It's a big claim to say a game really changed gaming. Some games come by and add something new into the whole gaming medium, but not many change it all around. While a small stupid few will try to debate it, but Grand Theft Auto 3 changed gaming. Obviously it changed everything because unlike other games that had their "freedom" that came before GTA 3; it's still the GTA 3 model that developers are looking at when trying to make their free roaming game. Grand Theft Auto 4 is the latest of the GTA series, and is possibly the most anticipated game in 2008. Tons of change is expected and with such a high standards already set, GTA4 made the changes needed, and surpassed previous games within the series.
GTA4 goes back to the city that started it all, Liberty City. This faux New York City is home to the most hardened criminals, corrupted officials, and overall worst of the worst people in the world that makes you constantly wonder why the hell people live there. Our protagonist, Niko Bellic, is a former Ukraine soldier who has made his way to the Liberty City in seeking the American dream: money, power, respect, and ho's. Leaving behind a secret and trouble past, Niko meets with his cousin, Roman, who gets Niko a place and a job. From this point, we follow Niko through a series of events having him go deeper and deeper into the criminal underground of Liberty City. The story is filled with characters you'll love and hate, but in the end, the journey with Niko is highly entertaining proving that the GTA series can provide a great storyline along with fun gameplay.
For those who have played previous GTA games, the gameplay will feel very similar. The game is in 3rd person view, and you, as Niko, have freedom to do whatever that's available to you. Want to steal cars and kill cops? Go ahead. Climb the tallest buildings just to fling yourself off? No problem. The world is there for you to mess with as much as you can. I mention the whole as much as you can" because not everything is available to you early on.
To get everything, you need to complete the story missions. Starting off with missions from Roman, more missions become available when successfully completing the missions. Some missions start out simple like killing a certain person while others require you to clear out a building full of machine gun toting thugs. The more missions you completed, more weapons, vehicles and side missions will be available. Towards the end, a few missions will change because of certain choices you made with an eventual change to the story. Once you complete all the story missions, you get an ending and technically you have beaten the game, but you haven't completed the game.
Completion of the game comes from the finishing of side missions. Side missions come in different forms whether they're actual missions or general stuff to do. Some of the general stuff to do include finding certain spots to jump with your car, killing pigeons that act like the hidden packages of previous games, watch TV shows made just for the game, and even spend some time getting some "action". That's right; GTA4 also has a little dating sim in it. While some girls you'll meet during missions, other girls will have to be met via the new singles bar, online dating sites. Through any PC, whether one in an online cafe or in your safe house, you can visit several sites from a wannabe craigslist to even a pedophile site that will cause the Liberty City police to come and get you. On the dating websites, several women will display their bio and what they're looking for, but only a few of them will be available to date while the others will automatically reject you. Those you can take out will only accept dates at several restaurants, games (darts, pool, bowling), and bars. Take them to the wrong place and they'll be pissed and not want to talk to you again for a period of time, but go to the right place and there's a possibility that you can get some digital poontang. Once you do that, that particular person will call you up after an amount of time, and once you get them to like/love you, they will be able to help you in different ways varying on their occupation. One girl is a nurse so when you call her up, she'll recover your health over the phone, date the lawyer and she'll help reduce your wanted level on occasion, and sleep with the stuck up rich girl and she'll get you a discount at clothing stores.
As seen in previous games, the cell phone is a tool to get mission updates and new missions. What's changed is that it's become more personal. Change the ringtones and background image to make your phone truly yours. Certain contacts you've met during missions will help you if you get them to like you. Like the women, guys can be taken out for drinks and activities, and once they like you enough, they'll be able to help Niko out when given a call. Your cousin will send a taxi out to you if you want, another contact will send you some backup, and the most entertaining contact, Brucie; will have you attend racing missions. Just like real life, the downside to the phone is that some people are a bit too clingy and will call up all the time. When I say ALL THE TIME, I mean ALL THE FREAKIN' TIME! Ignore them and they'll slowly start to hate you, hang with them and they'll keep on liking your constant-pleasing-other-people ass.
In combat, the system has finally evolved to almost perfect for the game. The camera is over the shoulder view, and the target reticule will be free to move until you press a button that will target the closest enemy. No more can you blame the controls for dying in a gunfight. It's all on you now if you. A cover system has been added to help you during shootout. While behind cover, you can do some blind suppression fire, that's surprisingly accurate, to take out a few guys or get them to take cover. Safe to say, out of all the GTA games, this is the pinnacle of shooting within the series. Even shooting from a car/motorcycle is very easy to use and accurate.
