Grand Theft Auto IV Review
LIberty city, based on New York, the fastest most vibrant city in the world, dangerous and beatuful, ancient and modern, melting pot of humanity, all life is here and now so are you. Niko Bellic arrives on a slow boat from hell escaping a past of violence and mistakes. Ex soldier turned expert criminal odd job man.
Niko's cousin Roman has invited him to stay in his mansion, the problem is that Roman is an eternal optomist and liar. He has a business and a flat, but both are low rent, the mansion is coming or so he he says. Niko enters Romans world and is introduced to a few characters. Michelle who he will have a romance with, Vlad who will lead him back into his old ways and Mallorie Romans girlfriend. After a few gentle driving around the block missions Roman is soon in trouble with the loan sharks and Niko takes his first lives in Liberty city. Events spiral out of control and through his abilities with a gun and behind the wheel Niko is soon courted to work for practically every gangster and drug dealer in Liberty city. He will find love, have his past catch him up and shoot or chase his way through every street of the city. The story is long and winding, with many good balanced characters and plot lines. There is also comedic relief in the from of steroid crazed Brucie and other similarly off the wall characters.
Choices are given in the narrative that effect the story, but don't worry they only affect things in small ways. twice in the game after tensions build up between two factions, both ask you to kill the other person. Niko has the choice. Mostly it's rewards that differ. Taking the morally wrong choice usually ends up with the greater rewards. One of those choices will have you saying to hell with the reward you just have to kill the more annoying/bad character. Cut scenes play out differently depending on your choices.
The last few missions give you a moral choice, take revenge or be bigger than that, take the money and go against your principles. The cost of either choice is pain and ultimately suffering for those around you, Niko might not pay for his life of violence but those around him do. Remember to make an extra save before the choice moments. You might want to go back and replay choosing the alternative options.
Can Niko really go straight in Liberty City? we will have to wait for the DLC to find out.
The first thing that hits you when you take control of Niko on foot is the swagger to his walk and the weight he seems to carry. His feet are independent of each other, stand on a step and one knee will bend and he will place one foot on the higher step and the other on the lower. When people are hit by cars or explosions they fly with convincing ragdoll physics.
Driving is hard at first, each car has differing handling and some drift terribly while sports cars hold the road like glue. Motorbikes are things of beauty and they fly at terrifying speeds down the roads of Liberty city and crash in the most spectacularly painful fashion. You can drive the whole gamut of vehicles available from people carriers to forklift trucks, trucks to trash collectors. Helicopters provide fast transit across the city and control in a satisfyingly arcade/simulator fashion. Sea is covered by speedboats and yachts. The water physics are good, you are able to create waves and splashes. Other modes of transport are the train network and taxis which can be flagged down and used as you would expect.
Weapons include the usual shotguns, sniper rifles, pistols, machine guns, rocket launchers, grenades and molotov cocktails. There are also knives and your fists. Aiming is simple enough and there is a cover system where you can stick to walls and pop your head out for a better shot.
Combat is tricky at first, with a steep learning curve, stick with it though as it's worth the mastering and by the time you are halfway thorugh the game you will be an expert and enjoying every gun battle. There are some long drawn out battles in tower blocks and factories, plus plenty of fighting out in the open. Shooting from moving vehicles is hard to co-ordinate but immensely satisfying when you kill or cause your target to crash or explode. One particularly chase on motorbikes through the subway system stands out as a high point.
Missions are of the usual gta type. Go to a waypoint, kill a person, or collect and object and take it back to the employer. Some are more convoluted but all essentially boil down to the same thing. Side missions are many and varied. They include the usual assassination, racing and collectibles, however there is also the new friends system. Niko has several friends who he hangs out with. Little Jacob, Roman, Packie etc. They will call Niko on his mobile or email him wanting to do normal everyday things like go bowling, play darts pool etc. Also girls will need to be taken out on dates which can include going to restaurants the theatre or just out drinking. Male friends like to go to the strip joint for a lap dance. Sometimes these activities get in the way of progress in the main story, though if you want certain things to be available to you it pays to keep your friends sweet. For example Little Jacob can be a mobile weapons dealer when he likes you enough.
The use of mobile phones and the internet has been integrated into the game, with missions involving email and internet dating. On entering an internet cafe you can use a computer to get on to a fully working web browser which has a huge spoof world wide web to surf, with parodies of many existing real world sites. Logging onto a child porn site immediately gives you a huge wanted rating and sees you dead in seconds. Microsoft need to tap Rockstar for the web browser to implement it onto the Xbox360.
The mobile phone is used as in game menu. It seems fully functional, you get texts, answer and make calls and even use it to take pictures and send photo messages. It really does feel natural and organic in the game and I don't think I have seen any other game use these communication mediums in game to such effect before.
Television also gets an appearance with tv's in all of Niko's safe houses. The programs are spoof documentaries, thinly veild jabs at Halo and attacks on advertising and modern life. I have sat and watched it for longer than I should have. Though don't expect hours of viewing, it does repeat fairly regularly. Only other game that I think beats it in this respect though is The Darkness, which had a few full movies I believe. Though i never watched any of them to find out if they didn't stop twenty minutes in.
