The review-proof GTA4 tells the tale of Borat clone Nico Bellic, moving to New Yor...er, Liberty City to start life afresh (among other things...). It combines the series' trademark driving, crashing, murdering and fucking to potent effect, but that much you know I'm sure. So forget all that, let's cut to the chase...
Stuff I Love
|Pretty much the most-anticipated game ever, at the time of writing GTA4 has already netted over half a billion dollars|
The driving model. At first it feels a little too realistic for a game so over the top - cop chases done Forza-style - but it works. Cars are slow, skid all over the place, and flip with ease, but the result is a far more realistic, spectacular looking, and downright hilarious game to show for it. Both the sense of weight and suspension are pretty darn flawless in particular, making way for one of the sweetest and most nuanced driving models ever seen in a game. The chav-lets will moan at first I'm sure - you can't go burning rubber all over the place without a care in the world this time out, and in fact have to drive reasonably intelligently - but it's a major maturity injection for the series that I welcome wholeheartedly. Opening her up and really letting a car rip across a straight or a humungous bridge, provides such a rare and exhilarating buzz - much like it would in real life - that you saviour every moment. Yet collide with a fellow car as you so do? And boy, you'll witness just about the
best vehicular crashes ever seen in a game, dwarfing even Burnout's. Bloody hell.
|No spoilers here, but let's just say Nico has an ulterior motive for moving to Liberty. Reviewer claims of "Oscar worthy" performances make me pee a little, but it's definitely a step-above the usual fare|
Combat. A little precise and fiddly it may be next to your Halo
s and your CoD
s - plus the new cover system's a borderline joke compared to Rainbow Six and the like - but for this series? What a breath of fresh air. Whipping out a pistol and capping dudes in the head? Awesome. Slipping from cover to cover then blind firing over a wall ala Gears of War
? Amazing. Pulling out your trusty shotgun and blowing dudes so far back they slam into a wall the other side of the room? Omar-tastic! The shoot-outs are such a comparative blast next to earlier installments in this series, they feel pretty much unplayable now. It's just a mild shame that the game waits a good three or so hours 'til it starts doling out the toys - then even longer before you really get to let 'em rip - but patience pays off in dividends I tells ya. You've seldom smiled so hard as you will the first time a target takes off in a car, you un-holster your .45, manually place a crosshair over his head, then blow the guy clean away through the windscreen. Watch that sucker slump forward on the steering wheel as the horn echoes out for miles. I think I just came a little.
|Grand Theft's famous radio stations return, with the ambient-tinged "Journey" a particular favorite of mine. Perfect for late-night whore-mongering|
Euphoria physics. Recently hyped for its being heavily featured in the upcoming Star Wars: Force Unleashed, some may be surprised to see Euphoria present and correct right here throughout the entirety of GTA4 already. What can only be described as a cutting edge blend of expert AI, ragdoll physics and motion blending, Euphoria has to be seen to be believed. Characters move and react eerily realistically, reacting and interacting with the environment in amazing ways on the fly. Ya know how in most games, if you were to drive into a dude, typically a cookie cutter pre-canned animation would fire off, usually regardless of speed or vehicle size? Here them suckers'll physically react just as they would in real life. And more importantly? Very much differently every time. Give 'em a gentle nudge for example, and pedestrians will shuffle outta the way and perhaps let out a "Hey!". But ram 'em hard though? They'll fly all over the frickin' place, rolling, tumbling and flailing pretty damn flawlessly. No more laughable bodies that spontaneously lose all bodily functions. No more bags o' bones. This shit's alive. But it goes way beyond that. I jacked a dude's car while he was busy working on it under the hood at one point, and he physically grabbed hold of the door and got dragged along with it for half a mile before he let go. Oh how I laughed...despite kinda cringing in guilt. He then got up off the ground and just sorta stumbled around in shock, as I zoomed off into the distance. You see this sort of thing constantly, everywhere from the time your motorbike clips the side of a car, sending you hurtling 20 meters into the air and smacking into a lamppost, to the time you crash head-on into a wall and go flying outta the windscreen covering your face from glass (buckle up, kids). As gamers, Euphoria is our future.
