Alright, so it took me a little longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished GTAIV. My review will attempt to be as spoiler-free as possible, but I can’t promise anything. If something serious slips through I apologize now.
Also, before anyone gets up my ass about this, I honestly like the game. It’s one of the best I’ve played in the last few months. However, I do not think it is nearly as amazing as people make it out to be, nor do I even believe it deserves GOTY status, as so many people already claim. But, please read on knowing that fact up front, and yet retaining an open mind.
I can honestly say I disliked IV’s story. If you want my full breakdown, head over to Rev. Anthony’s “Deconstructing GTAIV’s Ending” article and check comment #74 (the spoilers fly in my response, as well as in said article). Otherwise, just know I felt as though the whole story gets kinda pulled out from under you, despite what Rev. says.
I also feel as though, while Niko may have had a “clear motivation” for his visit to Liberty City, I had a hard time relating to said motivation in the first place. When you get off the boat and the few missions thereafter there’s a lot of talk as to why Niko left the old country and how some guy did him harm and killed his friends blah blah blah. Yeah, well, since the player never experiences that tragedy, let alone finds out the whole true story behind the occurrence, I felt as though, while Niko may have had a reason to be doing what he was doing, I as the player did not. I really couldn’t relate to the dude if I didn’t know what the hell was bothering him, ya know?
This resulted in him feeling just as “faceless” as Claude (from GTAIII) to me. His character may have been better written than others in the series, but he still didn’t mean much to me, especially given the anti-climactic search that unfolds near the end.
I’m likely in a small minority here, but I really dislike the more serious/realistic tone GTA is apparently taking with this iteration of the series. As someone who has been in love with GTA’s art style since GTAIII, I can honestly say I was praying that IV would be cell shaded. Honestly.
I think Rockstar has some of the best artists working for them and I really wish the series would truly embrace the art style of the game covers/concept art (especially from San Andreas) and move into a more cartoony look. I know that’ll ruffle some feathers, but hear me out.
Try and tell me this wouldn't be sexy in motion. Try me.
What few people realize is just how big of a joke the GTA series is. GTAIII was developed by a company in Scotland in order to more effectively look at American culture and satirize it. The games are essentially a caricature of our entire culture. I have always felt that the series is at its best, most memorable, and most poignant when it unabashedly takes aim at the things we Americans hold most sacred. I like when it mocks us. In order to more effectively do so, I think the game should become more of an outright satire/joke (while of course retaining a compelling narrative and gameplay… Bad Day L.A. it doesn’t hafta become).
I feel as though a less realistic, slightly more over the top (think TF2), yet stylized artistic direction would serve the series well. Plus, it would help players look past any problems with the graphics approaching the Uncanny Valley because, hey, it’s just a cartoon, right? Plus, it would go great with our own Jonathan Holme's idea for a scathing new GTA narrative, which I fully support.
Okay, so here’s where I really need to dig into the game and rip apart any reviewer that gave IV a 10/10. I don’t know what kind of crack people were smoking or how many guns Rockstar had pressed against their temples (maybe even of their wife, kids, mothers, grandmothers, dogs, etc.) but seriously. A perfect score? Honestly?
“Oh, but a 10/10 doesn’t mean the game is perfect. It’s not the score that matters.” That’s very true. Too bad none of the reviews I read (save for some things in Dtoid’s own review) even made light of HALF of the major problems I have with this game. And this isn’t a matter of what was placed in the game (for that you can see my relationship rant) but all of the gameplay and fun that was completely excised from the game.
I don’t know about anyone else buy GTAIV really felt like the least compelling game world yet seen in a GTA game. Even with all of the crisp graphics (pssh) and details tucked into every nook and cranny of the city, it simply felt empty and I know why: because there were no persistent gangs!
It took me 55 hours to complete the game (with 90% completion… fuck packages) and yet only a small handful of times (I’d say 3 or 4) did I ever encounter any gang members outside of a mission. Part of the fun of the previous installments was running into gang territory and shooting gangbangers and having them all team up on you, then allowing you to cause a big ruckus/riot/mayhem in the streets. In IV, sometimes I would jack a car and instead of a pedestrian trying to punch me or chase after me he’d pull a gun on me and then another pedestrian would do the same. I’m assuming they were in the same gang. Who knows?
Remember these guys? Didn't think so...
