The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 11
Release Date: 4/29/08
Developer: Rockstar Games
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Genre: Sandbox, Action, Third Person Shooter
The Grand Theft Auto series has always been both famous and infamous for it's emphasis on crude humor and crime, many parents tremble upon hearing the title, fearing the game as a simulator of violence, drugs and sex. While this game is definitely not for the faint of heart, GTA IV is indeed not quite as bad as you might have heard. At first I was skeptical, I thought the GTA series was an overrated racing series with a side of extreme adult content, but I was wrong, very wrong. GTA IV was popular with reviewers and popular with many gamers, many people being surprised at how good it's story, characters, and world were among other things, here's my two cents.
Graphics & Sound
Grand Theft Auto has great graphics, although they are not completely realistic because the series has a unique art style that is reminiscent of mature comics and cartoons. I love the art style and the combined with the good graphics GTA IV has a distinct artistic beauty not seen to often in games. Liberty city in particular is very detailed, as someone who was born and raised for 11 years in New York, I felt they captured the atmosphere and grand nature of the city very well, in many ways it felt like being home. The voice acting is superb, I always felt like I was listening to real, albeit crazy people, the characters are funny and convincing and the dialog and voice cast fit the characters perfectly. In terms of music this game does really have any aside from the main theme when the game is started up, but this is more than made up for by the in game radio. In GTA III the radio was pretty much prerecorded and self made songs and dialog, but GTA IV went full force and got quite a few licensed songs from real life and there are more options on the radio than any other game with a radio you can literally channel surf until you find a song you like or one of the many hilarious radio shows with multiple episodes. In fact I'm also glad the game doesn't really have music aside from the radio because another great thing about liberty city is the noise. The city feels so alive not only from the graphics and NPC's but the noises that surround the city ranging from cars, police sirens, horns, construction work, people talking and shouting, footsteps, and the water waves; the ambient noises do such a great job at making the liberty city feel like a living and breathing place.
Story & Characters
The plot is quite complex and interesting in terms of symbolism and thre story is surprisingly deep. GTA IV is tells the story of an eastern European immigrant named Niko Bellic whose past has left him a wreck, seeking to escape all of the problems of his country and his past he is convinced by his cousin Roman to move to New Yo- I mean liberty city, a place Roman makes out to be a paradise of sorts. When Niko arrives he finds that his cousin was not living a good life at all he is stuck in a tiny apartment and has a poor job with a mean boss, further more he is being chased by loan sharks who he owes money to. Niko is forced to help Roman with these problems with the only way he knows how, violence, he also begins to help criminals and crooked people, many who are friends with Roman, so that he can get money. He begins to regret coming because he is slipping back into the life he came to liberty city to escape, eventually he is betrayed by a friend he thought was a victim who sides with a group who was after Niko back in his country. Now Niko is stuck in a city with corrupt cops, unusual criminals, a needy cousin, and now even his old problems from back home have followed him.
