Grand Theft Auto IV review
Genetically Superior [/inside joke]
Ah, Grand Theft Auto IV, how I've longed for thee. Honestly, I didn't anticipate this game at all. I simply watched a few trailers, and bought it on release date. Best strategy to fully enjoy a game and not over-hype it if you ask me.
Anyways, the game. A long awaited 'sequel' to the Grand Theft Auto franchise no doubt, and it doesn't disappoint. From it's opening artwork sequence, the game gets right down into the story, as European Niko Bellic arrives in Liberty City, USA, to meet his cousin, Roman. Of course, that's not the only reason Niko travels to America, but let's come back to that later.
Initially, we can safely say that the graphics have been improved. There's more emotion and expression in the characters faces, more detail around smaller objects such as food, etc.. Perhaps not as improved as one would hope when comparing it to other major titles on the next-gen, but it is a step up in the graphics department from previous installments. GTA just wouldn't be GTA without that wacky cartoon-styled characters to me, either.
The city is just breath-taking. The setting, the lighting and weather changes blend in very well, adding to the wonderful atmosphere. Being a resident of the modeled city, New York City, I can vouch for Rockstar capturing it's essence quite well. The city as a whole, is huge. There are three main islands to wreck havoc in, each with connecting tunnels/bridges just like New York City. Long story short, those who enjoy driving around in GTA games, you'd better pack a sandwich. And don't worry about getting lost, you'll have a trusty 'waypoint' or GPS system handy by going into the map (press start) and using 'A' to set the point.
The in-game cinematics shine in GTA IV. Some are emotional and suspensful, others are dramatic and deadly. What ever the case may be, there's bound to be quite a bit of cutscenes to make you go, "Wow! That was pretty cool!" Well...maybe not those exact words, but similar to it. The explosions in them are just...beautiful.
The vehicles have also gotten a '1-up' mushroom for this game. Each car has it's own settings and style in the game. What I mean by this is that each vehicle's turns, speed, durability and such have been updated. The turning in particular, maneuverability has changed and will take some getting used to. After all, you can't expect a Patriot (similar to a Hummer) to sharp turn without having some repercussions.
Get used to the 'X' button in particular. Jumping and climbing helps you reach heights you never thought were possible getting to without a helicopter. Snipers will be in paradise. The 'Right Trigger' is also an imporant button to these controls, as it's used for acceleration while in a vehicle, as well as shooting while on foot. One of the biggest reasons as to why I chose the 360 version of this game is due to the controller. I honestly prefer the 360 for shooting games, and the acceleration is easier to manage than the PS3 (at least for me it is).
The other gameplay elements will be familiar to GTA fans, and will be easy to adjust for newcomers (especially those that have played a racing game and/or shooting game on the 360, likely the same default button format). Not many changes in terms of weapon usage, movement, however the cover system is worth noting. It is being done with many shooter games, but it's definitely a new feature that I welcome with open arms in the GTA world. Makes the game feel more tactical, a type of shooter that I prefer. Though you wouldn't necessarily need to take cover for the beginning missions, as armor and quick-thinking can get you by, it becomes a major asset later on, and is worth getting adjusted to.
The addition of taxis are also an open-armed feature. The taxi drivers take you anywhere you want, as far as the road will take them, making those focused more on the missions lives much easier. The ride reminded me of a chapter of Call of Duty 4, after the prologue mission. It's a change of pace to have someone else do the driving for a (lack of a better word) change. Skipping rides is possible, will cost more, but also saves time (both in-game and out).
Don't want to spend the cash on taxis? Well why not take the clean and sanitized subway? It's a decent way to get around town, although there could be more stops (all seem to be express, not local). It's still a nice little addition to a game based off of New York City. A city which is flooded with people commuting by train.
