Grand Theft Auto IV Review (PS3)

The Grand Theft Auto series needs no flowery, superfluous introduction, since everyone from hardcore gamers to activists groups know of its existence, and its (over-satirized) gameplay. Basically, if you have access to some sort of mass media, by now, you know just how amazing the franchiseís first go on this generationís hardware is. What has already been said isnít exaggerated; Grand Theft Auto 4 is a masterpiece in just about everyway. Let me save you some time: If you havenít picked up the game already, for whatever reason, and are still reading this, stop, and go buy your copy now.

Itís not very often we, as gamers, see a game so complete, thatís itís nearly possible to pick apart in an objective manner. Hype can be a fickle catalyst for disappointment, but, in this case, the hype machine has fully delivered. The game has already been applauded, hailed and revered (rightfully so) as one of the best titles we will see this yearóand maybe, ever. Thus, to change things up, we present to you the very, very minor faults of GTA IV.

Obligatory Niko Bellic shot

Man arrives from Eastern Bloc, lives in awesome game

When the GTA series went the path of the third-person action game, we were first introduced to Liberty City, along with a mute protagonist, who didnít seem to have a whole lot of luck. Grand Theft Auto 4 marks a return to Liberty City, with a whole new look, and a much more vocal, complex character at our hands: Niko Bellic.

Right from the start itís possible to figure out the conflict in the story, as the Eastern European Niko makes his way into America via a shipping tanker and a clandestine rendezvous with his ďbig-timeĒ cousin Roman. Niko has traveled to America for a fresh start from a troubled past, but itís a GTA game, and we know Rockstar wouldnít have us raising puppies or taking up a routine day job as we play. Instead, Niko finds his way into trouble as he looks to right the wrongs of his past, taking up gun-for-hire jobs from shady, illegitimate ďentrepreneurs.Ē Missions are all handled via a cell phone that you use to contact acquaintances for missions or social adventures, and it has been integrated seamlessly into gameplay.

As your playing, expect spot-on voice-over synchronization, with stellar writing. Each character has their own unique persona, and each is captured and portrayed by their respective talent. Great detail has been taken to ensure every character comes alive, and such is exemplified if you end up having to replay missions, as dialogue will explain a certain sentiment in a number of different ways with each take.

GTA IVís story captivates, and can be played in a few deviating ways; there are choices to be made which will determine what happens next to Niko. Unfortunately, in a game where the world is your playground, this isnít a choose-your-own-adventure. Choices are dichotomous, and donít pop up too often. Itís just one of those situations where, if something has been implemented into the design of the game, it would be nice to see it more often. GTA IV has a story to tell, a well executed, intriguing story, but if Niko is here to make a change in his life, among other reasons, why canít he choose a quiet life as a driver for his cousinís cab business?

But, again, griping about a semi-linear story is searching for flaws in the game. For the most part, gameplay overall has been refined and uses the current-gen hardware to create a living city. Liberty City is the cheapest way many will ever get to explore New York, and even though itís not a street-for-street replica, many of your landmarks are there: Statue of Liberty, Manhattan Bridge, Boardwalk, Coney Island and its Ferris Wheel, Times Square, and a host of other noticeable attractions.

To give the streets a realistic feeling, lines of dialogue populate the city through an array of characters that range from the evangelical to the down-and-out drunk. People arenít simply pedestrians either, as they work on broken down cars or perform janitorial duties.

However, to fulfill our mission of trying to find flaws in the game, Liberty City doesnít fully recreate real life. Star Junction, the gameís Times Square derivative, may be impressive in its visuals, but it lacks the sea of hustle Ďn bustle that makes the real intersection an exercise in patience and determination. Similarly, for a massive city, the waterways feel a bit boring with only a handful of boats speeding aroundówhere are the massive tankers or ferries?

Wanna drag coppaí?

Obligatory Niko shot #2, less direct sunlight

Also, GTA IV may be a bit smaller when compared to the earlier San Andreas, but in return we get access inside of buildings. Once again, however, the mechanic is just short of being fully realized. Finding buildings to go into and explore is easier as you play through the story and other side missions, but trying to find all of the explorable dwellings is a bit frustrating as there are no discernable differences between doors that open, and ones that donít.

Among the most legitimate concerns, are by now, GTA staples. Minor technical issues literally pop up in the game. While driving about Liberty City, expect to see a fair amount of objects popping in between passersby, cars, buildings and foliage. Drops in framerate are also prevalent, as extreme amounts of action tend to slow the game down for a few seconds.