|Visually, GTA's pretty darn good I must say. It's a little soft, and hella jerky, but the scope and sheer detail will amaze. View distance surpasses even the mighty Crackdown, while motion blur and gorgeous filters bless the sights with a startling realism|
Then there's Liberty City. The above physics engine has the effect of bringing all the inhabitants of this world to life wonderfully - along with its many vehicular occupants - but the city itself plays an even larger part in pulling off that illusion. It's mammoth in size, refuses to bother you with loading screens while driving, and is so ridiculously jam packed full o' content, you don't know where to begin. The wealth of story missions are as present as ever, with you able to chop and choose between givers as you so wish, but there's also a zillion side activities to peruse, such as games of pool, getting drunk, playing darts, dating chicks, boning chicks, going to strip bars, races, enjoying cabarets, seeing stand-up comedians, listening to the radio, taking air tours, playing videogames, finding secrets, and...well, you get the idea. This ain't even the great stuff though, no sir. What makes Liberty City stand out above all else and feel genuinely bustling, are the tiny nuggets of un-scripted brilliance that are far easier to miss. Cops chasing perps down the street, then giving up after half a block 'cos they're too fat. Car crashes, followed by drivers getting out and arguing over who's to blame. Even just the sight of peeps enjoying a bout of yoga in the park on an early sunday morning. Love it. Not to mention, the use of TV, the internet and mobile phones, all fundamentally tied to both the mission system and the more harmless social interactions within this universe. It's all impeccably detailed stuff, with literally hours
of pitch black entertainment contained within. The other day I sat down with a sandwich and actually watched 20 minutes of TV for example...inside a fucking video game
. The humour's great too. Very much a hilarious reflection of our modern lives, here in 2008. Promise me you'll watch this stuff?
|Morally, GTA is an insanely mixed bag. It'll often force you down the route of the sociopath against your will, yet simultaneously show you repercussions for such evil doing. An example being the (worryingly fun) drunk driving, and instant police chases that ensue|
Finally of course, there's multiplayer. Don't get me wrong; I think GTA's a little too zany and over the top to be taken as a serious online time-sucker like the aforementioned Live classics, but it is
still the ultimate "load up with pals and fuck around for hours" game, and very much its own beast to boot. Modes, so many of them. From deathmatch games, to helicopters races, to objective modes, to co-op missions, there's something here for everyone. Even a 16-man, mission-less bundle with no rules or teams, letting you fart around however you all wish, causing all the spontaneous mayhem and made-up mini-games you could imagine. With - get this - the entire friggin' city available to you and yours...cops 'n' all. It's a technical marvel, as they say, amazingly fresh, and actually kinda - shhhh - worthy of being a separately priced game
. In fact, it's a fantastic wee taste of what the (no doubt on its way) GTA MMO may eventually feel like.
Stuff I Hate
All this is lovely stuff, and can not be downplayed. I won't lie, I've never even particularly liked this series either, but the sheer joy of the driving, the fact combat's actually fun, and the truly spectacular setting all totally won me over. For its opening 10 to 20 hours in fact, it felt 100% justified in reviewer claims of being "the best thing you've ever seen EVER".
|The peripheral characters are memorable for the most part, with steroid-injecting alpha bro Brucie and compulsive gambler Roman standing out in particular. One can't but feel the game drops the ball in the latter half though, falling back on one too many stereotypical mob-tards by comparison|
Damn, this game is long though. Too long for me, in fact. Sticking around for so many weeks as it has done - sucking me in day in, day out - has shown up far more cracks than a shorter but sweeter 7 hour title would. Hairline fractures at first, the sheer size and length of this sucker saw such imperfections balloon into humungous shart stains of pure frustration by the time I clocked that final mission. Now I'm almost glad to see the back of it, which is a shame really. The game outstayed its welcome, I guess.
Examples of such niggles? Okay. What do GTA4, Shadow of the Colossus
and Mass Effect
all have in common? The answer, of course, is they all run like balls. More specifically, they all feel like amazingly ambitious games, that simply push their respective hardware way too hard for their own good. The same frame-rate probs, texture pop-in and jaggy visuals that plague each of these in varying amounts appear present and correct here, and it most definitely takes some sheen off what is an otherwise incredibly polished product. It's very choppy, very framey, and should really have given up the v-sync for a slightly smoother ride. It's hard to enjoy a police chase pile-up when you're running at 5fps.
|Dating chicks is a harmless side game, as are man-dates with the guys. Some neat ideas at work here, but the execution is limited, and the mini-games poor|
Next up? The missions. Boy, there are hundreds of 'em, and hat's must most definitely go off to the devs for sure giving you a ton to do. But the majority? Pretty damn dull, I'm afraid. Fetch quests and one dimensional hits grow old quickly, and for all the epic bank heists and rooftop sniper missions that rock serious hardness, there's another frustrating bike chase level that sees you tailing some invincible super human for an age without checkpoints. Again, and again, and fucking again
. How about some quality over quantity next time? It's well documented that most players never finish a GTA game - despite the series' insane popularity - so why not ditch half the crappy filler missions and tighten the whole thing up a bit. A 15 hour experience packed full o' beauties...as opposed to 40 odd hours of uneven teeth grinding.
|Technology plays a huge part in GTA4. Your mobile in particular, is constantly ringing, receiving texts, and even acting as a personal organizer. It'll even go off mid-mission at times, to often giggly effect|
Lack of choice. A big one for me. Nico's a cool guy in the cut-scenes - well acted and sprouting often hilarious dialogue - so much so, that I wanted to play him as a good guy almost instantly. A dude pulled into a life of crime due to past and circumstance, but a stand-up chap never the less. But nope. This is GTA; you're a cold blooded, road-raging psychopath, like it or not. The game will occasionally
offer up the chance to spare a victim, particularly towards the very end - a drug dealer begging for his life and such - but it seems laughable when you're then forced to gun down hundreds of cops in order to escape back to your safe-house to nab a "Mission Complete". GTA is essentially an RPG at the end of the day - albeit in a style and sub-genre very much of its own - so more of a choice in moralistic paths would have been very much welcome in order to play up these aspects, rather than presuming we are all insatiable nuts who play games merely to get our murder on. One sequence where Nico literally kidnaps a woman, beats her, then takes a photo of her face left me feeling particularly queasy; so much so that I had to turn the game off for a while and play some Viva Pi?ata.
Finally, the all-important issue of monotony. While I love Liberty City, and its recreation of New York is particularly smile-inducing if you've been to the city proper, 15 odd hours in, you've...kinda had your fill I gotta say. The game turns into an interactive taxi-taking sim at this point - GTA's "fast travel" if you will - but as neat as the yellow beacons of joy are, finding 'em, hailing 'em, and directing 'em quite literally hundreds upon hundreds of times becomes a serious pain in the bum. One will kill
for an Oblivion-esque instant-warp.
Nice! I Like Very Much!
|The internet plays its part in GTA too. Along with sending and receiving e-mails, there's an entire satirical world wide web to surf. Internet dating, downloadable ring-tones, even spam sites...all very much present, and 100% usable, interacting directly with the outside world. Amazing|
The highest compliment I can give GTA4 though...is that despite the above technical issues, frustrating missions, and lack of choice in its central storyline, it feels like a genuine maturation for not just this series...but gaming as a whole. So much so, that despite the sucker doing its darndest to force
you into the role of the pantomime mass murderer, you'll fight like hell against it. Very much to the game's credit you see, no longer does it feel particularly cool running around like a mentalist, machine gunning cops and running over innocents. The world feels so realistic and natural now, such juvinility feels out of place...and in fact engages some serious guilt.
No, you sorta want
to hail those bleedin' cabs, instead of constantly jack cars. You want
to save people instead of constantly slaughter 'em like digital ants. And you most definitely want
Nico to fulfill his mission and live happily ever after, as this life of crime continually closes in around him. The killing spree nature of GTA feels so far beyond redundant and dated now, that while the series' basic mechanics haven't ultimately changed a huge amount, the realization of a true interactive world
most certainly has. Rockstar did it, to be frank. This is no longer a cardboard cartoon. Now it's fucking real.