Grand Theft Auto IV

Lately I had been determined to get the Grand Theft Auto 4 skeleton out of my closet – that is it has been taking me forever to beat the damn thing and this was a big problem for me as my back log has been building up yet I’ve been absolutely compelled to resist playing any other console games until I got it out of the way. So, with that in mind my last couple of weekends had been dedicated to GTA4-a-thons (when possible.)

I wish I could take in game screenshots.
“I wish I could take in game screenshots.”

First let me say that part of the reason it took me a while to play was that it didn’t really grab me at first and I almost immediately made a number of minor negative observations:

  • The game still suffers from repetitive, simple missions – drive here and kill this guy, drive here and then chase this guy. Nothing any more exotic than any of the GTA series offered and some of the chases are still just as annoying as they were in previous games. One plus side here, however, is that a lot of the sillier mission types from old GTA games have been dumped.
  • The controls (keep in mind I’m playing it on the Xbox 360) felt a little less accessible than previous incarnations. Different configurations whilst in car or on foot, holding down certain buttons for different functionality. Just a little more complicated than before without many new features to show for it. I did get used to them soon enough however, so I’d probably take this one back.
  • A lot of people griped about the more realistic control and movement, particularly of vehicles. Movement is a lot slower and clumsier with more realistic animations taking priority over fun and precise control. You’ll notice this immediately when you start trying to run around the world. I personally actually liked the new way that vehicles feel though the on foot controls totally took me by surprise at first. I’d say after I got used to the feel of the new controls I actually preferred them though.
  • The increased detail and sometimes dark, muddy graphics of the starting area made the whole game feel much more claustrophobic and just plain unfriendly to me. To counter this though, the more I played and the more new areas I explored, the more I appreciated the awesome amount of detail the game has. GTA 4’s city is without a doubt the best sandbox I’ve seen yet. It is absolutely amazing. I feel like we’re probably not given enough opportunity to really enjoy and appreciate it as we could though. The same goes for the graphics in general – they’re not always too nice to look at, in fact I thought the game was fairly ugly when I first saw it, but they’re actually pretty damn great at times. Again, we spend so much time with the camera pulled back, barreling down streets that it can be difficult to really take it all in. I think when the PC version of this game is released, providing the port isn’t botched of course, people will have a lot of really good things to say about the graphics regardless of how much of an improvement they are over the console versions.
  • Cops seemed hellishly annoying at first. Sure, it seems generally easier to avoid getting busted and to lose your wanted level but it also seems like it is a lot easier to get a wanted level in the first place. It seemed like cops were fucking everywhere and stupidly observant to boot. After I got a little better at losing my wanted level this became much less of a problem but it is still a noteworthy difference from previous games in my opinion.
  • Combat seemed improved but still didn’t do much for me at first. Once I got more used to it though I enjoyed it quite a bit and actually found myself occasionally doing things the hard way just for the thrill of the firefight. I never did feel completely satisfied with switching targets accurately during the heat of larger engagements. I also never really took as much advantage of the cover system as I probably should have though this is entirely my fault, I’m sure.
  • Friend management… What the fuck? I don’t feel like I have to say much more about this. Interesting concept but not too fun. Once I learned ye olde “accept their offer then immediately call back and cancel plans” strategy things became slightly easier to cope with though.
  • I liked the addition of the GPS and improved map but I felt like I was spending more time watching it than taking in my surroundings while driving around which is a shame. I also had a harder time seeing some guide line colors than others. That is, the darker colors sometimes blended in with the roads on the map. Speaking of the GUI the minimap itself and some of the text seemed a little on the small side to me. I had a lot of trouble reading my cell phone until I got the picture one with the different color scheme, for instance. Maybe I’m just sitting too far away from my TV or something. 🙂
  • Oh thank god, at last we have the ability to do a quick restart of missions instead of having to go all the way back to the mission starter and try again! Unfortunately though the system still needs a lot of work to be really good in my opinion. Only a few of missions that I had to retry had checkpoints anywhere other than at the very start of the mission. Given the way most of GTA 4’s missions are structured this could lead to some very annoying, time consuming mission attempts. Example: Drive half way across the city to get this car, then drive half way across the city again to do a drive by. If you somehow fail the drive by you’re back to having to drive across the city to get the car even though that was a tedious, unchallenging, almost extraneous part of the mission in the first place. Saints Row’s earlier implementation of this feature had the same problem. Argh…

Anyway, as you can see most of my bad early impressions were taken back after playing a bit longer. I actually suspected this would be the case which was one of the things that kept me playing. The GTA sandbox can be pretty intimidating when you’re first dumped into it and I had always enjoyed the previous games much, much more after getting used to the controls, learning more about the various game play systems, and getting a better feel for the layouts of the cities. GTA 4 was absolutely no exception to this. I remember feeling the exact same way with GTA 3 – at the start I was some what intimidated by the massive scale of the city and bewildering amount of choices I had, yet by the time I had logged many hours into it I was enjoying myself immensely and the game was just flying by. With GTA 4 I was almost sad to see it finally come to an end.

So, yes, I finally beat the game! The story wrapped up well enough and I then spent several more hours playing the side missions and racking up some of the easier achievements which for the most part I had a lot of fun with. I’ve yet play online via Live though I’m itching to try it. I’m sure I’ll post about it when I do. In summary I’d say this game pushes the series ahead with a much better story, much better characters, an improved sense of immersion (the city, graphics, animations, physics, more detailed combat system) with the series’ awesome style, usual parody heavy sense of humor, and great voice acting still intact.

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