Grand Theft Auto has always had universal acclaim for its fun and edgy gameplay, sandbox style open worlds where you can go seemingly anywhere and do just about anything, and over the top humor that fitted the almost cartoonish depictions of violence and debauchery enclosed in the coding.
Grand Theft Auto III is considered by some to be the pinnacle of the series, and after two sequels, Vice City and San Andreas, we return to Liberty City once again in the stunningly beautiful Grand Theft Auto IV. But this time, a lot has changed, and the series is now on a bold and somewhat daunting precipice of what it can become in the future.
This time around, you star as Niko Bellic, a Russian immigrant from an undisclosed country who is searching for someone, and is plotting revenge. You live with your cousin Roman, the slobbish owner of a taxi company, and eventually unravel the storyline that takes many different turns to help you achieve your goal.
While the story has always been a throwback in GTA, this time it is the forefront. Similar to San Andreas, the storyline is more serious than previous entries, creating an overarching plot for the character of Niko to follow. This is a step up from the paper-thin plotlines of III and Vice City, but with it, comes some sacrifices.
The biggest sacrifice, believe it or not, is the fun factor of the game. Sure, you can mow down cops, people, and shoot up the streets in a constant barrage of death and destruction, but it doesn’t fit with the sullen storyline you need to go through. The over the top violence is toned down heavily, and a heavy dose of realism has been injected to make the game a more serious affair.
And it doesn’t work. Sure, there are still some in-joke references on the radio and around the world, and there is real witty dialogue at time coming from the street characters, but it is almost like a homage to the old days, in a way, over a continuation of it. The games serious and real tone make it a chore to play sometimes, which is not the goal that I am sure Rockstar was shooting for.
For example, the side missions where you take friends and girlfriends out to go drinking, eating, dancing, etc. They are nice little diversions from the main game; add a sense of realism and character development, but are a pain in the ass to do because you pick them up within a short time limit, head out to a random place, enjoy a cut scene or a quick exposition which costs time money and needs self control, and drop them off, all without killing anyone or breaking the law. Most hardcore gamers can go through this, but the more mainstream players will want to stop doing side quests and just shoot up a nightclub. And while doing these side missions gives you rewards in the long run, its just too tedious to continuously drive people around for a twenty-minute diversion.
The controls also have so many bells and whistles on them it’s almost like a swiss army knife. You can run, shoot, crouch, punch, dive, duck, dip, swirve, call friends, take pictures with a camera phone, even use the internet. The game seeps with a lot of extra additives that people will barely scratch the surface with, but it does immerse you into this world fairly well. And, of course, the multi-player is standard, with some good standouts like Team Mafyia work, where you complete objectives over killing the other team constantly, and Cops-N-Crooks, a fun chase game that requires a lot of tactical teamwork to complete.
The games graphics are impressive, but somewhat bland. The character models are the weakest bit, while the surrounding buildings have great detail and the cars, as always, look fantastic in the streets. The cut scenes are pretty good too, even with the character models being somewhat jerky. It is actually a shame, because the game would of ran real well with great graphics tied to it. As it stands, it’s just kind of plain.
The voice-overs are perhaps the strongest point. With the exception of one character (the steroid crazed Brucie), I loved everyone who was portrayed in the game. Niko Bellic in particular, played by Mike Hollick, gave a great performance. You get the sense that Niko is not a bad guy, but is caught up in this frenzy of death so that he can exact his own personal goals, and relieve his spirit. The games music tracks are also very strong, as always, and the sound effects do reflect the numerous beeps and clangs of New York fairly well. It is, in essence, a living, breathing city.
So what else can be said about Grand Theft Auto? It is still a good game, but like Halo, I feel that the hype over it kind of killed the experience almost. The direction to make it more realistic and immerse the players is a minor success, but it feels like the fun from the previous games is missing, and more like a chore just to get through to the end of the story. But, maybe this is a good thing, to have Grand Theft Auto grow up a bit. It may not be as fun as it was in the past, but it still has it where it counts, in tight gameplay and an impressive world that you can explore.
Final Score- B