Game: "Grand Theft Auto IV"
System: Xbox 360
Published by: Take-Two
Reviewer: Dr. Boogie
Review: I was looking forward to the release of GTA IV as much as the next guy, but I have to admit I was skeptical of all the review sites and magazines giving it a perfect score. There’s been a lot of talk going around that big game review publications have been handing out positive reviews in exchange for advertising dollars and advance copies of games, so you’d think they would try to avoid seeming biased. Now that I’ve played it, however, I can tell you that I understand the temptation to give the game a perfect score.
For starters, Liberty City, Rockstar’s nihilistic New York simulacrum, has been re-imagined as being far more similar to its real life counterpart. Even the people who live within the city have been given greater depth than in previous GTA games, bringing home groceries, taking cell phone calls, and even running from the cops. The game is loaded with all manner of small additions too numerous to mention in a single review, and while some may seem superfluous from a gaming perspective, they’ve still arranged in a way not unlike what you would see in a real city.
All that is nice, and it speaks to the dedication of the game’s creators, but more notable are the changes in gameplay from previous installments, particularly San Andreas. Since the entire game takes place in a single city, for instance, there is no opportunity for flying planes, although helicopters remain. Also gone are the RPG aspects of San Andreas, such as improving your ability to handle weapons and vehicles through continued use. This was the one that hit me the hardest, especially with the more realistic driving physics in the game. Plus, this sort of stat-building really lends itself to the 360’s achievement system.
On the other hand, the goal in GTA 4 seems to be giving the player an experience that is more fun, but at the same time more realistic, than previous games. To this end, the game includes one of my personal favorite advances in video game technology: ragdoll physics. Before, a high-speed collision while on a motorcycle would merely toss your character, but now you might hit a car and find yourself cartwheeling down the street before slamming into a building. Even if you hit something while going fast enough in a car, you can expect to go flying through the windshield, accompanied by a scream that never fails to get a chuckle out of me.
One other useful addition to the game is that you can now hail cabs in addition to carjacking them. Once inside, you pick a destination from the list of notable spots (gun stores, safe houses, missions, etc), and then the cabbie drives you there. The real kick, though, is that you can pay a little extra money to basically teleport directly to the spot. Stealing cars can be fun, but at the same time, when given the opportunity to skip long driving sequences before or during a mission, I’ll take it. Suffice to say, by the end of the game, my mileage drive was roughly equal to my mileage ridden in taxis.
Travel aside, combat in the game has been somewhat improved as well. The lock-on system from the previous GTA games remains, but with a gentle pull of the trigger, players can enter a free aim mode to pick off distant and partially covered targets. Even while locked on, players can shift their aim away from the center of the torso to pop bad guys in the head, or just hit them in the shoulder so they’ll convulse their way into the open.
And of course, the more you practice with the aiming system, the sooner you’ll get to experience the game’s new wanted level system. The same six-star rating system remains (though without soldiers and tanks lining the streets at 6 stars), only now, the process for losing the heat is better defined. When you do arouse the local constabulary, a circle will appear on the radar centered on your location. To lose the cops, all you need to do is get outside the circle and remain so for a few seconds without being seen by any cops. The trick is that the circle gets much wider with each star, to the point where a six-star rating means that you have to basically escape from one island to another without being seen by anyone. Still, your radar will show all nearby law enforcement officials, and losing the cops at higher levels is possible, even with a chopper on your tail. It just takes some careful maneuvering is all.
The game also tries to improve on the melee system, but this doesn’t go over as well. The new hand-to-hand combat system is reminiscent of the one in Saints row, with two punch buttons and a kick for good measure. In lieu of blocking, however, you have a dodge button. In practice, this button means you can avoid a potential attack and come back with a vicious counter, or even disarm your foe. Unfortunately, even the most unremarkable streetwalker seems to have an unusually fast right jab, and when someone has a knife or a bat, I prefer the old disarming method: shoot the bastard. You can work out some combos with punches, but again, so can just about everyone else. It’s a big disappointment, especially given that you could learn several powerful melee styles in San Andreas.
At the same time, though, melee combat is a very small portion of the game, confined almost exclusively to those harrowing missions in the beginning, when guns are in short supply. As such, it’s really only a minor problem, along with the occasional flaw with the physics that can prevent Niko from standing back up in a timely fashion after ragdolling onto an incline.
The whole of the game is just excellent. Even the story is a great improvement over the previous titles. Sure, revenge is once again the central theme, but the characters are fleshed out so well in GTA IV that you actually care about them, and you feel bad for them when they’re subjected to the consequences of a life of crime. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Grand Theft Auto 4 isn’t perfect, but it’s about as close to perfection as anyone has gotten before.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
I got soured on GTA3 quick and never picked up Vice City or San Andreas because of the bitter taste still in my mouth. However, I've been hearing nothing but good things about this and, now that my stimulus check is in, I may have to pick up a next-gen console to play it.
|There’s been a lot of talk going around that big game review publications have been handing out positive reviews in exchange for advertising dollars and advance copies of games, so you’d think they would try to avoid seeming biased.|
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