Friday, July 21, 2000

Grand Theft Auto 4 | 9.0

Let it be said that I've never liked GTA. But I decided to get GTA4 after reading several articles about the change in direction they were taking and my god, has it paid off. This game is PHENOMENAL.

The Good:
Even though this game is running at 640p and is upscaled on PS3, this is a BEAUTIFUL game. It has some of the best and most natural looking water and light effects I've ever seen that appear photorealistic at times. I often stop and just stare at the waves or park and watch the sun hitting the road as it sets.

The voice acting is top notch and the cast has some truly memorable characters. This is one of the few games where I actually have an emotional response when things happen to the main characters...which is no small feat. Sometimes you have to make choices whether someone lives or dies and I found myself really struggling with the decision I thought was appropriate to my character. The pacing is great too. Just as you are getting satisfied with a particular location, you get access to a new islands and contacts so things always feel fresh.

Thankfully, they eliminated all the things that made past GTAs tedious. No more going to the gym to lift weights, no more being forced to drive twenty minutes across town to do a mission. Finally, you can take a cab and opt to skip the driving when you are in a rush. They've also added a much needed cover system where tapping R1 will let you take cover behind virtually any object. This leads to some truly epic shootouts that will literally have you diving for cover.

They also made your cell phone the menu for the game and you rarely have to leave the game world immersion. Just call up your friends for missions or hanging out and watch Niko talk to them while he walks around the city. You can even buy ringtones, themes, and even get a camera phone and organizer.

There are also 200 music tracks on a dozen radio stations with great music and talk shows on all of them. You can waste hours watching TV at your house, going on dates to see shows or play pool and darts, or you can fool around on dozens of webpages at the internet cafe. Basically, there is a ton of depth here that will give the game dozens of hours of extra traction.

Just whip out your cell phone in the single player and hop right in to over 14 online game modes. Imagine running around New York with 15 friends and playing paintball in the streets. To just be able to hop into the whole of Liberty City and do ANYTHING is so fun and chaotic words can't describe it. Just last night, I joined Free Mode, where there are no rules. I proceeded to blow up 3 cop cars and run over a flock of pedestrians before getting plowed over by another player who had stolen a commuter bus and was on a rampage in Times Square. That was just the first 10 minutes. And I was having a blast that even my wife couldn't turn away from.

The Bad:
Other than minor framerate and A.I. glitches, my biggest complaint is that the game does some unnecessary forced loading. When you die on a mission instead of just asking you if you want to retry it, you die, it loads a respawn at the hospital and THEN you are asked to retry the mission, which leads to another load screen.

Every time you launch the game, you are forced to sit through a 2 minute intro movie. I suspect this is to distract you while the game loads in the background more than it is to set a mood, but it would still have been nice to be able to skip it sometimes.

Other than that, the clothing selection feature remains terrible. You have no way to quickly cycle through your wardrobe without having to spend 2-5 seconds loading each new outfit. If you're like me, you bought every outfit as soon as you could only to learn that you had to cycle through every single one anytime you wanted to change clothes. And other than buying clothes, money has absolutely no value in this game. For some reason, they didn't include a casino or the option to buy property, so you amass all this wealth and have virtually nothing to spend it on at the end of the game's main story.

The Verdict:
That said, the sheer freedom and realism of this game signal a landmark in gaming and anyone who likes video games should buy this game. It is the most fun I've ever had with a video game and provides 100+ hours of entertainment for sixty bucks. Despite a few flaws, the amount of content, fun, and depth of this game make it virtually flawless and worth your money.


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