"Niko my cousin welcome to America!! ha ha"
Grand Theft Auto IV
Release Date: August 29, 2008
Developer: Rockstar North
ESRB Rating: Mature
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
Reviewing Grand Theft Auto IV was way more difficult to do that I imagined. The problem was that I kept wanting to compare Grand Theft Auto IV to the previous games in the series. Doing so would have poisoned my view of this game, for my opinion of these early games is not very high. But after reading up on GTA IV, I was optimistic this game would change my opinion of the entire series.
In the story of Grand Theft Auto IV, you play Niko Bellic, a Russian that moves to America in search of a better life. Once he arrives to the US, he finds himself turning to a life of crime. Now he must battle various criminals to survive and prosper in the land of milk and honey. Not really an original story, but the title of the game is Grand Theft Auto so this is in par with what I expected. The game has many problems and if I want to give this game a fair trial, I have to get these issues off my chest before I get to the good stuff (for there is some good in this game).
I will first focus my venting on the physics. The physics in Grand Theft Auto IV have been touted by many as simple amazing. I do not understand how the physics in this game can be considered so incredible. I did not pay much attention in physics class, but I do remember that Newton's second law does not explain how you can knock over steel light poles by barely touching them with a car (or even a motorbike). I can attest first hand as a witness, when a car hit a steel light pole, the car will lose every time. Another thing of interest is that when Niko exits the car by way of the windshield, he can fly a good 20 or 30 feet, do a roll and pick himself up and run away. I will not include an image of what happens when a real body goes through a car windshield, but I can assure you that the remains of such an event will not pick itself up from the road and walk away. But no one purchased this game for the physics, so you will not care if the physics are realistic or not, I just brought them up because there was a lot of hype over these so called physics and they turned out to be sub-par. That theme of "less stellar than expected" is repeated over and over again in this game.
The story and characters in GTA IV has been heralded as one of the best in gaming history, but just like the physics, the end product leaves much to be desired. The problem is not that the story and characters are bad, is that they are quite predictable. When I say the story is predictable, it is because the story and characters are straight out of a Tarantino movie. In fact, I would not be surprise to see his name on the credits at the end of the game (if I ever get that far). While I have yet to complete the game, I already know just about everything that will happen to Niko. Heck I can even predict his lines. For a game that is supposed to be so open, you are very limited in your actual game choices. I had tried to kill Roman, as his character is by far the most annoying of the entire cast, but that was not an option. I tossed him out of the car, hit him at full speed, them proceeded to drive over his body over and over again till the game indicated he died. I was relieved and free, but just then my cell phone rang and it was Roman wanting me to pick him up at the hospital. This was not the only thing I could not change. For example this one mission had me take out a lower level thug, and each time I confronted him, he would run out of the building and drive away, which forced me to chase after him. I decided, after a failed attempt, to block off his escape route by parking a few cars in the way of his car, but the game did not like my actions and promptly removed all the cars that blocked his escape. This was not an area reset as it left the others that I have placed nearby but did not pose an obstacle to his escape. Several times in the game I have tried to do something other than what the game told me to do but the game just forced me to do it. If I want to play ball, I must play by it's rules I guess. I thought this game was supposed to be a sandbox game, where I could do as I pleased?
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The main reason why I wanted to change the story I was playing was because I really hated all the characters in the game. I figured at first that these are just bums that are low on education, and therefore had limited vocabularies, but as you are introduced to new characters of higher ranking, each one is more stereotypical than the previous ones and all share the game condition of not knowing any adjective longer than one syllable. In fact, everyone in the game must have spent several years as a drunken sailors for I never heard so many 4 letter words used in anything other than in the South Park movie, and they did this on purpose to prove a point about censorship.
I do not think Rockstar was trying to prove a point, they opted to go for the cheap thrill instead of being innovative with their characters. The final issue I have with the various personalities in the game is that they all look and move like puppets? The graphics for the rest of the game are simply amazing, but the people all look like rejects from Team America. But again, no one purchase GTA for deep characters, and most actually fully enjoy the limited dialog options and language that is used in the game. It familiar to them as this is the same language used in most game forums.
At the start of the game, you are handed a cell phone by Roman. Oh how I wish you could refuse that stupid phone. From the time you accept the phone, till you end the game, it will drive you mad by ringing every few minutes. Does anyone remember Otis the janitor from Dead Rising. He would call you all the time, most times when you are surrounded by zombies, well imagine 20 such Otises calling or texting you all the time.
My biggest problem of all is with the controls. I can expect to have loose controls in a game like BlackSite or TimeShift, but in a game as high profile as this one, there are no excuses for sloppy controls. Not all the controls are bad, just the one associated with driving and hand-to-hand combat. Driving a car in GTA IV with any amount of speed is an exercise in futility. The early cars handle like they are made of jello, and things do not improve much as the game progresses. But car handling is a piece of cake when compared to hand-to-hand combat. The hand-to-hand fighting part of the game reminded me of Wii Boxing. No matter what I did, what button I pressed, Niko would just stand there and do whatever he pleased.