The Characters in GTA IV are very interesting and hilarious, I will only cover the main companion type characters. Niko Bellic the protagonist is a really great character, he may be a murderer and a criminal but it is all strangely understandable, he was a soldier in his countries military and got involved with some bad people, he only wanted to come to Liberty city so he wouldn't have to be a criminal and a murderer. He is so awesome to me because he will kill if he has too but his overall goal is that he wants to help people and he doesn't want others to follow in his footsteps, some of the most amazing moments in the game are where he talks about his past to another immigrants wife and an optional mission series where he helps a drug addict come clean. He is a smart man despite his line of work and it's just such an amazing paradox to see a kind and supportive criminal as opposed to the stereotypical heartless one. Roman, Niko's close cousin is an energetic and optimistic person who makes the best of what he lives in. He gets on many peoples nerves however because he can be very panicky and he gets made whenever Niko breaks the law because the trouble often comes on him too. Not to mention the fact that he pretty much lied about liberty city to get Niko to come. Little Jacob is a Jamaican arms and drug dealer who is easy going and cool (well that could be the marijuana), he is really friendly and funny but naturally as a drug dealer he is involved in some bad things. Jacob is really loyal and actually pretty intelligent. Brucie is a obnoxious, steroid popping, party boy who seems to be stuck in his college fraternity ways. He likes to race and be the best at everything he does, going as far as to get Niko to eliminate any competition. Brucie is a really funny character and I always look forward to doing missions with him. Packie or Patrick is from an Irish family of criminals he has many brothers (who Niko also works with from time to time) and an innocent sister who Niko falls in love with. Packie is fond of the F word and is a very loyal friend, he heavily believes in his luck and doesn't mind doing some of the more outrageous crimes like bank robbery and murder. He is also surprisingly deep when he is drunk. He is probably my favorite character in the game. Kate, Packie's sister and Niko's cannon love interest, is pretty much one of the only non criminal people in the game , she is very candid and honest and isn't naive at all, she knows good and well what Niko and her family do, but she is supportive and wants Niko to get out of the criminal lifestyle. The fact that Niko falls in love with her represents his desire to get out of his lifestyle and settle down with a normal lady. Dwayne is a gang leader and drug dealer who was betrayed by his star pupil after being released from jail. This has made him an increasingly pessimistic and cynical person who sees conspiracy and hopelessness everywhere, he owes his life to Niko and helps him whenever he needs it. I like Dwayne, he really gives a good twist on the stereotypical "Ghetto" gangster and is a really unique character.
GTA IV is a mostly a third person shooter in terms of combat. Well going deeper you can use several guns in combat but Niko also has a few melee capabilities he can use including a knife, baseball bat and his fists or if your feeling particularly psycho, his car to run someone over. you can take cover against a wall or other surface with the simple press of a button if you are not in the position or facing cover pressing the button will cause Niko to automatically seek out nearby cover whether it is a car, a park bench, or something else. this can be really useful during an ambush as you can simply react by pressing the cover button to find some nearby cover without getting confused or panicked while being shot at, of course this isn't perfect, you may end up taking cover while still right in front of the enemy. Like any game with cover you can peek out and shoot the enemy or free aim without risking the possibility of an injury. Otherwise the shooting is smooth and easy due to a nifty auto target system that locks on to your enemy as long as the button is held down firmly (unless it's the PC version), this doesn't mean that every shot will hit, but most certainly will, if you ease on the aiming button you can shoot wherever you, want viable target or not. There are quite a few weapon types and there are two models for each type for instance there is a for the assault Rifle class of weapons you can have an AK-47 or a Carbine rifle and for grenades you can have either a frag grenade or molotov cocktail. Another thing is the amount of ammo in the game, ammo is actually pretty rare, very few weapons are located around liberty city and as you might expect in a modern day city weapons stores aren't exactly around the corner next to your local bagel shop, so most ammo and weapons will have to be found as drops from enemies. I actually like that ammo and weapons are somewhat limited, it allows the player to improvise more often and make every shot count to conserve ammo, giving more chances to use stealth, melee combat, alternate routes, headshots, explosive canisters, and other clever ways of defeating the enemy rather than mindless shooting. Health doesn't regenerate either in fact it is pretty hard to recover, you can recover it partially by buying food and drinks scattered across the city, or if your lucky you can find one of the rare medical kits that fully recover your health for free, you can also find body armor that absorbs a certain amount of damage before being destroyed, otherwise there aren't many other ways of getting healed so you must enter combat cautiously and watch your health.
