Bargain Gaming – Grand Theft Auto IV Review

Posted on Apr 08 2011

Oh Grand Theft Auto, sometimes it’s hard to remember what a good game series you are what with all of the controversy and outrage surrounding you. But underneath that rough media exterior is one of the best examples of sandbox gaming done right, combining trace elements of story with a world overflowing with entropy and the potential for chaos. Having played several of these games over the years, it was a no brainer when the latest proper game in the series, GTA IV, went on sale on Steam a little over a year ago. However, much to my disappointment my comp at the time was not powerful enough to play it, and as such it was relegated to sit in the aether of the interwebz until I finally stumbled upon it accidentally while going through my account the other day. Having finally installed this game on my new comp and played it for a while, was it worth the wait? Or is just another notch in the franchise, unable to live up to the glory that was its Vice City predecessor?

Well, the game play is an interesting place to start, as in some cases it feels vastly improved over its predecessors and yet feels weaker than previous titles in others. On the one hand the gun play feels tighter than it has in previous iterations, allowing for a better long range experience which in turn influenced me into focusing on longer range battles. The cover system is also a great addition to the series as it allows for much less chaotic battles in enclosed areas and also allows for a great way to handle battles where you are vastly outgunned by your enemies. Finally the driving controls for most of the vehicles also feel very responsive in this title, which is a good thing what with it being a titular aspect of the game.

On the other hand though, the close combat controls seem to be almost the opposite of their long range counterpart, as the fist fighting seems clunky and unbalanced. And god help you if you have to advance on your opponent, as any sort of forward movement changes your melee attack into a girlish shove which, in turn, knocks them away from you, forcing you to pursue and girlishly push them again! The melee weapons are a bit better, however I quickly found myself shifting over to guns and never looking back. Also I should never, ever try driving a motorcycle if this game is any indicator, as I can never quite get the hang of controlling my bike while trying to fill someone full of lead. This one may be more attributable to human error; however motorcycles join melee combat on my list of game play aspects that just didn’t work for me.

The characters, on the other hand, most definitely did work for me. The secondary characters like Roman and Brucie were highly memorable and entertaining to watch and listen to, to the point of encouraging the social mechanic the game tries to force on you constantly. But the most striking example of character depth in this title has to be the main character, Niko Bellic. His reactions to the situations that surround him and the way he acts with a singular purpose serve to make him the most human protagonist I’ve ever seen in a Rockstar title. I actually found myself rooting for him several times, which made me concentrate on playing better so that he wouldn’t end up dead. Sure, he has his issues, such as his focus on money throughout the game, but these flaws only serve to remind us that he is human, not just another faceless goon. Heck, he’s probably the most likable murdering sociopath I’ve ever seen in a game!

Despite this I have to admit that the story disappointed me a bit with this title. In the previous games, Vice City and San Andreas, the focus of the story had been on building an empire and controlling the world that surrounded you. This was reinforced by your ability to purchase properties throughout the city, as each building not only gave you bonuses like added income or access to special items and services, but also cemented the idea that this was your city into the player’s mind. In GTA 4 though, you never really get that sense. You jump from mission to mission almost arbitrarily, and there is no sense of ownership or control as you progress. This is made clear by your inability to buy property in this title (which honestly disappointed me more than the weak storyline, but that’s another discussion entirely). Don’t get me wrong, the basic story is okay and does serve to get you from point A to point B, but all in all I was left disappointed by the story in this particular outing. If it weren’t for the character interactions I might’ve skipped the story altogether and just focused on messing around in the game world.

But man, what a world it is! This game definitely has some of the best graphics to date for a Rockstar title, and that combined with the great audio work really makes the world seem to come to life around you. Little details, from the quality of the voice work to the huge variety of radio stations playing constantly in every vehicle made it feel as though the world was actually moving around Niko and not just waiting for the player to do something. Coupled with some of the most vibrant cityscapes and interesting character models and I actually found myself getting caught up in this world. Believe me when I say that I’ve yet to manage to pick up this game and then put it down after an hour or two, as I always find myself getting caught up for hours at a time.

And it’s because of this ability to suck you in that I’m recommending this game, as whether you’re interested in running around like a crazy person or want to explore this gigantic world to the fullest there is something for you to do here. At the very least you can have fun facing off against the police in a massive firefight, seeing how long you can survive before you’re finally put down! As I mentioned at the start of this review, I picked up this game on sale over a year ago, but now you can grab it for the PC, PS3 or Xbox 360 new for $19.99 even without any sales. Long story short, if you’re looking for a sandbox game that will let you invest yourself into its world for hours at a time, then give this game a shot.

Finally I’d like to end this particular review with a few tips I picked up while playing this game. Most of its pretty common sense stuff, but hey, I’m here to help!

First off, the taxis are your best friends in this game, as their ability to fast travel to any marked location on the map is a godsend! I’ve also noticed that the in-game clock will stop when you fast travel in a cab, making them even more beneficial when you need to get to the other side of the world map in a hurry.

Second, from the second safe house on you should always have body armor equipped. I know its overkill, but there’s really nothing else to invest your money in here, and you’d be amazed at the difference it can make in your play style, knowing you’ve got those few extra hits.

Third, duck and weave through the streets when you are being chased by the cops. As Morpheus said, the highways are death traps. You are much smarter and better suited to changing your trajectory on the fly than the AI is, so use that to your advantage.

Finally, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. While not a helpful hint in and of itself, I’ve had much more luck on passing difficult missions by setting up things like boats and secure sniping positions ahead of time, in ways the game’s AI isn’t equipped to deal with. Motorcycle chases become far more tolerable when you realize their routes are scripted, allowing you to ambush them at will!

Hope those help you guys out! Until next time, this is BG signing out!

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  • Jubilee March 31, 2011 at 2:58 PM

    That banner made me lol. XD

    Great article as always! 😀

  • nerdwerld March 31, 2011 at 6:26 PM

    That banner made me lol. XD
    Great article as always!

    I concur the banner was great and so was the read.

    • Bargain Gamer March 31, 2011 at 9:03 PM

      While I can’t take credit for the banner, which is awesome, I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

  • EagleEyes March 31, 2011 at 7:03 PM

    San Andreas > IV

  • drewid March 31, 2011 at 7:57 PM

    gta 3 > Vice City muahahaha Nice read though good article Bargain Gamer

  • EagleEyes April 1, 2011 at 12:38 AM

    Also the driving controls were icky T.T

  • Rhetorical Gamer April 7, 2011 at 9:11 AM

    Great review BG are you also going to review the DLC packs as well?

    • Bargain Gamer April 8, 2011 at 10:32 PM

      While I hadn’t considered it, I certainly could. I’m pretty sure my bro owns the dlc packs, but if not I could get my hands on them fairly easily.

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