A change made to the series is the wanted system. In the past, if you commit a crime, you would get a star with the max being 6 stars. Each star would bring in more and more law enforcement set on taking you down. The forces of the law would not only increase in number but improve in firepower making use of the local Liberty City Police, FBI, and even the army. Now in the past, the hero of the game would have to escape from police for a certain amount of time, or if the stars are too much, look for a police "bribe" that were scattered around town to reduce the wanted level. This time around, with the realistic approach of the game, there are no random bribes set in certain spots around the city. Instead, Niko will have to do the old school method of outrunning the cops. On the mini-map, a circle of varying sizes, depending on the amount of stars, will appear around your icon on the map. You will have to reach the edge of that circle and go beyond it. Once beyond it, by hanging low for a small period of time, your wanted level will disappear. You may thing this sounds easy, which it is when you have just one or two stars, but become much harder with the more stars you have on the wanted level because not only is the circle so big, but there are more cops in the street. Any cop that can see you will re-center the circle causing you to travel even further to get outside the circle. Thankfully, there is still the good ol' Pay-n-Spray that will change the color of the vehicle, and let you lose your wanted level.
With all this greatness, could there possibly be a downside? Yup, you're damn right. Not on the scale of previous games, but bits here and there that keep the game from being perfect. Since the name of the game is Grand Theft Auto, and Grand Theft Auto means to steal cars, there's some driving involved. That previous statement was an attempt to setup the joke that the driving sucks in this game, but I couldn't get the joke written properly. Yeah the driving just sucks horribly, and with that's almost the same amount of miles in New York City, it's incredibly annoying to have to deal with the bad driving physics. Think of driving around in New York City with a car that has bad brakes and no power steering. Granted, there's some jerkoff doing just that in the NYC, and maybe the guys from Rockstar North used a similar car when they were riding around NYC to get the sites of the city, but come on, you can't think it's fun to drive ten miles with a piece of crap. In previous GTA games, only a few cars handled like this, but now all of them do. The only vehicle that handles well, especially in a chase sequence, is the NRG-900, but even then it's not the best. After awhile, getting a taxi is the quicker way to go across town and in some cases funnier when you listen to the driver's banter.
Another big complaint is the lack of "fun" stuff. Granted, the term "fun" is in the eye of the beholder because I think playing through the main missions are fun, but other people's idea of "fun" is to kill old ladies walking around in the street by the hundreds. Face is, Rockstar North attempted for a more realistic world so you don't see random weapons around the city waiting for you to pick it up and kill people, or Rampages which were icons that start a mini-game requiring you to kill a certain amount of people with certain weapons. Mini-games in general have been taken out excluding the "jobs" like taxi driver, vigilante, and ambulance driver.
Other smaller complaints include the absence of the RPG element of GTA: San Andreas. Yes I said RPG element because it works similar to a RPG in that you work on a certain aspect of your character (physical ability, firearms, swimming) and your character will improve that ability. In a way, for some people, it's just too real for them, and for these people the GTA games are a form of therapy letting them release their frustrations and anger to a virtual world. These same people need to either pass puberty or seek major help.
As stated at right at the beginning of this review, GTA 4 features photo realistic graphics. Back when, the GTA games took the biggest hit when it came to graphics. In comparison, the older games just did not match up with the best looking games for that generation even though it had a much larger world than most of the games released last gen which made up for the subpar graphics. With this submission to the series, Rockstar North made sure that they're game was going to look the best with the best environments to play around with. They accomplished this goal with flying colors. Time and time again, residents of NYC are blown away with the accuracy of the geography, but also the looks of the buildings. It makes cruising around the city so serene when traveling over bridges with the skyline in the background. What's best is that once you do the initial loading of the game, you can go from one corner to the exact opposite corner without a single loading screen.
Using the newest motion capture technologies, not only has Rockstar North been able to make the characters look good, but the also modeled the movements of real people. They even went so far as to have a camera on the people doing the motion capture in order to record their facial expressions as they go through conversations. This use of motion capture actors becomes the most apparent when you visit the strip club. Rockstar North spared no expense by getting actual strippers to wear one of these mo-cap suits, and captured every ass shaking movement as if you were right there with a $20 bill in your mouth. The ragdoll physics take a nice turn when you kill someone (yeah I'm the master of segues). When ragdoll physics started up, the idea was to have a realistic depiction of a body being shot or hurtling up towards the heaven to only splat down on Earth. To take these physic to another level, every person in the game was given a skeletal system so that they body contorts as a human body would rather than a "doll" would making the action even more enjoyable to look at.
