Well here it is, our Grand Theft Auto IV review. It’s taken a while, but for good reason. I wanted to take some time and finish the game and take a good hard look at it without wearing any rose colored glasses. So without further adieu let’s start with the most often asked questions. Is GTA IV a fun game? Without a doubt. Does it look good? Absolutely. Is it the best looking game out there? Definitely not. Is it deserved of all the praises being heaped on it? To a certain extent yes. Is it a perfect 10? Definitely not. While this might seem blasphemous to some people, it’s the truth. I’ve had plenty of time to complete the game and a large number of side missions, and been fortunate enough to step back and take a long hard look at the game. I’m not some rabid GTA fanboy that thinks this is the greatest thing since sliced bread, I’m taking an objective look at the game. Having said that let’s get into the nitty gritty.
GTA IV takes us into the depths of Liberty City and introduces us to a slew of new characters. The story follows Niko Bellic, an rough and tumble Balkan who appears to be a veteran of the Yugoslavian civil war. There are some disagreements as to whether he’s a Serbian or Croatian, so for now I’m simply going to call him a Balkan. Niko came to Liberty City to meet up with his cousin Roman and start a new life for himself. Unfortunately Niko was under the impression that Roman had made a good living for himself and was living in a lap of luxury. Instead he finds out that Roman is a screw up who has gotten fat, lazy and in debt with various organized crime groups, much to the consternation of Niko. With the need to make a living for himself, Niko is quickly drawn into the criminal underworld and has been recruited to do the dirty work of various gangsters, working his way up the food chain.
The story in completely engrossing and you’re quickly drawn into Niko’s plight and his search for peace. The writers did a great job giving you a compelling story and making you care about the various characters. They go in depth into the various background of the characters and how they’ve changed through life. You’ll often find yourself sympathetic to a character, or wanting to learn more about their background. The level of storytelling is unseen in any other game to this point and it just enriches the game.
The gameplay within GTA IV is structured similarly to previous games in the series. The core gameplay consists of elements of a third-person shooter and a driving game, giving the player a large, open environment in which to move around. Niko can walk, run, jump, climb and swim, as well as utilising weapons and basic hand-to-hand combat. You can steal and operate a wide variety of vehicles, from cars, boats and helicopters to motorcycles. If it moves you can most likely operate it. The open, non-linear environment allows you to explore the vastness of Liberty City, allowing you to choose how you want to play the game. Although storyline missions are necessary to progress through the game and unlock certain parts of the map and content, you can complete them at their own pace.
For the first time in the GTA series, your character is faces with morality choices during various missions throughout the game. You’ll have to choose between killing a character or sparing their life. This will ultimately affect the ending of the game since there are two different endings, which are determined by your decisions. Your choices will affect the fate of various characters.
Besides all of the criminal violence there is a new dating sub-plot where Niko must take a girl out to dinner, a show, playing pool, bowling and more. This allows you to build a relationship with the girl and in turn makes Niko more likable. You can also take any of your friends out to the same activities, increasing their fondness of you which will open new opportunities for you. The impressively rich mini-games will also take up a lot of time since they could be games all within themselves.
A new feature to the GTA series is the integration of the cell phone. Niko uses his cell phone to send and receive calls and messages as he carries out his dirty work. He can set up dates with the various women he comes across, call for a cab, call a friend to go drinking and lots more. The cell phone is Niko’s life line, plain and simple.
The graphics are a massive step beyond previous GTA games. Liberty City not just roughly based on New York, it is New York. From Times Square to the South Street Seaport, midtown and uptown. As you drive along you get a feel that you’re in New York City. You even get the sense that you’re in the suburbs while cruising along Bohan or Dukes. Rockstar put a lot of effort into the look of Liberty City and it’s paid off. For a sandbox game the graphics have managed to flow seamlessly as you drive along, or as it turns from day to night and back to day again. While it’s not the best looking game ever made, it’s quite impressive what they’ve down with it.
The music and radio stations of Liberty City are better than some real life stations you’ll come across. There is a wide variety of music that you can listen too, featuring a large number of widely known musical acts. My personal favorite was the Tuff Gong radio station, which featured the music of Bob Marley. The voice acting is also another great feature in the game. Ricky Gervais, Katt Williams and Wil Wheaton were contributing actors for the TV programs and stand up comedy acts.
GTA IV is the first console game in the series to include online multiplayer, with 15 modes of play available, from racing to team death match. The multiplayer supports up to 16 players and allows players to explore the entire city in all its glory. Players can use a customizable character in a majority of the modes, with cash earned during play going towards the purchase of clothing for their character. Hosts of the games can control many variables, such as time of day, police presence, pedestrian presence, traffic, location of game, and weapons. All of the online games are split into ranked and unranked matches. Allowing you to play for a ranking or just for fun. Unfortunately the game does not feature any split screen or LAN multiplayer modes.
Overall, I must admit I enjoyed my time playing GTA IV. You can tell how much Rockstar put into the game and it’s paid off for them. It’s definitely a fun game, but it’s not perfect like some are claiming. Let’s be honest here, perfection is hard to achieve and saying a game is perfect while overlooking some flaws is being dishonest. Still, it shouldn’t prevent you from picking this up. It’s definitely worth its price of admission and you’ll be glad you made the trip to Liberty City. Now I’m just looking forward to the downloadable content that will be release for the XBox 360 version.