By Sam Coles:
2008 was an interesting year for games because we got sequels on the 7th generation of consoles that we’ve been anticipating for some time, games such as Metal Gear Solid 4 and Fable II. Grand Theft Auto IV had been in production for some time and was first announced late 2006 and people were a bit confused with the change in tone with the series. The reason why people were questioning the tone was because the fact that it wasn’t this over the top and wacky game like the others, but instead was a gritty crime thriller with a sympathetic protagonist.
Grand Theft Auto IV takes place in Liberty City where you play as Niko Belic an Eastern European immigrant with his eyes on the American dream. He arrives by boat where he is greeted by his cousin Roman who is completely wasted while driving his taxi. Niko takes the wheel and finds out that his cousin has been lying to him in his letters about hitting the big time and doesn’t own sports cars or a mansion. Understandably Niko is very angry at his cousin as he is a lying cheat who is up to his eye balls in debt with Russian gangsters, so Niko starts to help Roman out by any means necessary even if it means killing Roman's debt collectors.
I like the story in GTA IV, yes it’s very dark compared to the others but the humour is there it’s just presented in a dry manner because Niko has a dry wit that makes me laugh with his comebacks. You can sympathise with Niko because he is angry with Roman but he still helps him because at the end of the day he is family and you will do anything to help your family.
Gameplay was a big change because it took notes from third person games of the time where you now have a cover mechanic which was a big deal at the time because gun fights in the other GTA games where a pain because there was no way to take cover effectively. Now you can press the right bumper and Niko will slide into cover and you can pop up and take shots or blind fire from your position. Niko feels very weighty and realistic so if a car knocks you slightly he will stumble, you really feel his weight when you’re walking a long or falling over. The car physics are the same they feel realistic which a lot of people complained about at the time but honestly it didn’t bother me I like it because you really feel the impact when you crash your car and you see Niko fly out the windscreen or when you murder someone with your bumper.
Graphics are great for the most part, when I say the most part it’s because the character models haven’t aged well at all they all look a bit weird. Rockstar have created a pretty accurate recreation of New York City with Liberty City with streets and land marks you would recognise in real life, it really does feel like you’re in a busy city especially on the middle island which is Manhattan. Car models still look fantastic with shiny paint work which can get dirty over time if you drive it in mud; the damage definition is brilliant too with smashed headlights and different dents depending on where you hit the car.
The only problems I have with GTA IV is that in certain gunfights it can be a chore to persuade Niko to get into cover especially in tight spaces, it’s the same problem I had with Red Dead Redemption.
Grand Theft Auto IV is a dark and gritty tale and is sort of the underdog in the series because of the radically different tone, that’s why it’s one my favourite games in the series because it was daring to do something different. If you have an Xbox 360, PS3 or PC grab this game and the two expansions which you can get in the bargain package that is the Game of the Year Edition.