I occasionally get jeered at for giving positive reviews to games that get bad reviews from the ‘professional’ sources. The thing about said sources is that they compare games to each other. For all eternity, or at least the next little bit of time all First Person Shooters are going to be compared to Call of Duty 4 instead of judged on their own merit. That’s just my little soap box there and here’s what I really wanted to talk about.
If you’ve been in a remote part of the Amazon Jungle for about a year chances are you haven’t heard about Grand Theft Auto 4. If you’ve been anywhere near civilization then if you didn’t hear about it you’re ignorant. As with all the recent games in the Grand Theft Auto series, and Rockstar Games in general, they’ve garnered some pretty high publicity. As always some prude news person has said how the GTA series is ruining our youth, and desensitizing them, blah, blah, blah. If I wanted to be desensitized I’d watch the news then when it was over go and drink a bottle full of bleach. All that they, we’ll call them ill informed media sources, see is sex, violence, and alcohol.
While that is a part of the game, and can make for a funny story when you drive your car, and slam into a railing, fly out the windshield, then land in the bay where a police boat cracks your skull open. It’s life, we’ve got highway patrolmen running people down in their cars, drive by shootings killing 4 year old kids, parents leaving 5 month old babies in the car while they go to work. When it’s in the news it’s just that, news. As soon as someone puts it in a game all the overprotective moms, and every member of the elementary school PTA is up in arms over it. I’ve got a simple solution for all of you. Don’t let the kids get the game so the rest of us can enjoy a masterpiece in video gaming without you sullying the experience.
So without any further BS here it is.
Grand Theft Auto has taken leaps and bounds forward since it first debuted all those years ago. From simple Top-Down game play to the fully immersive and detail rich world we see today as we make a triumphant return to Liberty City.
From the start of the game you’re drawn into the world by unsurpassed attention to detail that’s provided in the game. Buildings are in disrepair, cars get rust just about anything you’d see in real life happens. If you get drunk, but not that special type of drunk where you’re a better driver because you have to get your car home, you drive really, really bad. Yes Mothers Against Drunk Driving or MADD got very mad about the whole issue but I mean come on. It’s a game.
Grand Theft Auto IV tells the epic tale of one Niko Bellic, an illegal immigrant from an unnamed Eastern European country who arrives in Liberty City to join his cousin Roman. Things are rocky from the very start, as it's immediately obvious to Niko that his cousin has been less than truthful about his current lot in life. Still, our hero has no doubt that things in Liberty City are better than back home, where he's wanted by some shady characters for reasons known only to him. The story is more engaging and entertaining than any other in the franchise's storied history, mainly because it's impossible not to like Niko. While the heroes of the previous games in the GTA series were basically hitmen and thugs (well, aside from San Andreas star CJ), Niko is more of a product of his environment than a straight-up sociopath. As you get to know him through the impressively directed cut-scenes and listen to the banter between him and the people he comes in contact with, it quickly becomes obvious that Niko is actually a pretty stand-up guy. Sure, he kills people for money and aids drug dealers, but he still comes across as a lovable shlub that doesn't have a way out of the life he's living. Besides, as Niko himself says during a conversation, it's not like he really knows how to do anything else.
This being a Grand Theft Auto title, the characters spout every racist, sexist, classist and homophobic thing you could imagine. Although there's no denying the fact that it's theoretically offensive on many levels, it's hard to be truly offended. This is due to the fact that there are really no sacred cows at all, meaning everything and everyone is fair game to be mocked. Basically, the writers are holding a mirror up to American society, at the same time both condemning and celebrating everything that makes Americans ugly (and, some might argue, interesting). Most developers would fail miserably at this, their attempts at humor and societal reflection coming off as mean-spirited. In GTA4 it's generally thought-provoking and amusing.
As cliched as it might sound, the most important supporting character in the game is Liberty City itself. Never before has an urban environment been so painstakingly created from the ground up to feel like a living, breathing city. While it's not as massive as the game world in San Andreas, the level of detail is astounding. Not only does each neighborhood look different, every street you drive down looks unique. It's an impressive feat, though you'll definitely notice glitches here and there. Our only qualm with the game world (and it's a pretty small one) is that there aren't enough wooded areas. Middle Park looks great, and we can only imagine what the game's Rage engine could do with a full-on forest.
While the game's missions will be familiar to just about anyone who played the last couple of GTA games (following targets, killing enemies, racing from one location to another, and so on), there have been a number of major changes that make the game much more accessible. The ability to take taxi cabs everywhere might be the most important innovation of all, as it drastically cuts down on the amount of time you'll have to spend driving from one area to another. There's also a new mission replay mechanic that will reduce the backtracking that made the previous games feel tedious and repetitive for some people. If these were your biggest qualms with San Andreas or Vice City, you owe it to yourself to give GTA4 a shot.
The game also features a new-and-improved targeting system that works quite well, especially when you take the time to use it properly. You can easily lock on to your enemies, then switch between them with a quick flick of the right analog stick, but it's the ability to fine-tune your aim to hit specific body parts that really makes all the difference. It works so well that it oftentimes feels like a straight-up action game, particularly during some of the larger firefights that populate the second half. The only problem with the combat pops up when you're duking it out with enemies in confined spaces, as it can be easy to get disoriented when the camera moves around. This can be easily remedied by forgoing the auto-lock and relying instead on the free-aim mechanic.
There's a lot of combat, but it's unlikely that you'll ever get used to GTA4's particularly brutal brand of violence. This is mainly due to the fact that the Euphoria engine's use of procedural animation ensures that you won't see the same death animation over and over again. When this is combined with AI-controlled characters who value their virtual lives, it means you'll be seeing some pretty intense stuff. Cops will attempt to stop the blood flowing from their perforated necks (courtesy of one of the most realistic shotguns in gaming history), "killed" enemies will writhe in pain and beg for help while lying on the floor, and foes that were on the wrong end of a molotov cocktail will unleash agonizing screams while unsuccessfully attempting to stop, drop and roll.
Although it's got a few problems that pop up from time to time, Grand Theft Auto IV is still an absolutely gorgeous game. Like the previous games in the series, it suffers from some texture pop-in and draw distance issues, although these should in no way affect your enjoyment of the game. It's easy to just consider those technical flaws the price you've got to pay for admission to the most impressive game world ever created. There's so much going on that you'll only really notice the flaws if you look for them, and if you're doing that there's a good chance you're missing out on something spectacular. The overall art design and visual aesthetics are extremely pleasing to the eye, and they aren't hurt by the technical issues.
Concept: A Slavic immigrant trying to live the American dream in the capital of the world. (10)
Graphics: I think in my 20 some odd hours of play time I’ve seen one texture pop in. Graphics are amazing, and the detail level is unparalleled. (10)
Sound: Sure it’s just random assortments of music on the radio, or the wail of sirens, the sound of SMG’s blaring through the night. Or the ever entertaining Integrity radio. It sounds like a real city (10)
Playability: If you’re a vetran of the GTA series the game will come natural and it’ll feel like old times. If you’re not give it an hour or so and it’ll be calling to you in the night. (10)
Replay Value: Considering you’d have to be a perfectionist to play through the game and get 100% and it would take you upwards of I’d wager 30 hours. Replay value really isn’t an issue.
~Ride Hard, Game On!