If you’ve been on a gaming website in the last 6 years, and have brought up this game, chances are you were exposed to the totally shattered base that is the general opinion on GTA IV. One half of the zeitgeist loves GTA IV and thinks it is a landmark in video gaming history, while the other side loathes it, citing some sort of phantom bad controls, since I cant find these anywhere, and a more dark and dramatic storyline, making them more likely to jump ship and swim to the nearest one harboring Saints Row, which is itself a great game series. Others have a moral vendetta against it, due to the graphic language and violence, as well as depictions of drugs and alcohol and some sexual themes; of course, there are also the people who complain, whom of which have never played it, citing instances of the player character indulging in drugs (usually citing heroin) and raping women, neither of which ever happens, though this sort of blind feces has been spewing from the media watchdogs’ mouths since III.
I, myself, am planted firmly in the former end of the zeitgeist (I keep using this word, not knowing what it means!); with the strong belief that GTA IV is one of the greatest video games of all-time.
Niko (left) and his cousin, Roman (right).
You are Niko Bellic, an ex-soldier who immigrated to America, looking for a new life amidst the bullshit fairy tales his cousin Roman sings to him over the phone. Here, he makes the best of the bad situation he lands in, and must take to an underground of criminals, drug dealers, mafioso, diamonds and trucks full of heroin, as well as friends, all while trying to make his and his cousin’s life better, in the search of the elusive American Dream.
That is my spoiler-free summary of the plot. Sounds good, right? Well, it’s even better than you can imagine. It’s actually really hard to describe the exuberant effect the narrative hits you with, and the surprisingly deep sociopolitical satire hidden within a deep, dark, emotional tale of revenge and your various bonds with people, good or bad; all this from the guys who like to hide dick jokes and 69 in all their games (which is far from absent here).
All of the characters feel much more human than ever in a Rockstar game. They all have some sort of motivation driving them to do what they do, and good reasons for it. And of course, this being a Rockstar game, they are also very-well characterized, and a joy to be around.
Such as Roman, your cousin, who is a very large ham who likes to yuk about his love for “big American titties” and how much of a sex machine he is, with all his fortune, even though he has a girlfriend, Mallorie. Once you arrive in America, it turns out that it was a ploy to get you out here, because he wanted to hang out with his cousin. A man he owes money, Vlad, is screwing his girlfriend, and he just stands by allowing it to happen, as to not anger Vlad. Niko doesn’t sit too idly to this, and doesn’t pretend for a minute to enjoy Vlad’s company. Niko gets fed up with Vlad’s big loud mouth, and the mockery he’s making of Roman’s life, so he executes him. Within the first 10 missions of the game. Only once this happens, does Roman grow at least half of a pair, and tell Niko off for putting his whole life in jeopardy with this stunt, even though he was trying to help. This sets the rest of the plot into motion.
Best for me not to talk about any more of the plot, and just let you experience it yourself, as you would not want this wonderfully written narrative spoiled for you. Needless to say, its Rockstar’s finest story, and will be very hard to top.
Little Jacob (right) is one of the funnier characters, due to his accent making him completely impossible to understand.
The structure is non-linear, and mission-based, with sometimes up to several story missions available at once for you to accomplish, and can be completed in almost any order. Because of this, a story mission branch that is available at the same time as another story mission branch will never reference each other at the time, until after the necessary branches crossover (if they ever do).
Most people will divide most of their time from doing story missions into exploring the booming dystopia known as Liberty City (an expy of New York City, with an area dedicated to New Jersey), searching for the games numerous side-missions and random character encounters (little hidden mission branches, activated by approaching certain characters, indicated on the map when close to one). Liberty City isn’t quite as vast as San Andreas was (though that’s not to say that its tiny by any definition), but it is infinitely more detailed, and, as a result, much more enjoyable to play around in. No need to cross huge canvases filled with water, just to get to your mission. Due to honest-to-God atmosphere and level of detail, the city feels very alive, as if all of its residents are people, with friends and family, going places, to do things. Which makes it a tad bit more gut-wrenching and shocking (not to mention with the highly-advanced and realistic physics engine, RAGE) to crash into them with your vehicle, though no less fun. Be sure not to finish the game without first reading all the signs located in Star Junction!
At night, Star Junction is simply gorgeous.
The gameplay is the same, and very different from what we had on the PS2. You can still jack cars and kill people, all the basics. The combat system is when the differences really start to pile up. The PS2 and PSP games had admittedly lousy gunplay. This game vastly improves the gunplay controls, and adds a cover-system ala Gears of War and Uncharted. The new physics engine makes the impact of the bullets “part-sensitive”; for example: if you shoot a cop in the left leg, their response will accommodate that, prompting a fall in the correct canon direction. The PS3 version is enhanced with optional Sixaxis controls, which should be kept off, except for the option to flip upwards on the Sixaxis to reload, which is enormously helpful.
The driving system has also been revamped, bordering on simulation, compared to the past games’ arcade-style. This is where the majority of the complaints for this game come from, people disliking the realistic control of the vehicles, saying they shouldn’t actually have to try in order to use a vehicle. I, personally, feel that the driving control is perfect, and am actually pretty disappointed when going back to past games. The physics engine allows for more realistic burnouts, meaning when you driving outlandishly fast, and crash into something solid, you better believe you’re coming out of that windshield. The cars also don’t blow up as much as in past iterations, and when damage is taken, the part that received the damage is the part that is most affected, rightfully so. Your engine is much more likely to give out before the car ever catches on fire, though if it does catch on fire, you have an ample amount of time to escape, compared to San Andreas’ “by the skin of your ass escapes”. Alternatively, you can just hail a taxi.
