|Developer:||Rockstar North|||||Release Date:||2008|||||Systems:||Windows, Xbox 360, PS3|
This week on Super Adventures I'm having a quick go of acclaimed crime 'em up Grand Theft Auto IV. Though knowing what these games are like, I'll have to put 20 hours in before I really get how it works, maybe more! So I hope you appreciate the sacrifices I make for your entertainment.
Actually I've got a vague memory of playing this once before and not liking it much. I've beaten Vice City and San Andreas (and I came so damn close to finishing GTA 3) but I didn't get on with this one for whatever reason. Probably something to do with the combat; I've got another vague memory of arguing with someone about the shooting being the worst thing ever, while they tried to convince me that the driving physics were worse.
The game came out the same year as sandbox rival Saints Row 2 (which I really liked) and one difference between the games I've already noticed is that Volition know how numbers work. Rockstar on the other hand have given their sixth game the Roman numeral for 'four'. Well really it's the eleventh game on the Grand Theft Auto series, if you include the two GTA: London mission packs, the Stories games on PSP and Grand Theft Auto Advance, but I'm happy enough to consider them outside the main series.
Unlike its predecessors GTA IV has multiplayer, which I'm not going to even try. I'm not going to use iCEnhancer to prettify it either; this is pure, straight out of the box, vanilla single player GTA.
(Screenshots can be clicked to view them in their original resolution, but I'm warning you now it's not great.)
Max Payne 3, so I figured getting past this pointless DRM feature would be painless enough. But nope, it's not letting me log in for whatever reason, no matter how many times I click 'Play'.
Fortunately I've also got a 'Play (Offline)' button to click so it's not actually a problem! I wasn't planning on playing multiplayer or uploading videos anyway.
Thanks for that SecuROM, that's a big help. I bypass one layer of DRM and the next one gets me. It's crap like this that drove me away from buying PC games for years until Steam lured me back with its convenient, no hassle DRM.
Is it Windows 10 it hates or just computers in general I wonder? I guess I'll have to check PCGamingWiki.
Also while I was on PCGamingWiki I just happened to come across a page called The Big List of DRM-Free Games on Steam, which I'll leave here next to a reminder that Shadow Warrior 2 just came out with zero DRM and GOG.com only sells DRM-free games. Why? Because I feel like promoting games that are far less hostile to users, rather than kicking this one any more. Positivity!
But it's running now, everything's good. It's a little confused about the resource usage but I'm sure it'll be fine. It's nice to see how many megabytes I need for each of these graphics option, as it lets me know how far I can push it. Max Payne 3 does the same thing and I appreciated it when I played that as well, even if it did continually report that my PC was too crap and I needed to lower my settings.
This is our hero, Niko Bellic. Rockstar made an interesting choice here, going with a non-generic scruffy looking bloke from an unnamed country in Eastern Europe for their protagonist; he's not your typical handsome blockbuster video game action man. and I'll never get the opportunity to stick his head into a character editor.
Niko starts talking in Serbian, but his cousin Roman stops that right away (on account of him forgetting a lot of his own native language). His cousin's come to pick him up and take him to 'the mansion', but he's so drunk that Niko's going to be doing the rest of the driving. Meaning I'll be doing it.
The car physics has changed a lot as well, as this thing banks like a plane whenever I take a corner and it brakes like a freight train. That's fine though, I can live with a bit more realism. The way the camera takes its damn time to swerve back behind the car whenever I turn is going to drive me mad though.
Roman's already turning out to be one of the most punchable characters I've come across in a game, but I'm thinking that he's supposed to be this annoying. It's a cunning trick to make me empathise and bond with Niko
These two aren't played by anyone I've heard of before, but the actors have done a conspicuously good job with the voice and mocap work. I mean I haven't got a clue if their accent is right, but I'm willing to assume that it is.
This is Republican Space Rangers by the way, a cartoon where the heroes go around space murdering aliens and shooting up orphanages to make America safe from terrorism and immigration. It's so blunt it's like a parody of satire... so pretty typical for GTA humour.
Anyway I'm bored of that now (and the game won't let me use the VCR), so I'm going to save and go out into the city! After making a bloody Games for Windows LIVE offline account for my saves that is, because somehow that's necessary on top of Social Club, SecuROM and Steam. I'm not angry I'm just disappointed.
