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5/07/2008 11:58:00 AM
Review: Grand Theft Auto IV (PS3, XBOX 360)
Grand Theft Auto IV (Rated M)
Reviewed By Lou Dubois
Image Credit: RockStar Games
Things We Like
Back and better than ever: Longtime fans of this series will not be disappointed. In the interim since the last version of GTA, there have been many imitators but none have come close to capturing the visceral thrill of what it's like to play GTA IV. By now you know the formula: Open-ended gaming with opportunities for violence at every turn.
Know your characters: The attention paid to developing each character in the game is a huge upgrade over the PS2 versions. You learn all the details about your main character, Niko Bellic, and despite his thick Russian accent, his personality and relaxed demeanor come through. You'll make many friends through missions that you might not want to hang with. The more time you spend with them the more you learn about their traits and flaws. In the end, you'll have the choice to answer your phone when associates call or damage your relations by ignoring them.
A living, breathing city: The attention to detail in Liberty City is brilliant. With a wide range of car types available to be jacked, handling is always different depending on your ride. The damage you take on is realistic -- it depends on the model of the car, what you hit and the force of your collision. If you hit something hard enough head-on, you may even fly through your own windshield. The weather can change at any moment, from an eye-popping sunset to violent lightning and thunder, ensuring a different experience for each user. The different neighborhoods and boroughs feel unique, from pawn shops in urban spots to upscale dining in richer areas.
Physics to die for, literally: The pure physics in the game are crazy. You can go to a bar and get blitzed, but when you head back outside your vision and walking ability is impaired and driving straight becomes a challenge. Through many missions, you'll be introduced to mini-games such as bowling, billiards and darts. And once the main missions are completed, it's these supplemental features that give GTA IV such great replayability. The aiming system has also improved: You can choose either manual aim or lock-on to targets and see where you are firing.
It's more fun with friends: Perhaps one of the most underrated features of this game is the online multiplayer options. The PS3 offers free online gaming that previous consoles never had. Those on the XBOX Live network also have access to more than a dozen online multiplayer modes. My hands-down favorites were Car Jack City and the more traditional Deathmatch. Once online, Liberty City becomes a giant playground for you and your friends (real or just online) and the different playing options will never let this game go out of style.
Better as it goes: One of my biggest gripes with past versions of GTA was that many missions felt the same and didn't show enough variance. In this one, the mission progression was well-planned: The game starts out easy and teaches you the skills (including all of the new features in GTA IV) that you'll need to succeed. As you progress in the game, those skills will be put to the test and combined into longer, better-developed tasks. And best of all, no one mission feels the same as another.
Check out GTA4 in action:
Things We'd Change
I want to steal more cars... Take this criticism with a grain of salt, but this series was made on jacking vehicles (hence the game title). While you can obviously do that anytime you like in the new version, and it's an improved feature (if a car is locked, you can break the window and then hotwire it to start), it's no longer a major part of the game. In some missions, they'll even give you a car to use rather than tell you to simply "get to Roman." I'd rather have to find my own wheels than have some crappy cab handed to me.
No more Eye in the Sky: Overall, outrunning the cops in this series has always been one of the biggest draws. In the past, unless you had five stars, you could often find a way to get away depending on how skilled you were. They've improved the overall cop chases, and you can outrun Liberty City's finest by leaving a circular area on your map and falling off the radar. But gain three or more stars and it's nearly impossible to escape. They'll send out the helicopter to track you in the sky, and unless you run aimlessly through alleyways and can shoot over your shoulder in every direction, your chances of living are about as likely as the Pirates winning the World Series in '08.
Ditch the GPS: We understand that we're in a day and age where people want detailed instructions on how to get from point A to point B as fast as possible and that GTA is about as real-to-life as it gets. But one of our favorite features of the original was driving around and trying to find the little blip on the map designating where you were headed. The GPS device in this game takes the fun out of that. Luckily, you can go into options and turn the device off. Because really, guys, it's not cool to ask for directions.
Checkpoint, please: It was one of the biggest gripes from earlier games in the gaming world, and Rockstar did nothing to address the issue. With missions involving multiple steps and sometimes 20-minute drives across town, it'd be nice to have a mid-mission checkpoint so you can keep your progress if you die without starting all over again. It becomes frustrating later in the game with some really long missions.
Take advantage of what you've got: This doesn't affect the gameplay at all, but with the PS3 and its 1080p visual capabilities, you would expect some of the cut scenes in the game to be better from a graphics perspective. They are often hilarious outtakes and they are by no means terrible, but many PS3 games have the look of a straight-up Hollywood film (and the GTA IV opening scene, where Niko comes off the boat from Russia, has that quality). But as the game wears on, it gets a little worse and choppier in these scenes. I'm sure it's something Rockstar will address for any future versions, but it won't hinder your gameplay here.
For a game that was hyped for years and even used by some as the basis to purchase a PS3, GTA IV does all that and more. It keeps the features that made the series so successful on previous consoles and improves on them, then adds new graphics, cooler characters and missions to the fold. Unlike past versions, the location of Liberty City is like a real modern-day metropolis, or as real as you can get in video games. It goes without saying that GTA IV more than earns its "M" rating. The game is a must-have for folks who appreciate forward-thinking developers and hours of endless entertainment.