The cops have received a much more grimacing revamp. As series tradition, the tiniest little bump of your car to theirs will prompt a city-wide manhunt. There is now a radius of mass search, indicated on your radar, which you must escape and hide out soon afterwards; difficulty either lowering or spiking, depending on your current number of stars (1-6). You can also take an alternative route and just give yourself up the first time they ask (and only the first time, since its impossible if you resist arrest even once), resulting in them arresting you, in case you want to avoid the chase; but doing this will result in the loss of your weapons, and is just not a very fun alternative. Because of the advanced AI, you will actually see cops doing their job, arresting people that have no chronology to you. This can be exploited for fun, such as starting a fight, then luring the opponent to an area with police, letting them jab you, resulting in them being arrested.
You now have access to a cell phone and computer, the former being much more important than the latter. The latter is only useful, story-wise, a couple of times, and can be used to find a bunch of funny in-game websites filled to the brim with satire, while the latter is your gateway to all but the options. You can use it to call up friends and girlfriends, for hang-outs and dates, respectively, as well they can call you; another common complaint, people stating that they are interrupted a lot from friends wanting to hang-out (spawning the infamous meme “Hey cousin, lets go bowling! stated by Roman at least once during a phone call); though you don’t have to hang out with them unless you care about your level of friendship with them (which, at a high enough percentage, can result in some pretty sweet bonuses, the best being Roman’s; as well as a trophy/achievement for getting all of your friends percentage past 90%), and even then, you can just accept it, and then call back and cancel, without the friendship percentage taking a loss; and you never get hang-out calls during missions save for two (very inconvenient) instances, and you automatically take a rain check.
Burger Shot: your main health regenerator.
When you do go out with friends, will you be able to get to know them, and can take them out anywhere from bowling and pool minigames to stand-up acts including Ricky Gervais and Katt Williams, whom of which can also be seen on….
Your in-game TV! Located at any one of your safehouses is a TV, which you can power on and watch any of the hilarious satirical programs currently on. My favorites are Republican Space Rangers, a jab against hard-blooded ant-communism American extremists; and The Men’s Room starring Bas FREAKING Rutten. That’s all that needs to be said. While the satire is top-notch, it does not compare to what you will find on….
The radio! Lazlow’s very presence makes it explicitly clear that some hardcore satire awaits. Like every other 3D GTA, he has his own radio station; in this game its Integrity 2.0. That station, along with many others, contain some hilarious satire that I’d rather not spoil here. The game also sports a huge library of great tunes for your enjoyment, spanning many tastes. The PC version allows you to listen to your own MP3’s on a special customizable radio station.
Back to the phone: it can also be used to access the games multiplayer, which makes GTA IV the first GTA to have (official) multiplayer. Its 16-player (32 on PC), with many game modes for you to romp around LC in. This includes basic free-for-all and team deathmatch, some capture the flag-like modes, small slightly narrative-driven competitive and co-op missions, and a free mode, allowing you to just screw around in LC with your buddies, with no obligations. Its quite cathartic, to say the least.
The platinum for this game, while not exactly very difficult, is quite time-consuming, requiring for you to acquire 100% completion, which is no walk in the park (I still havent gotten it, as of the time of this writing).
Niko’s attire can be fully customized, at various clothing stores, though he cannot receive hair-cuts and tats like CJ could in San Andreas. The RPG aspects of San Andreas are completely absent, for the better.
High anxiety multiplayer.
You will find yourself in a lot of difficult missions/situations, which, unlike the previous games, are actually some of the most fun parts of the game; with my (and many others) personal favorite mission, Three Leaf Clover, being very hard, and very rewarding. These situations will be impossible to complete if not properly prepared, which you should be throughout the entirety of the game. You can stalk up on weapons and armor in illegal back-alley gun vendors (the mayor has a real hard-on for gun control; so Ammunation stores do not exist in LC), with the enormous amounts of money you will acquire throughout the game.
In 2009 came two “DLC” episodes, quotations around DLC because they are basically entire games in their own right. They both come with about 20+ missions each, new protagonists, storylines happening around the same time as IV’s, which even crossover with each other a few times; new weapons, radio, stand-up, and TV shows; and many new side-missions. They are absolutely imperative to understanding the entirety of the GTA IV era story, and are two of the best DLC ever released. They are both included in the Complete Edition, along with IV.
This is the last thing Niko’s enemies will ever see.
Grand Theft Auto IV is Rockstar’s Magnum Opus, and a landmark in video game storytelling and technological prowess. With it’s well-written, non-linear, dark, emotional storyline, filled with largely memorable characters; unfolding in a large, beautifully detailed city, powered by a revolutionary physics engine and sophisticated AI; and featuring a polished, advanced rendition of the series renowned style of gameplay; Grand Theft Auto IV is an unforgettable experience, that is incredible in every way. You owe it to yourself to hop on the next flight out to Liberty City.
- $20 ($30 for the Complete Edition)
My tastes in games breach all genres, though my fortes are platformers and first-person shooters. My favorite game series is probably Super Mario, specifically the 3D games. I also love Rayman, Hitman, Bioshock, Half-Life/Portal, Uncharted, and Grand Theft Auto. As for my favorite game, it's hard to say: I love Portal 2, Shadow of the Colossus, Half-Life 2, Bioshock, Resident Evil 4, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Rayman Legends, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, Grand Theft Auto IV, L.A. Noire, Fallout 3, Journey, and Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence all so damn much.
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