I'm less impressed by Niko's movement though, as he's a heavy character with a massive turning circle and even when I'm hammering the (A) button for full sprint I feel like he'd be overtaken by other sandbox characters while they're walking. Plus the camera keeps snapping back whenever I try to steer him with it, so it seems I'm pretty much walking and turning with the same stick. C'mon game, I'm not using an N64 pad here.
The game likely expects me to go hijack a car, but it seems out of character for Niko to yank someone out of their seat just because he can't be bothered to walk, so I'm going on foot. I remember having the same problem with Sleeping Dogs, to the point where I don't think I ever stole a car I didn't have to. I wonder how long I'll be sticking to my principles in this one.
It's funny how giving Roman an antagonist only makes me hate the guy more. Especially as his plan to get the money to pay Vlad is... a card game. And he wants Niko to drive him there in one of his cabs.
Oh crap, I think I just burned out the rear tires doing burnouts! There's nothing left but sparking metal.
A few gunshots later I reappeared in front of a hospital, with a fraction of the nothing in my bank account deducted for healthcare received. And that's how you fail the very first proper mission in GTA 4!
Personally I think it's fantastic, though I know someone who'd be driven mad by the idea that there's content they're missing out on by playing well. Also it has disturbing implications, hinting that I'm dragging these people through a time loop they're almost aware of.
Alright I have to park the car and actually remain stationary this time. No doughnuts, no burnouts, and absolutely no stunt driving. In fact I'm putting the controller down until the loan sharks arrive and give me cause to pick it up.
ONE CAR CHASE LATER.
I’m making it my personal mission to wreck Roman's cars whenever I get the chance. Every time he involves me in some dumb scheme to get rich quick I'll sink him deeper into debt. Not that he needs my help with that.
Oh damn, I just glanced down at the circle around the minimap, and I'm running really low on health here. I got shot a few times during the chase and it seems the bullet holes aren't going to heal up on its own. The game told me earlier I could get health back from eating fast food, like in San Andreas, but I've no idea where to buy some so I'll go and get Roman's next mission done instead.
By the way you might have noticed that the info in the top left is showing the keyboard button this time. That's because I'm confusing the poor game by playing with the controller, but taking screenshots with the keys; it switches between the two control schemes seamlessly during gameplay and that's something worthy of praise.
I'd go check out the other shops, but I can't right now due to terrorism.
This is the third entirely new version of Liberty City I've seen, after GTA and GTA 3's maps, and it's never looked more like New York. The Empire State Building and Chrysler Building stand out on the skyline, and they've even got their own Statue of Liberty! There's still no countryside to drive around in though.
It seems that locations like shops and fast food restaurants only appear on the map after I've already visited them, and healthy hot dog vendors never appear at all, so it's being a big help there. I do have a pink M with a heart on it pointing me towards a date with Michelle, but first I need to bail out Roman again.
Seems that the trick to brawling is to lock on to one of them, and then press the punch and kick buttons until they fall dead. If I knew what I was doing I'd also be dodging his attacks and pulling off combos, but I don't so I'm not. So the fighting's more substantial than the the old GTAs or Saints Row, but it's not quite Sleeping Dogs.
I'd mention that while locked onto an enemy, the target reticule's eight central segments represent their health, but that's already written on the screenshot. They could've made the segments less subtle though!
A SHORT CAR CHASE LATER.
Dardan just bailed out though and I don't think I'll get Roman's crappy taxi up those stairs so I guess we're finishing this on foot.
I finally caught up with Dardan and got into another fight meant to teach me how to dodge his knife attack and disarm him. Though what it actually taught me is that if I get to the end of a mission with a practically empty health bar, I'll probably end up replaying the whole damn thing from the beginning.
Checkpoints are against Grand Theft Auto tradition sadly, but the game does at least provide the innovative new feature of letting me skip the long journey from the hospital back to the guy giving me the mission, using my phone.
