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 Grand Theft Auto IV Review

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PostSubject: Grand Theft Auto IV Review   Grand Theft Auto IV Review EmptySun Jun 20, 2010 5:02 pm

With this post I'm gonna make the beginning of the Grand Theft Auto review series, and I'll start with IV, as it is in my opinion the most awesome and realistic, but not necessarily best part of the grand theft auto series I've played so far.
Let's start!

Criminals are an ugly, cowardly lot more worthy of pity and disdain than admiration. This is what you'll learn playing through the single-player campaign in Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto IV. The series cheered (and criticized) for glorifying violence has taken an unexpected turn: it's gone legit. Oh sure, you'll still blow up cop cars, run down innocent civilians, bang hookers, assist drug dealers and lowlifes and do many, many other bad deeds, but at a cost to main character Niko Bellic's very soul. GTA IV gives us characters and a world with a level of depth previously unseen in gaming and elevates its story from a mere shoot-em-up to an Oscar-caliber drama. Every facet of Rockstar's new masterpiece is worthy of applause. Without question, Grand Theft Auto IV is the best game since Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

You play as Niko Bellic, an Eastern European attempting to escape his past and the horrors of the Bosnian war. He arrives in Liberty City to experience the American dream, only to discover his cousin, Roman, may have fibbed a bit in his tales of success. Starting from nothing, Niko makes a living as a killer and enforcer, a bad-ass foreigner who appears to have no morals. The longer we stay with Niko, the more we see that there is a broken human being inside, one who would give anything to escape the person he once was.

Don't worry, GTA's famed over-the-top action and tongue-in-cheek humor are intact, but there is a new level of sophistication in the characters and the game world that raises the story above the norm. As Niko becomes mired in the death throes of American organized crime, he begins to become more self-aware. Niko's struggles with his ruthless nature never inhibit the gameplay, but instead enhance the emotional gravity of a brilliant storyline. The more absurd the action becomes, the greater we feel the very real pathos of Niko Bellic.

Much of the credit goes to the artists at Rockstar North who created as believable a city as possible. Liberty City is inspired by New York, but not beholden to it. While there are many parallels, Liberty exists in its own universe and rightfully so. Many open-world games have cities that feel as if they existed only from the moment you first turned on your console, but Liberty City looks lived in. It's an old city and each block has its own vibe and its own history.

Drive around Liberty City and you'll be able to identify each individual block. Though Liberty is filled with brownstones and a myriad of similar brick buildings, you can tell one from the other, just as you can in New York. Go to an affluent neighborhood and the street is likely to be newly paved, the pedestrians better dressed, the cops more plentiful. But head to Dukes or Bohan and you'll find streets nearly stripped of asphalt, homeless people wandering about aimlessly and criminals preying on the weak.

Watch the people and you'll witness some amazing things. At one point, I saw a woman stopped at a light, looking in the rearview mirror right before she was rear-ended by a man ogling a girl on the street. The man got out of his car and went to the woman, checking to see if she was okay. This had nothing to do with Niko or a single action I took. These were the citizens of Liberty City going about their day. And it was just one moment in a day full of incidents.

Hang in one area of the city long enough and you'll see how traffic and pedestrian flow changes as the day progresses. When it rains, people bring out umbrellas or shield themselves with a newspaper and run for an awning. Cops chase petty thieves unaware that walking down the street is Niko Bellic, cold-blooded killer. There's a perfect balance of mumbling doomsayers to remind you that the reason this city never sleeps is because it's full of nut jobs. People go about their day, only altering course when Niko inserts himself into their lives with his crappy driving or excellent marksmanship.

Liberty City isn't as big as San Andreas, but is far denser. There's a lot to see and do and, like New York itself, very little wasted space. When you enter buildings, there are no load times -- you open the door and you're on your way up a flight of stairs to the roof. The only frustration is that there are literally thousands of buildings in the city, but most of them cannot be entered. With the exception of some clearly marked entertainment hot spots and mission-specific areas, there's nothing to indicate which buildings are open for business. So you might find yourself walking into a lot of doors trying to find which one will magically open. It's a little much to expect to have the interiors of every building rendered, but that doesn't make it any less bothersome that you can't go where you please.

The idea of a "living, breathing city" has always been somewhat of a joke in gaming. Every city in the past has felt artificial in some way. But Liberty City feels like a real place. And its history is built not only into the architecture and the people, but even in the music. There are more than 200 songs in GTA IV and many of them were recorded or remastered with specific references to Liberty City. You'll hear songs on the Classics station referencing the city, as if to suggest there's decades of history built into the culture. The soundtrack is an unbelievable blend of rock, pop, reggae, R&B and hip-hop. But more astounding is how well the songs and the DJs blend into the city itself.

You never have to be alone. A high-priced call girl is always at the ready.
It's this level of integration that makes Liberty City such a believable place. You won't just hear "America's Next Whore" advertised on the radio; you'll see posters when walking down the street and spot ads on the Internet. GTA IV takes aim at all of the modern forms of communication. Along with radio stations (a staple of the series) there are full programs and ads you can watch on TV and a fully browseable Interweb.

You could lose hours of your day surfing the 'net. That may mean sorting through junk mail, clicking on random links, using Love-Meet.com to find dates, or reading the news. There are multiple websites that cover news based on missions Niko's completed. You can read different takes on these events if you want to get an idea of how your actions are perceived in different political corners. You might never bother looking at all, but like so much of GTA IV, there are dozens of hours of content waiting to be either discovered or ignored.

