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"Grand Theft Auto IV (single player)"

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Wed 04/06/08 at 18:00
"Retarded List"
Posts: 642
Unless during the last few months you've subjected yourself to a complete media blackout - one that would require you to sit in a cave with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears circa 500 miles from the nearest computer, TV or human - there's a distinct possibility that you've heard of a little game by the name of Grand Theft Auto IV; surely the one game that needs no introduction among rabid gaming fanboys and hysterical patrons of bandwagon-jumping alike.

As non cave-dwellers should by now know, GTAIV brings the franchise round full circle for its first next gen incarnation, in that it takes you back to the shores of Liberty City, setting of the very first game. Last time we saw this pseudo New York was on the PSP in Liberty City Stories, and the transformation that its undergone since then is really rather stunning. It would take an extremely cynical person not to find some level of impressiveness in this vibrant metropolis, and impressive is indeed the word to describe Rockstar North's creation. All over the three main islands, pedestrians meander about; loitering, jogging, reading, sweeping, practising Tai Chi, and just living. The level of interaction is also something to behold. Push someone over (taking care not to do so in a cop's field of vision), and they'll hurl abuse at you; maybe even take a swing at you themselves, or simply run away. Onlookers too will react in a believable way, stopping in their tracks if something untoward is going on in front of them. Put simply, the city and its populous is really something that needs to be seen with a fresh pair of eyes, without too many instances spoiled by overly-verbose reviewers...

Eventually the main story is going to catch your attention, and you'll set yourself on the path of GTAIV's core mission structure. I'll spare you the finer details of the story itself, and merely remind you that you play Niko Belic; a grubby eastern European with a dodgy past and a deluded cousin, with whom he embarks upon his quest for wealth and opulence with. It's a sound and interesting premise, and one that does the job of chugging the plot along more than adequately, if a little unremarkably. Missions are distributed in a familiar fashion, with often multiple contact dotted around the place, looking to tempt you to the edge of the law and frequently over it. It's these missions that provide, quite possibly, the biggest negative mark for the game.

Such is the nature of the missions, you'd be forgiven for gaining the impression that a different design team altogether are responsible for these bewilderingly dull tasks - the sheer contrast in imagination between the environment's design and the missions is that jarring. So often is the case that a mission consists of travelling to a destination, disposing of a handful/army of enemies at said destination, and escaping; occasionally mixed up by chasing someone and then escaping. It might be easy to blame a lack of creative flair and imagination for this tedium, but considering the sheer abundance of creativity that's gone into making the city such a spectacle, it's really quite perplexing how such dull, repetitive missions were allowed to form the vast majority of the main story, now traditional heist mission notwithstanding. It's almost like running the first 25 miles of a marathon, but then thinking that it might be seen as showing off to complete the last mile. Indeed, I'd go as far as saying that this tedium is even worse than it was in San Andreas; a game that was no stranger to repetitive grind itself. The notion therefore that the game has failed to evolve during the console gen leap, and retained such archaic gameplay that can actually feel more boring than before, thanks partly to the advancements in other areas of the game, is extremely disappointing.

Dodgy missions aside, it's nice to finally see one of the biggest foibles of the series finally addressed (partly, anyway): the combat. In previous installments, whenever a mob of narky Mafiosi took a dislike to you, the combat system in place could delicately be described as trialsome, and frankly as treacherous. Thankfully, IV features an overhauled system that feels more akin to Gears of War than armless ten pin bowling. Pulling the right trigger in halfway will swing the camera over Niko's shoulder allowing for full manual aim, whilst pulling it in all the way will initiate auto aiming. It's a far more intuitive and altogether less infuriating system, though one that has still managed to inherit GTA's 'hilarious' tendency to occasionally consider passing octogenarian cripples bigger threats than whole platoons of M16 wielding SWAT members. This new system however, is altogether less pleasing when the game falls into the age old trap of trying to be a jack of all trades and takes you indoors. All of a sudden the subtleties that the system requires are unusable when you have enemies behind you alighting your body of your head with a shotgun blast from three feet away, in an environment that is at best cramped. This is further accentuated by the rather clunky cover mode that has also been added to the game. Outdoors, it's an occasionally useful device - though not one with which you'd like to trust with your last remaining segment of health - but indoors with an equally clunky camera operating in such close confines, it can be utterly jeopardising when an enemy saunters up to you - seemingly superglued to your beloved cover when you try to remove yourself - and fills your torso with enough lead to sink a tanker.