Now that I got that venting out of the way, comes the good part. The game is actually quite enjoyable, once you get past it's flaws. If you focus on what the game is, and not what it pretends to be, then you will have more fun. The game is an action/adventure game, and there is plenty of action and adventure to be had. But for some reason it likes to pretend it's a driving/racing game or a tactical shooter. It is neither of these and the quicker you realize that, the more you will enjoy the game. Always remember, the game is an action/adventure game first, and everything else second.
The real star of the game is not Niko Bellic it's Liberty City. Even if you do not like the game, you can always assume free mode and spend hours visiting every part of the city. Just trying to find all the vehicles you can drive is a challenge in itself. I did find it convenient that Niko was able to drive cars, trucks, motorcycles, speedboats, tugboats, helicopters, scooter and much more. the man is amazing. But I digress, back to Liberty City. Liberty City is filled with many leisure activities. You can go play bowling, darts or pool. If you are not into playing mini games, then you can visit one of the many fine establishments and watch a comedy show, or visit one of the even more plentiful questionable establishments and have yourself a private show. Liberty City is filled with various radio stations that you can listen to while driving. There is a radio show for each taste. If you feel like staying home, you can watch full length TV shows or you could head out to the local Internet café and browse the Internet, not the real Internet, but some cool fake sites. Rockstar humour is omnipresent in this game, with parodies abound in every form. The humour is mostly hit and miss. Some of it appears to be made by juvenile teens, while other stuff is genuinely funny. There are also plenty of Easter eggs to be found in Liberty City. Just try to find the "heart" of the city to find out what I mean.
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I ranted that I hated just about every character in this game, but Niko is an almost likable person (almost). His ambitions is to make a better life for himself and his cousin using the only method he knows how. He often appears to have morals, but then again that just may be gas. While the game may not allow you to kill whomever you want (like Roman) at times, when the game decides, it will make you choose if a character lives or dies. This decision will affect your gameplay experience by limiting your access to some weapons and cash flow. But like a stone tossed into a river, the ripple effects is not enormous.
One thing for sure, you will get your money's worth out of this game if you intend to play it to completion. The main storyline will take you a good 15-20 hours, if you do not do any side missions or sight seeing. But once you have completed the game, the disc is not completely useless yet. For the first time in this franchise, the game offers many different multiplayer game options. While having two-player coop would have made this game even more enjoyable (the other player could control Roman), multiplayer is limited to non-story related events. In multiplayer there are several modes to choose from, but all related to going from one area of the city to another area be it to complete a mission or deliver a package. But the most fun can be had while playing in free mode. In free mode, you can turn off the cops, turn off friendly fire and let loose. The multiplayer option is great, but only really acts as a pleasant distraction and offer the occasional good laugh but become quite boring quickly.
At the Asylum, we do not give games a score. The reason is simple, what you read was my opinion about the game, not some standard you must follow. I tried to list what I liked and what I did not like. It may not bother you that every sentence contains a 4 letter word, but it could bother others (I did not care for it much either). But since this game is the highest rated game beating out just about every other game, on just about every platform known to man, I felt it necessary to give it a score. I will give it a score on 100 based on the following elements of the game that have been heralded by other reviewers; graphics, soundtrack, sound, controls, mini-games, physics, story, innovation, multiplayer and fun factor.
* Graphics are amazing for the city, but the characters look like marionettes. A bit better than Saints Row, but no Gears of War here. 8 out of 10.
* Soundtrack is without any rival in any game, even popular guitar games do not offer the variety available in this game. 10 out of 10
* Sound in general is not as perfect as the soundtrack, and at time some sounds in the game will irritate you. 8 out of 10.
* Controls are hit and miss. You end up fighting with the camera too much, you cannot make Niko take a single step, driving and fighting are a chore. 7 out of 10
* Mini-games are a fun addition for the first 5 minutes then add little to nothing to the actual game. 3 out of 5
* Physics are for the most part unrealistic. Cars do not ramp that easy, bodies do not fly that far and walk away, steel poles do not topple by touching them. 5 out of 10
* Story wise, the game is predictable and suffers from déjà vue. You do have a few moral decisions to spice it up. 6 out of 10
* Innovation is not present in this game. Every element of this game has been taken from other games. There is nothing new to see here. 0 out of 5
* Multi-player mode is great and will extend the life of the game an extra week or so but no more. 7 out of 10
* Fun Factor is the toughest to score, as it encompasses part of every other category. While each category is not perfect, the game is fun, if at times a bit slow. 16 out of 20
So if I was to rate this game on a score of 100 using elements that other reviewers praised upon the title, I would come out with a score of 70 out of 100. So how it is that over 60 reviewers decided this game was perfect in every way? I guess Rockstar forgot to send me my bag of swag to influence my vote. Rockstar, it's not to late, I can always pull a Gamespot or IGN and removed my score and say it was some intern that screwed up.
To say that this game is not for everyone is an understatement. I personally found the pace way to slow, the characters way to stereotypical and the story way to predictable to be ale to fully enjoy myself. I am sure that half the copies it sold will be played as a curiosity for a few week, then stored away. I will recommend this game to people that are not easily offended, and have plenty of patience only. Others stay away, you will only regret your purchase.
I am not sure I will even finish this game, but I will revisit Liberty City a few more times before it will assume a spot in my game collection, alongside such great games as Gears of War and Guitar Hero series (only because I sort my game alphabetically.)