Grand Theft Auto IV is a game about living the American dream. You work hard to make money to get the things you want. You meet people and exchange favors for favors in pursuit of a better life for yourself and those you care for. Hard work will eventually payoff and you can fight your way to the top in this country. Eating your enemies along the way. The difference from the traditional interpretation of the American dream is that in GTA IV you’ve decided on a life of crime to make it all happen. Which is against the norm and deemed a bad thing in most cultures. I suppose it may be unfortunate that it makes such an unbelievably awesome experience.

This game is unbelievable to me not only because of the violence or deviancy — for if that were all there was to it then the series would’ve been long forgotten about. What’s unbelievable is the grand scale of it. And not only that but the level of polish that every element has. It’s really amazing! Earlier in the series there were a lot of obvious flaws to complain about, like the sucky control or the subpar graphics. It seems that having a solid foundation of gameplay, an incredibly talented team, great management, and a shitload of cash can result in a masterpiece like GTA IV. I almost didn’t think it was possible to have a big-budget game this good anymore after the disappointment of Halo 3 and the absolute tragedy that was Assassin’s Creed.

Visuals

The visuals are astounding but one thing that bugged me almost immediately was the shadows in the game cast by the sun, the edges tend to artifact pretty nasty like. That’s so unfortunate because you’ll notice that from beginning to end. Besides that the game is consistently pseudo-photo-realistic. You’re not going to mistake it for real life but game is simply gorgeous. How do they stream so much data??

I have to say a few things subtle things I’ve noticed about the animation. I like the way they handled running up and down stairs. Nico takes each step individually, shifting his hips a bit so doesn’t fall. Knock someone down onto the stairs and they fall procedurally down the steps thanks to Euphoria physics. Yeah, that’s pretty “next-gen” to me. There’s also an incredible amount of cinema animation by the fine folks at Image Metrics — them and their fancy motion capture technology.

Story

The writing for this series has always impressed me. Not that it’s Oscar-caliber (give me a break) but it’s more creative than you generally see in games. The first GTA I played was part 3 and I appreciated the satirical take on American culture. I can’t think of any other mainstream game that has any opinion about real-world issues. Characters are flat but interesting. There’s a good balance of characters that you’ll like and those that you’ll hate. The scenarios you wind up in are fun and support the gameplay although the excuses are almost always ridiculous (You want me to take out everyone at a construction site just to end a labor dispute??). It’s fun but often it’s very stupid, which is acceptable for a video game.

Something that disappoints me is that the main character lacks development. He acts cooler than everybody else in the story, and generally does what you would expect the hero to do, so that by default makes him likable. Even then, he’s still pretty flat character. He’s a “soldier with a mysterious past” which is used as an excuse to say little about him which feels to me like a lame cop out. He starts the game with this “I don’t take shit” persona and I knew from the beginning of the game that he’s going to end the game being the exact same person. Solving any possible problem in his life with a gun. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m a good deal into the game and so far it’s living up to my prediction.

In addition to the main plot, the game is filled with an amazing amount of content that fleshes out the world. If you’ve played any of the GTA games before you’d be familiar with its radio stations. Not only do they play music but there are skits interspersed throughout them in the form of radio shows and commercials. The skits make fun of a lot of the ridiculous things going on in American culture, such as parodies of how ridiculous pharmaceuticals are getting. In addition to the radio, they’ve added television and the internet with this game. Television has a handful of shows which are animated shorts that are actually pretty funny. There’s one that parodies those stupid professional poker TV shows (It’s a 3!!! It’s a 3!!! Whoa, didn’t see that one coming. Who would have guessed??). There’s also a ton of content on the internet. You can check e-mail, read news, use a dating website, download ringtones, etc. A cool thing that they’ve added to help immerse you in the world is that after you commit some ridiculous crime news, stories that describe the event will pop up on the radio and on the internet. An awesome bit of detail.

