Late to the Party: Grand Theft Auto 4

Late to the Party: Grand Theft Auto 4

We all love reviews- they give you an early sense of a game, comic, movie, or tv show, and let you know if it’s worth your time and hard earned money. Most reviews are for products that have just come out. What if you missed it, though? What if, like everyone sometimes, you were late to the party? This column is for you. For the gamer that’s still interested in that game from a year ago, you just never got around to picking it up. Maybe it’s in the bargain bin now, or a “greatest hit” that can be found at a reduced price or maybe you can get it on the cheap used at your local Gamestop. However you go looking for it, we’ll get you up-to-date right here.

Back in 1997 the developer of the Lemmings series, DMA Design, released a new title for the PC and Playstation called Grand Theft Auto. Two years later, they put out a similar top-down sequel. Then 2001 hit, and the, pardon the pun, game-changer came in the form of Grand Theft Auto 3 for the Playstation 2. The original top down games took place in three cities, so over the years, we saw games that featured Liberty City, Vice City, and San Andreas, which together made up the “third” game in the series. Finally, this year, we saw the next chapter begin in April with Grand Theft Auto 4.

The game was initially released for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and today, August 6, was announced to be coming out on PC in late November (both in the US and the UK). The game had a ton of hype, midnight launches, and of course plenty of controversy surrounding its release. But just how is the game?

Well, I’ll start by saying this is not the end-all be-all of games. It isn’t even one that will alter the gaming environment like its predecessor did. However, it is damn fun to play.

The game is set up very similarly to the last couple installments. The player controls Niko, a new Serbian immigrant, in a free form 3d world. The term “sandbox” usually fits the bill here, as the highlight of this style of game is being able to go anywhere. Of course, you can’t go everywhere in the large three-borough city at the very start, as some of the city (in typical GTA form) is unlocked through mission completion. Regardless, this is a huge city, expanded more by the ability to enter several buildings, taking the gameplay off the streets.

If you’ve played a GTA from GTA3 on, you know how this goes. Jack cars; shoot, stab, beat, punch people; make ridiculous stunt jumps (and more than a couple crashes), get chased, shot, or arrested by cops, and commit just about any nefarious street level crime you can think of. There are missions, too, which add variety and unlock more of the world, more weapons, and generally more for you to destroy, kill, or maim. The story is pretty much the same rise-to-power story that’s been told in any gang movie or gang game thus far, but that’s just fine.

Some of the missions are great, and force you to think on your feet, use a combination of gameplay modes (driving, shooting, running, fighting), and really expand the game’s feel. Some are trite and boring. I never quite got into the whole “dating” aspect of the game, and if I never have an arbitrary race mission thrown into an action game again, I’ll be a much happier gamer. Overall, though, there are a good variety of missions supported by a decent story and entertaining characters. It’s fun, and you want to actually play the story mode not just to unlock more of the city, but also to play the actual missions.

The game is not without its flaws. Mostly in a good way, you’ll experience a large sense of “Yup, done this before” if you’ve played any of GTA4’s brethren. There are helicopters, but no planes to fly in this one, though that could ostensibly be some of the downloadable content exclusive to the Xbox 360 version that’s coming “soon.” A lot of glitches have been taken care of through updates, both on the game and on the systems it plays on; Sony had to update the PS3’s entire firmware just for this game. The multiplayer has all the structure and reliability of a house of cards. I have had maybe 5 uninterrupted sessions in the 2 months I’ve been playing the game. Not exactly up to snuff for a marquis title. With new exclusive multiplayer modes coming for the PC version, maybe one of those modes is “won’t drop the connection and interrupt your game.” Again, some of these modes are fun, and all are worth a shot, but gamers looking for a new multiplayer addiction to surpass Call of Duty 4 or Halo 3 need to keep looking.

Is the game worth buying? Well, that depends on how much you like running around shooting everyday people in videogames. At the end of the day, that’s what this game is about, and what it’s there for. The graphics are gorgeous on both versions, the game is easy to pick up and play, sounds great, and is a great time waster. Again, it’s not changing anything for gamers or gaming, and if you didn’t particularly like the other installments, you won’t find anything here to change your opinion. After only a couple months, there are used copies showing up in stores already, but don’t expect a price drop anytime soon on this one. Grand Theft Auto IV is a good game for fans of the series, but that’s about all.

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