My relationship with GTA IV has been an odd one. When I first saw the trailers it looked really good, then the hype started and eventually began to anger me, then I saw more and more footage of it at which point I started to not care and wondered if I ever would care, then I bought it and decided I actually rather liked it and now I have finally finished the main story so in typical Gaming Daily fashion (read: so late its comical), I’m going to splash some words about to the tune of what I thought.
In GTA IV you take the role of Nico Bellic – an ex Balcan soldier intent on making a decent life for himself in the US of A after things go a little wrong for him back home. He comes over to meet his cousin Roman who is supposedly doing really well for himself in the “Land of opportunity” but it becomes apparent as soon as you step off the boat into Liberty City, he isn’t doing so good. He’s got a gambling problem, he owes bad people money, he runs a crappy business and he lives in a rubbish apartment. You decide to help him. Game ensues.
Stepping off that boat into Liberty City is quite an amazing thing. As your character literally gets dropped into a massive new city, so do you – and what a city it is. Liberty City is filled with interesting things to see from the neon lit central strip to one of the various industrial parks, to the slums, to quaint little posh estates, to the run down theme park, to the iconic Happiness Island and to everything else in this stunning city – its all fascinating. At no point do the streets decline into linear samey greyness that we are so used to in most sandbox games – the city is a proper city and is completely alive. People are just around just doing their own thing but for the first time they are doing it convincingly. Some will be rummaging in the boot of their car, some leaning against walls, some sitting on steps and some even mugging other people. On it’s own this is all for nothing of course, but what these people do – and what the city does in general – is to encourage chaos and that’s what GTA IV is all about.
Picture this; you are somehow allowed to walk around the streets holding a shotgun in plain view. Violence doesn’t really have any long term consequence for you to the extent that no matter how hurt you are you aren’t going to die, prison doesn’t exist as far as you need to be concerned and no one cares what you do unless it directly affects them. Got all that? Ok, now imagine some guy bumps into you and then tells you to “get out of my fucking way”. Now, I’m well aware I don’t have much of a moral compass but with all things considered in this hypothetical situation, that guy is going down. You can’t not blast his face off with that shotgun – it’s basically a law. Same as if you walk onto the streets and some preacher is shouting some nonsense at the top of his voice. Same for people exercising on a beach in lycra, a gang hanging menacingly on a street corner, a shop assistant talking to you with a ‘tone’, someone getting in your way on the street, a driver running you over when you mindlessly step out onto a busy road, a passenger staying in a car after you’ve gone to the effort to steel it, another driver crashing into your freshly stolen car, or a hooker having the audacity to actually take money off of you – in all these situations you have to start shooting because you can. I mean, what do you care? Then the police come.
The police coming is the real fun bit and is where GTA IV does what GTA has always strived for: ever increasing chaos mixed with the best car chases you have ever seen. You steal a car, drive away, accidentally run over loads of people, start evading swat vans, trash your car, get out, kill some police, shoot down a helicopter, steal a police car, drive away, hit a road block, kill more police, jump off a bridge, steal a boat, dock and steal a motorbike, crash and come flying off it, run through back-streets while being dogged by helicopters and swat teams, duck into a strip club, massacre everyone inside, be held basically under siege until you can some how try to make an escape, rinse and repeat. Can this ever get tired? The answer is no.
In this modern age of ours we do have some requirement of most ‘serious’ games now though – random chaos just doesn’t cut it any more, so thankfully attached to all this chaos is a story and characters – these are both good. The characters are unprecedented in any GTA and are backed with superb voice acting. You will like Nico no matter how many people he kills – he’s a witty guy with a dark and interesting past. Roman, your cousin, is continually comical yet you always feel slightly sorry for him as nothing ever goes quite right but he’s always optimistic everything will be ok. There are literally too many characters to talk about here, some of which are truly hilarious, but the fact that they all stick in mind is testament to how well they are fleshed out as you travel along the rags to riches plot. The story of Nico and Romans persuit of happiness the immediate driving force behind everything, and it works beautifully – twisting in and out of criminal pockets which are all little sub-stories by their own accounts. It all gets possibly a little complicated in places but you always get the general idea and that’s all you really need – after all Nico is only ever bothered about money or his cousin no matter what the situation.
As with most things, perfection is strived for but never reached. While undoubtedly brilliant, GTA is not the perfect game that some sources may have you believe (IGN, 1up.com, OXM, Game Daily, even Edge all gave it 10/10). Missions do get a little repetitive, the cover system is temperamental and aiming can be slightly unresponsive at times. My main gripes lie in the poor PC port quality though, plus the fact that you need to be signed into both R* social club and Games for Windows Live to run the thing. I mean, come on – whoever thought this wouldn’t annoy people is out of their minds. It’s a complete shame the lack of care that has gone into this particular version but in it’s defence a lot of bugs have been ironed out with the recent patches (it no longer crashes every 20 minutes anyway).
What I can say with confidence is that this is clearly the best GTA yet. I know everybody loved vice city, and so did I, but it pales in comparison to this. Liberty City is alive here, and everything is in place to make your stay there completely enjoyable. GTA IV has a decent plot, interesting characters, a brilliant setting, game mechanics that stop anything being a chore, and – most importantly – it’s constantly an immense amount of fun; you can’t really ask for more than that in a game. It’s safe to say that I can’t recommend GTA enough and even though the main story is done I will undoubtedly be going back in for more. It’s stunning, and you have to be a special kind of insane to choose to miss this.