Backlog: Grand Theft Auto 4

I’ve had a long history with Grand Theft Auto games: I went to two midnight release parties for Vice City and San Andreas and played San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto 4 through to completion with 100% progress. I’ve always loved the series and end up spending way too much time just screwing around in-game.

When Grand Theft Auto 4 (GTA4) came out, I didn’t yet own a Xbox360 and so didn’t immediately get to play it. Many months later though when I did get a 360, it was the first game I played.

GTA4 is a large pull back from the over-the-top gameplay we saw in the earlier games. While still a GTA game with car theft and mass murder, jet packs, monster trucks and jet fighters are no where to be seen, and there is a much more realistic tone overall.

The game world feels smaller than San Andreas but larger than the older games. This said, the environment is much more interactive and real. The city feels more alive than ever before, with pedestrians crowding the sidewalks having conversations that don’t involve you.

Those new to series may find it difficult at first. The missions are longer and harder than before, often having you kill group after group of enemies. Before GTA4, you would have never been able to take on so many enemies at once, partially due to the new cover system. This also brings about one of the frustrations: the sticky system for cover makes movement difficult when needed the most. Throwing grenades from behind cover often ends the mission with them being bounced back in your face. Death reveals another annoyance with the lack of mid-mission saves; screwing up at the end of a very long mission results in a restart from the beginning. Fortunately, retrys are accessible through your phone, saving drive time to the mission.

Niko was the first protagonist in a GTA game that I liked. While I had little in common with him, I still found plenty to empathize with.

A GTA series strong point has always been the other characters that you meet, even more so with this game. While the story is good, what makes the game deep, interesting and involving is how Niko’s life intertwines with those around him. I can easily say that I have never been as emotionaly involved with a GTA title as GTA4.

Driving is still as fun as it has always been, going full out on a staight-away and seeing how long you can last before crashing, often flying through your windshield. Mortorcycles though are little more unforgiving this time around.

With friends, multiplayer “Freemode” is way more fun that one would think it would be – you end up laughing so hard that your throat hurts.

There are some other annoyances that are worth mentioning. Friends constantly calling, wanting to go on a man-date is easily the most bothersome aspect of the game, but the benefits keep you saying “yes” to more “big American tit-ties.” I was irritated that they really wanted you driving everywhere for missions and not really allowing the use of helicopters. Every time I would take a helicopter to a mission, they would disappear in an opening cutscene. Finally, this is rather petty but the GTA controls just worked better on a Playstation controller over the 360.

GTA4 was by far my favorite game that I played in 2008. I’m fully aware of the fact that pretty much everyone who wanted to play GTA4 has already played it. But even with the added difficulty, I feel that many that really have no desire to play it would enjoy it immensely if they gave it a chance. It’s one of those games that’s really hard not finding something you love about it.

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