For some reason, in IV, Rockstar decided to remove clearly visible gang members in favor of normal pedestrians everywhere. Throughout the story you work for who knows how many crime families (Italians, Russians, Irish, bikers… you fight Yakuza, etc.) and yet there are never any of them walking the streets at any particular moment (save for bikers… arguably… they are likely just guys riding motorcycles). The whole story revolves around the “rampant gang problem” in the city and yet YOU NEVER SEE ANY GANGS!
To coincide with the lack of visible gangs, they also removed the gang turf mini-game/mechanic from San Andreas wherein you could fight to take over gang turf, which earned you money (see my next point). In so doing you could effectively take out rival gangs and accrue a vast turf for yourself and you’re your fellow gang members. Very cool stuff, indeed. Some people claimed defending turf in SA was too tedious or annoying, though. Well, those people likely never had to take Packie’s prude ass sister out on a date in IV only to be harassed because she doesn’t like the BRAND NEW SUIT you’re wearing. Whore.
The GTA series is known for its recreation of the American dream: make a butt ton of money and spend it all however the hell you see (un)fit. Well, too bad there’s no real incentive to earn any money in GTAIV.
In Vice City (and later SA) players could take their earned cash and buy multiple houses (for save points), businesses (to earn more cash), and tons of customization options like clothes and tats (well, in SA anyway). Too bad there’s literally nothing to buy except guns, food, some clothes (which really do very little since you can’t “flash” your gang colors like in SA), cab fares, and dates (which you never even know how much you’re gonna spend anyway). All of which may sound like a lot and that they’re important, but in the end, since you never technically need to date anyone, only ever have to buy one suit, and never need to buy food if you don’t want, it really boils down to jack shit. As Rev. Anthony pointed out in his critique of the ending, once you make $100,000 you are pretty much good to go. Save for an Achievement (on 360, anyway) at the $500,000 mark there’s no reason the player needs money.
Now, I spent a lot of money on guns, ammo (love me them RPGs), dates (to get everyone’s like for me over 90%), and cab fares all over the place (I disliked driving across town all the time) and yet when I finished the last level, with the reward I made from that final mission, I now have $1.2 million. Awesome. It officially serves no purpose whatsoever.
The worst part of it all is that the game teases you with ATMs scattered all over the city and yet all they do is show you your current balance of funds. That’s weird. That’s also the exact same function THE DOWN BUTTON serves. WTF?
I remember a time when you could buy cool shit like this club. Sigh... the memories.
The first time I saw an ATM I thought I’d be able to put money in the bank a la Scarface: The World is Yours and eventually use it to pimp out my apartments, defend business, buy cars, etc., all fun things a cheap Vice City clone like Scarface allows you to do. Nope, sorry Rockstar faithful. Why evolve the process of buying property and businesses like Scarface did when, instead, you can get the shaft aka none of it? Who the hell knows? Not me.
Now, for anyone who has read any of my comments in any GTAIV posts ‘round these here parts you’ll know how much I loathe Rockstar for removing all the fun side missions from IV. For those of you who haven’t, let’s recap.
GTAIII: Vigilante, Fire truck, Ambulance, Rampages, stunt jumps; (may have had chop shop/car delivery, can’t recall)
GTA:VC: All of the above + Pizza delivery, Ice cream truck, RC racing/flying, chop shop/car delivery, street racing, business purchasing (most came with missions/story arcs)
GTA:SA: All of the above + Turf wars, gambling (both horse and numerous casino types), character/car customization, 3 separate types of packages
GTAIV: Vigilante, Most Wanted, chop shop/car delivery, street racing, stunt jumps, 1 package type, + DATES (which may or may not include darts, drinking, shows, bowling, pool, or eating, but all of which were annoying as shit)!
That’s a drop from roughly 15 (depending on how you count 3 package types, date types, etc.) down to 7. That’s being generous considering dating and pool existed in SA, by the way.
All I can say is WHAT THE FUCK? Do people not realize there was so much more to actually DO in the previous installments? How are people so impressed with the interactivity (see my next point) in this city/game when it pales in comparison to the offerings of the older installments (and that’s not even getting me started on the lack of base jumping and planes)? It astounds me. It’s like people got blinded by the fact the game has multiplayer (which the PC versions have had for years) and forgot how much they were missing out on. Seriously.
Now, this may come as a shock to some, but I liked Assassin’s Creed. I liked it a lot, in fact. So much so, that I often walked around Liberty City wishing I could scale some buildings or at least jump and not look like a fairy humping a fence.
Now, I realize to “realistically” bring something like building scaling to a game like GTA would require them to institute some sort of “grip/fatigue” meter a la Shadow of the Colossus, but I think it would totally be worth it. My only argument to that is that, as much as GTA claims it’s realistic, it’s really really not.
