Grand Theft Auto IV
Claude Speed, Tommy Vercetti, Carl Johnsonn: all great characters and stars of previous Grand Theft Auto Games – but all of them pale in comparison to Nico Bellic, the latest GTA protagonist. Persuaded by his cousin’s wild claims of wealth & opportunity Nico decides to leave his past behind and start over in America. He’s barely off the boat however, before his cousin’s lies and debts get him involved with some very bad people. Nico is generally a good guy but he is certainly no angel and his shady past catches up with him as he is dragged deeper into a life of crime. It’s not long before it becomes clear that Nico is motivated by a very personal mission of revenge and nothing or nobody is going to get in his way.
Although titled GTA 4 this is actually the sixth title in the series and that’s not even counting any expansions, spin-offs on portable consoles or anything like that. The series has definitely come a long way from it’s simple arcade-like roots and GTA4 is the most detailed, realistic and next-gen yet. Using the Euphoria-Engine for spectacular character interaction and an enormously expansive city as playground, there is an unbelievable amount of things to do in this game and never a dull moment.
It has been a long wait, but sadly enough there’s a price to pay.
Firstly the game is very poorly optimized for computer and suffers severe performance issues because of this. It’s unbelievable that a game we have all waited for so long got such a sloppy translation. Even on a top of the line computer that far exceeds the already ridiculous requirements, you’ll struggle to push everything to the max and still get decent frame rates. Some of the latest patches help a bit, but it’s still not acceptable. Then there’s the amount of compulsory nonsense you are forced to install just to even start the game and the draconian copy protection scheme which will all make you start to wonder if it’s all worth the effort.
If you can look past all the hassles and annoyances (not an easy thing) you’ll find this one of the most entertaining games you’ll play this year. While fundamentally not that different from the past few GTA games (and in some respects a bit worse) this game has enough tweaks and changes to the already successful formula that it’s hard not to be sucked into its twisted world and having a blast.
The graphics, provided your hardware can handle it, is incredible and the amount of detail is unbelievable. This is the closest thing to a living; breathing city I’ve ever seen in a game and simply just exploring it and noticing all the small touches is a treat. You can visit bars, clubs, restaurants, play pool, darts or even go bowling. Your mobile phone allows you to keep in touch with friends and call them to go out with you or even schedule dates. Far more than just a tool to shepard you from one mission to the next you’ll now get to use it during missions to take photos, to mms someone or to flush out a blackmailer in a crowd for example. Calling up your friends and going out with them not only increases the new sims-like friendship meter you have for each one, but a lot of them also have some sideline missions for you. This is made better by the memorable cast of misfits you’ll meet and interact with throughout the game.
GTA4 is the most mature, serious and realistic GTA yet, so no more crazy stuff like riding bmx’s or flying jetpacks. The stat system of the last game is sadly no more so you can’t customize Nicos looks beyond what he wears. Not that you’ll miss it with the amount of new options at your disposal. GTA4 comes on two DL-Layer DVDs and it’s clear to see where all the space went. Not only are the wacky radio stations back (and more than ever before) but you can now watch television shows inside the game too. If that’s not enough the game even has it’s own mini version of the internet where you can e-mail characters, surf for news and information and even visit dating websites to set up meetings. As nice as all of this is and as much as it adds to the game, it’s all just icing on the cake and the real mark of quality is the story and missions.
Missions are mostly the same type as in the previous games, but there are some real stand-out ones too. Highlights include a daring bank robbery gone wrong, which results in a city block shoot-out with the cops and special agents before fleeing into the subways and also an aerial assassination where Nico has to follow a helicopter through the city in one of his own ,before shooting it down over a non-populated area. Missions are fun, but a few are very frustrating and although you can retry missions you fail from your phone, it’s a chore to drive all the way back (usually on the other side of the city) to start over. A nice touch is that if you have other people with you in the car on a mission they will chat to you to pass the time, but if you fail and have to do it over the dialogue would change slightly or they’ll shut-up and listen to the radio. This cuts down on needless and boring repetition.
Speaking of voice acting – it’s of a very high standard, but probably sets records for the most swearing ever in a game. The citizens of Liberty City are some of the most foul mouthed I’ve ever heard and the 18-rating this game carries is entirely justified. Apart from the vast amounts of radio stations (covering most genres) you can import your own Mp3s for the first time and listen to them on “Independence FM” interspersed with some satirical radio ads and breaking news of your crime exploits. Nico’s Eastern European accent coupled with his dry wit and sarcasm makes him a very memorable lead. Rockstar has masterfully created a violent and criminal character that still manages to be likeable. No mean feat, that’s for sure. Deeper into the game Nico seem to become more corrupt and fueled by hatred, but you also have the ability to influence his actions at times by choosing who to kill or in some cases whether to kill at all.
Refinements to the GTA formula includes a new Gears of War style cover-system as well as blind firing for gunfights which ads a whole new dimension to the game. After using it a few times you’ll honestly wonder how you ever got by without it. Melee combat is also vastly improved with combos and blocking abilities. The playing area is not as enormous as the last game, but it’s still pretty big and now more packed with detail than ever. Taking a train or taxi through the city or flying over it with a helicopter will make you fully appreciate how intricate it is. The civilians are also better looking and more believable than ever before. The vehicles still feel a bit floaty, but luckily they can take a few more knocks than in past games before they explode. The damage modeling is superb and seeing cars break apart is a joy to behold (unless it’s your own one while trying to flee the police). Your character can also go flying through the windscreen if the impact of a crash is big enough. The new clip editor allows you to record these kinds of stunts and mishaps and splice them together for later viewing.
All in all GTA4 is a very hard game to review. On the one hand it really is a masterpiece that will provide you with many hours of addictive gamplay and on the other hand it is such a chore just to get up and running it’s almost not worth the hassle. One thing is for sure: games like this don’t just come along every day and if you are a fan of the genre and the series you owe it to yourself to check it out.
*Review originally published 2008.
- OS: Windows Vista – Service Pack 1 / Windows XP – Service Pack 3
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 1.8GHz, AMD Athlon X2 64 2.4GHz
- Memory: 1.5GB XP / 1.5GB Vista
- Graphics: 256MB Nvidia 7900 / 256MB ATI X1900
- DirectX Version: DirectX 9.0c Compliant Card
- Hard Drive: 16GB of Hard Disc Space
- Sound Card: 5.1 Channel Audio Card
- Other Requirements: Initial activation requires internet connection; Online play requires log-in to Games For Windows – Live and Rockstar Games Social Club (13+ to register); software installations required including Adobe Flash, DirectX, Microsoft’s .NET Framework 3.0, Games For Windows – LIVE, and Internet Explorer.