I think most of us out there took at least some interest in Grand Theft Auto 4. If you were one of the few who weren't interested in checking it out, you were probably at least curious as to what direction the series was going to take. Grand Theft Auto 4 (GTA4) has come and gone and somehow I can’t help feeling a little empty. Now don't get me wrong, it's a great game and in many ways it's better than its predecessors but something was missing from the formula.
Niko Bellick is fresh off the boat (literally) as the game opens. In true GTA fashion the game branches out as you complete missions and meet new contacts. This time around though the story doesn't quite come together the way in which the GTA's of the past have. All the memorable characters are there but the story arc feels too convoluted and unfocused. Too often Niko is forced to take his eye off the prize, which inevitable causes the player to do so as well. At the end of the game you are left feeling like there was not very much closure and unfortunately it's true. However, there is a silver lining, and that is Niko Bellick himself. Niko is easily the most realistic lead character for the series to date. Throughout the game you will see Niko display a wide range of emotion, he's complex in a way no other GTA main character has ever been.
As I have already stated, GTA makes a number of huge improvements over its predecessors; the most important of which is the combat system. The implementation of a cover system makes the combat much easier to endure and although it's not perfect, it's much better than what we have had to work with in the past. Also being able to lock on or enter free aim with the same button is truly spectacular once you get the hang of it. Probably equally as important as the upgrade to the combat system is the addition of the cell phone. The cell phone makes the game feel much more organic. Instead of randomly showing up to icons on a map, you now receive phone calls telling you to meet someone. The cell phone also allows you to maintain contact with friends and eventually acquire their special abilities. In fact, Liberty City as a whole feels more realistic than any other environment I have ever seen. Usually I feel like environments were designed around the character, but Liberty City feels like it designed first and Niko Bellick was added to the equation later.
As great as Grand Theft Auto 4 is and as much as I enjoyed playing it, a few things bothered me. One of my favorite things to do in a GTA game is purchase property. Unfortunately there is no property for sale in GTA 4. I mean the auto save feature is nice but I would much rather have multiple hideouts and garages to store cars in than an auto save feature. More importantly there are no businesses to own. The theme of the last two Grand Theft Auto's were rags to riches, and although Niko moves up in the world you never really get the feeling that he owns Liberty City the way in which Tom Vercetti and Carl Johnson owned their stomping grounds. With nothing to buy, what am I supposed to do with all this money? I mean I would go out with friends and buy weapons but ultimately money in Libery City is completely useless. Finally there is that combat system I mentioned earlier. Although it is a significant improvement over what we had, it's still clumsy at times. Hand to hand combat is completely broken and short range gun fights are clunky at best.
Although Grand Theft Auto 4 has its flaws it is still the best sandbox game of this generation by far. My issues are not so much with the game; it's what was left out. Hopefully the new additions from GTA 4 and the features from previous titles can come together and make a truly spectacular GTA 5.