Underneath this sloppy port hides a great GTA experience
Liberty City looks and feels alive. Good story, graphics and voice-acting make for quite an experience. New covering system makes combat really fun.
Buggy and unstable. Impossible system requirements make for performance issues even on high-end machines. Feels like a half-baked, rushed out PC port.
The Bottom Line
The Windows version of Grand Theft Auto IV arrives about eight months after the X360 and PS3 version, released in April 2008. But if you thought this long period of time was used by Rockstar to prepare and perfect the PC version – you couldn't be more wrong. GTAIV for PC is without doubt the most bugs ridden, unstable and sloppy made GTA ever released.
It starts with the game installation, which takes almost an hour. After you're done with the installation, you can reserve the next thirty minutes for installing Microsoft LIVE components and creating a LIVE account, as you must be logged on to the LIVE service in order to play the game. Setting the game graphics level so it'll run smoothly on your system will also take its share of time. Even high-edge machines, which are theoretically much stronger than the X360 and PS3, will have trouble running GTAIV smoothly.
Perhaps to protect the players or perhaps to hide their shame, Rockstar decided not to allow setting the graphics level past one's "resource usage" counter. This counter calculates the player's PC Video RAM and allows the player to set the graphics level accordingly. Funny thing is that even when I tested the game on an ATI-4870X2 I couldn't get past mediocre settings and medium performance. Even funnier is the fact that GTAIV doesn't look that good, and it's actually quite amazing how games which look far better requires far less.
Finally, after you've set your LIVE account, configured the graphics level to match your machine and got past random stabilty bugs which seem to pollute the game, you'll get your first dose of GTAIV.
The game begins with our hero Niko Bellic, arriving on a huge tanker to Liberty City, which is a New York City spoof, including the Statue of Liberty (here dubbed the Stature of Happiness), Time Square, etc. Niko came to America to join his cousin, Roman, in the pursuit of the American Dream. Needles to say the dream quickly fades away, and it's not too long before Niko finds himself stealing, shooting and killing in the name of various crime organizations.
The formula which made the previous games so popular wasn't changed and remained pretty much the same in GTAIV too, although many new features were added. The cellular phone, for example, is probably the coolest and allows the player to call friends and business associates met throughout the game and invite them to various activities such as bowling, darts and pool whenever he wants. Each of these activities will start up a fun mini-game.
You can also invite your friends to various shows and stand-up acts. Going to one of these will actually let the player watch a hilarious comical act. Another fun thing to past the time is the TV. In GTAIV you can actually sit back and watch a Poker contest, cartoons, documentaries, stand-up acts and more. And, of course, in the tradition of the series you can also date and get lucky with girls.
Combats were changed from previous games in the series. You can now lock on your enemies in melee fight and take cover behind a wall during a shoot-out. You can jump buildings while chasing thugs and climb on fences and ladders. The freedom of movement in the game is indeed impressive, and allows for great action sequences.
There is a lot to enjoy in GTAIV. Liberty City really feels alive, and is without doubt the most impressive settings ever seen in a GTA game, thanks to new and impressive graphics and physical engines. The story is interesting and the characters feel reliable, mostly because of the excellent voice acting. In some points of the game you can even change the story a bit by making different decisions. There is also a multiplayer feature that allow up to 32 players to play together online and a PC-only movie editor, which allows the player to save clips of his in-game action.
Playing GTAIV will require you nerves of steel, and not necessary because of its high difficulty level. Looking past its bugs and broken features is a task of its own. Now it's true, Rockstar are working hard on patching the game and a first patch (which actually fixes a few issues but adds a bunch of new ones) is out and available for download, but the damage was already done - Rockstar lost a lot of its creditability and PC players' faith with this release. And these, well, are impossible to patch-up.