Ya know, something like this... but with actual Shoop skills, not Paint ones.
Shooting a pedestrian on the street or jacking a car in front of dozens of people only to have the police forget about you the moment you’re out of their line of sight is ridiculous. By the second or third innocent pedestrian death “real” cops would have hunted you down and put you behind bars. So, given there are obvious and very large suspensions of disbelief built into the game, why not allow the main character to climb to his heart’s content? Let me tell you, as a previous varsity swimmer at a Big Ten school, anyone who can swim circles around the three islands making up LC likely has enough stamina to crawl up a story or two downtown. Just throwing that out there.
What's worse is that early reports of the game said they saw Niko climbing telephone polls and stuff and how Rockstar was really building up the verticality of the game (much like Crackdown). Too bad nothing ever came of most of it.
My only major complaint with the physics is simply how hard destroying cars has become. And I'm not even talking about within missions where the "open" gameplay is contrived down to "follow this car until the game SAYS you can actually destroy it so you can witness some shitty predetermined chase scenes/crashes." No, I'm talking about in general.
In making the physics "stronger" they somehow made cars impossible to destroy. Trust me, I tried. A lot. I'm not an engineer or anything but I'm pretty sure if you put over 60 rounds from an assault rifle into the engine block of a modern sedan you won't be able to take it off the lot and speed away. I'm also pretty sure crashing a car at full speed straight into a wall (or another car, for that matter) at 60mph should fuck up the transmission so bad it won't be able to be backed away from the scene of the crash. Instead your car's bumper barely gets dented. Lame.
So, basically, I want cars to be modeled with their entire frame in tact so that they can be more affected by crashes and jumps and gunfire and such. Every car in IV is a god damn tank and it's no fun. It'd be much more frenetic if, in the midst of a car chase or battle, you had to ditch your ride and find a new one (and not only because of blown tires, mind you) but because you took some jumps too fast and destroyed your shocks/frame. I also want engine blocks to fly through the hood when I crash into that wall I previously mentioned. I want shit to get fucked up, period. If this means a few less cars popping up on the road as I drive through the city, so be it. It's not like their spawning is realistic anyway. Zing.
Anyone who played the game for more than 5 minutes obviously picked up on the fact the cars handle differently. In fact, they handle realistically. So, fuck you if you hate real life driving physics, they’re the best in the series (and better than many racing games, for that matter). I loved them and it only took about an hour or so of solid practice to get a handle for the majority of the vehicles. If you’re more than 10% through the story and still pulling 180 degree turns around corners, then you’re a fucktard.
What many people fail to mention is how god awful Niko handles on foot. The dude is like a tank with sacks of shit in his pants. Pulling a 180 toward the camera is horrendous (see my next point) and he leans at an angle around turns like Shepard in Mass Effect (fuck me in the beard). Not only that, the dude can’t seem to understand that when you sprint up steps YOU’RE ALLOWED TO SKIP A FEW! Who the fuck runs up stairs while being shot at and looks down to watch their feet?
Plus, you hafta love the random phone calls in the middle of fire fights that are story-specific, which means you hafta answer them. Those are great fun. I bet Roman really couldn’t wait ‘til I was not under heavy fire to tell me about this or that. Who cares, I love being slowed To A WALKING PACE mid-fight and being pelted with lead. Doesn’t everyone?
The camera blows, plain and simple. It tries really hard to be dramatic and such but all it does is fail miserably.
Ten bucks says the camera is going NUTS right now for the person playing this.
Any driving(-intensive) game that requires the use of both thumbsticks to adequately follow the vehicle around turns is not just a failure but an outright travesty. What’s worse is the camera is just as bad on foot, often trying to readjust itself the moment you move, which is actually the exact opposite of what’s usually intended/wanted. I’d like to be able to circle strafe someone or run one way and shoot another without the camera fighting me the whole time. You know, the way Saint’s Row did it. Zing.
As far as I can tell that’s all I really needed to get off of my chest after completing Rockstar’s epic achievement. Yes, again, despite all the negative things I mentioned, I somehow managed to like GTAIV. Sadly, it’s that I liked it in the old “wow, that was fun, I can’t wait ‘til they make a sequel to it because there’s so much that can and needs to be improved on” kind of way. So, yeah, if that leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth… join the club.
Here’s hoping the next one’s at least as good as the old ones! Thanks for reading. Leave your thoughts below, as usual.