Game Review: Grand Theft Auto IV

 

Publisher: Rockstar Games

Platform: PS3, Xbox 360 (tested on both for this review)

Rating: A+

 

 

Somewhere

in the world right now, a woman is threatening to break up with her boyfriend

and he doesn’t particularly care. Phone calls are going unanswered, homework is

going undone and sick days are being used all for the same reason.

 

Grand Theft Auto IV has arrived, and Playstation 3 and Xbox

360 owners the world over are hypnotized by a fantasy life of crime.

 

While GTAIV is actually the fifth sequel since

2001’s III, it’s the first to appear

on this generation of consoles and incorporate online play (as if GTA wasn’t addicting enough).

 

Series

vets should still feel right at home since the core elements of the game

haven’t changed, but there’s new depth added to every element of the game that

makes it feel fresh no matter how many hours you logged on previous versions.

 

The

story retains the same biting humor that’s become a series trademark, but this

time the protagonist (Eastern European immigrant Niko Bellic) actually has a

sense of morality and a complex motivation. You’ll commit your fair share of

random acts of violence, but at several points in the story, you’ll have the

option of executing or sparing certain characters and your choices affect how

Niko’s peers view him.

 

The

grand scheme of the story doesn’t change much depending on your choices, but

there are missions that you will or won’t get based on who you kill. At one

point, two of your associates will call asking you to take out the other,

creating a surprisingly strong moral conflict. Killing one will mean missing

out on a big financial benefit, but killing the other just feels wrong.

 

Will

you bite the hand that feeds you to spare the innocent man or push your guilt

aside and do the job you’re being paid for? Deciding is harder than you might

expect, and the fact that you even have a choice gives the story mode an

element of replay value that the past games never had.

 

To cut

down on the tedious legwork for those multiple playthroughs, Rockstar has added

a few elements that gamers have been begging for. For starters, you can always

catch a cab and have it take you more or less anywhere for a few bucks. That

alone is a huge time saver, especially since the more aggressive cops make you

think twice about jacking cars that you don’t really need.

 

In

addition, you now have a cell phone that you can use to communicate with your

friends, employers and girlfriends. The

bad news is that just like in real life, the phone is a huge pain in the ass.

You’ll get phone calls fairly frequently (even during other missions) from

people who need favors or just want to hang out. It’s always up to you to

accept their requests or even answer at all, but every time you ignore a

friend, their feelings get hurt and they’ll be less likely to do favors for you

down the road.

 

The

game quickly becomes about juggling the needs of your contacts, so get used to

your girlfriends calling while you’re across town jacking a motorcycle to sell

to a dealer. It feels silly to ignore your real life phone to play a game about

a phone that never stops ringing, but your actual friends probably aren’t

calling to put a hit out on a crooked coke dealer either.

 

The

individual calls are aggravating at times, but it’s actually a great system

that keeps the pace up. Even when you’re just ambling around, you’ll always

have something better to do than aimlessly murder citizens, though if that’s

what you’re into, you can always turn the phone off and temporarily suspend the

story mode.

 

You

can also use the phone at any time to jump right into the new online modes.

Like the single-player game, you have free-reign to do whatever you like online

so it’s easy to make your own fun and invent things to do with your friends.

Just roaming around launching rockets at each other is fun as it is, but there

are a ton of creative mission-based modes to participate in when you need a

change.

 

In one

particularly creative mode, players choose to either be cops or gangsters in a

wild variation of Capture the Flag. One crook is assigned the V.I.P. role and

the others have to help him get to a specific point across town while the cop

players are tasked with hunting him down. You can’t win by just running around

hurling bullets and it takes a satisfying amount of strategy and teamwork to

pull it off. Throw in the variety of races, vehicle fights and custom games and

GTAIV online adds up to way more than

anyone would’ve expected for their first attempt.

 

For

those that have both systems, choosing which version to buy isn’t simple. On

the 360’s side, there will eventually be a few additional missions to purchase

that supposedly won’t be available for the PS3. On the other hand, the visuals

are more impressive on Sony’s console and the load times are noticeably

shorter. You can’t go wrong either way, but the PS3’s smoother frame rate and

quick loading are a bigger long-term benefit than the extra missions, so that

version has the edge.

 

With

the exception of some odd adjustments to the driving controls, everything about

GTAIV is at least as good as, if not

better than, the last major installment. San

Andreas was already pretty close to perfect, so while the changes aren’t

huge, there was no need to reinvent the wheel.

 

There’s

a reason why everyone you know is talking about this game; Grand Theft Auto IV is probably the most hyped title in recent

memory, but it actually lives up to it.

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