly immersive city. It was genuinely next-gen and If you track back and look at the reviews upon release you will find references to this all over place. The art direction and tone was absorbing.

This is the first GTA IV that has a sense of maturity. It lost the silliness at the core of previous GTA games and provided a main character and city that felt real. If you just spent your time flying through the main story then yes you may have had a different experience. For it was the city itself (admitably not gameplay wise) that provided part of the attraction. If you played this game the way Rockstar intended by taking your time enjoying the side quests and enjoying the great views portrayed from an inspired art direction.

GTA IV is one of a very few WOW exepriences I have had as soon as I have booted up a video game.

Mario 64 was one, Ocarina of time another, FF VII another and GTA IV being the last.

I guess the games ratings will carry the game into gameings future as whenever someone views the list of gamings most critically acclaimed games, GTA IV will be high up on that list standing strong on its own above the more fondly remembered GTA III by a good margin.

GTA III merely provided Rockstar with a fine blank canvass in which they finally painted the masterpiece they were aiming for in GTA IV.

Hats off to Rockstar.

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