Design

This game keeps you wanting more and keeps surprising you along the way. I’m 25 hours into it and I still feel iffy about writing too much about this game because it’s still introducing cool stuff. I just finished the bank robbery scenario and not only it was a cool dramatic sequence that pumped me up, it finally made me appreciate the improvements to the gunplay in the game by dropping me into this huge battle with the police. It’s still no Gears of War as far as intuitiveness goes, but the improvements to the aiming system are much appreciated.

Sound Design

I was tripping out when I heard the echo of gunshots in a warehouse gunfight. I’ve been to shooting ranges before and that’s exactly what a gun sounds like in an enclosed area like that! There’s so much attention to detail that I can’t believe it. At times when you get a call while you’re driving, the car’s radio will get all staticky before the phone rings. So awesome. Another notable thing is when you’ve got a wanted level and the police are pursuing you, they’ll give a description of your car over the radio. Sometimes they’ll start very vague (A red sedan) and eventually use the actual car name.

Music

The music selection is brilliant, as usual. They hand-picked a fine selection of music from all over the place. The soundtracks is worth listening to as a stand-alone album. It’s good that they’ve continued to put together a fine soundtrack even though game consoles allows you to listen to whatever you want while playing nowadays.

Final Words

$60 games are quite the investment. Especially when you’re like most gamers I know who have stacks of games they haven’t beaten. This is one of the first games of this generation that I’ve been telling everyone “you’ve gotta play this game!”. It doesn’t matter if you like racing games, RPGs, FPS’, or whatever — you’ve gotta play this game! It’s something very different and it feels like a step forward with gaming. And it’s not a short game either, with the length you definitely get your money’s worth. The online mode’s pretty fun as well, although I’ve had some problems connecting to friends. It’s not a perfect game, there’s plenty of room for improvement, which leaves Rockstar something to add for the expansions and spin-offs that will inevitably follow this release.

I feel sorry for the publishers/developers that feel that they have create a $100 million title to compete directly with this game. It’s the solid foundation of the GTA series that allowed them to scale out a game like this and know that the gameplay was going to work. I was disappointed with what I’ve played of Assassin’s Creed but I believe the designers had the problem of not knowing what was going to make a fun game. It’s really unfortunate because the game had so many wonderful things going for it, it just should’ve been scaled down to a reasonable level and polished to perfection. While I’m all for independent games and experimental gameplay — I can’t get enough of these types of games that really push the technical power of hardware in a creative way.

About the author:
Bryson Whiteman (http://www.sonofbryce.com)
Bryson is the guy behind all of the Sokay creations. Heading artwork and development, he's determined to make sure each game has a "distinctively Sokay" quality to them. He's always looking forward for a chance to experiment with new technologies to explore exciting ways to achieve fun.
  • I still gotta play this game. I just gotta make some cash and get the damn Xbox 360 already.

    I think it’s funny that so many games, especially those of the GTA series, have featured protagonists that are only fleshed out as far as “they don’t take no shit.” I’m thinkin God of War, Doom, Duke Nukem to name a few.
    It’s interesting because in well written stories, that kind of an attitude is usually indicative of vulnerabilities, a need to prove manhood because in reality it’s not there (Try Hemmingway, especially The Sun Also Rises). This makes sense because these games are aimed at teenage boys, boys that are very envious of men with status and respect, but also boys that are far from earning those themselves.
    Plus, they’re produced by guys that, outside of gaming, are just “computer nerds.” You remember that brief period when everyone really wanted to believe that Romero and Carmack were cool, hip, even sexy, new role models? That didn’t last long. The games industry itself has short-man’s syndrome. It’s no wonder that game heroes are so often pumped up on steroids. If it wasn’t for ratings, they’d have 12 inch dicks with perpetual erections just to make sure we get the point (Lara Croft’s tits are about 12 inches and pretty erect).

    It’d be nice to see one of these characters break into tears part way through the game. Or find out he has a small penis, or some other reason to compensate.