Impressions: Grand Theft Auto IV (X360)

DISCLAIMER: This is more of a rant than it is a review, but since this has aspects of both, I shall categorize it as both. Also, this is an impression, not a full review since I only started playing.

We’ve all heard of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and its infamous Hot Coffee scandal. It’s that controversy that brought Jack Thompson to public attention. The controversy, caused by lazy programmers. ended up making Rockstar execs wipe egg off their face: surely, you can’t add “third party content” to a Playstation 2.It was the only reason I bought San Andreas: they were taking it off the market and it’s now a collector’s item. And the game sucks. I’m not sorry if you disagree. I shouldn’t have to spend five hours doing pointless tasks that feel inane and eventually self-indulgent. It was also the reason I was skeptical to buy Grand Theft Auto IV. With the high ratings given by all – not just many of – the reviewers, I decided this would be one of those games I’d break my rule of “clearly this will be a greatest hit and therefore $20 in the future” and hop on the band wagon early.

Boy, am I glad I was wrong.

Let me start off by saying what GTA IV did right where GTA:SA was wrong. First and foremost, I didn’t have to play more than 10 minutes to play the game. What annoyed me most about GTA:SA was the fact that the controls were horridly sloppy. I couldn’t drive a car, I couldn’t shoot a gun right, I couldn’t ride a bike very well, and I got winded running half a block. Do you know what GTA:SA asks of you within the first hour of gameplay? Do a drive-by shooting. Lovely. It took me 5 hours of gameplay to get my character to kill someone in four punches, but that’s all I can do. In GTA IV, it just works. I’m not a master of the game yet, but I don’t feel like my controller was dipped in Elmer’s.

Speaking of drive-by shootings, another reason I like GTA IV more than GTA:SA is the motivation. GTA:SA presents you with a premise: your mom died, and now, you must find the killer and take revenge. So what’s the first thing you do once you get home? You hang back with your crew and perform drive-by shootings with your gang because the rival gang wandered into the wrong hood. Then you pick up your rapper friend from jail. Stop wasting time. GTA IV, on the other hand, features an immigrant looking to escape his past life. While it doesn’t give away everything, at least I like Niko Bellic. He’s funny, he has a trace of morals, and his back story fits in much better for a sandbox style game.

Now, I’m not about to say GTA IV is the shining beacon of modern gaming. It’s not the prettiest game I’ve seen, and some of the fighting feels a little blocky. Let’s not forget the draw distance issues that spring up occasionally. Of course, with a game this size, I can’t say I blame Rockstar for having to cut a few corners.

With that out of the way, GTA IV is an amazing game. I mentioned Niko Bellic being a likable character, and it’s due to him being a wonderful anti-hero. It is quickly apparent that, while he’s grimly realistic about his lifestyle and capabilities as he says, “My hands haven’t been clean in a long time,” he does have the right direction in mind: he escapes his homeland to start fresh, he takes care of his idiot cousin, and he even states he’s trying not to kill when it isn’t necessary.

What strikes me about GTA IV is its minimalist attitudes towards your character and missions without missing any necessary details, which serves to make you feel empowered but also to show that what happens in Liberty City is entirely up to you. Niko isn’t a pushover, clearly, nor does he give away his full intentions right away, but as he is willing to take a job for the right price or reason, you can easily serve another purpose and get lost into the underworld of Liberty City.

I’ll fill you in once I get further into the game, but as it stands, GTA IV is an immersing experience that draws you in but doesn’t force you to live like a heathen. Once you pick up the game, you’ll want to continue, if only to see what more you can do in Liberty City.

~ Setsuna Setsunai

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