Another new addition to the series is the use of cell phones, because in this day and age, who doesn't have a cell phone (don't answer that)? People who you work for will be called after a mission is done to get feedback, whether you pass or fail (and if you fail, you'd have to do it again), calls from and to friends to set up activities as well as going out with girlfriends. All with the touch of a button (or two). You can also receive text messages, and with the cell, access the Multiplayer options. As convenient as all of this sounds, it actually gets quite annoying. Friends seem to always want attention, even more of a problem with girlfriends. You can ignore them, but it will likely cost you.
Getting back to it's story, it really does seem fresh and compelling. More emotional than the previous installments of GTA. Some missions involving Roman, for example, would have Niko go berserk, showing no mercy for those who interfere with his loved ones. Niko's story as well as other characters are told throughout the game, bits and pieces from friendly conversations and missions. Rockstar captures their characters well, easily having us see things through their character's eyes, but that should come to no surprise for GTA fans.
Niko wanted to get away from his country, though he left loved ones such as his mother behind. He's been through hell there, and it appears that a war is going on, as he mentions, friends killing their friends. He wants to start a new life and get away from his past enemies. Niko Bellic has a sort of mysterious charm to him, which gamers can come to appreciate, a well-rounded character that develops through the game. Rather than ramble on about him, I'll just stop and mention that he's a top main character to me, and if this were a movie, I'd nominate him for 'best actor/character.' Then again, most of the cast in GTA IV have a particular charm for us to compare and contrast with. Anyways, Niko's quite a sucker for cash, and he admits this time and time again when accepting missions, saying things like, "if the price is right," or "If I'm rewarded in return." Him and his cousin are in need of money, although Roman did lie about his lifestyle, giving Niko the wrong ideas of his stay in America.
The story may feel a bit refurbished from the older GTA games, such as it's twists and demands from missions, but that comes with the name. It is a sequel after all, traces of the previous games will likely be present. Just a matter of building on and improving from it's predecessors, which GTA IV does. Of course, 90+ missions will keep you busy, although some are based on the same concept of being a hitman or jacking a car, again, that's GTA. Things get complex in the later missions. I suppose Rockstar does this as a sort of 'difficulty level.' They start you off with adjustable and easy missions, then build you up to the ones involving more strategy and style. Great for newcomers.
The radio stations and tracks for this game are as good as it gets, with hilarious talk shows, and various genres specific to each station so that you can find what you're looking for, whether it be rap, hip-hop, rock, country, there's something for everyone. Rockstar took a step back with this game, however. They are usually using big-time artists. I'm glad they didn't do that this time around. I appreciate the lesser known artists, it can help them make it big and get their names out, such as the Greenkeepers. Vagabond is my favorite track from the game, Radio Broker station. There's a quite few famous DJs hosting the radio shows, but that's about it, and that's just fine to me.
Vagabond by the Greenkeepers, played in this commercial trailer for the game.
Returning to the friend arrangements, one of the many tidbits in this game is going out with your pals and having a good time. If they feel that you aren't calling them, they'll take the initiative and ask you out. Pleasing your friends (and girlfriends) earns you a few achievements as well as their special services. For example, if Roman's like and respect for you go over 75%, he'll arrange a car service for you, with your own personal pissed-off driver. This service is free of charge, and with the cell phone, you can be picked up from just about anywhere the land allows. Each friend and girlfriend have different likes and dislikes, time frames from when they are free, and special services that you'll want to keep handy.
Part of the many tidbits in this game, friendly arrangements range from bowling to drinking (alcohol...this is a must-try, "YELLOW CAR!!") to seeing a theatrical or comedic show. Your friends will of course give off some hints as to how much they enjoyed the event so you know what they like or don't like. Don't stick to one event for everyone, though, because even though they are NPCs (non-playable characters), they are well aware of when they are going to do the same thing as the last activity. Other slight boosters (for girlfriends) would be the clothes you have Niko wearing, and the car he drives. Some prefer fast driving, others would like a particular radio station, it's all diverse, which helps separate their characters.
