Let me not be vague about my message about Grand Theft Auto IV: GTA IV is a good game, but it is not the best game ever, not even the best game of its time. I don’t care how many GTA fanboys object to that – there are several problems with the game that no game of high quality should have.
Now, I’m not one for not giving credit where credit is due. I know the reason GTA IV behaves the way it does is because it has to cut corners to overcome technological obstacles. It does this for good reason as well, as the modern GTA series is one of its only games of its kind. However, the game on a technical and playable standpoint is far from the best thing on the market.
For those of you who have been living in a cave, GTA IV is best described as a crime-drama gone video-game. In this installment of the series, you play Niko Bellic, a hardened war veteran who is trying to escape a life of violent conflict and fast crimes. Much like any of these protagonists, he cannot so simply escape the life. It is your task to play through GTA IV helping Niko Bellic make a new life in Liberty City.
Since you’ve probably read at least five reviews of this game, let’s summarize what the other reviews are right tell you. This is the best 3D GTA to date. It has the most natural control scheme, doing away with the irritatingly long leveling system. Niko is indeed the most lovable GTA protagonist, and having moral choices to make adds to that. Finally, this is the best looking and most realistic game, and while some may argue that realism was never the point of the GTA series, its GTA IV’s realism that makes the satire scream much louder in this game than the usual games, dumping its old, overstyled, cartoon-like realism.
But that’s enough about the obvious measures GTA IV takes to be better than its predecessors. Here’s what the magazines don’t tell you. Now, if it does matter, I’m playing the XBox 360 version, but seeing as I’m not paid to write these, I’m not spending another $60 on the Playstation 3 version just to discover the changes. If you must know, I’ve heard the load time helps. Some people swear by the PS3 version having better graphics, but I for one could care less and we’ll get to that point in a minute. Finally, the XBox 360 has a more robust online service, as they paid lots of money to have exclusive downloadable content. Filthy capitalists.
If you play enough of GTA IV, you will notice its glaring technical flaws. The most obvious of one is draw-in distance, or how far (or not so far) away an object is from the player or camera before it is drawn by the game’s engine. GTA IV does have a problem with this, and while it isn’t necessarily game-breaking, it’s very noticeable and highly annoying, especially when I paid $60 for the game ($90 for the Special Edition, but the $30 extra is worth the Rockstar swag you get).
What’s even more apparent to me is the framerate issue of the game. Yes, while this game isn’t as bad as Crysis on a medium-grade computer, and while the game is still playable, it defeats at least half of the purpose of attempting a real environment if you can see the sidewalk clip along like a pile of unrendered polygons.
Speaking of the graphics, GTA IV does not have amazing graphics. Granted, GTA IV will awe you from time to time if you haven’t played any other game for a while – and you won’t if you’re trying to do everything from pleasing your friends to engaging drug dealers in warehouse shootouts. Yes, the graphics will do for the purposes of this game. However, put it next to a game like Call of Duty 4 or even an older Dead Rising – a game not capable of 1080p – you will see the difference. In fact, the palette swapping to note the different times of day create a plastic, inorganic, over-saturated environment. The cars are comparable in quality to the PS2 game Need for Speed Underground 2 – GTA IV clearly cut corners in this department.
Many gamers may argue against me for bashing GTA IV’s graphical pitfalls; after all, I believe a game is as good as its gameplay. Well, GTA IV isn’t perfect in a gameplay’s perspective either. In short, GTA IV is the game for people too lazy to switch discs.
I can name at least one game that does one aspect of GTA IV’s gameplay better than GTA IV. The driving is much better in games like Need for Speed or Forza Motorsport if you prefer something more real. Call of Duty 4’s shooting engine, which dwarfs many shooting juggernauts, beats GTA IV by a mile, but even some lesser games are more enjoyable than GTA IV. Yes, I attribute some of these gameplay flaws to the graphics performance problem – another game with the same exact style of play will be better than GTA IV because it doesn’t have to worry about chugging through all of Liberty City. I can play Dead Rising without the choppy frame rate, and while it is very Majora’s Mask-esque, it is still fairly sandbox.
However, it would be somewhat unfair to compare GTA IV to every other good game in history. GTA IV is not a shooter, or a racer, or a beat-em-up, or an RPG. It begs the question, “what is GTA IV exactly?” GTA IV, simply enough, is an action satire, and one of the only ones out there. It focuses more on its artistic presentation than the gameplay. Though a lot of games beat out the parts of GTA IV that it tries to emulate, no one game does it all in style of GTA’s satirical crime world. GTA IV is truly one of its own kind.
What does this mean to the player? Personally, I like GTA IV enough to want to see how far I will go before I get ultimately bored of playing hired grunt to crime bosses and decide to go on a wild crime spree across Manhat- *ahem* “Algonquin.” However, as I play GTA IV, I find it to be a chore. While the missions are fun, much more fun its predecessor San Andreas, it is a patch of clovers in the presence of a majestic, ages-old redwood when it stands next to other hit games, making GTA IV the perfect game for players who are too lazy to change discs for the game they prefer. However, if you have yet to experience any GTA game, this one is the one to do it with, and you won’t find any one game like it.
~ Setsuna Setsunai