Grand Theft Auto 4 (GTA 4) is the highly anticipated debut of Rockstar Game’s Grand Theft Auto series onto the next generation consoles. The GTA series is one of the biggest, most well known franchises in the gaming industry, if not the multi-media industry as a whole.
The GTA series has always been famous for its sandbox game play that allows you to explore large cities and do just about whatever you want. GTA 4 takes this sandbox game play to a whole new level with the living and breathing city that is Liberty City, along with various game play improvements from previous installations in the series.
The game is not without its minor frustrations, but GTA 4 is unquestionably a grand experience that is a blast to play.
In GTA 4, you play as Niko Bellic, an illegal immigrant who arrives in America hoping to start a new life. Unfortunately, Bellic does not find what he expects and has no choice but to live a life of crime in Liberty City. The main storyline follows Bellic and his life in Liberty City, along with his interactions with the various criminal factions and contacts you meet in the city.
GTA 4 follows the same formula that was used by GTA 3 back in 2001. You get to explore Liberty City and do just about anything you want to. Along with the main storyline’s missions and side missions, you can steal cars, start a brawl in the bar with a friend, get drunk, and much more.
One of the main reasons that just exploring Liberty City is so satisfying is that the city itself is truly alive in GTA 4. The roads of the city are always bustling with activity as pedestrians and drivers alike go about their business. Just exploring Liberty City and causing some havoc proves to be a very nice diversion from GTA 4’s missions, which can get a bit repetitive after a while.
Along with a vastly improved city, GTA 4 makes a number of notable improvements to the basic game play. The combat is much easier and more satisfying thanks to a new targeting system, which is quite intuitive and makes it easy to shoot enemies and their different body parts.
The combat system also benefits from a cover system, which allows you to take cover behind walls, cars, trees, and more. These new elements added to GTA 4’s combat are not entirely original, but GTA 4 makes great use of these improvements.
Just like previous entries of the series, you of course have to worry about the cops chasing you down. Whenever the cops start chasing you, the game displays a bar that ranges from one to six stars. This bar represents your wanted level. The higher the level, the more equipment, such as better weapons or helicopters, the cops will bring in to arrest you.
Due to the navigation system provided for you however, escaping the cops is very easy unless your wanted level goes very high. It is still very entertaining when the cops get involved though, as it is a very tense experience when they start hunting for you with helicopters.
Perhaps the most amusing new element in GTA 4 is the cell phone. The cell phone allows you to call your contacts for various reasons, either for the main storyline, to take up side missions, or go out with someone. But you are not the only one capable of making calls; your contacts can also call you at any time, even when you’re in combat.
GTA 4 is unfortunately not flawless, as there are a number of problems within the game.
The enemy artificial intelligence (AI) in GTA 4 is decent enough in that it uses cover against you and has a pretty good aim.
Unfortunately, when on the defensive against you, the enemy AI is noticeably inflexible as it foolishly sticks to the cover it is scripted to use, no matter what position you are in.
The friendly AI in GTA 4 also has problems, as it suffers from occasional pathfinding glitches. These glitches are rare, but they are common enough to be noticeable and they can bring consequences upon the player that could have otherwise easily been avoided.
GTA 4’s replay system also has its setbacks.
If you ever fail a mission, the replay system in GTA 4 lets you replay that mission immediately. While it is quite a generous system, it can induce frustration in players when a mission starts with a very long drive. So if you failed such a mission you have to take that long drive again in its entirety. This annoyance is relatively infrequent, but it can hamper the pace of the game at times.
When you are done with the single player, or just simply can’t stand to be alone in the big city, you can leap into GTA 4’s multiplayer modes. The main attraction here is undoubtedly the ability to just cause havoc throughout the city with up to 15 other players. If you want however, there are also more classic modes such as death matches and races.
Graphically, GTA 4 is not the most detailed game on the market from a technical standpoint. Fortunately, the game still looks great with excellent character and car models. The game also has some great lighting and impressive water effects, especially when it rains.
GTA 4 has a lot of music for you to listen to while your’e exploring the city, as the game has a rather large licensed soundtrack, most of which is played on the various radio stations you can listen to in a car. There is also tons of outstanding voice acting for both the main characters and the civilians you run into.
The GTA series is not just famous for its high-quality game play, but is also well-known for its mature content. GTA 4 has plenty of this type of content just like previous entries in the series. For example, GTA 4 lets you go to a strip club where you can admire girls in thongs. The game even lets you drive drunk. In short, this is of course not a game you want your kids playing, but older gamers will probably enjoy GTA 4’s mature aspects.
All matters considered, GTA 4 is an excellent game that anyone with an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 must have. Despite some minor setbacks, you owe it to yourself to check out the amazing experience that is GTA 4.
Released: April 29
ESRB rating: M for Mature: Blood, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs, Use of Alcohol
Retail Price: $59.99
Availability: Retail stores and online vendors.
My Score: 4 out of 4 stars