The only problem with these outgoings is that it gets boring very quickly. It wasn't a big deal for me, because I had my brother doing most of the outings for the characters, but it still becomes a nuisance. Bowling, darts, and pool are all fun games, but they are quite watered down in this game, such as bowling having a few 'sweet spots' for easy strikes, and darts being ridiculously easy to win within 2-4 turns. Pool provides the most challenge, one that just about every friend/girlfriend are decent at, but it still doesn't feel like enough to keep going to. Not to mention the fact that you're paying for the games to play, and you're the driver (unless you take a taxi, in which case, you're paying the cab driver as well). Just how cheap are these friends? I understand if you're the one to ask them out you would generally pay but that is ridiculous! The fastest and safest bet is to go eating when you can with friends, although even at fast foods, that can run you up a good $100 or so. But in the interest of fairness, they do provide special services as mentioned, such as Roman's free taxi ride, Packie's bomb, Jacob's discount on weapons, etc., so in the long run, it's worth the effort.
Quick tip: If you can't deal with these friends calling you all the time to arrange some activities, simply agree to what they want to do, then immediately call them back and choose 'Cancel Plans.' You won't get thumbed down for it!
The little things in GTA IV don't stop there, though. You can customize your cell phone's display, ring tune, set it to vibrate, and of course, use it to call people, such as 911 (great way to nab a cop car, fire truck, or ambulance). There's also the use of the world wide web. Although you don't type in web addresses, there's plenty of hot links with a lot of information to read up on. Niko uses this feature to set up dates with a few girls from an online dating site, as well as keep in contact with his mother or communicating with those who he's worked for. Other bits noticeable in this game includes the body reactions to crashes and sharp turns (improved physics). They sway for a more 'realistic' feel. There's even television shows, which are fun if you've got time to kill, and news updates reporting after you successfully complete a mission. The Weasel TV channel and radio station are worth tuning in to, fun shows such as The Men's Room with Bas and Jeremy, or Republican Space Rangers, a spoof of Halo with guys who just want to kill things.
Now with sequels, we'd expect the developers to up the bar on the next game, add more to certain things that we loved. Rockstar doesn't quite grasp this, as many bits from San Andreas were left in the closet. I didn't really mind too much because it felt more like The Sims than GTA, but it has upset some fans of the series, nonetheless. Fun bits such as changing your hairstyle or getting tattoos weren't carried over. Not that I'd want to see Niko in an afro or anything, but it's great to have the option there, heh. The clothes don't stand out either, unfortunately, but again, personally, that's not my reason for playing this game.
I suppose my biggest disappointment in what Rockstar left out had to be the planes. I had a hard time getting used to the planes in Vice City, picked it up better for San Andreas, and was hoping to see it in GTA IV to really brush up on. They do have helicopters, which is great, but when it comes to maneuvering, you don't want me piloting that thing.
Vigilante missions have returned, though slightly different from previous installments. They feature current crimes as well as a top ten most wanted list for each island. Cops don't have to pay the toll booth, and the siren does wonders for traffic, so keep that in mind. The famous Assassin missions are back as well, a mysterious voice from a phone booth filling Niko in on who needs to be taken out. You can also receive side jobs from friends, such as Jacob's drug deliveries, or Brucie's car theft deals (you can also get races going for some extra cash from Brucie). Hidden packages are also a blast from the past, with flying rats (aka pigeons) as bait. 200 are scattered across the islands, and though cruel in animal rights, it's fun to watch them explode! USJs, or Unique Stunt Jumps, are also a great side-step. There's 50 to do, and the slow motion is great for snap-shots.
The down-sides here are that the Fire Department, Paramedic, and Taxi missions are no longer available. I used to do quite a few of those, to make up for my killing sprees and such, heh. Now I don't really have anything for remorse except for vigilante, but with vigilante missions, you have to kill the target or take them down within an inch of their life.
Multiplayer mode is like a whole new world, with fifteen (that's 15!) different modes to choose from. If you ever grow tired of the Single-player and want intense fun, you know who the call. No not Ghostbusters, the multiplayer option from your cell. From classics such as Team Deathmatch, to fun Co-op missions such as Deal Breaker, multiplayer is a new and great experience for the GTA franchise.
