My readers may note that I typically review older games, this isn’t because I have an obsession with old games, but because I review every game I play. I game on a budget so my reviews are usually for older games that I’ve acquired at a reduced price. The PC version of GTA IV was released in December 2008 and I acquired it that same month, but it has taken me almost a full year to complete the game. If you’ve read my review for Infernal, the reasons it took me so long to complete GTA IV are similar. It’s very hard to find motivation to play this game, it isn’t that fun.
Grand Theft Auto IV is the most recent installment in the GTA series, and certainly the biggest, most robust, and most detailed title that Rockstar has created. Players take on the role of Nico Bellic an undocumented immigrant and veteran of the Bosnian war, who has been persuaded by his cousin Roman to come to America and pursue the American dream. The game opens with Nico arriving in Liberty City, which is modeled after New York City, and as in all GTA games, Nico quickly finds himself in a life of burglary, murder, and reckless driving. The plot itself is basic. Nico wants revenge for an incident that occurred during the war, and in order to find the person responsible for it he finds himself working for various criminal organizations in order to get information.
As with many of the previous GTA titles, this game could be considered a dark comedy. While the main plot and cut scenes seem to be very serious, the missions themselves, the radio stations, the people on the street, and pretty much everything else that can be seen in the game are humorous or silly. Very tongue in cheek, and certainly entertaining. The serious cut scenes, however, are one of the most annoying parts of the game. Players will find themselves tempted to just press a button to skip them as they don’t seem to fit in with the rest of the game, and most of them don’t really make sense until the player is actually being told what to do while the mission is in progress. With ninety or so missions there are at least as many cut scenes and none of them are particularly fun to watch.
Though the plot itself is hardly worth noting, the game itself is where things really go awry. The biggest problem with the game and most annoying thing, by far, is the player controls. Rockstar took the liberty of making the movement of Nico as realistic as possible. When going up stairs he uses is feet on every step. When falling down he rolls around. When drunk, he stumbles about. When turning around he moves in a parabola like pattern. He’s got about a million different animations, and while all this detail might seem nice, it makes for very clunky controls. Just getting Nico to turn 180 degrees is an annoyance. He takes forever to do it. He doesn’t just turn around, he runs around in a half circle. This doesn’t make any sense, because in real life people can pivot, so why does Nico have to take so long to turn around? In general, making any kind of turn, while on foot, is an annoyance. Nico moves in such a ridiculous way it’s hard to get him to go where you want him to on the first try.
GTA games have never really been about being on foot, though, they’re about the cars, and driving through the city, but this doesn’t hold up as well either. It’s not as bad as the control while on foot, but vehicles behave badly. When tapping the breaks vehicles screech and skid wildly. By taking a turn player’s will find their vehicle doing doughnuts. It is almost impossible to make a turn without hitting something. Maybe all this is due to the fact that players are constantly driving well over the speed limit, but it shouldn’t be that hard to make a right hand turn.
Really, the vehicles aren’t all bad. They look quite good. And once players get the hang of them by realizing that they can’t speed everywhere, the vehicles can be controlled fairly well. Players will be excited to note that cars now have left and right turn signals. The player can’t activate these, but other drivers on the road use signals, which is better than in real life. Driving through the city is pretty annoying due to it’s size, but the player now has the option to get into a cab and quickly get to where they want to go. Many players will find themselves using cabs more than committing grand theft auto. The third most annoying thing in the game is not being able to find a cab when you need one.
Radio stations have been a major feature of the GTA series. The radio stations in the Vice City game were so well designed that their release on CD was very popular, and with good reason the selection of tracks, the DJs, the commercials, and the talk shows were very entertaining. This isn’t the case with GTA IV, the music is annoying, and many players will quickly find themselves pressing the button to turn the radio off as soon as they get into a vehicle. This seems strange, because the commercials and DJs seem as silly as ever, but they aren’t, maybe the writers tried too hard this time. It seems that the glory days of the radio stations of Vice City have ended.
Discussing a Grand Theft Auto game without mentioning controversy would be incomplete, and in theory this should be the most controversial game ever. Reckless endangerment of pedestrians, murder, robbery, homicide robberies, prostitution, vulgar language, and almost everything else you could imagine. Rockstar has pushed all these themes a little further. In the in game prostitution now now shows the characters dry humping, rather than the traditional vehicle bouncing. Vulgarity is used more frequently. The violence is up to modern standards as well. None of this is particularly outstanding though, none of it is really ground breaking, sure parents should probably carefully consider getting this game for their children, but long time adult gamers won’t really be particularly impressed or stunned. The truth is in the context of the game, it’s hard to take any of these things seriously.
Three annoying things about the game have been mentioned, but there is one final annoyance in the game, and that is relationships. In the game Nico has friends and can also have girlfriends. Each of the friends or girlfriends offer special help, for example Nico’s cousin Roman provides a free cab service, and one of Nico’s possible girlfriends will reduce the player’s wanted level by three stars. This sounds great, right? Well it isn’t. Nico is constantly being called by his so-called friends to go drinking, play pool, see shows, or other “mini games” that really aren’t that fun. While the calls themselves can be ignored, doing so may cut the player off from useful benefits as friends become unhappy and girlfriends lose interest. It just isn’t fun to feel obligated to do something you don’t want to do after receiving a cell phone call.
Overall Grand Theft Auto IV is not a horrible game, but it certainly isn’t the best game in the series, and it isn’t a particularly outstanding game in general. Sometimes the game is a chore, at other times it is fun, and of course it has it’s annoying moments as well. Liberty City is impressive, with more things to do than ever before, and many places to explore, but finding the will to go out and see the city can be hard to find.
Alternatives: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, inFAMOUS (PS3 Only).