Videogame Review: Grand Theft Auto IV

Antoine Parmentier
by Antoine Parmentier

Grand Theft Auto IV’s (GTAIV) intricate and involving storyline has drawn comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. You playin’ with me? Yes, well, there are a lot more cars in GTAIV. And the game’s protagonist, a Serbian immigrant named Niko Bellic, has neither a clean license nor a clean conscience. Despite the increased focus on the thematic and shooting action, most of GTAIV’s single-player missions still mandate mastery of a wide range of vehicles. From the start of the first mission, to the usual drug deliveries, to driving a big rig filled with explosives through city streets, Grand Theft is pistonhead catnip. As you’d expect, car chases and street races present some of the game’s toughest– and most rewarding– challenges.

While the simulated car’s simulated physics are more realistic than previous GTA iterations, that’s a bit like saying Sam Wiggle is a better singer than Greg. GTAIV’s driving dynamics are still more Roadrunner than road-worthy. A sharp handbrake turn at 30mph can set a car on its side. Hardly real world reflective. Or, as Travis Bickle might say, I could tell by the way they related there was no connection whatsoever.

Assuming you don’t hail a cab, the game begins behind the virtual wheel of a crappy-looking late 80s Buick look-a-like. All the cars in GTAIV look like real-world automobiles, with subtle and no-so-subtle “enhancements.” No points for guessing what a “Coquette” or “Dukes” would like to be when it grows up. Just in case a manufacturer might get upset about ripped-off whips engaging in criminal activities, GTAIV’s programmers occasionally hedge their bets by morphing two cars into one. The “Infernus” combines a Lamborghini Gallardo front end and a Pagani Zonda butt. Like the game itself, the $1.5m cut-and-shunt is strangely satisfying.

Each car offers specific driving dynamics: front wheel-drive cars understeer. All wheel-drive SUVs feel heavy in corners, and then pull strongly out of them. In this game, weight matters. In a “Patriot”, the only things that will scare you are big rigs, walls and tiny trees. More importantly, driving skill is (now) a critical factor; poor drivers will suffer immensely through the many vehicular missions. That goes double for the multiplayer races. The old turn-and-handbrake technique is no longer sufficient. Multi-tap subtlety is required to negotiate a bend “just right.”

Dab hands will opt for the first person view from behind the windshield. That’s where the sound of the stereo is drowned out by engine roar (or sputter, if you’re driving some old junk). Talk about aural sex… While the powerplants’ sonic signatures aren’t as faithful as, say Gran Turismo, they’re even more addictive. SUVs have booming big-block V8s, flat 6s wail and tasty imports provide plenty of turbo whine. The radio doesn’t stand a chance. It’s a bit of a shame; a multitude of stations offer some wikkid variety, from DJ Iggy Pop to NPR-style talk radio.

The game’s main mission is good for removing at least 30 hours from your life. Side missions can take up an additional 10 hours, hidden jumps and hunting for “flying rats” notwithstanding.

Despite some poor textures up close, the graphics are where it’s at. The game’s main appeal resides in its setting and the clever dialogue, not its racing qualities. Humorous touches abound, entrance and delight. Liberty City’s Statue of happiness holds a cup of RF’s favorite brew. Even without excessive caffeination, driving around is a buzz– enough to make random meandering almost as much fun as the game’s trademark violence. Bonus: the weather changes randomly, including rain and fog, which alter a car’s handling.

Rating:

Overall, 5/5 stars. Other than repetitive missions, it’s a real show stopper.

As a racing game: 4/5 stars. Gran Turismo and the Forza series are far superior. Then again, if you’re an aspiring gangsta– and who isn’t?– this is the place to be.

Antoine Parmentier
Antoine Parmentier

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  • Flashpoint Flashpoint on Dec 23, 2008

    Antoine. I don't believe that. the story of GTA4 was straightforward. You arrive, get in trouble with the mob and do hits...its the same exact thing on each game. Frankly, San Andreas had much more exciting missions - as well as more of them. I'll never forget the mission where I had to drop from a small plane and sneak into a Citation to kill everyone on board. The 360's technology could make San andreas ridiculously better.

  • Puppyknuckles Puppyknuckles on Dec 25, 2008

    I agree that GTA4 is a great game. And I agree that in many ways, San Andreas was greater. I miss the sense of unbridled chaos that could be had in past games. Rampages, silly cheats, etc. Now that I beat GTA4, I still play it from time to time, mostly to crash cars in cinematic slo-motion mode. It seldom disappoints when Niko flies through the windshield.

  • Bd2 Probably too late to do anything about it for the launch, but Kia should plan on doing an extensive refresh of the front fascia (the earlier, the better) as the design looks really ungainly.
  • Namesakeone Since I include SUVs and minivans as trucks, I really cannot think of a brand that is truly truckless. MG maybe?
  • Sobhuza Trooper Subaru, they were almost there with the BRAT. --On a lighter note, where the hell is my Cooper Works Mini truck?
  • Mike Evs do suck, though. I mean, they really do.
  • Steve Biro I don’t care what brand but it needs to be a compact two-door with an ICE, traditional parallel hybrid or both. A manual transmission option would be nice but I don’t expect it - especially with a hybrid. Don’t show me an EV.
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