This handy little gadget lets me phone characters up to hear their voice mail, check to see what dates I've got scheduled, edit my videos, and play multiplayer! It also lets people bother me all the time with texts and phone calls while I'm busy trying to listen to the comedy talk station in the taxi I just ran all the way back home to grab. I'm still not hijacking cars, I'm no monster!
Speaking of receiving texts, seems that I missed my date with Michelle by choosing to save Roman instead so now I have to go make it up to her.
I've discovered that I don't have the gene that lets me appreciate bowling, but I suppose as bowling simulators go this actually seems pretty decent. Michelle ended up wiping the floor with me though, so I decided to keep her car afterwards (hey, she left me driving it when she went home, and it'll probably just respawn for her).
The developers really worked their asses off on this side of the game, as I can invite people out to play pool or darts, go to a restaurant, bar or strip club, or even watch Ricky Gervais doing stand up. But I probably won't, because unlike Saints Row's activities, these are entirely optional instead of just mostly optional.
SOME JOBS FOR ROMAN LATER.
The game's still got the lock on from the earlier GTAs, but this time I can move the reticle around a little to aim at specific body parts. I'm not a big fan of auto-aim as it takes all the joy out of gunplay, but I can switch to free aim by only half holding down the left trigger. Or I could just use the mouse if that gets awkward.
Enemies can take a few shots, but they don't much look like they enjoy it, as they stumble around in pain. It's actually possible to wound them enough so they'll give up, but it's also possible to take them out with one shot to the head so I think I'll do that instead. I just wish there wasn't a delay between me pulling the trigger and a bullet coming out. I don't mean there's a delay in the game, it just wants me to pull the trigger all the way back before the gun fires and that split-second extra travel time for my finger is somehow throwing me off.
SOME TIME LATER.
Unfortunately the shop keeper got away, and it's not the first time the bastard's giving me the slip. I've moved on to doing jobs for the next character now, Vlad the loan shark, which means I'm chasing folks down for money. Or trying to anyway. Like the other GTA games, I tend to only work for someone a few times before new employment options open up, with each new employer having their own mini-arc.
Trouble is this isn't exactly Mirror's Edge, and I keep falling off the buildings due to the awkward movement combined with not being able to tell where I'm supposed to jump from. Niko's not the most nimble protagonist, so getting him lined up, while tapping (A) to sprint and then (X) to jump has been giving me some trouble.
I ended up in the hospital so many times during this chase that by the time I finally caught the bastard it was day again, and to my surprise I was given the option to let him live. Vlad made it very clear he wants him dead... but it turns out I don't really give a damn what Vlad wants, so I spared him. See, I knew Niko was the nicest GTA protagonist.
I lost Michelle's car a few missions back though, so I caught one of the taxis driving past and we jumped in the back. Turns out that watching a taxi drive around the city is actually kind of boring though, no matter what camera angle I'm viewing it with. Plus it kind of gives away the fact that traffic only exists in front of me.
There's a button to skip straight to the destination but for some reason it costs more, like the developers really want players to sit through taxi rides. It's barely anything though, so from now on I'll be skipping every time, using the taxis as a fast travel system.
I can also get around by walking to a station and using the trains, but... no.
SEVERAL DRINKS LATER.
Instead of using predefined animations, Euphoria synthesises a character's actions on the fly, meaning that they figure out how to keep their balance and stay standing on their own. So I can push pedestrians around, roll down stairs, and pose with one foot upon the corpse of my vanquished foe.
The weird thing is, the physics and animation in Grand Theft Auto V are actually noticeably worse. The game still uses Euphoria, but they apparently simplified the simulation to give the CPU less work to do, and if you see them side by side you can really tell.
SOME CRIME LATER.
On the plus side, I've discovered that I have a cover button that makes me slide over and snap to the nearest wall or car. But annoyingly the reticle doesn't stay put when I pop up by holding free aim and pulling the trigger! So I can either let auto lock-on do all the work, like the game apparently wants me to, or I have to hold the trigger down until I've relocated the crosshairs to my target's head.
Unfortunately that didn't work so great here, because as soon as I opened fire on our mutual enemy the two cops turned on me and it turns out that my lock-on is fairly shite at close range. If I'd known my health was so low I'd have just made a run for it, but the game's not so good with giving me feedback when I'm hit. Though it sure gives me feedback when I hit them, as enemies have a satisfying reaction to being hit by my gunfire.
