GTA 4 PC Review – Part 2

This is a continuation from the previous post “GTA 4 PC Review – Part 1“.

4) Story

I can’t comment very much on it, since I have yet to complete the game. Niko Bellic seems to be a gun-for-hire with loose morals but loves his family very much. As with all mob stories, there are betrayals after betrayals, and you also have your veritable mob-cliché cast, from the undercover agent to steroid-pumping flashy I-suspect-he-must-be-gay dude.

You have to get to the top, doing odd jobs for these over-the-top portrayal of characters, pretty much your standard GTA fare. A new addition is going on dates or just hanging out with some of your new-found friends, which may or may not be a good addition, depending on how you look at it. On some missions, you also get to decide to kill or allow some people to live, and you may even decide which NPC to kill off. So far, I haven’t really felt the repercussions of my choice. It seems like a pseudo-adventure-RPG and the story choices is definitely a good improvement to the GTA series.

Typical mob boss story with a lot of drama and betrayals. What’s there not to like?

5) The Game Experience

The game world is huge but I find it not too overwhelming. I do occasionally feel lazy to travel all the way to my safe house, just so I could save after purchasing ammo, body armour or that cool new rifle. However, although you may need to do a lot of driving from one place to the other, like all GTA games, it is a lot of fun to do so, plowing through people and traffic, trying hard not to crash.

I find that the car handling has become a bit more loose from earlier games, which means that handbrake turns are not as easy to do anymore. Ripping up that handbrake will definitely cause your vehicle to turn wildly around and become uncontrollable. However, if you do manage to pull it off, timing the turn nicely while tapping on the handbrake, it is unbelievably cool! However, the brakes for every car seem to be missing a few pads as the stopping distance is quite far. There’s no such thing as an e-brake in the GTA world.

Another cool thing is the new combat mechanics. I still prefer the keyboard-mouse setup for shooters, and GTA 4 is no different. I have tried shooters on the X360 before, and I never really liked the feel of controlling your character using a gamepad. The cover feature is pretty nice if you know your enemies are all on the other side.

You could even surf the internet or watch some TV while you’re at it. Like how Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw have put it, “Hang on, am I playing Grand Theft Auto or Grand Theft Normal Boring Life?” Granted, the internet portion does see some use in some missions, but the TV is probably too much. Would you want to watch TV in a game? The radio stations are a great touch and at least adds some depth to the game. You appreciate the radio much more because a bulk of the time is spent driving on cars or motorcycles (modified with a radio apparently), and you’ll invariably listen to them. One nice thing is that sometimes after a mission, there will be a breaking news about the explosion you have caused, probably done by terrorists. It makes the game world feel more alive, like your actions do have a great impact on it.

Economics-wise, it’s pretty easy. It’s actually quite easy to acquire the dollars: just do missions. At the start, you’ll probably be scrimping for awhile, but once you reach to the second safehouse, you’ll pretty much be rolling in dough. By the time I unlocked the third island, I had more than a quarter-million in cash. A lot of the things in the game costs money, but I rarely do stop to pay for them. The only two items that I pay for are body armour and food; the former being hard to find and the latter being unable to steal from the hotdog and hamburger carts in the game. I also buy ammo sometimes, but it’s usually quite plentiful as you engage in a lot of firefights and every enemy drops ammo when killed.

The stars mechanic has also changed. In the previous games, the only way to lose your star rating is to visit a Pay-N-Spray shop. Now, it is entirely possible for you to outrun the police. Each star rating is correlated to the search radius the police will conduct. As long as you remain within the search radius, your star rating will remain. Each time you encounter the police, the radius will re-centre to your last known position. This makes it possible for you to actually outrun your star rating, no matter how high it is. The good thing is it adds a nice variety for you to strip your star-rating. And at 4 stars, the circle gets quite big that it is quite impossible to simply out-run it. The bad thing is that I feel wierd when at one moment, the whole of LCPD (Liberty City Police Dept) is searching for me, and the next, I’m a free man! Cool! Of course, at 1-star, outrunning the cops is so easy that it’s more of an annoyance. This only gets challenging if you manage to raise your star-rating to 3 or above. The radius gets quite large at that point and you must make clever turns in order to escape and not encounter any police, which is shown on your mini-map. So it is particularly gratifying if you manage to escape the police at higher ratings. Thus, this gameplay mechanic is particularly split for me. It gets annoying when you commit petty crime, but becomes a nice challenge if you manage to raise it high enough.

The GPS system is another mechanic that I’m split for and against. For one thing, it’s a great guidance system. In some of the more luxurious cars, there is even a turn-by-turn voice navigation system. However, in most cars, it will just be your mini-map, showing you the exact route where to go and where to make that turn. I find that now, I will always create a checkpoint on my main map and the GPS system will automatically map the route there. In the previous games, I would have to periodically check my main map and remember which turns to take. Now that challenge has been totally diminished by this system. I am tempted to turn it off, but I find myself getting lazier each time I play. Less challenge and instant route gratification, today’s GTA players are really getting pampered!

6) Realism

This is one aspect of the game I have my doubts on. Real-life isn’t always fun. That’s why I play games, as a form of escape. So it is quite disconcerting having real-life elements in the game. Half the time, one of your friends will call you, asking you to go bowling, play darts or go to a club. If you turn them down, your standing with them will go down. Occasionally, I do get called while on a mission, but Niko will automatically say he’s busy. If you do want to stay friendly with these chaps, for some reason or another, you will have to call them up, pick them, go to some place, and then drive them back. A game mechanic that I am certainly not fond of.

Also, it seems weird that your girlfriend might reprove you to stop hanging with drug dealers, but wouldn’t bat an eyelid if each time you pick her up in a new car, steal a car while on a date or run someone over.

There are toll booths in the game and you encounter one early on when you frequently travel between the first two islands. This is quite a pointless aspect on the game. I have no motivation at all to pay the toll, and since outrunning the police is quite easy, I almost always just ram the toll gate. The only times when I do pay is when I’m on a mission, as I do not want to add the annoyance of the police while doing my errands.

GTA has always been an over-the-top portrayal of a great freeform game world. Which is why to me, GTA 3 is still the best one that I have played so far. It still amazes me that I have completely memorized the whole map of the first island of GTA 3. That game simply has the right balance of size, humour, missions, the whole nine yards. Subsequent GTA games have failed to impress me the way GTA 3 did. Vice City was still wacky, but too big for me. San Andreas added more game mechanics (and a whole lot of stereotypes), which I feel was a tad unnecessary. GTA 4 seemed to focus more on the realism part, which again, I feel is unnecessary and doesn’t really contribute much to the fun factor. Instead, it’s more of an annoyance and just gives you more things to do.

And quantity is never linearly correlated with quality.

7) Overall

I really loved the game, despite its asinine copy-protection scheme. It is nice successor to the GTA series, and to me, the second best GTA game after GTA 3. I would like to say the third, after GTA 3 and GTA, but I guess I really shouldn’t count the original GTA. That game is already bronzed on my Hall Of Fame list, the one that started it all, so it belongs in another world altogether.

I would say the game is really worth the cost, considering the sheer size and scope of it. However, it is quite a shame for a game this good to be marred by the draconian DRM system and performance issues. Some may be turned off by this, but I’m sure a savvy gamer like yourself will know where to get “insurance”, in case 10 years from now, the online activation scheme remains yet the servers have been taken down.

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