One thing that is unusually bothersome is the excess money that you might find yourself with. Although itís possible to buy a few ďtricks,Ē new outfits, additional weapons and other various services (food, Internet cafes, tolls and fares), thereís little else to do with your cash. There are no properties to buy or invest in, and no way to customize your living quarters. For a guy who is fresh off the boat, and who is looking to establish a nice life, thereís not much to do with the money you earn.

The biggest let down, however, comes on the Playstation side of things: SIXAXIS controls. The motion integration feels overly obligatory as you try to maneuver motorcycles, helicopters and boats by tilting the Playstation controller, along with snapping motions to reload weaponry. While it may be fun to experiment with the motion settings, the ability to stick with all-analog controls is duly appreciated.

To be honest, nitpicking and searching out flaws in the game is simply ridiculous, but the fact that it requires great effort to point out lacking features is a testament to the gameís brilliance. The art direction is sublime as the city comes to life, vehicles noticeably resemble their real-life counterparts, and character models have their own stylized quality that is a perfect mix between photorealistic and fictional.

Itís the little things that make GTAIV the best game of the series, including the added Euphoria engine for advance physics computation. Cars have actual weight to them and are affected by the kind of drivetrain they use. Youíll oversteer and understeer a fair majority of the time, and it can be a bit frustrating at first, but it overall makes for a totally immersive experience.

Euphoria also allows for detailed, unique reactions to situations; so driving into a post head-on will send your character flying through the front windshield, and hitting pedestrians will cause them to contort as they fly through the air. Such realistic reactions create situations where youíll think twice about bowling for pedestrians on sidewalks.

Other little things like being able to surf the Internet through hundreds of sites, watch Bas Rutten host a talk show with a more effeminate co-host, listen to fully licensed music tracks and quirky radio shows, complete the organic experience that makes up a game that can last anywhere from 40 to infinity hours of single player gameplay. Plus, a new cover system, which works competently, allows for both you and AI to engage in more realistic firefightsóeven if the enemy AI still isnít the brightest.

Car + pedestrian? Last I checked, those two donít add up so well when they meetÖhead-on

Do you see it? The Infinity Ward symbol behind Niko? Itís an allegory, to the dethroning of CoD4.

However, GTA IV extends gameplay online with 15 multiplayer options. By using the cell phone while in-game, itís possible, for the first time in any GTA game, to hop into multiplayer games; and for a first go, Rockstar has done a stellar job. Hours can be spent just roaming (see terrorizing) around Liberty City with 15 other players in Free Mode, or you can choose to play any of the objective-based games, including your usual deathmatches, territories derivatives, and even a cops versus robbers type game. Each player can customize their appearance as they buy new clothes in-game, but the fact the city remains just as alive and vibrant online as it is offline, is simply amazing.

Ultimately, there is just too much to tell about GTA IV; itís a game that should be experienced firsthand, rather than explained. There are minor discrepancies between both the PS3 and 360 versions with load times a bit shorter and pop-in less frequent on the PS3, and reportedly exclusive content on the way for the 360; but no matter how you look at it, you canít go wrong with either version of the gameóthough there has been reported issues with the PS3 version online. Weíve tried to make a case that GTA IV isnít a perfect title, and although it isnít, itís one of the most complete experiences to date. So if youíve actually read through this, and donít have the game, we appreciate it, but seriously, just go buy it already.

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By Kres (SI Elite) on May 07, 2008
Ok so who played it?
By Rob Rymond (SI Newbie) on May 08, 2008
Rob Rymond
Fantastic game, worthy of any Best Game Of The Year award!
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on May 08, 2008
I found a need to go back to San Andreas afterr this. More &quot;open play&quot; for me and the cobtrol variables are atrocious.
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on May 10, 2008
Hmm... waiting for the PC version to come out...
By Nookie (SI Member) on May 11, 2008
im told it is not coming out on PC. saw it in a few forums. hopefully it is not true cause i love the GTA series.
By devel (SI Elite) on May 15, 2008
Comes out this October or so. I&#039;m Playing the Ps3 version, see you guys Online ^^
By Kres (SI Elite) on May 26, 2008
Should come to PC when they dry out the consoles market. We&#039;ll see. Not any time soon in any case...
By zanx (SI Newbie) on Jul 31, 2008
You can take me for stupid but GTA 4 sux ....San Andreas is better and Vice City too