* Awarded Extreme Gamer's Best Action Game of '08, Best Multi-Platform Game of '08, and GOTY '08
Rockstar Games rewrites another chapter in the chase for the American Dream in Grand Theft Auto IV. In its first next-generation treatment the ultra popular Grand Theft Auto series introduces gamers to the Bellic cousins in the returning setting of Liberty City.
Grand Theft Auto IV makes it debut on next generation hardware, returning to the faithful chipset of the Playstation, while making a first simultaneous release on the Xbox 360. Grand Theft Auto (GTA) is one of, if not the biggest game franchises of all time. If you haven't been locked away in cave you should have seen the television commercials, billboard ads, or TV news coverage of this mainstream attention grabbing game. Grand Theft Auto IV has a lot to live up given the fanfare surrounding this title, but if there was ever a company that always meets the hype and then blows it out of the water, it is the notorious Rockstar Games.
Say Hello to the Bellic Cousins
Logging into the new evolution of the franchise you will be walking in the shoes of the Eastern European character of Niko Bellic. Niko finds himself aboard an ocean liner headed for America to meet his so-called successful American made cousin, Roman. When Niko steps off the boat and is met by his drunken cousin, it is not surprising that Niko quickly figures out that he isn't going be living relaxing in a penthouse filled with free running champaign. Roman, in his own twisted logic finds the bright side out of every situation and talks Niko into helping him achieve the male driven American Dream. Really, what would a Grand Theft Auto game be without the illustrious chase of the American Dream? On the docks of the fimilar fictional city of Liberty, you take control of Niko and with one deep breath you get ready to explore the vast world Rockstar Games has created.
Niko Bellic is the type of guy who doesn’t take any garbage from anyone. Iron willed and remorseless, Niko has no issue excessive violence and breaking the law if will get him the end results he desires. Niko could be called a modern day problem solver who ends up helping other people pursue their dreams while he fills his pockets with the blood money to help Roman’s dream. At Niko’s heart lives the drive to do the right thing, help people in his own way, while staying deathly faithful to family. Niko isn’t such a bad guy, more like a person who was raised to be a silent killing machine with his time spent in duty with the military and his poor Serbian up bringing. For a lead character, Rockstar has done a good job flushing out his backstory while giving him enough motive and personality to live out the adventure in Liberty City.
Rated "M" For a Reason
Niko might not follow the exact route that his cousin has laid out for him, but slowly the world of the Bellic cousins starts to fall into place with a little bit of hard work. Like all GTA games that have come before, you will be wrapped up into the dark side of life. This offers up the same pallet of missions involving drugs, guns, sex, betrayal, homicidal sociopaths, and sympathetic murders. Morals are not an issue in Grand Theft Auto IV which should come as a surprise. The Grand Theft Auto is notorious for its over-the-top violence and mature subject matter. Besides the media circus that surrounds each GTA release, this edition of GTA is no different. Like a mature rated movie you will experience an adult adventure that shows peels away the layers of senseless violence and fills it with their own plot driven narrative to murder. As Niko seeks out a resolution to his current situation he learns to adapt and change with the land of opportunity.
The New and Improved Liberty City
Helping Grand Theft Auto IV pull off their new epic adventure is a showcase of the new graphics engine, the excellent dialog and auto production and a story that rivals any other form of entertainment at a high level. As you would expect Rockstar delivers on the story front, an area that has always been their strongest suit. Behind the cars, guns, and shooting anything that moves, Rockstar finds time to build an emotional connection with the characters in the game and even more impressive, Liberty City itself. Even more interesting is the juxtaposition that Niko provides living out this adventure as an outsider to the “American Way”
Liberty City is as close as a game has come to making a city feel “real”. The power of the games delivery benefits from the improved graphics, the new physics engine and the amount of life they squeezed into every street of Liberty City. As you might already know, Liberty City isn’t as expansive or diverse at CJ’s outdoor adventures, but it still has enough personality to make it work. I would have been more impressed if Rockstar gave gamers a little more to explore then the tightly knit streets in Liberty, but if you compare it to other games that have attempted a city this size, Rockstar deserves the praise it’s receiving. Grand Theft Auto IV doesn’t hit you square in the face with intense action like other scripted games, it builds creating a snowball effect that ends up charging down a hill as you progress into underground mob scene.
