“Hey man, wanna go play some pool?”
“No, for the fifth time, I don’t want to play any f*cking pool.”
Grand Theft Auto is truly a game of greatness for its balance and its freedoms. It’s one game that you can safely say is close to reaching its pinnacle. Not only is it fit for casual and hardcore gamers with its nonlinear gameplay, but it has something special in almost every feature. It’s a stroke of genius in the sense of innovative game mechanics and a story that lets the player develop a real attachment to its fictional character cast.
The player is given the role of Russian immigrant Niko Bellic, a former Russian soldier looking to start over and escape his dark past by exiling himself to America to live with his cousin Roman. The comic relief of the video game Roman accompanies Niko for most of the game’s beginning and introduces him to the broad Liberty City, Rockstar’s astonishingly accurate model of a modern day New York. Throughout the provocative story of Niko and Roman’s pursuit of happiness, Niko’s past comes back to haunt him like a ghostly spectre that only grows stronger as time passes. Niko gets introduced to Liberty City’s shady characters and comes across many of its (mostly realistic) stereotypes, acting as a hitman and a getaway driver depending on the situation.
The only word that can truly define Grand Theft Auto’s greatness is ‘wow.’ It’s one of the few games that actually take advantage of the new cinematic gameplay. Its extremely balanced in the sense that you go one direction for the story as in linear gameplay but sometimes choose between your friends and those who stay around, like in nonlinear gameplay. There are even two alternate endings, the variables of which are decided by the player’s direction in the game. While the ending is always largely the same, whether Niko is living extravagantly or less than large is impacted by the decisions the player makes between friends. The writer’s cynical view of the world is sometimes comically portrayed throughout the video game, but the game’s interesting cast of characters is what truly brings it alive.
The graphics of Grand Theft Auto can be described as ‘improved.’ No, they’re not completley amazing but at the same time they’re well above average and just a mark short of being better than ‘great.’ The graphics aren’t quite the focal point of Grand Theft Auto’s greatness as much as the gameplay is. The handling of Grand Theft Auto’s vehicles is surprisingly detailed in the sense that each vehicle has its form of handling. At first the driving style of not so sharp cornering and weight distribution takes a bit of play to get used to, but after the player learns the car’s limits and becomes a little more careful it loosens up.
The driving of Grand Theft Auto actually adds elements of realism to the game, like its shooting. Shooting is very realistic as a cover system has been implemented and there are options for auto aim or free aim, once again catering to casual and hardcore gamers. The cover system is cool because not only can you switch from cover to cover, but you can do it in style, and often if you sprint and move into cover you’ll see Niko somersaulting into postion. The gritty theme of Liberty City’s deceitful characters and bad neighborhoods comes through very well, and you may find yourself roaming from the luxury of Manhattan to sketchy backstreets of Brooklyn. The sounds of Liberty City’s weapons and its voice acting are both very well done and accurate, making it fun to put down some Liberty City’s finest in a gunfight (or should I say, a funfight…LAWL!).
The player obtains most of what they have in this game by either earning it or taking it. Houses (unrealistically enough) will sometimes come from people the player kills, and cars will be those carjacked or given to the player and parked in a specific spot in front of wherever they live, which is a huge disappointment. Outside of paying tolls, buying weapons, hospital visits and buying food from restaurants, Grand Theft Auto’s system of money is almost completely useless. I wanted to see the car customization from San Andreas make a return in Liberty City, as opposed to the premade body kits and various paint jobs that come with the vehicles you steal or get painted. It was disappointing to also see that Niko couldn’t buy his own pad, or purchase a better house than some of those taken from other people in Liberty City. There are no more tanks and air bases in the game, which is a slight disappointment. Grand Theft Auto had so many directions it could’ve went with money and additional vehicles but it left them out for the sake of realism it never really had much of to begin with.
Still, the game is very fun though. If you want a girlfriend, go to the internet cafe and hit up a dating site. Want to watch T.V.? Go to your house and cut on the television and watch the writers of Grand Theft Auto take jabs at the popular programs and beliefs of today. Many of the ideologies of Grand Theft Auto’s parodies reveal shades of the writer’s apparent dislike of the world, and it’s actually humorous to see the way they satire things like Fox News and MTV Cribs. Want to listen to music? The freedom of choice is always there, from R&B; to jazz to heavy metal and rap, anything you could ever want is within Grand Theft Auto’s radio stations. I partially wish there were more songs and cars in Grand Theft Auto’s downloadable content, but that’s okay, as the game’s amazing play makes up for it.
Grand Theft Auto’s use of mini games is both intriguing and annoying, depending on the situation. Grand Theft Auto keeps you on your toes with a million random phone calls from your friends, some of which are asking you bowl, go out to dinner, watch a comedy show (which features voiceovers from real comedians being mostly not funny), go play pool or do more random things. These calls can be turned off so that only calls in correlation to Grand Theft Auto’s story come through. ‘Canon’ calls are also what keep the players their toes, as they can narrow down all destinations to a single objective that’s more immediate to Niko’s attention as an emergency would, an excellent example of realism in Grand Theft Auto.
The player can change their outfit, which is cool (though Niko looks like a fat ass sometimes) and meet up with old friends. When they rendezvous with dates, their girlfriends will comment on the clothes they’re wearing and the cars they’re driving, a great show of interaction on the game’s part. I was disappointed, however, to see that the ability to work out and determine your character shape was also left with San Andreas. Grand Theft Auto’s multiplayer makes up for it by being impressive, accessed (weirdly enough) from the character’s phone. Players can customize the appearance of their online characters and earn new clothes as well. The various game modes of Grand Theft Auto online create an entertaining chaos that’ll keep a lasting flare for days, and the addition of headset compatibility that lets you trash talk or speak to friends. There’s nothing like shooting at another player in a helicopter, doing a driveby or carjacking someone in the middle of a game, not to mention the occasional knife fights (or should I say, right fights, amirite guys?!).
Grand Theft Auto IV is a game that has actually reached greatness and set an example for successors to follow. As someone who’s also played Saint’s Row, I can indeed say that it has surpassed all imitations. It’s a masterpiece and I can vouch for the fact that a game like this deserves its place somewhere in your collection. The story and nonlinear gameplay choices alone give it replay value and you may even find yourself developing an attachment to Niko, Roman or Kate (Niko’s main love interest) while the game plays along. The lack of customization and other features are a small put down in comparison to the near unrivaled experience this game offers, and you definitely shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to play if you haven’t already. It was and still is -the- title to have for anyone interested in playing a groundbreaking game with creative talents, or a game where they can mow down countless civilians on a sidewalk to a Jill Scott song.