Review: Grand Theft Auto IV
AT A GLANCE
Environment = 4.5 / 5.0
Characters = 4.0 / 5.0
Environment = 5.0 / 5.0
Music = 4.0 / 5.0
Animation = 4.0 / 5.0
Voice Acting 4.0 / 5.0
Writing = 4.5 / 5.0
Missions = 4.5 / 5.0
Controls = 4.0 / 5.0
Physics = 5.0 / 5.0
TOTAL: 43.5 / 50 (86%)
I know this is probably going to earn me the scorn of every GTA fan out there, but I found GTA 4 to be imperfect. There was no one gaping flaw to
account for the score I gave it, but rather an accumulation of minor "B-Grade" results from the accumulated efforts that I sincerely hope are
addressed by the time GTA 5 comes out.
Let's start with the graphics. The character models are poorly animated, poorly textured, and stingy on the polygons. The clothing and hair never
move, damage is barely even considered, showing nothing more than the occasional burnmark. In some cases, especially the strip club, the characters
hit the "uncanny" valley where they're actually a bit revolting. Even the original X-Box had better character graphics on many games. That said, I
have seen far worse, and these rank in the upper 80%. Still, with as big a title as this, and the level of anticipation towards it, I would have hoped
their character model technology would have matured a bit.
The environments are exceptional. It is obvious where the graphics technology was focused this time around. GTA4 uses what appears to be a bitmap
system to in lieu of render-popping environments out of thin air. So, as you approach a cable-bridge, in the distance, it appears as a bitmap that
grows larger and renders portions of it as you approach. From the highest vantage points in the city, you can see all the way around. Their avoidance
of render-pops and half-invisible buildings due to "distance fog", combined with the fact I never experience a load time driving from one half of
the city to the other, is top-notch. The newfound ability to wander inside of buildings is also great, but more on that in controls. The only
nit-picky flaws I found in the environments are the blurry and stretched signs where textures didn't quite fit the store facade, and the washed-out
look to the entire game. Several hours into it, and I still feel like I'm playing the game through a blue and gray filter. I find my eyes desperately
searching after a while for any source of "warm light" or vibrant color, but usually find only another shade of blue or gray. This might have been
excused if there were, at some point, extremely clever use of bright color or warm light to bring intense focus on a crucial plot point (like the
little girl and candles in Shindler's List), but they fail to do this much. On such a minor point, I hate to deduct, but the effect on game enjoyment
The sound will not disappoint anyone but a career sound-technician, and even they will probably be happy with the result. The game works perfectly
with the surround-sound system, and I have no complaints about the quality or effects.
The music is, in some aspects, its biggest accomplishment and biggest disappointment for me. The best part about it is being introduced to a new
favorite band: Glukoza Nostra (sings "Schweine"), who I would never have otherwise known of without this game, and with the addition of new station
"Journey", which plays some great ambient "trippy" music, enough so I'm considering buying the "station CD" for that one. The disappointment
comes in the otherwise near-complete lack of variety on radio stations. There are 2 Reggae stations, 2 disco stations, 4 or 5 HipHop/Funk/R&B
stations, 4 or 5 easy-listening stations, 1 Latin, 1 Russian, 1 Punk Rock station, and then a couple of extremely annoying talk radio stations that
make even talk-radio fans cringe. I really miss the variety and quality of the GTA San Andreas stations. There also doesn't appear to be an
off-button. As a result, my dial is more or less looking for the one Glukoza track on the radio, or set at Journey, where at least I can ignore the
music. I'm very disappointed this round, though I know the music probably fits the taste of many others. So rather than grade down based on the
selection, I'm grading down on sheer lack of variety in what has become an expected part of each GTA installment.
The game is pretty immersive, but not nearly so much as GTA San Andreas. In San Andreas, the writing and voice acting were so compelling that I
actually felt like I was a young black man ripped from his life and thrust back into a Compton Ghetto where the bonds of family and community versus a
corrupt system designed to keep me down had forced my hand into a reluctant life of crime, to the point where I genuinely felt bad about robbing
people in the game because they were "my people" in the game. In GTA 4, they fail to make this level of empathy happen. Niko (the main character) is
all too verbal about how much he dislikes this country, Roman (his cousin) is far too loving of the wrong things about this country. I feel less like
a real part of the story, and more like a dispassionate observer growing increasingly irritated that every single person I meet is a backstabbing,
whiny, self-righteous, incompetent fool. In San Andreas, my fellow gang members felt like real people, individuals with their own hopes, dreams,
frustrations, and wishes about how they could be anything but what they'd become. In GTA 4, I feel like everyone I meet is either a movie cliche or a
cardboard cutout of an archetype. Finally, the voice acting is pretty good. Almost everyone does a good job conveying the proper emotions and such,
with the glaring exception of a certain female voice talent. The actress who reads Michelle (Niko's first girlfriend) reads her part and others with
about as much enthusiasm and emotion as J-Lo on Lithium.
