Cars, Culture and Crime.
Those looking for a revolution of the Grand Theft Auto tradition, GTAIV may not be quite for you. But for those that who crave the logical extension from GTAIII (Vice City and San Andreas included), this title is bound to satisfy. More guns, more cars, more areas, more missions, more items, more jumps and more polygons all mean more fun; and for the modern gamer, these now mean more choices, (but I'll explain those shortly).
Does all this content really qualify the 'IV' of the title, (proudly stamped across advertisements like an ominous religious relic), or would a mere subtitle after GTAIII describe the game more accurately? Well, for the most part, the ‘IV is warranted. We see a new playable character, a contemporary time setting, and a set of new interactions and dealings for the player to involve himself with. The level of detail has been upped dramatically, and the city is full of a minutia of content that really does worry players like me: "What am I missing, should I stop driving here, and what can I do at this place?" These are the questions that constantly challenge my sense of direction. The distractibility of the city is phenomenal. It is a study in level-design intricacy, as well as a phenomenal example of virtual town-planning.
Furthermore, arming yourself with a truly devastating selection of assault paraphernalia has never been more satisfying in the series than in ‘IV. The current trend to portray a line-of-sight from behind the protagonists shoulder (3rd-person view) finds it’s way into IV, and a street battle with the (strangely psychotic) LCPD feels like something from a certain Michael Mann film, (or more respectfully to this author, the battle scenes of ‘Dr. Strangelove’). While the aiming system is certainly improved, it has not yet reached the standards of the other staple over-the-shoulder shooters. Arguably, this is not the focus of the game, but rather a sub-scheme of the games control. That is true, but I found myself having to reacclimatise myself to merely holding the left-trigger half-way down to ‘free-aim’. Holding it down completely engages an auto lock-on scheme which admittedly, is quite handing for those far-off targets.
The ‘Auto’ of the title certainly makes sense in ‘IV. We have a smorgasbord of four-wheeled machines, not to mention more novelty rides than you would ever care to bother to program (amazingly, Rockstar did). Gratefully, each model has its own feel and nature. Plucking a car from Liberty City’s inexhaustible vine is like a lucky dip of larceny. Chryslers, Fords, Toyotas, Nissans are all absent. Yet eerily reminiscent simulacrums populate the heavily worn roads of Liberty City. That’s right – auto companies are not represented in this game. I guess the licensing is either too complicated, or the prestigious mobile makers have an aversion to seeing their products involved in manslaughter on a mega-scale. So be it.
The missions take a 'choose-your-own-adventure' style structure in that certain jobs are optional, impact on future events, and often ask the player to choose a particular story-branch. Sadly, some missions are painfully trivial, and can force the player into virtual dates, nights-out drinking or at a vaudevillian show (the latter being the most impressive). As to how your choices affect the end result is a mystery to this player, but the idea that the game may have to be played through multiple times is a staggering thought. The replay potential may be through the roof.
Camera control is an issue for me - the price of such a living, breathing world seems to be questionable collision detection and a spasmodic, inconsistent camera. 'Fishin' Lakitu' would be quite disappointed I'm sure. But new to this iteration is the physics engine that gives not only the inanimate objects a respectable realism, but also for the carbon-based biped population (people) of Liberty City. Tossing a grenade into a traffic jam has the convincing effect of what it may do in real life (although this writer has yet to make any bench-tests on this occurrence, I suspect Rockstar have made suitable inquiries) - metal and flesh will rain upon the pavement alike.
The Bottom Line
Nevertheless, the game has so much to offer that any of these side issues are really quite negligible. GTAIV is a breath-taking accomplishment, and at least a great, playful and dramatic video game experience. Certainly, the game poses all sorts of moral issues at the player, and it is often staggering how easy it is to slip into the lifestyle of a true sociopath scumbag. It’s funny that the immigrant (Niko) alleviates his culture shock with such barbaric and criminal impulses, but it’s even more staggering that this is vital to his assimilation.