Grand Theft Auto IV Review
publisher: Rockstar Games
developer: Rockstar North
genre: Action Adventure
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Apr 29, 08
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The Grand Theft Auto series has been a major source of debate for a long time. Its controversial themes are frequently targeted by those who advocate anti-gaming politics. Even so, GTA continues to thrive as a franchise and now Rockstar has finally completed the long-awaited Grand Theft Auto IV. For the past several days, we've been playing the Xbox 360 version of the game and have only just gathered our thoughts on Rockstar North's latest open world action adventure.
Why can't this boat go faster?
Normally I wouldn't drive a motorbike. I just wouldn't.
You play as one Niko Bellic, an Eastern European immigrant (evidently Serbian), who heads to Liberty City -- a virtual replica of N.Y.C. -- to stay with his cousin, Roman. Upon his arrival, Niko finds that "The Land of Opportunity" isn't all it's cracked up to be and that living the "American Dream" is not quite how he pictured it. It's certainly not like Roman described it in his e-mails either. Roman promised him babes, fancy cars and a life in the lap of luxury, none of which turned out to be true. His cousin barely managed to set up a small taxi business and he wanted Niko to be part of it. He agrees to help his cousin.
Early on we discover that killing and enforcing are what Niko seems to do best. He'll be asked to do a variety of "favors" for numerous characters around town, most of which are influential and well-connected in Liberty City's crime world. Taking out assigned targets or threatening them won't present a problem for Niko, a war veteran with a dubious past. Thanks to his often ruthless ways, he'll be able to earn money and wing his way straight into the city's crime elite.
The storyline is clearly an aspect of the game Rockstar invested a lot of time and patience in. Apart from that, I'd like to compliment the devotion that was put into making Niko's character. You need only gaze into his eyes to understand that he did some terrible things when he was a soldier back home. Occasionally, he tries to explain what turned him into the man he is today and you can almost sense the pain and inner-torment when looking into the expressions on his face - a big hand for both the artists and animators. This is shown through a variety of cut-scenes during the main campaign. Whilst we're on the subject, each cut-scene was directed with skill and does an excellent job of introducing you to every character in the game, on top of treating you to a series of twists in the plot.
Characterization is clearly very important to Rockstar. Also, the way you interact with characters and how you treat them has a heavy impact on gameplay. For example, Niko often runs into more opponents than he can handle. If you've been friendly enough with some of the characters throughout the game, they may send someone to help you (particularly useful on hard missions). How do you go about doing this? Simple. Characters will be calling you on your cell phone, asking you to hang out with them; go out for a drink, see a show, have lunch, play pool, go to a strip club, play a game of darts and so on. You're not obliged to do this if you're not in the mood, of course. However, neglected friends usually get offended and as such can refuse to help you later on. On the other hand, if you're good to them, they'll prove useful indeed - the character Little Jacob, for instance, can be phoned at any time to let you know where you can get a discount on arms.
Another important aspect of character interaction and seeing your friends regularly is the extra dialogue, the amount of which is really amazing. Characters tend to give their life stories or divulge additional info about the city itself and various places of interest. Chatting with other characters, Niko may also reveal more info about himself. You don't need to go through these segments in order to finish the game, but you'll definitely miss plenty of cool and funny moments.
That's the secret of GTA IV. Nearly everything you do further immerses you in the game's setting and drives you to explore the open world. And Grand Theft Auto IV does a fabulous job of making the player feel he's truly traveling around a contemporary urban environment. Realism has gone up a notch, as the game makes way for drastically improved visuals and top-notch physics. Vehicles, in particular, now react far more convincingly than in any other GTA game before. They've toned down the arcade-style driving. Pulling off various stunts with your car is possible once more, except now they are more bound by realistic physics (which is a good thing).
GTA IV reduces the amount of activities when compared to the previous game, GTA: San Andreas. You cannot go the gym to beef up Niko's muscles. And eating a ton of cheeseburgers won't turn you into a massive, wobbly mound of lard. To compensate for this, Rockstar did something even better. They've emphasized the importance of communicating with other characters and creating a relationship with each one of them. And to answer your question straight away: "Yes Niko does go out on dates with chicks and yes he does get to sleep with them." He can pick up hookers too. Oh and if that gets boring, he can always go to a strip club for a lap-dance.
One of the most realistic and immersive urban environments ever seen in a video game, awesome story, seriously improved physics and graphics, compelling single-player, cool multiplayer. GTA IV is a must-buy.
Cover mechanics don't always work the way they should, I've encountered a few odd clipping issues in certain obscure parts of Liberty City.