In the end though, as any GTA veteran will tell you, the real fun in this series doesn't come from wading your way through the missions, but from simply playing. The game world, more alive than ever, is a veritable playground for morally ambiguous mischief, with all sorts of trouble just waiting to be caused. The new wanted system in place can even add a layer of tactical thought to the proceedings, as the more audacious crook can, with enough cunning and/or sheer speed, shake off their wanted level altogether if they manage to escape the ever-increasing area of danger that encompasses them. Even for the pacifist there's something to behold. Hail a taxi and you can sit back and enjoy a ride through the city, there are comedy clubs complete with real life comedians, friends to go on outings with, helicopter tours to go on, and, simply, a whole city to explore - full of charisma and equally charismatic people. But alas, this fun can only last for so long, and all too soon you find yourself realising that you're killing time rather than enjoying it. It's a familiar problem to the series, and one whose return should perhaps not come as that much of a surprise.

Really then, GTAIV, even with all its extra bells and whistles, is still every inch a GTA game, for better or worse. If the series' charms have been somewhat lost on you in the past, it's hard to see how this game will convert you, as underneath the - admittedly stellar - spit and polish that's been applied, it still has its roots set firmly in the same old original premise that the game was founded on. Certain reviews claim that this is one of the best games ever, with one going as far as calling it the best of the last decade. This simply isn't true, and you really shouldn't even try to expect it to be. It's a solid game, with plenty going for it, but with more than its fair share of problems. I certainly recommend playing it, if only to witness the game world that has been very expertly created, but don't be surprised if you find yourself wishing for a depth and lasting appeal that goes a bit further beyond pushing people off park benches and kicking hotdog vendors up the backside, because you're not going to find it here.
There have been no replies to this thread yet.
Wed 04/06/08 at 18:00
"Retarded List"
Posts: 642
Unless during the last few months you've subjected yourself to a complete media blackout - one that would require you to sit in a cave with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears circa 500 miles from the nearest computer, TV or human - there's a distinct possibility that you've heard of a little game by the name of Grand Theft Auto IV; surely the one game that needs no introduction among rabid gaming fanboys and hysterical patrons of bandwagon-jumping alike.

As non cave-dwellers should by now know, GTAIV brings the franchise round full circle for its first next gen incarnation, in that it takes you back to the shores of Liberty City, setting of the very first game. Last time we saw this pseudo New York was on the PSP in Liberty City Stories, and the transformation that its undergone since then is really rather stunning. It would take an extremely cynical person not to find some level of impressiveness in this vibrant metropolis, and impressive is indeed the word to describe Rockstar North's creation. All over the three main islands, pedestrians meander about; loitering, jogging, reading, sweeping, practising Tai Chi, and just living. The level of interaction is also something to behold. Push someone over (taking care not to do so in a cop's field of vision), and they'll hurl abuse at you; maybe even take a swing at you themselves, or simply run away. Onlookers too will react in a believable way, stopping in their tracks if something untoward is going on in front of them. Put simply, the city and its populous is really something that needs to be seen with a fresh pair of eyes, without too many instances spoiled by overly-verbose reviewers...

Eventually the main story is going to catch your attention, and you'll set yourself on the path of GTAIV's core mission structure. I'll spare you the finer details of the story itself, and merely remind you that you play Niko Belic; a grubby eastern European with a dodgy past and a deluded cousin, with whom he embarks upon his quest for wealth and opulence with. It's a sound and interesting premise, and one that does the job of chugging the plot along more than adequately, if a little unremarkably. Missions are distributed in a familiar fashion, with often multiple contact dotted around the place, looking to tempt you to the edge of the law and frequently over it. It's these missions that provide, quite possibly, the biggest negative mark for the game.

