I know this is late, but some haven't had the pleasure of playing this yet, and many question the reliability of the official reviews, so here is my unbiased, unprofessional and spoiler free review of Grand Theft Auto 4 for the Xbox 360.
[I haven't had proper time with the online features to review them yet, so if you'd like those honors, go right ahead]Opening Stage
Possibly one of the biggest complaints of past titles is the storyline. While I found San Andreas had its moments, its not exactly something I could recall in detail right now. Convoluted, unremarkable and just poorly presented. Right from the start, you'll see this has been addressed. Niko Bellic, a European man from an unnamed area (Russia and Romania do come to mind though) is just stepping off the boat and into Liberty City. Just by the introductory cut scene, Niko comes off as a man who has shouldered a lot of hardship in his time, and has seen a lot of horrible things, but he clearly is someone who has learned to deal with these things. Funny and full of dry wit at times and almost broken and helpless at others, he is complex and likable, despite his horrid line of work.
Running from events that forced him from his home, he seeks a new life in Liberty City with his cousin, Roman. Expecting fast cars, beautiful women, and piles of money in a great mansion, it soon turns out this was all exaggeration and just plain imagination by his cousin. The mansion is a roach infested apartment, the car is a rusted old taxi painted over black, and the taxi business that he barely keeps afloat is in the hands of a Russian mobster, a man that Roman owes money to.
Because of this, Niko has to slide back into a shameful line of work to get his cousin out of hot water. Naturally, things escalate. Plot
Easy to follow but deep and full of memorable moments and characters. This is easily film quality and if put to the big screen with the same effort that its been graced here in this game, you would have a chart topping release. The cast is definitely diverse (avoiding spoilers here) and dialogue, presented in cut scenes and phone calls are superb quality. Unlike previous titles, I knew who certain people were just by seeing them or hearing them. I didn't need the text to inform me who it was getting in my car.Graphics and Presentation
While the faces and expressions are top notch and very expressive (complimented by some really great animation) things aren't perfect. There's a varying degree of pop in, though its never really a big issue. Only a few times I've gone head on into a low wall because it didn't load in time for me to see it. Shrubs and trees are sprite-like and can be damned well ugly when you get close. There can also be the occasion few seconds of lagging performance. But aside from these small annoyances, things are very pretty :)
The roads look eerily realistic when it rains, shining with that glow that street lamps always cast onto wet roadways. The fire has a very hollywood look to it, smoke included. If you've ever seen a Terminator 2, you'll know what I'm talking about. Just after you've blown up an entire street full of enemies, you'll really feel that satisfaction when you see all those motes of flame clinging to blackened car frames and patches of concrete.
Weapon effects are of similar quality, muzzle flash and ricochet fitting in with that action movie feel. Explosions are also very stunning, throwing up showers of sparks, gravel, clinging fire and plenty of thick smoke. Some very convincing gore and blood effects included. Gun fights are fantastic displays and will always impress with the sheer magnitude and quality of effects.
However, where the games presentation really excels is the cars. Fitting for a game named after the act of stealing them. While they can't be crushed into a soccer ball like in the Burnout series, I believe GTA4 has the most impressive and realistic car damaging of any video game to date. I've had to defend this view a lot lately, but I'll take realism over being able to crush a car into a crumbled little ball.
The frame dents realistically, taking impacts like metal should. Skidding and hitting a corner side on indents the cars side, scraping it causes metallic scratches and dings, the glass shatters and crunches with gun fire, and the tire's, once popped, will eventually shred apart while driving. Spray a Mac across the windshield and you'll see the glass suddenly peppered with cracks and holes, blood splatter on the inside. Put your elbow through your window so you can fire and take out a speeding vehicles tire, and the rubber will explode and shred away from the bare rim. The car will careen and flip over, grinding across the road on its roof, the weight causing the glass the shatter.
Just like the gunfights, the impressive effects and very convincing physics make the chase scenes movie quality and very believable.Sound
I would be hard pressed to choose a single area where this game most excels... but if I absolutely had to, I would choose the sound. One area of games I believe has been lacking is the sound effects. Nothing has the impact it should if it doesn't right. Here, while the gunfire, admittedly, is very plain, everything else feels just perfect. The metal boom and the bloody smack of a pedestrian getting a car bonnet to the back is cringe inducing. Gun fire in a nearby tunnel sounds appropriately distant and echoes. The scuffles and smacks of tripping and flailing bodies (more on that in a second) are also very convincing, as are the wet and meaty punches of bullets in their bodies.
Thankfully, the radio is also up to standards, with all the stations you would expect from a modern day setting. Conservatives and Liberals, terrorists and fear mongering, idiotic Americans blaming your many dirty deeds on violent video games (
) and the younger generations and their internet obsessions squaring off against the older generation that insists the radio will make a come back. There's even a crack at the 'series of tubes' comment that gets twisted to scare people about pedophiles after their children. Its hilarious and sadly very truthful.Gameplay
This game is fun. There's a thousand ways to present a review of a games controls and handling, but really, in the simplest terms, this game is fun. It will always surprise you, and no matter how often or how long you play it, something new and unexpected will always make you laugh or cringe or both.
The meat behind a lot of this is NaturalMotions 'Euphoria'. A complex simulation technology, it infuses the in game characters with real weight and motor systems. Characters have balance and convincingly attempt to save themselves when that balance is upset. Shoot a man in the chest and he will hold the wound and stumble back. Keep firing, and he'll slide down the wall, weakly trying to raise his own gun as he finally loses all strength and just slumps over.
Do this near a drop or a ledge, and more could happen. Shoot him in the leg and he'll stumble and hop back, going off the ledge and firing his SMG wildly as he writhes and struggles, before landing hard on his side, dead on impact. Or perhaps you'll throw a molotov cocktail at a stairway, when you know several enemies are about to charge down it. The people running into the flames will catch alight and roll down the stairs, trying desperately to beat the flames off of themselves, rolling and screaming.
A good example of the more unpredictable moments was when I tried to jack a car from the passenger seat. Using my shotgun, I convinced the passenger to get out, then smacked him across the face with the butt of the gun and took his seat. Immediately, the driver began to reverse at top speed, so when I pushed him out of the car, he ended up clinging onto the open door in a very Loony Tunes fashion. A set of mail boxes ripped the door off, taking the guy with them in a showering of letters. A passing motorist tried to swerve out of the way and skidded into a packed street, where several people were sent rolling down hill. One of them got up and decided to act against the woman and drew a pistol, firing at the car. The window cracked and splattered with blood, the woman slumped and hit the throttle, the car taking a wide arch and crashing into a wall, cracking it and taking down a fire hydrant.
Yes, all that happened, and all I did was jack a car. If you care to look up Euphoria, you'll see the tag line "Memorable Game Moments' plastered everywhere, and I think that's spot on here. GTA4 is both unpredictable and memorable. Even little things like your friends tossing their drink cups out your car window will continue to pop up and surprise you.Closing Comments
I've heard many people ask "Do people even play GTA4 anymore?" I suspect these are the same brats that returned Soul Reaver and Bioshock after a few days of buying them. This is a fantastic game and has addressed almost every complaint of the series. If you hated any of the GTA games, I still recommend trying this. Buy it. Its that good.Rating: 10/10