Quick look at one of the many Multiplayer modes in GTA IV: Cops n' Crooks.
It does have it's flaws, however, which I'm hoping Rockstar is on the verge of fixing. The random game joins, tedious set-up and constant disconnects can put people off this mode. Rockstar needs a server system, as you don't know when you'll be a host or not. The races in multiplayer mode also need some fine-tuning, due to the glitches caused by crashing into other cars or obstacles. One moment, I'm making a hard turn, the next, I'm stuck between two poles. I look past those issues as best I can, though, and enjoy the free mode (where you can just roam about the entire city with friends), and hilarious team deathmatch games.
You can customize your character for online mode, and there is a level-up system which will bring you new gear to add to your very own character. Throughout the modes, you'll receive money. The amount of money you receive acts as an experience meter, the more you get, the higher you'll level up. This takes work as you get higher in levels, of course, but time flies when you're having fun. The customization is as basic as Niko's, but it is worth it to help distinguish yourself from the rest of the crowd. Some 16 players can be in a game at once, after all. You may also choose to play as a male or female, though there are no differences in gameplay or clothing. I suppose it's more balanced that way.
Here is a look at the 50 achievements for the 360 edition of Grand Theft Auto IV. Achievement junkies will be kept busy with this game, whilst having fun in the process.
Just some advice to the achievement-seeking maniacs out there: If you are trying to get all the achievements in this game, please, don't go for Liberty City Minute. This achievement causes you to rush through the game, and though it earns you 30 GamerScore for beating the game in 30 hours or less, it can cause frustration and you won't take in the story as it's meant to be told. If you absolutely have to get it, take your time and beat the game once first. I never have fun rushing through a game, I don't think anyone else could, either. The achievement isn't going anywhere, you can always get it, even in ten years from now.
It's worth mentioning because I have two Xbox Live friends who completely stopped playing the game soon after earning this achievement. Not saying it can happen to you but heck, if you want to fully enjoy this game, avoid that worthless achievement.
If there's one thing GTA IV is known for, it's the voice-acting and jokes. Okay, that was two things, and GTA is more known for it's free-roaming style, but these pieces do help shape the game into what it is. The voice-actors are talented, bringing their character's judgements and beliefs through our TV. Michael Hollick in particular, the man who voiced Niko Bellic, does an excellent job in Niko's attitude. You can see this through his many (and I do stress many) conversations. His reactions are intentionally funny for the most part as well, so you're bound to be entertained by this Eastern European. No big-time actors, just like no big-time artists, which again, is fine. Rising voice actors such as Hollick will be remembered for his work in this game. I found the voice actor for Patrick McReary, Ryan Johnston, to be the most entertaining out of the flock, as well.
To sum up, if this isn't obvious enough, I highly recommend Grand Theft Auto IV to anyone looking for fun of any kind. There's just so much to do. If you're not one for Single player games, Multiplayer is available for you from the start. If you're into racing games, this is certainly one kind to look into. Ever feel like just punching someone out on the streets? Now you can do it without physically harming someone in this world! I've recently completed the single-player mode, and am now hopping into Multiplayer, and I can safely say that I'll be there for many months to come. There's an endless amount of possibilities at your finger tips, not to mention this version gets exclusive Downloadable Content within the next year.
If you're new to the series (and old enough), give the game a rent, it's worth at least that much. Admittedly, it has it's flaws, such as the glitches here and there, but that shouldn't stop you from renting it. Chances are, you'll become a fan of the series by wondering what all the buzz is about once you give it a chance. I give this game a 4.8/5 for the many reasons listed above, such as it's compelling story, great cast, stations, etc.. I've been patiently waiting for a new Grand Theft Auto game, and I couldn't be more pleased. How Rockstar will top this one is beyond me, but for now, be genetically different and give it a shot!
This is what you're looking for at your nearest game store. You have your target, you have your location. Failing conditions include boredom, a left-out feeling. Passing conditions include months of fun and understanding your peers...mission begin.
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