Such is the nature of the missions, you'd be forgiven for gaining the impression that a different design team altogether are responsible for these bewilderingly dull tasks - the sheer contrast in imagination between the environment's design and the missions is that jarring. So often is the case that a mission consists of travelling to a destination, disposing of a handful/army of enemies at said destination, and escaping; occasionally mixed up by chasing someone and then escaping. It might be easy to blame a lack of creative flair and imagination for this tedium, but considering the sheer abundance of creativity that's gone into making the city such a spectacle, it's really quite perplexing how such dull, repetitive missions were allowed to form the vast majority of the main story, now traditional heist mission notwithstanding. It's almost like running the first 25 miles of a marathon, but then thinking that it might be seen as showing off to complete the last mile. Indeed, I'd go as far as saying that this tedium is even worse than it was in San Andreas; a game that was no stranger to repetitive grind itself. The notion therefore that the game has failed to evolve during the console gen leap, and retained such archaic gameplay that can actually feel more boring than before, thanks partly to the advancements in other areas of the game, is extremely disappointing.

Dodgy missions aside, it's nice to finally see one of the biggest foibles of the series finally addressed (partly, anyway): the combat. In previous installments, whenever a mob of narky Mafiosi took a dislike to you, the combat system in place could delicately be described as trialsome, and frankly as treacherous. Thankfully, IV features an overhauled system that feels more akin to Gears of War than armless ten pin bowling. Pulling the right trigger in halfway will swing the camera over Niko's shoulder allowing for full manual aim, whilst pulling it in all the way will initiate auto aiming. It's a far more intuitive and altogether less infuriating system, though one that has still managed to inherit GTA's 'hilarious' tendency to occasionally consider passing octogenarian cripples bigger threats than whole platoons of M16 wielding SWAT members. This new system however, is altogether less pleasing when the game falls into the age old trap of trying to be a jack of all trades and takes you indoors. All of a sudden the subtleties that the system requires are unusable when you have enemies behind you alighting your body of your head with a shotgun blast from three feet away, in an environment that is at best cramped. This is further accentuated by the rather clunky cover mode that has also been added to the game. Outdoors, it's an occasionally useful device - though not one with which you'd like to trust with your last remaining segment of health - but indoors with an equally clunky camera operating in such close confines, it can be utterly jeopardising when an enemy saunters up to you - seemingly superglued to your beloved cover when you try to remove yourself - and fills your torso with enough lead to sink a tanker.

In the end though, as any GTA veteran will tell you, the real fun in this series doesn't come from wading your way through the missions, but from simply playing. The game world, more alive than ever, is a veritable playground for morally ambiguous mischief, with all sorts of trouble just waiting to be caused. The new wanted system in place can even add a layer of tactical thought to the proceedings, as the more audacious crook can, with enough cunning and/or sheer speed, shake off their wanted level altogether if they manage to escape the ever-increasing area of danger that encompasses them. Even for the pacifist there's something to behold. Hail a taxi and you can sit back and enjoy a ride through the city, there are comedy clubs complete with real life comedians, friends to go on outings with, helicopter tours to go on, and, simply, a whole city to explore - full of charisma and equally charismatic people. But alas, this fun can only last for so long, and all too soon you find yourself realising that you're killing time rather than enjoying it. It's a familiar problem to the series, and one whose return should perhaps not come as that much of a surprise.

Really then, GTAIV, even with all its extra bells and whistles, is still every inch a GTA game, for better or worse. If the series' charms have been somewhat lost on you in the past, it's hard to see how this game will convert you, as underneath the - admittedly stellar - spit and polish that's been applied, it still has its roots set firmly in the same old original premise that the game was founded on. Certain reviews claim that this is one of the best games ever, with one going as far as calling it the best of the last decade. This simply isn't true, and you really shouldn't even try to expect it to be. It's a solid game, with plenty going for it, but with more than its fair share of problems. I certainly recommend playing it, if only to witness the game world that has been very expertly created, but don't be surprised if you find yourself wishing for a depth and lasting appeal that goes a bit further beyond pushing people off park benches and kicking hotdog vendors up the backside, because you're not going to find it here.

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