Critics are hailing the release of Grand Theft Auto IV as the second coming of Christ. Big fat tens all around and hardly a spot of complaint around. Fair? Yes and no. Like almost any other game out there, GTA IV still has stuff to dislike, although of course the good outweighs the bad easily. With the 360 version in my console for the past few days, it’s time for my impressions and I’m going to try and be as realistic about it as possible.
I never got caught in the hype by the release of GTA IV, but Monday, the day before it came out, I had it bad. I couldn’t wait to finally put my teeth in a new city again. See, GTA is all about the city for me, it has always been that way. I love cruising around a virtual city and pretending I’m really there, getting to know each street a bit better by the day and knowing my way through it eventually. It’s a strange sort of satisfaction that I also get in real life, and the free roaming aspect of the GTA games make it possible. The prospect of doing it all again, with a more detailed city than ever before, was a great one and thus I stood waiting for the game to come out on Tuesday morning in front of the local retailer. I bought the special edition of the Xbox 360 version. Don’t ask me why, I could’ve just as easily bought the PS3 version but in the end, the prospect of exclusive downloadable content got to me. From impressions I’ve read everywhere since the release, it doesn’t really matter which version you buy from a graphics point of view. The PS3 version is a bit more warm, the Xbox 360 version has a better framerate. No real issues for both parties then.
When I started the game I was pretty much disorientated because of various reasons. No subtitles made the English chatter with Eastern Europe accent terrible, so after the intro movie I turned them on right away. The game was dark as fuck, so I adjusted the image in the game’s menu – something I can recommend to everyone. If it’s night or a rainy day in Liberty City, you are going to feel like a short sighted fool without changing the color and brightness. The other thing that disoriented me was the movement of the main character – Niko – and the cars he drives in. Everything in the game has a more realistic weight to it, so the cars really feel like heavy objects and it takes a good hour before you start to get good with them. If you get good at them, it’s not a problem anymore and you’ll appreciate the realism. However, the same cannot be said for Niko’s legs. Niko moves incredibly slow unless you tab the action button. This in itself is not a problem, but in the heat of a firefight or cop-chase, you might forget to press it altogether and you’ll walk way too slow. It would be nice if the game would recognize that you are in an action packed sequence and make Niko run by itself.
Now that I’ve basically got the bad parts of the game out of the way (and really, they don’t fuck with the overall experience that much), it’s time to talk about the good. For me, of course, that is the city itself. The overall distance in the game is smaller than in San Andreas, but because of the added detail every street has its own look and feel (which changes of course with the time of the day and the weather), and because of that the city just feels much bigger. The three islands (two of them represent New York, the third one New Jersey) are divided into smaller areas just like New York and they all have their own inhabitants and subcultures. Furthermore, the game has plenty of shops, strip- and comedy clubs, pubs and so forth to really make the place feel alive, next to the added pedestrians and cars of course. This is exactly why each time I fall in love with the new installment of the GTA franchise and once again, Rockstar hasn’t disappointed me.
Another high point is the story and the acting that creates it which is better than ever. All characters fit in the universe created in the game, they feel in place and all have a different sort of humor to lighten up the dark story. Most characters will give you missions after you meet them and things go into known GTA territory, just like fans of the series like it. Added to this is the friendships you need to maintain with various main characters and girlfriends you get to know during the game. You can take your friends and special ladies out for diner, to the strip club, shoot some pool or play some darts, it’s your choice and you’ll find out eventually what they like and don’t like. There have been complains by various people that it makes the game feel too much like real life, doing chores and having a girlfriend to nag about the clothes you were is bad enough in reality let alone in a game, but overall I think it’s a nice progression from San Andreas that isn’t too much of a drastic change, and for once I’m happy that you don’t have to work on the muscles and stamina of your character like in the previous GTA game. It didn’t add much to the gameplay while having good relationships with certain characters in GTA IV certainly has its advantages.
I’m a honest journalist and I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t checked out the online multiplayer yet, but from what I’ve heard it’s a nice addition to the series and a great way to pass some time, if you get it to work. Yes, especially with the PlayStation 3 version it seems it’s a downright bitch to get into an online match and if you can play only one match in an hour you should consider yourself lucky. However, I cannot see this as a negative aspect of the game as it’s only logical that Rockstar is having trouble coping with the insane amounts of gamers buying and playing the game as we speak. I suspect that in a week time, things will be looking better.
The realistic psychics of the main character and the cars aren’t everyone’s cup of thee and you have to find a minute to tweak the lighting in the game so that you can actually see what’s going on, but if that’s the only thing that’s wrong with a game then we should all be thankful that Rockstar delivered such a great game to us. The critics might be caught in the hype a little bit, because the rankings for this game are so through the roof that I can’t think of any game deserving this much praise, but the negative comments about the game lacking a certain ‘next gen’ feel are very much undeserved. While the graphics aren’t the best you’ve ever seen, you have to keep in mind the developers had to keep a whole city constant and a very big city at that as well, and the ‘next gen’ feel is in the details, not the overall shine. Cups of coffee pedestrians drop, picking up a dildo in a sex shop an throwing it towards the owner, picking up your girlfriend with her commenting on the same clothes you have been wearing for a week, your mobile phone that gives you access to your contacts, the radio with hours of chatter and various styles of music that is now complimented by different channels on your television, the internet, the hundreds of made up brands on tv, radio and street advertisements that make fun of current real-life happenings, stealing someone’s car only for the owner to keep hanging on to the door while you’re driving away, the list is endless and you’ll be swimming in it like in a cold swimming pool in the summer: it feels refreshing, it feels like the good life. That’s exactly what GTA IV is: the good life. Enjoy it for months to come.
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