So I finished Grand Theft Auto IV, and my impressions only improved a little from when I first played it. It eventually grew on me, but it took a while. I still don’t get how IGN gave it a perfect 10, though.
First, the good stuff. The game came out like five years ago, but graphically it still puts to shame pretty much any new game out there. I mean, the character models (which they went for a slightly cartoony art style with) are nothing to call home about, but the city and the vehicles are just unbelievably detailed. And the writing and voice acting is top notch. Pretty much all the characters in the game are scumbags, but they really grow on you (including the Jamaican guy I couldn’t understand at all). And the missions are generally varied enough to keep things interesting.
Now the bad.
The tedium. This had to have been in all the previous GTA games, but maybe I just noticed it more since my game playing habits have changed. I used to be able to be able to play a game during the weekend for several hours at a time, but now I’m lucky if I can find one continuous hour to play. And for GTA, most of that hour will be spent driving from point A to point B. And since the driving was made very realistic in this game (i.e., it’s easy to lose control), you can’t just race recklessly to your destination. In fact, an analog button for gas is a necessity in this game because pressing the gas all the way is an easy recipe to spin out. Eventually, I made the game more fun by pretty much getting everywhere via taxi — the closest thing to fast travel in the game — though sometimes it would take minutes to find a cab.
Also, you have friends in this game and they will get angry at you if you don’t call them up and play pool or go drinking with them — which just means more tedious driving from point A to point B if you don’t want them to hate you.
Oh, and no checkpoints in missions. You could spend twenty minutes playing a mission and mess up near the end, and then you have to repeat the entire thing over again. So I sometimes used up my hour of gameplay time and never got anywhere.
The combat. You do a lot of combat, and it’s not that great. They have a cover system, but it was a little wonky to me and I often ended up on the wrong cover. And you have to remember to hold the run button when moving between cover or Niko will just meander to the next one. And you’ll often enter rooms or go up stairs and get shot at from all direction but you have no easy way of telling from exactly where. And people will rush you and you’ll lose your lock on the enemy and get punched in the face with nothing you can do about it while holding an SMG. At times the combat felt so clunky I had flashbacks to playing early Resident Evil games. Also, there are very few different weapons and no upgrading any of them.
Can’t hold on to cars. This is actually a problem in every GTA game. You have parking spots to keep good cars in, but then you never want to actually use them because you never know when the mission will force you to abandon your car and you’ll lose it forever. Previous GTA games had ways to instantly get cars you wanted, but this one lacked that.
Big city with nothing to do. You earn money in the game and it plays it up likes its important, but there is little to do with the money. You can buy some new clothes (because grown men love playing dress up) and restock your weapons and that’s about it. You quickly in the game have more money than you ever need. And while the city is beautiful, there is nothing to find exploring it. There are no hidden items or hidden mission or bonuses to unlock or anything (there are 200 pigeons which you get some prize if you kill them all, but that’s it). This feels like a big step backwards from previous GTA games.
In fact, while GTAIII basically created the open sandbox game, I get the impression Rockstar doesn’t want to do a sandbox game anymore. They really want an intensely scripted linear game, and they seem to be removing the incentives to run around the city and cause chaos (which in this game, seems really out of character for Niko). For the next one, it sounds like it will be even more scripted (there will be three different main characters you follow who have friends and family to worry about). So while GTA invented the open sandbox game, it seems to me more like Saints Row is the one actually running with it now.
I still have the Episodes from Liberty city to play which also got great reviews and sounds like it will be more missions without the extra stuff like keeping up with friends I found tedious. Maybe I’ll give that a try when GTA5 comes out and everyone is talking about that, but I’m pretty much Grand Theft Autoed out for a while.