Rockstar Games Grand Theft Auto IV
Take to the streets of Liberty City
- It's the best GTA ever, in all ways. If you thought the other GTA titles were impressive, just wait until you get your hands on GTA IV. We're serious. In terms of city size, gameplay mechanics, mission types, narrative story and user empowerment, GTA IV is without a doubt the finest distillation of the GTA formula yet. In short, the game succeeds on pretty much every level. That's not hyperbole, people: it's fact.
- There aren't many things wrong with the game. But if we had to nitpick, the story gets weighed down at points by the introduction of too many characters. You practically need a program to keep track of who's who and what's what. The trademark "GTA glitches" also abound. Clipping issues and other wonky behaviour will have you either rolling your eyes or laughing your ass off. But as far as negatives go, that's about it. Even if there are other problems, you'll be too busy having the time of your life to care.
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Getting into character
And that single-player experience stars a protagonist that may ultimately prove to be the most memorable GTA hero yet. Niko is an interesting character with a style and vibe all his own. The game's entertaining cinematic cutscenes that precede each mission does a great job of setting the proper tone and mood. Mission variety is also a strong suit of GTA IV: Niko is always doing something interesting, from completing hits to drug raids to bank heists and more. One of the more memorable missions I played had Niko driving a Trashmaster garbage truck to pick up trash bags full of stolen diamonds. With two helpers swaying on the back of the truck fending off the pursuing enemies, getting the ice to safety required some fancy manoeuvring through the city streets, a task made all the more harrowing by the Trashmaster's lack of speed and manuverability.
Niko's life is also far more streamlined there's no property to buy and you don't have to do mundane things like eat food (unless you want health) or exercise to put on muscle; in other words, the game is about quality and not quantity. When you need firepower, Niko can visit a local weapons shop or make friends who provide guns as a service. You'll meet other connected individuals but you'll have to keep up relationships to keep on their good side. You can engage in activities such as playing darts, shooting pool or even hitting a local bar to maintain good relationships; ignore a friend for too long and you won't reap the benefits. And, of course, you can also go on dates and try to establish "friendships" that way.
Most of the missions in GTA IV prove to be incredibly fun, and a new combat engine and targeting system makes firefight feel epic. A cover system that feels reminiscent to Gears of War adds a nice layer of strategy, allowing players to target enemies and free aim on different body parts. An enemy's heath is displayed around the round targeting circle, and a headshot can take most foes down in one pop. Rocket launchers and grenades can light up any conflict, but submachine guns, Uzis and shotguns will probably prove to be your best friends. A pistol lets you perform an execution, which ties nicely into assassination-themed story missions.
Of course, the variety of missions and weaponry speaks to one basic truth: the GTA franchise have always been about choice and empowering the gamer, concepts that GTA IV takes to an entirely new level. The game offers you a lot of freedom and gives you opportunities to make a lot of decisions. Some are trivial which type of car you decide to take on a mission, for instance while others have serious implications; I won't ruin any surprises but let's just say that there will be times when you will have to think long and hard before you take aim and pull the trigger. It's no exaggeration to say that GTA IV provides each gamer with their own personal gaming experience.
Thankfully, the game's presentation has received a major upgrade, making your time with the game feel far more intuitive and fluid. A prime example of this is Niko's smartphone, an all-in-one device that acts a telephone, organizer, and text- and picture-messaging device; it delivers pertinent information but never takes you out of the game you never need to access a submenu or hit pause. Contacts call you, and alternatively, you can call them, to initiate missions. Text messages keep you informed with quick updates and picture messages prove vital to locating specific targets. You can even use the device to replay failed missions, which is a welcome feature. And of course, in typical Rockstar style, the developers allow you to customize the smartphone with new backgrounds and ringtones, both of which can be downloaded through Liberty City's in-game Internet.
The City is alive...
But as interesting as those refinements are, and as interesting a character as Niko is, the true star of this show is undoubtedly Liberty City itself. The thriving metropolis seems to have a life of its own, with crowded streets and incredibly interactive pedestrians. Bump a woman on a sidewalk and she might drop her coffee, as well as a few expletives. Run over a mailbox and a fountain of mail will spew into the wind. Other GTA games have featured memorable locales but none can match the immersive detail, size and scope of GTA IV's Liberty City. Sure, those patented GTA glitches clipping, texture pop-in, and the like still abound but they can't take away from the majesty and beauty of the metropolis.
There's something interesting waiting around every corner, a feat which no other game has been able to accomplish before. Steal a car and a patrolman might attempt to drag you out; but push on the gas and you'll leave the unlucky copper hanging onto the open door for dear life. As you duck and weave around traffic, he'll slowly lose his grip and his body will flail around every turn until he eventually gives up. It's the little details like that that makes GTA IV more than just a great game. In other words, the story and the gameplay are the cake and the little details serve as the delicious frosting.
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