The gameplay is top notch, there are no real surprises for players of any previous GTA games. The main criticism I have of these games is the lack of mission checkpoints. Some missions can take up to thirty minutes to complete. Some missions are screamingly hard. After being shot down thirty minutes into a mission you might replay it once, after dying another thirty minutes later and being put back thirty minutes you scream at the screen and go and do something else instead to save your arteries blowing in frustration.
A checkpoint after you drive to the mission site. After securing the mission objective and before escaping your wanted level and at the end of the mission would save a lot of frustration. It would make the game easier but it would also see less people give up in disgust. Not that I did though, so maybe Rockstar know what is good for us after all. I finished the main story after 92 missions with 62% on the progress meter. I don't have the time at present to shoot all the pigeons and complete the races and other side missions. I am sure I will go back to this game in a quiet time or for some multiplayer.
A.i. in sandbox games is different from say an fps. You can follow the civilian population around and not interfere, they are there to populate the world and make it look lived in and real. Their behavior has to be at least somewhat believable or it will suck you out of the game. GTAIV has similar a.i. to other's in the series. Improvements come in the sense that they seem to be able to problem solve. rarely do you see enemy drivers stuck against walls. They seem to be doing their best to get away or alternatively get you. There are instances of pedestrians getting hit by cars, though they seem to limp out of the way eventually instead of holding up traffic forever. The game does still suffer from the look this way see three or four cars, turn away and look back and they are all gone syndrome. Though there does seem to be a huge amount of vehicles and pedestrians on screen. Much more than any other sandbox game that I can think of.
My first impressions of the graphics were that they were slightly unconventional, with nice detail in the foreground and distance and a strange blurring in the middle distance. As familiarity crept in i lost sight of that first impression that i jotted down on first playing. I thought I would include it here though as it's often the case that first impressions of games change once you have scaled their learning curve. The city is a work of art, a living breathing human place that looks like it evolved rather than was designed by a team of artists for a game. The architecture is varied and impressive. Buildings are mostly facades with only a few having any interiors. These being the settings for missions.
The attention to detail in all elements of the game is stunning. You can see every hour of work from the hundreds of people involved in this game. I have not played every sandbox game out there, but in my opinion if the awards for sandbox world design were to be handed out GTAIV wins by a miles, followed at a long distance by Crackdown and even further behind Saints Row. Oblivion was nice but there was a little too much random number generation in it's design I feel. Physics are handled very well, the handling of cars seems to have come in for a bit of criticism. I never found it a problem once I got used to it. Lamp posts seem to be a strong as tissue paper and stick like wooden fence posts sometimes stop buses, but on the whole the physics are pretty much as you might imagine, and that is high praise for a game. The water physics deserve a mention for having waves and splashes that reminded me of Waverace, only better.
Good diverse soundtrack, the usual gta radio stations to pick your listening taste or just accept the random setting from the cars you get into. I love the rock and the inclusion of Songs like One vision by Queen and Dominon by the Sisters of Mercy shows a diversity and willingness to step away from what was popular with the teen demographic on the month before release.
As is usual in Rockstar games there are a tremendous amount of statistics available. These deserve a mention for their obsessive compulsiveness and due to the fact that I spent a while looking through them on more than one occasion.
Achievements are fair, for between 40-50 hours play and completion of the main story-line I received 285 points Which does seem a little tight but I can see that there is still so much more to do in the game. The racing side missions are easily on a par with burnout Paradise. The city is just so damn beautiful that exploring and looking for the pigeons will be fun. The remaining achievements are multiplayer and side mission orientated. So while this isn't a game for people looking for a quick score boost these achievement points are earned with hours of your time and not insane hyper reflexed kiddie skills.
Multiplayer seems excellent with the mobile phone being used to enter a lobby system which consists of the game itself, you can meet your team and wander about a bit, then choose a game mode and play a multitude of objective based games. races, straight deathmatch etc. One mode deserves a mention, one player at random is the Don and they have to be taken to a point win, the other team have to take him down. It's chaotic and fun.
Simply being able to wander the city with a few others is enjoyable. I think I would still be looking for pigeons if you were allowed to do this together. A few co-op missions would have been good. Still there is patches and downloadable content to come. I vote for being able to do the pigeon hunt with friends for the patch. The fun really is endless in this game if you want it to be. I spent some time just playing with friends in the sandbox. One of us would take a bike and flee. The others would chase him in helicopters and all sorts. Don't get me wrong it did get old, but this game does have excellent multiplayer opportunities if you are into experimenting with it. Those who prefer their Halo and Call of duty probably will go back to them quickly, but that does not mean that this isn't a robust multiplayer game. I think it boils down to the size of the city. Deathmatch for me has always been better in close proximity and frantic action. That is why I enjoy things like the shipment map in Call of Duty 4.
This game is a must. There is no excuse for not owning it. I fail to understand why any PS3 or Xbox360 owner does not own and play this game. It is a master-class in design, gameplay and fun.