The First Segment of this Evolving Review of GTA IV
Grand Theft Auto is a video game series that dates back over a decade, and while it is easily recognizable to gamers worldwide; it has come to be a very significant game in that it’s relatively offensive content has led to discussion of violence, sex, drugs (among other taboo and often criminal activities) in video games and art in a variety of public forums and private, scientific institutions. GTA is a video game series well known for fun and often immoral actions that a player can commit from the comfort of their own home, and Grand Theft Auto 4 builds off of this premise by introducing a new environment, Liberty City, which is modeled off of New York City. The name change in this regards allows the world found in the game to maintain a fictional atmosphere, and perhaps get away with the many terroristic acts players will commit as the lead character Niko Bellic; as well as the various illegal acts his friends and enemies commit on screen as well.
For the moment we should not involve ourselves too deeply with the violence and “adult” content contained within this game, because while these things exist; they are not necessarily the central focus of the actual holistic gaming experience (unlike what the media would like you to believe). The presentation in Grand Theft Auto IV is quite frankly excellent. I have played through the entire main quest line 3 times prior to writing this review, and have found that many characters in this game, from it’s protagonist Niko, to his taxi driving cousin Roman, have unique personality traits that allows the player to distinguish one character from the next in significant ways. Of course, in keeping with the often over-the-top tradition of GTA video games; Rockstar has implemented several other characters that stand out for their eccentricity, as well as their trademark bits of humor (such as a drug and steroid crazed jock and a violent homosexual). Of course, the characters themselves are not the only element of GTAIV that is important.
The environment is alive, with pedestrians on the street, police officers that you will no doubt encounter many times, as well as the inclusion of a large variety of cars, motorcycles, and even a few helicopters (which tend to handle differently depending on size and other mechanics). Many gamers desire their experience with a video game to be one that can remove them from reality, and it is undeniable that GTA4 immerses you into the content on the screen. You can simply walk outside of one of your apartments in the game, and put the controller down and just listen to the living and breathing environment. NPC’s talk to one another, the echo of cars in the street corridors is tremendous to listen to because it really adds to the sensation of being in this urban environment, and even the sound of the slight rustling of the wind add to this authentic experience. The environment tends to feel like reality as opposed to a game world, which is not an easy feat to pull off.
Grand Theft Auto 4 is also fully voiced, and at many pivotal moments the story feels as if it could pass off as the next installment in The Godfather film series. Even random NPC’s have voices that are more often than not unique, and fortunately not particularly irritating on too many occasions. Rockstar has truly done a fantastic job at blending real life with this game world.
While the stories contained within this video game are often very serious, there is enough humor to keep you from simply being depressed during your entire experience. I remember the first time I carjacked a random taxi on the street, only to find out that not only was I now able to fully control the vehicle; but I also had access to a large selection of radio stations playing music ranging from rap/hip-hop to classics and even heavy metal. Still, I often find myself setting on the conservative talk radio channel; which bleeds with sarcasm and humor unlike something you have ever experienced in a video game. The experience was so authentic that, on occasion, I would pull over on the side of the road (or in a back alley with some hookers, because why not?) and just listen to the entire radio broadcast.
It is simple experiences like these that compile and make Grand Theft Auto IV into a legitimate theatrical gaming experience. After all, while the game has a linear storyline, there are many side quests and an open world that you can explore filled with murder and mayhem, games like pool and bowling, the ability to surf the internet and go on dates, and so much more. Rockstar has created a game that is very theatrical, but also does not take its theatrics too seriously on certain occasions. This adds heavily to the sense of immersion you feel when playing this video game, which is of utmost importance when experiencing a game like this.
I could probably talk for hours about the cinematic elements in GTA, but ultimately my review would be more compelling if this game was a movie and not, well, a game.
