The Grand Theft Auto series has satisfied many a gaming fan. The series has sold over 70 million copies worldwide, and new installments to the franchise always get massive hype. Grand Theft Auto IV is no exception, and is one of the most hyped up games in gaming history. It’s finally here.
You play as Niko Bellic, an immigrant to America and a veteran of the Bosnian War. He has moved in with his cousin Roman Bellic and together, they pursue the elusive “American Dream”. Roman has been telling Niko stories of how he is living in luxury. But when Niko turns up, they are just that. Stories. Soon they are both catapulted into a life of debt, drugs and violence. With the promise of money, Niko works for multiple employers so that he and his cousin can live a good life in Liberty City. Although it tends to stop and start at various locations in the game, the overall narrative is deep and enthralling, making you want to play just so you can witness the story develop. You develop a relation with Niko, which is strange for a game in this genre.
The core GTA gameplay is still there. You have a mini-map at the bottom of your screen that shows icons of various missions that you can do whenever you like. You can still jack cars and go on random killing sprees whenever you like. Car handling is a more realistic and slow then the previous games, with a unique handling system based on what car you have and how damaged it is. I don’t really mind this adjustment, but for some people, it will making driving around feel like a chore. Combat has been improved, as you can now take cover behind an object using R1 (or RB). You can peek around corners by tilting the left stick and can jump out by aiming at an enemy and firing. It’s a welcome addition, but it is clunky, and at times, slow to respond. When you aim, there is a lock on system that tracks your enemy with a reticule, with the enemy’s health shown in bars around the reticule. You can tilt the right stick in a direction to fine tune aiming, which makes head-shots quite easy. A new addition is your mobile phone. You can bring it up by pressing up on the D-pad and you can call friends, use your organizer, camera, and even customize your ringtones! The main missions aren’t really that diverse. It mostly follows the structure of “go there, kill him, come back”, although there are some different missions which make the game just that little bit more enjoyable (play “Museum Piece” and you’ll know what I mean).
Some of your employers will become friends which you can phone up and spend time with. If you get to know them well enough, they will grant you special abilities, like selling you guns at a discounted price, or lending you a chopper etc. While the concept of this is good, it boils down to your friends pestering you about ignoring them, and it ends up being an annoyance. You can also date people, which follows the same structure. The activities you can do with them range from drinking to bowling to going in helicopter rides. You can also go on computers and go on the internet. In addition, you can buy clothes that Niko can wear, giving him that extra bit of character, although the range is slightly more limited than it really should be. The voice acting is great, especially Niko’s and the soundtrack on the radio is diverse, although you’ll find yourself sticking to one or two radio stations.
The immersion in the game has definitely improved. You will hardly ever see the same person twice. Pedestrians go about their lives like a normal city; they answer phones, have conversations with each other in the street, and eat food. Police pull over and arrest civilians and you can hear a radio drowned out through a car. If you just sit back and observe your surroundings, you will notice that hundreds of things are going on at once. It all adds up to create the most immersive Liberty City yet.
Graphically GTA is pretty good. The environments are nicely rendered, with three islands to unlock as you progress through the game. Although the area to explore is smaller than San Andreas, there is more going on at each location. You won’t find any useless areas, which more than makes up for it for it’s lack of size. There is a dynamic weather system which include rain and fog and there are great lighting effects like when the sun beats down on the water. The ripple effects on the water are there, but unless you strain your eyes or use something big like crash into it with a helicopter, you can’t see them. Textures aren’t great, and character models are sometimes expressionless. Rockstar tries to mask the texture deficiency by implementing a lot of motion blur when you’re moving fast. There is also noticeable pop in in regards to draw distance.
Multiplayer is a good addition with a healthy number of game modes. It plays and looks almost identically to the single player mode. A certain mode that stands out is Free Mode, which allows you and other people to just chill in Liberty City. There are some competitive modes and also some cooperative modes like Bomb Da Base II, Hangman’s N.O.O.S.E. and Deal Breaker. They are a great deal of fun, and since there aren’t many sandbox games that have multiplayer.
All in all, GTA IV performs well in living up to the hype. Some may think it fails miserably, but if you avoid comparing it to other GTAs and observe GTA IV on its own, you will realise that it truly does deserve the hype it gets.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
The story is enthralling and will keep you interested, although it tends to stop and start. Characters can be a bit expressionless at times, but it are graphically impressive.
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Standard GTA gameplay, fans of the series will feel right at home. The cover system can be a bit clunky and unresponsive but it works fairly well, and the driving has been adjusted. Although very similar to previous titles, it just feels a bit more cohesive.
The tracks on the radio are diverse, with genres ranging from hip-hop to rock. The voice acting is excellent.
With a wealth of multiplayer modes, ranging from competetive to co-operative to racing, you won't move on from this title too soon. There are also a number of side-missions to complete in the single player story.
This game delivers well in all departments. Good graphics, gameplay and story. Don't be fooled by the hype - this game deserves it.