I'm much more vulnerable when I'm out of a car, but that's nothing new for GTA. When I'm inside a vehicle I can go wild, if it starts smoking I can just grab another, but on foot I have to play it cautiously as without regenerating health even a single enemy is a serious threat. There are health kits in the game, and if I was halfway through a long warehouse shoot out right now I might even have a hope of finding one. Out in the street though, it's hot dog vendors or nothing, and they don't serve to fugitives. I'm not overly impressed.
In the Saints Row games, you can build up a car collection and anything you take out for a drive will reappear in your garages. This is more like the older GTA games though, so if I want to keep a car I have to bring it back. Which is kind of difficult considering how the missions continually conspire to make me ditch my ride.
Still, I can always just go pick up a new one if I'm in the mood for a bit of grand theft auto. It's not like San Andreas where you can spend a fortune pimping your automobile, and then accidentally lose it forever.
His bike on the other hand seems to be impossible to catch up with and impervious to all harm, and for all I know it is. The game seems keen on things happening the way it wants them to.
SOME MORE STUFF HAPPENED.
Hang on, Weazel... Fox... damn it took me too long to get that.
That's one of the big differences between this and the Saints Row series. They're a fantasy about being adopted by a gang and going on a fun power trip. GTA 4 is about being stuck doing terrible things for unlikeable people. With accents.
Basically Niko doesn't seem to be having much fun.
Though before I get there I first have to join the queue for the toll booth! At first I thought this was a way to hide the loading time between islands, but nope I can just drive right through. It's only here to make the New York simulation just that little bit more complete. Like all the fully functional car washes around that serve absolutely no purpose in gameplay.
Though I do like that the developers thought to include beepy radio interference just before the phone rings. The game's full of small touches like that that add up.
It's funny how a screenshot like this looks effortless, when I was actually trying very hard to match this shot I took of Saints Row IV:
|Saints Row IV (PC)|
According to my research GTA IV looks way better than Saints Row 2 (released a little later) and not quite as good as Saints Row IV (released way later), which is pretty much what you'd expect really. Of course this is without the iCEnhancer magic. Basically it looks fantastic for an 8 year old game and can look even prettier.
A FEW MORE JOBS LATER.
I came here to kill three people and take over the place, so I walked around eavesdropping on conversations until all three red dots appeared on the radar, and then started gunning down everyone with a gun. Security didn't put up much of a fight, but one of the dots split off and made a run for it. So I excused myself from the shoot out at the first opportunity, followed the dot outside, and got a 'mission failed' message before I'd even got my seat belt on!
I don't mind chasing people down, but when it comes in the middle of combat and I'm already busy with my other important objectives it kind of pisses me off. It'd be less frustrating if I didn't have to replay the rest of the mission too! Thankfully taxis spare me from having to drive over each time, though I do have to catch one first. Bloody game wasting my damn time...
SOME STUFF LATER.
Though on the plus side, I'm in a helicopter! I was honestly under the impression that they'd taken aircraft out entirely in this game, but nope. There's no planes but getting airborne is easy enough.
Sadly my chopper came to an untimely end as I went to get a new mission, and expertly set it down in the road just a little too close to a steel pillar. I heard 'ping ping ping ping' and the rotor blades fell off. I think the helicopter might be haunting that street now; the wreckage has long since faded away but I can still hear the engine going whenever I drive down that way.
MORE STUFF LATER.
This is technically kind of my fault, as I stole a cop car, drove to a mission that was giving me trouble and called for police backup using the car's computer. Then I hid and waited for them to rush in and kill my enemies for me! I guess I'm going to need more FBI guys.
The road behind me is just as jammed, that's why it's safe to hang around and take screenshots when I've got a two star wanted level. That red circle on the radar shows what area they're searching, so all I need to do is get outside it without behind seen by any blue dots along the way and they'll quit looking. Though if I do get seen the circle will be re-centred on me and I have to evade them all over again (or drive into a Pay 'n' Spray).
It's a good system I think, reminds me of the one in The Saboteur. It's more interesting than the earlier games where you just have to get out of sight for a while at least.