Driving is the other main gameplay point of the game and it is really polished, the control is simple, you get in a car (owned or otherwise) hold down the gas button and steer the wheel for direction, in the car you can also use the breaks, change the radio station, change your view of the car, shoot with a one handed gun or throw a grenade, and even enter a slow mode while driving. As I said it is mostly simple but it is so well done and smooth that anyone should be able to enjoy it and with practice, master driving in GTA IV. Most missions are centered around one or both of these (combat and driving) aspects of gameplay but thankfully the game manages to throw in a twist with almost every mission. The only complaint I have with the missions are the terrible well almost nonexistent checkpoint system every time you fail a mission (and trust me you will a lot) you have to restart the entire mission, granted you can use your phone to avoid the trip back to where the mission was and there are actually a few missions with checkpoints such as the final mission but still it is incredibly frustrating to pass a hard part of a mission only to die on the next part and have to restart the entire thing over. Another important thing to note in this game is the physics engine, love it or hate it GTA IV has what is with little doubt one of the most realistic physics engines in video game history only matched by games like Half-Life 2 and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Ramming a car into a wall at high speeds might send you flying out of the car, water spouting from a fire hydrant will force you back, pushing someone slightly on or off a sidewalk can end up in them tripping, and the ragdoll physics can make for some hilarious deaths. These small examples of realistic physics show up everywhere in the game and make the world that much more believable, some people however argue that the physics may be too realistic and takes some fun out of the game, but as I said I think it adds to the realism of the game and that they are fun to exploit.
Other things in the game include the cell phone system, you can call Niko's friends for chats and activities, or vise versa, there are several mini games you can do and as you do them your friends will talk about their pasts, beliefs, and current events. The mini games themselves aren't amazing but they are decent time killers and it's fun to beat Niko's friends who tend to brag a lot. The cell phone has a few other features such as allowing cheats if the right numbers are dialed, phone settings, and a few special numbers that serve other purposes such as requesting a certain song on the radio to be replayed. There is even an option called sleep mode that blocks all calls and the main story as a whole so you can just screw around and do whatever the heck you want, which brings me to the most infamous part of the series, crime. The player can chose at pretty much anytime to completely ignore the story and run around the city annoying the police and causing chaos. Like previous entries in the series, your crime rate is essentially rated 1-5 stars depending on what you do and how much you do it, for instance simply hitting someone will cause a police to hold you up, if you resist arrest the stars will rise to 2 and they will begin to shoot at you and a few more cops will join the fray, after killing a cop or two you promote to 3 stars where a helicopter will show up and follow you making it hard to hide from the law enforcement, as the stars continue to rise you will run into road blocks, armored cars carrying SWAT police (NOOSE in Liberty city) and cars with FBI agents (FIB in this) equipped armor and better weapons, making it harder to survive or escape. Crime is essentially a fun sidequest or mini game that comes with many of it's own achievements, trophies, challenges, and can be flat out fun when your just bored. Lastly the exploration and side missions in the game like many things in GTA IV help bring the city to life. In terms of exploration you don't necessarily have to be looking for anything to enjoy the amazing sights and sounds of Liberty City, the game is filled with parodies of the "American Dream", political satire, and simple hilarious stereotypes you can find in the in game TV, radio, Internet and billboards. Although if your looking for things to actually do you can find hidden weapons, body armor, new cars, a side quest involving shooting pigeons, and a few side missions from people Niko may or may have not met before.
Grand Theft Auto IV is an amazing game by many standards, the controls are tight, the plot is deep, the characters are grand, the combat and driving are solid, and Liberty city is one of the most lively and satirical settings in video games. I never thought I would love a game about a modern day criminal, I imagined it would be too shallow and stereotypical but GTA IV proved me wrong at every turn and it definitely taught me to not judge a book by it's cover. GTA IV isn't a game for the lighthearted however as there is still plenty of cursing, violence, crude humor, and sexual content and not everyone will like the physics, somewhat pointless mingames, and limited customization, especially fans of the customization and freedom of GTA: San Andreas. But I say any gamer who is looking to get into the series at least try the game out, it does a lot of things right and it might just surprise you.
Personal Score: 9.75
GI Score: 10
Second Opinion: 9.75
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