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Jim Sterling avatar 12:41 PM on 04.29.2008  (server time)
Second Jimpressions: GTA IV

I mentioned I may do a second Jimpressions, because let's face it, the biggest release of the year kind of deserves it. I've put a few hours in now, and have felt my way around, plus the initial bitter disappointment I felt has subdued and I am also not pushed for time and writing on a shitty laptop.

SO, Grand Theft Auto IV. I want to mention the good things, because believe it or not, I don't actually enjoy trashing a videogame, especially when I had to spend money on it. Okay, so the good:

First off, Niko is an amazingly likable main character. He has a softness not present in the psychotic Tommy Vercetti, and a depth that CJ lacked. He is very well realized, and his past, however brutal, is sympathetic.

The humor is spot on. A lot has happened since the last console GTA, and they've really nailed some of the trademark satire which happens to be my favorite thing about the franchise. Watching the TV is a lot of fun, especially the Weasel network -- a rather awesome spoof of FOX.

The gunplay is improved. I actually think the cover system isn't too bad. At least when dealing with shotgunners, it's a handy tool. It still feels very clunky and there was one situation where I was being stabbed and it wouldn't draw, but overall, it feels better, and the way the camera spins and blurs when you switch targets is very sleek.

Unfortunately, bad stuff lingers. The hand to hand combat is fucking awful and Niko can't hit for shit. Even on a grounded opponent, with target locking, the man's just punching the pavement next to the opponent. The buttons aren't responsive.

I am slowly getting the hang of whatever they did to the cars. I still don't like it. The older games had imperfect yet enjoyably arcadey handling. Just driving casually around town is fine, but for missions where you have to chase other cars, it's really annoying. I know turning is easier if going slow, but you can't go slow when pursuing. Luckily, Samit wrote me a ridiculously lengthy tutorial on car turning, so hopefully once I've mastered that, it'll be gravy. Ultimately, that is the only thing seriously hampering my enjoyment of the game. The bugs and combat are irritating, but the driving is crucial and right now it doesn't feel as natural as once it did. We shall see, once I've had even more time with it.

I honestly feel reviewers would have done gamers and themselves a greater service by not glossing over the flaws in this series. Things are clunky and loose. It's certainly starting to grow on me, and I think before long I'll feel a lot more comfortable with it, but it is not the gaming perfection that reviews would lead you to believe.

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