The game's always recording the last 20 seconds or so of action and when I hit the save video button it dumps that into my clip library. Once I've gotten a few clips saved I can bring them into this editor, which lets me organise them on a timeline, set transitions, and add music and text.
This is not the clever bit.
And then when I was finished with my masterpiece, it rendered it as a slightly broken WMV file covered in logos. Joy.
Grand Theft Auto IV isn't terrible! I played through the whole thing just to be absolutely certain and I can now confirm that it is not a bad game. Sure it's a pain in the ass sometimes, with its lack of checkpoints and its non-regenerating health and its bloody chase missions all the time, but I'd put it right up near the top of my favourite GTA games, just underneath Sleeping Dogs, The Saboteur, the entire Saints Row series, plus San Andreas maybe.
It feels like a return to basics, specifically the basics of Grand Theft Auto III. The RPG elements have been stripped out, the wacky missions are gone, the countryside has been removed, the escalating lunacy has been dialled way back and it's just not as fun. It's the darkest and most realistic GTA I've played and there's been so much work put in to make the place into a believable replica of New York that it doesn't seem right to bring the mayhem any more. I felt bad just for accidentally running people over, because Niko would regret it and Roman would be horrified. Sure the crude satire's still all over the billboards, radio, shop names... basically everything, but it seems out of place now in this city, with this story. Not that the characters aren't funny, weird and exaggerated at times, but the game feels too grown up to be a murder playground.
Also you get interrupted every few missions by someone phoning up to ask if you want to go out bowling or whatever, and I can't think of a single time my answer wasn't "No, I'd rather play GTA. Now fuck off." It's less irritating than how the Saints Row games pad out their stories with mandatory activities, but I wasn't even slightly interested in hanging out with my Liberty City bros or going on virtual dates and the game just didn't get the hint. In fact the story seems to assume you have taken part in the side content, which makes it weird when Niko starts to form deep friendships or fall in love with people he's had two and a half conversations with.
The gameplay's definitely taken a few steps forward from San Andreas, but Niko himself isn't exactly light on his feet compared to his open world rivals and after a few hours I gave into temptation and started using the automatic lock on in gunfights. Enemies aren't marked on the radar, the bastards are usually hiding behind cover, and it doesn't give you health to waste soaking up bullets trying to figure who's sending them, so I let Niko find them for me. Lock on, tilt the crosshair up a little and it's an effortless one shot kill; sucks all the satisfaction out of it.
Awkward movement and combat aside I really did enjoy each mission... right until I fell off a building or let someone get away, and had to do the whole thing again from the start. You can spend forever getting somewhere and then die in a second. No checkpoints + no regenerating health + time pressure = headaches. The game's kind enough to let you skip the drive to the mission start at least, though I often found it quicker to reload my last autosave because then I didn't have to go collect my armour back first. Plus hospitals charge a shitload of money for a full resurrection service. Though then again, what else is there to spend it on? The clothing is limited and fairly cheap, enemies shower you with spare ammo, you don't lose your weapons after dying and you can find armour for free. There's no properties to own, upgrades to buy, or cars to mod. The story is all about Niko doing things he doesn't want to do for people he hates because he needs the money, except all I really spent my accumulated fortune on was taxis, toll booths and health burgers. It's not a great situation when the mission rewards are pointless.
The game's presentation on the other hand is incredible. It's getting on a bit in years now and I noticed a bit of texture glitchiness, but it's a big step up visually from its predecessor San Andreas and even makes Saints Row 2 look dated, despite coming out a few months before it. You can really tell it had a massive budget, even though more cash went on its ridiculous soundtrack rather than Hollywood actors this time around. There's no Samuel L. Jackson or Ray Liotta here, just a lot of talented unknowns with strong accents and a talent for being deliberately annoying, and I can't say it suffers for it. Though they did at least get Lazlow back, even if he's not doing Chatterbox FM any more. That was the best part of GTA 3!
I am tempted to give Grand Theft Auto IV my highest possible accolade, but then I think back to all the times I found myself back in the street after a failed mission, tapping A like crazy to catch a cab before it drove off, and I come back to my senses. The game comes close to hitting the mark, but it let the target get away.
Also be aware that the PC version includes...