"The idea of a 'living, breathing city' has always been somewhat of a joke in gaming. Every city in the past has felt artificial in some way. But Liberty City feels like a real place."
To make itself more modern -- as opposed to Vice City and San Andreas which were "of an era" -- the focal point of Niko's world is his cell phone. You'll receive calls and text messages from friends and business associates on your phone. This is the mission delivery system. You may launch into a mission just by answering a call, but more often you will be directed to meet at a specific location to initiate your next objective. Or you might just have a conversation that serves no purpose other than to deepen the characterization of Niko, his friends, or even his enemies. The good news is that, just like in real life, you can talk on the phone while driving your bus through a police blockade.

The explosions are wicked.
The phone is also used as an organizer to remind you of critical events (dates with slutty online girls) and can be customized with new ringtones and wallpapers. And just as in modern life, the phone can become a nuisance. Date Carmen and she will constantly be ringing your digits and sending texts checking in to make sure you aren't sleeping with some other girl. Yes, there are needy people even in Liberty City. You'll also get casual calls during missions. You can always ignore the ring or you can pick up. It's most likely a friend calling and asking to hang out. GTA is a clever game brimming with hundreds of thousands of lines of dialogue and Niko will almost certainly have a pun-laced response to turn down a pal if he's in the middle of a helicopter dogfight.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't give your potential friends the time of day. Throughout Niko's journey you'll have the opportunity to strengthen your bond with some of the people you meet. It's not necessary to take your Jamaican braddah Little Jacob out for a drink or game of pool when he calls, but doing so is to your benefit. If someone likes you enough, they'll give you access to their special ability. For Little Jacob, that means being able to call him day or night for discounted weapons. Packie, the angry Irish wannabe mobster gives you car bombs. Dwayne sends a pair of his homies to assist you on missions.

The benefits of taking friends out on the town go beyond these tangible attributes. Friends also provide commentary on life, the city, Niko, and the story. None of it is essential to completing the game, but all of it is fascinating. The dialogue in GTA IV is rich, funny, brilliant, insightful, and engaging. So many times your reward for beating a mission isn't a new weapon or an elaborate cinematic cut-scene -- it's just dialogue. That is often reward enough.

There are a number of places you can take your friends when you go out on the town and you should base your decision on what they might enjoy. There are mini-games for darts, pool, and bowling. But you can also check out the god-awful cabaret or watch one of several comedy sets by Ricky Gervais and Katt Williams. Perhaps the most challenging (but satisfying) activity is going drinking.

Your level of drunkenness is relative to the person you take out. Little Jacob and Dwayne aren't so bad, but take a sweet lass like Kate out and she'll have you (literally) falling over yourself. When drunk, it's difficult to walk and even more of a challenge to drive. You don't have to drive drunk (in fact, it might make you ill doing so as the camera sways as if you're out at sea), but it's fun to give it a try. Drunk friends tend to be more revealing as well. Kate will tell you what she really thinks of you with just a few drinks. If that doesn't weaken your self esteem, nothing will.

The only issue with making friends is that it's a distraction from the main story. For the first time in a GTA game, the story is actually a greater draw than city exploration. That's not to say driving around the city hunting for Easter Eggs isn't enjoyable, but the story is so compelling, you may find yourself singularly focused till its conclusion. The wild cast of characters is part of the reason things are so entertaining. The voice acting is top notch and the characters are each immediately identifiable and unique.

You don't need a posse to rule the streets. Just a bat and balls of steel.
Some are loveable, but there are many who are despicable. There are cringe-worthy conversations, where you see Niko being sucked into the depravity of these peoples' lives to earn a few bucks or gain a long-sought revenge. That's a credit to the writing, to make what would normally just be some thug you're doing missions for earn your contempt. That's a mark that you care for Niko; that the story has gotten to you. There aren't many games that can pull that off.

As an added twist, GTA IV gives you occasional morality choices. There are people that you don't have to kill in a mission and you can decide whether or not to waste a bullet. These events don't change the plot or open new missions later on. Occasionally it affects dialogue, but more often it is simply the game asking what kind of person you are. And there are some gut-wrenching decisions you make at points that create an emotional response I never imagined I would get from a Grand Theft Auto title. There is one significant choice you make towards the end of the game that opens a new path and an alternate ending. There are two worthwhile endings to uncover and are incentive for playing through a second time just to see how much more depressing life in Liberty City can get.

There are more than 90 story missions that will take anywhere from 25-45 hours to complete depending largely on your skill level. I was certain that the missions would get repetitive at some point, that sooner or later it would get redundant. It never does. Though many missions boil down to the same basic parameter -- go to location, kill people to get to target, chase target, kill target -- it never feels repetitive. The locations of missions, the variety in the enemies, the dynamic aspects of the AI, and the dialogue keep GTA IV from ever feeling stale. In fact, this is a game that can be enjoyed with multiple playthroughs. It's just that good.

The lesson is clear: Grand Theft Auto III was a revolutionary title, one that inspired a whole new generation of 3D action games. Grand Theft Auto IV is just as big a leap forward, though perhaps in subtler ways, and sets a new benchmark for open-world games. Everything in GTA IV works in harmony. The story would be nothing without the city; the city gains realism from the physics engine; the physics complement the improved AI; the AI would make no sense without the new cover system. And on and on. There is no one major weak aspect.

Certainly, GTA IV has some issues, the most noticeable being the occasional flaw in the cover system, but there are many more pieces of GTA IV that are better than anything I've seen from a game in the past decade.

And this is a short review video. I hope you enjoy it.

By arrangement with xbox360.ign.com. Thank you!
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