The actual gameplay in Grand Theft Auto IV is very well done on the whole. If you are not already aware, it is a third person shooter; which undoubtedly will already turn some people off, as this perspective can be an acquired taste. The actual action mechanics themselves are all really solid. Shooting your variety of guns (and there is a rather large, and mostly realistic arsenal to choose from including shotguns, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, and even Molotov cocktails!) is as simple as aiming the curser at your target (which can be anyone or anything on screen) and firing away. For those who are not that good at aiming their guns, there also is an auto-lock on feature that is very valuable. With regards to the actual fighting mechanics, I find them to be well done albeit pretty simplistic in nature. Now that I have played the game pretty significantly, I am beginning to sense that every fight sequence begins to feel the same. As far as I am concerned, this is a major problem with regards to the longevity of the game; and ironically this review comes shortly after an excursion to my local GameStop and seeing a rather large stack of these games in the used section of their store. Perhaps other people experienced a similar feeling?
Outside of the fighting mechanics in the game, most of the controls are very intuitive and fun! Personally, I found driving cars to be one of the best aspects of this game because the vehicles handled in a very realistic fashion; and every movement I made seemed purposeful when translating my button presses with the things I was seeing on screen. Honestly, I wish these mechanics would be mapped to a racing video game. The simple walking and running mechanics are also great. If you want to run faster, just tap X on your PS3 controller and Niko will take off. In adding to the realism of this game, he will also run out of breath; so learning how to control your character becomes a study of learning how your average human being will be able to function.
Speaking of average human beings, Niko is more of a cold-hearted and crazy person than your average person; but he is also a very believable and compelling character. As a result of his story, you will find yourself being chased by the LCPD (or doing the chasing if you decide to hack into the police computer); as well as a variety of other people that you actively decide to beat up for whatever reason you can conjure up in your mind. I myself often find myself killing random pedestrians simply for being in my way. This is a rather gruesome and telling aspect about violence in video games, but in GTA IV it is easy to distinguish the difference between reality and game for most people.
Killing can be fun in this game, but be warned that you will surely die (or rather, “go to the hospital”) on many occasions. In some sections of the storyline, the typical result of death or mission failure can be exceptionally irritating. A particular mission stands out where you have to chase a helicopter while driving a car. I literally quit the game for a good period of time thanks to this mission. Unfortunately, some immediately gratifying experiences with this game, such as running from the police (which just involves getting out of the blinking circle on your GPS) or just simply attacking random people, can get very dull after you encounter them 20 times within an hour of gaming. I do not find it fun to just “go through the motions” in a video game, which I sadly encounter on many occasions in GTA IV.
With so many words spent examining Grand Theft Auto IV, I still feel as if I have said very little with regards to how the game actually feels to play. This is because it is a game that is meant to be experienced. While watching videos on YouTube can be satisfying in there own ways, or reading the text of this review on your screen, it is not nearly the same as being able to walk out of your virtual apartment door and literally do as you please in this gigantic city. Adorned with weapons and a personality that is probably much cooler than your own, you are able to role-play being this hardcore Russian in this rather overwhelming world.
I expect that first time players will thoroughly enjoy this relatively unique experience, which takes the GTA series in a more serious direction. While GTA4 contains similar qualities to older games in the series by Rockstar, such as the trademark humor, the violence, and so forth; they are ultimately distinct gaming entities. With the theme of evolution running amuck on this website, it is hard to imagine this video game sequel without the context of the previous releases.
At this point in time, I would have to say that I recommend Grand Theft Auto IV as an excellent video game. The gameplay elements are pretty solid, and the theatrical elements exceptionally well done to a degree that I almost would have preferred this game to be a movie rather then a game. That is not to say that it does not have any problems, and I would not personally be so naïve as to grant this game a perfect score as the flaws and rather dull gameplay after a year or so (if not earlier) are valid reasons to have disdain for this game. Still, within my personal gaming collection, I am glad to have GTA IV around; and I intend to keep it there, if only to share with my future children and experience a sense of happy nostalgia in the future.