Monday, 22 August 2011

Grand Theft Auto IV Review

Getting a PS3 certainly has been an experience. Before January of this year my gaming of the last few years consisted of WOW, Wii and the DS. While each is good it’s own respect, a gaping void was opened by this period. While the wii certainly has some killer titles, they are certainly not as plentiful as other formats. And again with the DS, there are many good titles but for a gamer like me a dry spell was placed over the last few years. So picking up a PS3 lead to the purchase of several Nintendo-unfriendly titles I had missed. And this, arguably, places above them all.
This was my first game of the Grand Theft Auto series, yet this was rarely a hindrance at any point during the game. At first my lack of experience with the genre lead combat and driving a bit of a mixed experience, yet it was not long until I had got to grips with these controls. No alienation can be found in the story either, as you start afresh as a Serbian immigrant to Liberty City named Niko Bellic. You start slow, running errands and driving taxi’s, but it is not long before a darker side to the city is revealed as you assume the role of a hired gun. There are a variety of characters that keep the story interested throughout, and as usual I won’t talk too much about specifics. It’s no Heavy Rain, but it’s certainly enough to prevent me from skipping a single cut scene. The tech is hardly impressive when compared to L.A. Noire, but considering the release date it does the job. Now may be a good time to note my way of playing this game – I’m a story man. I’ll play though the missions and sub events and rarely venture off on a tangent of killing. Indeed, many reap enjoyment from taking arms and wrecking havoc among the city, and while after a few frustrating missions it can be a change, I do not see it as a pivotal point of the game for me.

Combat is rather different to what I expected – there is a large emphasis on cover and shooting by default is automated, with your aim instantly locking and following a target – placing importance of not the accuracy of your shot but the timing. Sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge to bugger it and run in all guns blazing, which can work if your careful so it’s not set in stone how you approach each mission. The auto-aim system is far from perfect however, as every now and again your drawn towards a far off target when there’s someone shooting your ass, resulting in a swift yet annoying death which doesn’t always seem like your fault. This is worsened by ineffective use of checkpoints – often you must waste several minutes getting to the location again just to have another go. Of course there should be some penalty to dying(I don’t expect an instant replay) but it seems a bit unnecessary. You also don’t recover body armour or health if you try again, meaning there are only a few mission’s you can take advantage of what limited time saving there is, as walking into some areas without body armour is suicide for your average player. While the expansion packs fix the checkpoint issue, the body armour problem is often left unchecked, which can make a frustrating mission(in a good way) even more frustrating(in a bad way.) Ignoring this though, the core game play is very good – and that’s only the combat. There are races held around liberty city as well, with and the driving is not quite the best I’ve seen, but it does the job and is overall an enjoyable experience.
Getting to browse Liberty city on the go really shows how much Rock star cares about the product – it’s gorgeous. I played the majority of the game without HD, yet I was still impressed with what I was seeing. It feels like a living, breathing city in contrast to some other places I’ve visited (E.G. No More Heroes’ Santa Destroy ) and other than cab drivers, you never seem to see the same face twice. The same can be said for idle conversation overheard as passing by and even the complaints as you barge past a group of bystanders – it always seems like something different is going on. A completely optional touch that I loved is the variety of people you can happen to walk by and interact with. From a spoiled youth giving away money to an old friend from the war, you need never interact with these people but it shows that these characters do have a past beyond the games natural progression. In between that, the variety of cars, a mass of radio stations, and carefully constructed recognisable landmarks I would be lying if I said I was anything but extremely impressed in Rockstar’s efforts at making the game what it is.

Yet, while playing it I felt that it was not as good as it’s reputation made out. I enjoyed it, yes, but it was far from the best I had played. Then I played something else. I realised something was missing, and it soon dawned on me just how good GTAIV was. It’s a game everyone(mature enough at least) should play. Don’t like the story? See the sights or kill some time seeing the city. Like it? Sorted. It’s strange to realise how good it is after completion, but looking back I enjoyed my time in liberty city enough to revisit it not soon after in the expansions. But that’s for another time. I highly recommend you play this game, take in the city, and be amazed by the amount of effort placed to create Liberty City. It’s far from a perfect game, but it’s got the closest I’ve seen on the PS3.
A word on the expansions.
Taking Liberty City from an outside view of either a member of the lost bikers gang or a right hand man to esteemed nightclub owner is certainly a side to see. It gives a different perspective on the same city, and fix some of the originals problems. Bikes were fairly annoying in that a slight tap could sent you flying in the original, but TLATD fixes this and makes bikes the transport of choice. Both give new weapons and events that are well worth playing. I won’t say much, but I waited to review this game until I had completed both expansion packs, and they certainly make for a full collection. Issues like lack of body armour still remain, but it’s still a great play.

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