There have always been two important characteristics to the audio of a GTA game since GTA3: the radio and voice acting. Actually the radio has been around since the beginning providing both a soundtrack to the ensuing mayhem, and a variety of typical radio programming guaranteed to give you a chuckle. In one sense, GTA4 took this to a new level, in the other; they dropped the ball a bit. Where they took it to a new level is the radio programming. With more hilarious commercials and hours of talk shows created by the radio genius Lazlow, you can play for long periods of time without hearing the same bit twice. On the other hand, the licensed music used for the stations has taken a wrong turn. GTA: Vice City and GTA: San Andreas had a theme that was backed up by the music on the radio with Vice City having famous 80s music and the Scarface soundtrack, and San Andreas included a lot of gangsta rap being that the story took place in a fictitious South Central Los Angeles. Maybe it's because of this lack of theme that ties into a kind of music, that we're stuck with licensed songs that aren't that great. With 16 music stations and over 200 tracks, the soundtrack include music from artists such as Kanye West, Smashing Pumpkins, WAR, Genesis, R.E.M., The Who and Queen. While that sounds great, the songs used are not these artists' most well known hits. Frankly, you'd have to be a big fan of these artists to recognize the song used in the game making for a lackluster soundtrack. To keep with tradition, started in GTA4, well known artists and actors are DJs for certain stations including the likes of Juliette Lewis, Daddy Yankee, and Iggy Pop.
Now I don't want to go on a Dennis Miller-type rant here, but there's one part of the GTA series that has been a bigger pain in my ass then the hemorrhoid the site of a Shaq's fist already in there. That's the goddamn reggae station. I mean seriously, is there a goddamn city in America that has a radio station that's dedicated to reggae music? Unless you live in a small city that's populated by nothing but Jamaicans that took the wrong tour boat, the answer is NO. While reggae music becomes popular for that few years of college or those couple of weeks where your only goal in life is to make a bong out of every object in your sight, no one really cares about fucking reggae music. You know what people think of when they hear the term reggae? Aside from the stereotypical high black guy with braids in the hair with a crappy Jamaican accent, they instead think of Bob Marley. Oh wait, that's the same thing. Bob Marley has been dead for 25 years yet people still pretend they've found this amazing artist. Why is it that we don't look at these people like the jerkoffs they are the same way we look at people that just discovered that the Beatles and Hendrix are good and they have to tell everyone about it. The point is, reggae music is a douche's way of pretending to have a deep meaningful love for music just like saying the Dreamcast is the best system is a douche's way of thinking they're a true gamer. Just put a "Get Up, Stand Up" or "Buffalo Soldier" on one of the stations that feature R&B/Soul music and give up the damn reggae station already. Oh and for you three or four "Rastafarian" dickheads that attend your city's reggae festival with the rest of the douches and actual Jamaican immigrants, don't try to defend the radio station. When GTA4 soundtrack was announced, I didn't read any clamoring for the new Elephant Man single or a new track from one of those other no talent bastards that have "Marley" in their name. So give it up Rockstar North, and go spend some of your resources on creating multiple rock stations that cover the different years of rock instead of one station that covers the last forty years.
The previous three GTA games had a several known Hollywood actors supplying voice to key characters in the game, but GTA4 changes that up and goes with several unknowns. Thankfully, these actors work out just fine, but there are some known talents in the game. Most notably comedians Ricky Gervais from the original "The Office, Opie and Anthony regular Robert Kelly, and non-stop n-word using Katt Williams are in the game. Williams and Gervais perform a set in Liberty City's comedy club which has their recognized brand of humor but with a Liberty City spin to it.
Multiplayer has been in the PSP GTA games and has been dabbled with on the console GTA games, but a true online mode has been added to GTA4. Several modes are available forth both individuals and teams to face off one another. Free mode is your very basic online mode with no objectives, just a world for you and others to play around with. Deathmatch comes in the form of solo and team play. Mafia work is for singles and teams that have players work GTA style jobs. Unique to GTA4 is the Hangman's N.O.O.S.E. that has a group of players fight off an almost endless amount of Liberty City police while trying to extract a target, Car Jack City that can be both solo and team focusing on stealing cars, and Cops n' Crooks with players playing both sides of the law. Full of new online multiplayer goodness, it's ruined by slew of dickheads that are playing online.
Not only did Grand Theft Auto 4 surpass the previous GTA games, it was one of the best games released in a long time. It's not absolutely perfect but it is so close that it's almost a moot point to even debating how good it is. There are still jerkoffs that insist on saying the game s not up to part but these are the same people that barely like the GTA series to begin with.