Grand Theft Auto IV: How Rockstar reimagined a franchise

Well, as we all know by now, Grand Theft Auto IV, arguably the biggest release of the year and a truly cultural event, was released today. You can hardly move online for discussion about this notorious sequel, but Destructoid would be wrong to ignore that discussion and simply not provide its views on the current-gen revitalization of Rockstar’s flagship.

For me, it wasn’t the so much the violent content of the game that proved the most controversial, but the actual gameplay mechanics themselves. Rockstar seems to have gone to a lot of effort to makes this new installment of the GTA franchise a very different, very new experience. Some of the changes were for the better, others not so much.

Hit the jump for our take on some of the biggest changes in Grand Theft Auto IV.

I was hoping to get this piece up sooner, but sadly I had to rush to the store and buy it, because Rockstar’s UK branch wouldn’t talk to me. Thankfully, my local Gamestation had a copy, their last copy left. They said they’d sold out, but after discussing amongst themselves and laughing, they admitted they had a final disc stashed away, and gladly sold it to me.

When I first popped the disc in, I was incredibly surprised by what I saw. Rather than the familiar urban decay of Liberty City that previews had hyped, I saw instead a far more barren, almost desert-like environment. Very few roads to speak of, and no cars at all. This wasn’t what I’d expected in the least, but I stuck with it. 

My first glimpse of Niko Bellic was … shocking, to say the least. I had no idea he could fly. And he’d traded in his fresh-off-the-boat look for a distinctive red and yellow metal suit. Thanks to this suit, however, combat had vastly improved over other games in the series, and I found that I had no need to jack cars like the old days. Niko’s new “armor” allows him to run at great speed, blasting tanks with his hands and picking people up to throw them around. The flight mechanics hold up their end of the bargain too, and before long it will be a joy to control Niko as he shoots lasers and tears helicopters apart. 

Rockstar has dramatically altered many aspects of Grand Theft Auto, from the basic mechanics to the sense of satire that had made the game so enjoyable in the past. In terms of raw gameplay, there is much about Grand Theft Auto IV that has improved, but what it’s gained in playability, it has certainly lost in character.

As is typical of this modern generation, the feeling seems left out of GTA IV. Where are the radio stations? The quirky criminal characters? Why do they keep calling Niko, Tony? Tony was in Liberty City Stories, not this game. In fact, many elements of GTA IV‘s story don’t seem in keeping with the established game world, and I wonder if the script writer had even seen previous titles. 

While the action is solid, the immersing depth of previous games is missing, the script is a mess and Niko doesn’t even sound like an immigrant. His voice has far more of a “wealthy industrialist and genius inventor whose suit of armor is laden with technological devices that enable him to fight crime” vibe to it than something you could believe came from East Europe.

This is just the first impression, of course, and a more detailed analysis will hit Destructoid soon. In the mean time though, think before you rush out and buy this. It barely feels like GTA at all.

Nobody’s even said “fuck” yet. 

Jim Sterling