The content in the game is quite well done. The missions are diverse to the point of not sending me out to collect 10 tokens, though they still fall a
tad short of predictable, and the writing on them gives enough flavor to keep it interesting. One of the newer additions to the GTA series is the
choice of whether or not to spare lives in certain Main Story missions, or choosing who lives and who dies. I was genuinely torn on one of the
mid-game missions as to who I would choose to take out versus who I would choose to take on.
That said, I have two minor beefs with the content. One is the level of profanity. Now, I'm not above cussing, and certainly not a prude about it,
but when 75% of every line of dialogue involves 4-letter words, it gets old real fast, and I'm left with the feeling that the entire script was
written by a first year theater-mager, eager to throw as many curse-words in there as they can "for shock value." A curse is to conversation what a
bullet is to a threat. Either, sparingly used and carefully placed, can make one scene memorable for life. Too much of either completely destroys the
point. Take for example, Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom, when he stands upon the ancient, decrepit bridge, bad guys ahead of him, turning around
to find bad guys behind him, and looks down to see a several-hundred foot drop with alligators below him, and with the perfect amount of resignation
and inflection, Indy drops the S-bomb. That is how you use profanity as an art.
GTA IV doesn't use profanity as an art, it uses it as a chain gun versus dialogue. It doesn't even keep it to the level of the average uncensored
Gangsta Rap. Quinton Tarrantino didn't even put this much cussing in Reservoir Dogs. At one point, it gets so ridiculous, that one of the
lines of dialogue goes something like this: "I'm so sick of this s____, I just want to say f___-it, man. F___ it. I mean, like it's like s____, you
VALLEY GIRLS have more substance to their conversations than this. I mean, they don't even bother getting creative with the cussing anymore, it's
just see how many S's and F's they can drop into a sentence and then throw in a few metasyntactic variables for good measure. It just looks sloppy,
ridiculous, and frankly, I wish I could just turn the profanity feature off at this point because the conversations would be about 40% shorter.
The other problem I have with the content is that often GTA feels more like a dating sim than an action game, and yet, often this ex-army badass who
goes around killing and stealing cars and racing on a casual day to day basis is forced to go on dates with dudes on a near-constant basis to keep
them happy enough to let you use their special ability. And since you have a cell phone, they can reach you anywhere, at any time, asking if you want
to go hang out. And if you decline? You lose friendship points. I've literally had three in a row call me and ask to hang out while I was en route to
pick up a fourth. Your option when they call is either to accept and abandon the person you were going to pick up, or decline and anger the person who
called you. And despite the fact it takes 2-3 hours of gametime to drive across the city, you only have 1 hour before you're late picking them up and
incur a friendship penalty. And since you have no idea what they are going to like or not like, you might have to try three or four places before you
find a place they like. It's extremely annoying. I've even been called during "sneak up on this person" missions, and because of button placement,
you are forced to answer or if you manage to decline the call, you still take the negative hit. They really should have given that one a lot more
That said, I really like the special ability features of the friends, and it makes it worth putting up with the major headache of their
The controls are fine except in turning corners in cars, and sticking to walls when going for cover. Oh, and use of the left-bumper for hailing cabs
is very stupidly disabled for several minutes after getting drunk. No matter what car you are in, turning a corner feels like you've got
street-slicks on wet ice. Anything but a perfect touch or slowing down to a crawl will cause your vehicle to spin out crazily. And when the weather
effects take hold, and the roads themselves become slick, driving is almost impossible. Thankfully, there are cabs all over the city, and you earn
enough money to use them whenever you want. This comes in especially handy when you are called to a mission 2 islands away, and have to repeat it, or
when a friend wants to hang out.
Gunplay has improved tenfold in GTA. Perhaps the most significant advancement of the franchise is that we now get to fire a gun in a way other than
"blind whirling". This makes ammo conservation and targeting immeasurably easier to the point I cannot imagine why it was never added before. The
cover system, likewise, is a new, well-loved feature, except that trying to separate from the wall you've got your back against is like trying to
pull apart two very powerful magnets from one another.
Overall, GTA IV is a great game. Despite it's minor flaws and annoyances, it still manages to keep me enthralled for as long as I can play each day,
and yearning to play more when I'm not. GTA fans will love this title, and newcomers to the series will find this an excellent starting point.
However, I think the prolific perfect scores it received immediately after launch were, like the company's approach to certain aspects of the game, a
bit immature. Had they a little more time to grow up, it might have been perfect.