perjantai 20. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)

Genre(s): Action
Released: 2008
Available on: PC, PS3, X360
Developer(s): Rockstar North, Rockstar Toronto
Publisher(s): Rockstar Games, Capcom
Players: 1-16 (PS3, X360), 1-32 (PC)

In 1974, the first video game you could play at home was produced. Who could’ve thought that 34 years later the production of one single home video game would possibly cost over 100 million dollars? Well, Rockstar Games broke this record. They were aiming to make it big with the first true sequel to 2001’s sleeper hit Grand Theft Auto III, and as predicted, the sales of the game equally went through the roof. The game was a critical success, as well. With its whole new story and whole new look to the classic setting of Liberty City, Grand Theft Auto IV was welcomed with open arms by even those who had taken the previous trilogy’s universe for their own. Despite some random criticism by uptight players who claimed the game to be boring, easy and too stripped, Grand Theft Auto IV set whole new standards for the series.

Give me liberty or give me death, or both

Michael Hollick : Niko Bellic
Jason Zumwalt : Roman Bellic
Moti Margolin : Dimitri Rascalov
Coolie Ranx : "Little Jacob“ Hughes
Elena Harvey Hurst : Mallorie Bardas
Ryan Johnston : Patrick "Packie“ McReary
Thomas Lyons : Francis “Frankie” McReary
Timothy Adams : Bruce “Brucie” Kibbutz
Tony Patellis : Jimmy Pegorino
Karel Roden : Mikhail Faustin

Liberty City, 2008. Niko Bellic, a Serbian war veteran and former human trafficker, arrives to Liberty City in search of someone, and in pursuit of the American Dream. His cousin Roman who has summoned him to live in his “mansion” for the time being, is revealed to have been lying about living the Dream; instead, he’s a notorious, ill-fated gambler, up to his neck in debt and chased by Russian loansharks some of which don’t just want his money, but his head on a plate. His “mansion” is a run-down condiminium in a run-down street where the Russians can keep an eye on him at all times. Niko takes it upon himself to look into Roman’s problems, and ends up working for several shady people whose money can help him and his cousin to truly start living the Dream, and whose connections can help him find who he’s looking for. What Niko doesn’t know is that in a place like Liberty City, trusting anyone is dangerous.

My... my... my. So. You know that the Grand Theft Auto franchise isn’t famous for state-of-the-art graphics, rather its graphical proportions. It’s always been more about the overall feel and atmosphere, free outbursts of aggression and the numerous opportunities to unleash your inner criminal. Yet, Grand Theft Auto IV looks amazing, from every possible standpoint. The characters are still designed in the vintage, quirky, blocky style of the series, but their realistic movement and their facial expressions reflecting their emotions are phenomenal. They ultimately look very real. Don’t even get me started with the whole new rendition of Liberty City – only Francis International Airport remains. The sceneries are incredible, you’ll have to see them to believe it. The colour of the sky and the general palette switches in real time depending on the area you’re in, the weather, time of day etc. The game looks like III, Vice City and San Andreas in one, and one better! Considering how big the game is, the graphics are INCREDIBLE. The RAGE engine is simply amazing, and the ability to update the game periodically removes the worst glitches on the go. The proportions, among everything else, are designed better than ever. Liberty City truly feels like a real metropolis, out there, somewhere in an alternate reality. You can’t help but relax once in a while and just take a ride to check out the amazing views of the city. You can even halt the storyline manually to do that. Look, the Statue of Happiness! Another small, but extremely cool feat I’d like to mention before moving on is that there’s this rasta called Little Jacob, who you meet very early on in the game, and he always smokes weed. When he sits in the car with you, break the window and you’ll actually see the smoke coming out of the broken window! Details? You’ve got ‘em!

Rockstar Games did a strange, but obviously great move at least on behalf of the actors themselves. You see, there are no top-of-the-heap actors present, except for Juliette Lewis, who makes an appearance as a DJ. Most of the voice cast is a group of unknowns from small-time TV roles, who will absolutely hit it big at some point, because their work is right on par with, if not even better than that of the Hollywood actors who performed in the previous games. The dialogue... once again, don’t get me started. CJ, Avery Carrington, Mike Toreno, The Truth, Tommy Vercetti and a dozen others – great characters, phenomenal voiceover work. Yet, check out the dialogue in this game. It’s not just the way the characters speak that’s hilarious, to the point and so authentic that it hurts, it’s also the body language that comes with the dialogue. You’ll laugh your ass off. The cursing and the perverted jabs are taken to a whole new level – one mission requires you to go on a gay date and that doesn’t really sit well with our lead character. This game immediately spawned, at the very LEAST, 10 of my favourite characters in the whole series. The plot really thickens thanks to these guys and gals, and turns out to be an epic story in itself, even if the premise might not sound too promising to some.

Checking out the sights of the whole new
Liberty City.
It saddens me to say that the soundtrack, on the other hand, ain’t so good. One would expect that after Vice City and Vice City Stories, and hell, even San Andreas although all of the soundtrack’s not to my personal liking, IV would have a killer soundtrack and tons of variety. Maybe even a custom radio for all platforms. Nope. In a not-so-great move, Rockstar Games put emphasis on independent artists struggling to break through. There’s a lot of useless crap here, and not just by the fledgling garage bands. There are odd track choices all over every radio station in the game. The biggest disappointment to me, of course, is Liberty Rock, which has very little truly formidable stuff on its playlist. Iggy Pop, who also serves as the DJ, contributes with “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, his worst big track ever. Some Genesis, Queen, Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath and the inclusion of R.E.M.’s excellent “Turn You Inside-Out” don’t help a whole lot when there’s total puke like “Goodbye Horses” by Q Lazzarus and “Cry” by Godley & Creme playing once every hour. Seriously, there’s so much repetition I could “CRRYYYYYYYY” myself. PC and X360 owners are graced with the glorious return of the custom radio. I simply don’t get why the PS3 still doesn’t have one. Some PS3 games already used a custom radio when Grand Theft Auto IV came out. I guess Microbucks laid down some house rules. Oh well, at least we got the expansions previously exclusive to the X, finally – they’re reviewed separately, so only the retail’s soundtrack is taken into account in the sound rating. Overall, it’s the worst selection of tunes since GTA III.

The overall quality of the soundtrack is compensated for with absolutely absurd radio ads and talk shows, which ultimately repeat themselves just as much as the music, but on the first round, the jokes are priceless. Lazlow Jones is in the house, naturally, as the only returning character from the previous trilogy/quintology, once again as the host of his very own talk radio, Integrity 2.0.. He has finally given in to some really bad language, and I love it!

Everything is in place when it comes to gameplay – down to the new control scheme, and incredible physics. Granted, at first glance and trial, Grand Theft Auto IV feels a little bit like a stripped version of San Andreas, but it ultimately turns out a formidable combination of everything that was great about the previous games. Rockstar Games really put a lot of thought into what’s useless and what’s worth developing. No more tattoos or haircuts. You can no longer buy property, instead you’re given a safehouse or two on each island as you progress, it all happens with moderate logic but I kind of miss the old real estate system. You can still buy clothes, however there are only three different chain stores: one for cheap leisure, one for mid-class, and one for yuppie clothing. You also get some cool and less cool clothes for free during the storyline – some missions even require certain kind of clothing. At least this makes choosing between clothes easier. Eating for health is, luckily, completely optional; food replenishes your health, but your general wellbeing isn’t dependent on food. You can’t enter Pay ‘n’ Spray if the cops see you; remember before, when a cop could be right on your tail and lose track of you the moment you entered the shop? Also, the respraying of your vehicle advances time by three hours whereas before even fixing a totally smashed car up took a few seconds. A TAD more realistic, I think. Driving too fast and colliding can actually send your character flying through the windshield, and jumping from a moving car isn’t such a good idea anymore, either; a last resort, so to say. Definitely the most realistic game in the series. I miss some stats and features, and a certain atmosphere from San Andreas, but Grand Theft Auto IV turns out nearly as good, and does indeed eliminate a lot of the most annoying stuff in the previous game.

Livin' on the fast lane.
The GPS minimap has undergone some excellent changes. The targeting system introduced in San Andreas is taken one step further with a genuine GPS tracking system, which allows you to see the easiest legal route to your destination. It’s not always the fastest or best possible route, and the GPS doesn’t work too good in bridged areas and confusing intersections, but still this feature is absolutely awesome. You can’t possibly survive without it during your first run, if even beyond – the infrastructure of Liberty City is so confusing, not to mention huge, even with all of its unique landmarks. You’d have to be quite the scout to not rely on the GPS at least once.

Cop chases in the game have been a subject of endless debate. Whenever you perform a crime, let’s say you jack a car. Firstly, a cop doesn’t need to catch you red-handed. Pedestrians with cellphones can easily call the cops, and even if you’re in the clear for a few seconds, there’s a possibility you’ll get the cops after you. You’ll know they’re giving chase when the classic wanted stars light up, but there’s also a coloured “threat ring” on your GPS which shows the locations of all the cops in the area. The more wanted stars you get, the wider the ring becomes. Evade the cops, drive outside the ring, remain hidden for a few seconds, and you’re clear. This is the easiest way to avoid getting busted or wasted, and a damn good idea, because in San Andreas I was really getting tired of driving from one continent to another, to another, for tens of minutes, with a measly two wanted stars on my head with no cops, or a Pay ‘n’ Spray to get rid of the stars, in sight. Some hate this new threat ring system, I don’t. It’s great, and definitely doesn’t make the game easier at all. Just try the mission Snow Storm and you’ll know what I mean.

Besides simply talking, there are two main ways to communicate with people – if you don’t count a gun in your face – them being cellphone and Internet. I know what you’re thinking. There was a cellphone in both Vice City and San Andreas, and a beeper in III. Yet, in Grand Theft Auto IV, you can actually call your friends or girlfriends to see what’s up. If something IS up, they’ll answer and this usually leads you to another mission, oddjob or optional date. The Internet enables you to flip through some crazy shit; you can actually surf on fictional websites and laugh for hours, or you can use the net to your advantage – to find potential dates, download stuff to your in-game cellphone and read e-mail, for example.

Your friends are delightful delinquents that initially give you missions, but once you’ve finished all their jobs, they opt to hang out with you instead of ordering you around. You have several choices of what to do with your friends; you can go out to eat, see a show and try out different competitive activities (read: minigames) such as pool and bowling. You can even go drinking, and the game is a living lesson about what happens when you drink and drive – the game actually prompts you in every way not to do that. Each friend has a favourite activity which boosts the Like stat quicker. When the stat hits a certain high, you’ll gain an ability as a favour. The same goes for girlfriends. You’ll meet two of them on the way for certain, but they don’t hand out anything special unlike the girls you have the option to date. This time you certainly don’t have to hang out with everyone all the time while you’re in the neighborhood, a periodical visit is enough. They’ll inform you when they’re not satisfied with the situation.

Random characters make their debut in Grand Theft Auto IV. These literally random people appear as blue marks on the GPS whenever you get close enough to them. Sometimes they’re acquaintances from earlier missions, people you haven’t actually talked to but met them before, or sometimes they’re just strangers asking for a favour or two, which are usually more or less against the law or human ethics. These missions are fun as heck, and bring me to another subject. Get this: the identities and final amount of these characters is up to you and the decisions you make in the game. Let’s say you’re on a mission to kill someone unknown to you on some known asshole’s behalf. Sure, you can and must chase this person down, but you are given a choice. Should you really kill the poor bastard, or should you give the finger to the guy who put you up to the job and spare this person’s life just to piss off your boss? THIS IS COOL. More than that! You are given similar choices throughout the game, and all of them have quite an impact on how it all plays out. For your information, this game even has two different endings, depending once again on your choice. That’s another first for the series.

The game’s main problem, in my opinion? The classic oddjobs that have been there for years, are almost completely gone. Apparently they didn’t fit in. There is a simple variation of the Taxi Driver missions, and two different jobs which closely resemble the Vigilante missions from the previous games. The rest of the missions are replaced by smuggling missions, assassination contracts which closely resemble the Mr. Black/Mr. Teal missions in Vice City, and a few other, minor pastures. Of course the game wouldn’t be complete without hidden packages – this time in the form of pigeons, dubbed “flying rats” – unique jumps, which are now part of the 100% completion due to their better design, and illegal street racing. You’ll have your hands full despite of some deleted missions, don’t you worry!

Two guys? ...You gotta do better than that!
Grand Theft Auto IV is the first 3D GTA game to support decent multiplayer on all platforms. Some would say “phenomenal”. If you, for some reason, get tired of the storyline or the single player game in general, just pick up the phone and choose “Multiplayer”. You have 15 multiplayer modes at your disposal in the original retail version of the game – including, but not limited to Deathmatch, Race, Car Jack City, a few extra co-op missions and Free Mode. Show ‘em what you’re made of, but be warned: the servers show no mercy to slow broadbands, and the servers are full of self-absorbed campers who actually seem to think what they’re doing is proof of skill. Just a personal word of warning, and advice.

Once you get the hang of the new, surprisingly functional control scheme and the new gameplay features, Grand Theft Auto IV turns out to be moderately difficult at best. It does have many extremely difficult missions, in all parts of the game at that, but at least clumsiness of gameplay or glitches aren’t issues here – you’ll do it, once you learn! The game indeed has quite a learning curve, when it comes to advanced techniques like using grenades in drive-by shooting. You’ll have to progress quite a bit and try out a bit of everything to learn all there is to Niko’s physics, combat and all the extra stuff. Praise Jeebs for the tutorials. With the right amount of patience – and a map ‘cause I don’t believe anyone can find all the pigeons without one – getting 100% isn’t tough at all, once you beat the storyline. When you finally reach that coveted mark, naturally you’ve done everything there is to do. It brings on a feeling of emptiness. That’s it?! At that point, the only thing that makes the game truly replayable is the opportunity to choose what to do at each point, try out different tactics and see how the game plays out, and eventually get to the second ending. So, I can guarantee you’ll clash your way through the game at least twice. Maybe you should spare the 100% completion to the second round, like I did.

The PS3 Trophies came in a bit late as a downloadable patch. They’re exactly the same and worth the equivalent of the X360 Achievements. They consist of quite random stuff, which add to the challenge of the game. The Trophy criterias range from finishing certain breakpoints in the storyline to doing stuff that might feel impossible at first – like blowing up 10 vehicles in 10 seconds, and rolling over five times in one car crash – to optional achievements with friends and girlfriends, etc.. These add a lot to the game’s challenge as well as its lifespan. The arrival of the Trophies made the PS3 version of the game that much more fun and replayable; I’m still working on Liberty City Minute (Gold), which requires the player to finish the storyline within a 30 hour time limit. Everything else is done... except for a bulk of the scourge in nearly every game nowadays: base Trophies restricted to multiplayer mode. It’s bad for Trophy and Achievement enthusiasts who don’t have broadband ready for daily use with their console, or those who buy the game too late from a sale and get their asses kicked in no time by seasoned campers who already know everything there is and more to effective killing in the game.

I couldn’t care less about what some picky bastards say about this game. Grand Theft Auto IV is awesome, a lot more than I ever expected from it. True, I didn’t like the game too much when I first tried the middle part of the game, but now I must admit it was only because I simply couldn’t get the new triggered control scheme to work, not in my head, after three years of playing Vice City or San Andreas almost daily. When I finally bought the PS3 myself, and this game bundled with it, I was hooked within five minutes of gameplay. The game might not be as difficult – although at times, it is just as frustrating – as the games in the last-generation trilogy, but it is an extremely enjoyable, action-packed mammoth of a game. The cinematics and voiceover work should’ve brought this game an Academy Award, and as a gaming experience, Grand Theft Auto IV is the master of its very own level. An amazing game, yet all the wrongs of the previous games that are eliminated are not wrongs at all.

Graphics : 9.7
Sound : 8.8
Playability : 9.5
Challenge : 8.5
Overall : 9.5


a.k.a. GTA IV

GameRankings: 88.37% (PC), 97.01% (PS3), 96.17% (X360)

The PS3 version of the game is the highest rated game on GameRankings to be reviewed in this blog by August 20th, 2010 (All-Time Best ranking: #4).

Liberty City is mostly modelled after New York City, complete with the Statue of Happiness, which is a modified version of the Statue of Liberty. However, the island of Alderney is modelled after a region in New Jersey.

Two expansion packs are available, previously exclusive to the Xbox 360 version of the game but made available for the PC and PS3 in April 2010, after the expiration of Rockstar Games’ and Microsoft’s multi-million contract. The Lost and Damned stars biker Johnny Klebitz, who co-operates with Niko on a few missions in the original retail game. The Ballad of Gay Tony stars Luis Lopez, who has three brief cameos in the main game. These two expansion packs were also released as a stand-alone compilation entitled Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City on all platforms.

Like Phil Collins in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, rocker Iggy Pop and actress/singer Juliette Lewis, as well as comedians Ricky Gervais and Katt Williams make appearances as themselves.

Lazlow Jones is the only character to make a return from the previous trilogy of games. He hosts Integrity 2.0, a talk show centered on himself. This is the first Grand Theft Auto game in which we hear the usually subtle and sarcastic Lazlow curse explicitly.

The MP3 ringtones Niko can download for his cellphone are from the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories.

There has been some speculation that the mysterious character known as U.L. Paper is actually the shady government agent Mike Toreno from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but the theory has been proven false by Rockstar, who have made it very clear from the beginning that the game is perhaps the beginning to a new series of games, and not tied to the previous trilogy in any major way. However, the legendary hair metal band Love Fist from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is mentioned on the radio, to be planning a comeback tour.

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