What is it?
No doubt, if you know anything about Video Games, you’ve heard of Grand Theft Auto. It’s constantly in the media, both in a negative and positive light, and is often times referred to as one of, if not the, most controversial game series of all time. Gameplay consists of more than stealing cars, however, as the player can explore the city at their leisure in between missions, and even do side activities around the city.
Grand Theft Auto IV is the 2008 incarnation of this formula, best known as the first modern addition to the series. This addition stars Niko Bellic, an immigrant who arrives to his cousin, Roman, in America as they fight for money and fame in a place where those 2 variables rule the streets. The game also has a multiplayer mode, which can go from exploring the city with a friend, to a rather simplistic deathmatch, to races and so many more modes.
The Port Report
Before I can review the game, I’m going to address subtle differences between the 2 versions of this game I played: The ‘Complete’ Edition on the PlayStation 3, and the standard edition on the PC. First up is the PS3.
For a PS3 port, I barely noticed any stutters, downgrades, or any other negative that would detract from the experience on this specific platform. That said, the framerate did drop every now a then, but that seems to be an issue with the game itself and not the port. As with the console versions of GTAIV, the brightness is an issue. To say this game is dark on consoles is an understatement, as I had to fiddle with my TV’s brightness settings just to get a bare resemblance of what goes on during the night time. This becomes especially bad during missions, where seeing subtle objects like ladders can become much more difficult when everything is almost pitch black.
My main issue with the PS3 port is the controls. The triggers (R2 and L2) on the Dualshock 3 aren’t very good, and tend to wear and break after some time using them. This became such a big issue for me that I’ve resorted to using my Wireless Speedlink controllers instead of the standard ones. GTA IV is one of those games, but where it faults is a lack of options in the controls department. Games like Just Cause 2 let you fiddle with their controls in a way that you’re comfortable with, while other games give you presets that might make the game a little more playable. GTA IV chooses the latter route, but packs a very small number of presets that barely meets the concern most players would have should they ever wander into those settings. It also has long loading screens and a long wait to install the content for each piece of The ‘Complete’ Edition.
The ‘Complete’ Edition adds in 2 additional content packs: The Lost and The Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony. I’ve yet to play these 2 a whole lot, but from the small amounts of time I’ve put into both, it seems that The Lost deals with driving around, while Gay Tony adds in a whole new club-life mechanic that’s really hit or miss.
Now onto the PC Port. The game itself plays great on PC, and, as with GTA tradition, moving around with mouse and keyboard is done expertly, with no limits to mouse movement to make me feel sick or gives me a headache after more or less than an hour of playing. That said, the driving controls aren’t very good. Since keyboard keys lack the ability to tell how hard you’re pressing them like triggers on a controller do, driving is much more of a hassle at higher speeds, which the game is more than happy to throw at you. Of course, modding is the main reason you’d want to get this game on PC… well, it was until the newest patch. If you want steady performance and great compatibility with newer systems plus mods, you’re shit out of luck. That said, there is a way to revert to the previous patch… but excellent results shouldn’t be expected.
On top of this, there’s Games for Windows Live. This is required to not only play the game on PC, but save. You can get an offline account, but there’s no way to switch online should you want to play multiplayer after doing that. The User-Interface is clunky and terrible, and reeks of Microsoft’s desire to be like Steam. This said, even with GFWL, the game is still playable. Annoying and much more of a nuisance to deal with, but playable nonetheless. Performance issues still reside, but tend to vary.
If I were to pick a platform to play GTA IV on, I’d go for the PC despite the bloatware you need in order to play it, plus the lack of modding support.
PS3 Port Pros/Cons:
+ Great preformace
+ (With Complete Edition) Loads of content
– Too dark at night time
– Controls aren’t very good
– Long loading times
– Has to install each piece of content before playing
PC Port Pros/Cons
+ Mouse and Keyboard Controls work very well
+ Easy to start-up
+ New Patch fixes compatibility issues
– Games for Windows Live in general
– Lack of modding support in new patch
– Driving controls suck on keyboard
– Performance issues
The High Points (Pros)
When going into GTA IV, the first thing that becomes evident is the world. Liberty City is just as fun as it was to explore back in 2008, with a unique coloring scheme that, though flawed (some places can be more brown than others), does give the city a beautiful look and feel. The world feels alive in a quite atmospheric way, and there’s quite allot to do when you’re not doing a mission. The writing here is sharp, and, as series-tradition goes, even greatly satirical at points. A chunk of the characters are pretty well written, and the same goes for the story, too. Some activities, like bowling, are quite fun, and a nice addition to the game. The guns in this game look and sound nice, which is a great addition. Multiplayer, while not perfect, is also fun despite no longer having a strong, thriving player base… Co-Op especially. The Voice acting in this game, with a few exceptions, is very well done, and the music, as with Series-Tradition (again) is also pretty great, too.
+ Excellent, atmospheric world design
+ Great writing with a satirical edge
+ Decent characters
+ Good plot
+ Great Gunplay
+ Fun activities
+ Multiplayer isn’t that bad
+ Good Voice Acting
+ Nice selection of music
The Low Points (Cons)
Here’s where things get interesting. Despite the game’s astounding world, the missions that surround it are quite linear. It’s easy to know when a scripted car chase is going to happen and when it will end. The driving in this game is terrible at fast speeds, especially with turning. I often times found myself ramming into just about everything without even wanting to, and in some cases, failed a mission because my car was so wild it landed itself in a lake. That happened to me more times than you’d think, with each one of them being just as frustrating as the last. While some characters are pretty well done, others are simply annoying. I had to put subtitles on to understand what one person was saying, because other than that, I could only tell that they were slurring their words and that was it.
While some activities, like bowling, are fun, there are terribly boring activities like Darts. Darts, in particular, is more of a chore to play than anything else, and without a button that lets me quit a round once I’ve accidentally started another one, I often times found myself quitting more than carrying on and playing the round. I also hate how you can’t restart a mission, or quit one, without failing it.
– Linear, scripted missions, that don’t mix well with the Open World design
– Terrible handling (driving controls)
– Frustrating chase sequences
– Annoying characters
– Darts. Yeah, Darts…
– You have to die to quit or restart a mission
Do I recommend GTA IV? Maybe. It’s Open World is amazing, as with it’s Story, Characters, and so many more things… but I struggle to want to revisit all of that when I have to go through mediocre missions and terrible chase sequences with some of the worst driving controls I’ve ever experienced just to see a glimmer of it. However, despite that glaring issue, it’s still a landmark title that’s still fun, despite it’s age. Is it my favorite GTA game? No. That’s an uphill battle between San Andreas and V for me, but it’s still damned fine. Just, don’t buy it for your 8 year-old. Maybe it’s a little late to say that, but these games really aren’t meant for small children.