This isn't the same old Sanbox
If you have played a Grand Theft Auto game in the past then you should really know what to expect. The mission structure is the same, a free roaming sandboxed world that the player can freely choose when and how do missions. Compared to other games in the series, IV is more of an upgrade from Vice City as it strays away from San Andreas and its tale of boys in the hood. In my books San Andreas was a far more ambitious title adding a list of features that crept closer to an RPG that have been scratched in IV. For one pedal bikes are gone, the ability to tat up and customize your player more loosely has also been simplified. You can no longer gain or loose weight which also removes the sex appeal meter. More importantly gang warfare is done with gaining a bigger sigh is the feature to own properties. Continuing on, a good number of the side missions like controlling other vehicles has also been dumbed down to only include a few. It's like Rockstar wanted to do away with anything that was a little far fetched, bringing the series down to a more a realistic vibe. No more slicing with a Katana--- No More Golf cart offroading-- No more Jet Packs... It's all buisness in Liberty City.
So, GTA IV looses a few features from San Andreas and gains a whole list of new ones. You will have to expereince the game to judge if the trade off where worth it. I can see from a storytelling point of view how image is downplayed and communication is focused on comparing the two worlds of ex-militant Serbian immigrant and gang-banging thug life. Rightfully so, it would be weird to see the two games mixed together. CJ hanging out on the internet wouldn’t quite mix, like Niko getting corn-rolls and gang tattoos wouldn’t gel.
The big deal in Grand Theft Auto IV is the implement of a modern PDA mobile phone. Niko can do it all with this little baby. The phone functions on top of the action, so you can always stay connected to the other characters in Niko's world during any time of the game. It’s innovative how Rockstar handled the phone aspect in GTA IV making it double cool with its list of features. With the phone you can view text messages and receive and make phone calls to friends you meet in the game. This is done to stay in contact with them for mission purposes, side-missions, or just to hang in some mini-game downtime. You can also keep track of appointments for meetings scheduled a head of time and even dial random numbers including a cool 911 function. It’s hard to really explain the importance of the phone, its better off experienced. Never less, the mobile phone makes a huge impact in IV and will hopefully stay apart of the series in the future.
Communication is also important capitalizing with the use of the internet at cyber cafe’s called “TW@”... ouch! This works just like the real-world internet with full browser capabilities. You can type in secret URLs or jump link-to-link from the main page to find interesting sites and even hook up for a date. The main function of being online is so Niko can access his email for entertainment purposes that punches up humours emails, or for side-missions and main missions. Like reality in the 2008, E-mail is a part a life and now it’s imbedded for the first time at this level in Grand Theft Auto IV. Besides the new addition of the phone, you can also use the computer in the police cars to chase down criminals, or sit on Roman’s bed and watch a few hours of television that covers a wide range of shows that are pretty funny and time consuming. Maybe Rockstar is trying to tell us something?
Locked on and Loaded
The new version of Grand Theft Auto also addresses combat that really hasn’t changed in years in GTA. In IV, Rockstar has gone the way of Gears and made almost everything in the game world stickable. This means Niko can shoulder up to an item and use cover to his advantage in gun fights. Along with shouldering up to objects Niko can use pull up a more detailed auto targeting series for precise kills, or just shoot wildly using the gun over the head tactic of blind fire. This makes combat more realistic and enjoyable than the guessing game it was before. It’s too bad melee combat wasn’t as improved as the gunplay. Rockstar tried a new system of rights, lefts, kicks, and deeks, but it doesn’t really work out in the end. It is easier to pull out a gun anyway.
Shake that Bacon
One more improvement that I need to go over is a Driv3r like police system that lets you know the position of the police and your wanted radius. This improves gameplay and makes chases more fun, but it also serves as a handicap feature that always gives the upper hand. The star system is still implemented that serves up some of the best intense moments in Grand Theft Auto, so get out your racing stripes and have fun evading the new Liberty City 5-0. Police will also respond a little better if you are misbehaving yourself on the streets and they happen to go by. Gun shots can be heard and reported; side swiping a cruiser will launch an all out war and more. These touches make Liberty City feel more realistic, it’s a good start and I hope we can get more development in this area because it can’t be legal to run all those red lights with the po-po just sitting around watching.
Step inside the Pink Triangle
I could go on an on about all the little touches in GTA IV, so I will have to end it with the GPS system that helps map out objectives and waypoints and the inclusion of more mini-games like pool, darts and bowling... and yes, Strip Clubs are still a part of Liberty City. Too be picky I would have liked a few more areas to visit and experience since you’re friends are always hassling you to hang out in the game. A few more stores would have been nice, and the ability to pimp up my ride could have been kept in just for kicks. It’s taken a few years to work out the engine and it’s running fine, hopefully Rockstar can concentrate on more content based additions the next time around or figure out some nice bonus areas with the additional DLC.
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