07 January, 2010

Review: Grand Theft Auto 4

written by Blain Newport on Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Developer: Rockstar North; Rockstar Toronto (PC porting)
Platform: PC
US Release: December 2008
Genre: Third Person Action
Price Paid: $8
My Score: 3 of 5

The situations and characters of GTA 4 are far less wacky than previous GTA games. Decisions tend to have consequences. Many characters have done, are doing, or will likely soon be doing serious jail time. Many characters die. Characters have family ties and relationships that play out against the backdrop of a lot of hardship. But while that stuff is interesting to talk about, it doesn't make the game fun.

The main activities in GTA 4 are driving, shooting, and hanging out with friends.

Driving is sloppy as all get out. GTA driving has always been pretty loose, but by the time you get any sense of speed in GTA 4, you're completely unable to corner. It's important to let off the gas around turns because you'll lose traction otherwise. Drifting used to be a valuable cornering trick, but the best way to drive in GTA 4 is always slow and steady. It's not fun. I took cabs everywhere to avoid it, which means I also spent very little time listening to the radio, which is a large part of the charm of GTA games. And don't get me started on trying to shoot while driving.

Shooting is better than old GTA games, but still not great. They tried to add cover mechanics, but since your aim moves slightly as you lean out to fire, it's better to just walk around holding down the aim button and take cover manually. They added procedural animation, so if you shoot a guy in the arm he may stagger, or if you shoot a guy running, he'll probably fall. Aesthetically, it's nice, but the end result is that they get back up, so getting people to stay down can be a pain. Also, like many games, if you round a corner and meet an AI with a shotgun, you die. It's realistic, but it's terrible design.

Hanging out with friends is a new addition to GTA. You call or get called by people you meet throughout the game to hang out. You can go eat, go drinking, play a mini-game, or go to a show / strip club. At first hanging out is pretty cool. You pick them up, they tell you a bit of their life story. You play a mini-game. You drop them off. But they quickly become a pain as people start calling you when you're trying to do something else or call you from so far away you can't possibly drive to them in time. If I hadn't discovered the magic of teleporting taxis, I probably would have quit the game entirely.

I don't regret finishing it. Seeing it through to the end means I can talk about the game intelligently. It may be an important reference point in gaming history. But as I look back over the familiar scenarios, frustrating chases, and samey gunfights, there's not much to remember fondly.

No comments: