Grand Theft Auto IV

IV LogoGTA IV is out! Love it or hate it, its hard to ignore what will definitely be the biggest game of the year.

Ready Up wanted to cover the biggest title on earth of course but unlike other publications we refuse to get entirely carried away. With many of our writers much like most of the gaming population being huge fan of the series, and being quite happy to drown a sackful of kittens just to get hold of this game, we wouldn’t want to be guilty of being blind to the game’s flaws that would be apparent to anyone not suffering from such chronic Rockstaritis.

In the name of good reporting we are determined to give you both sides of the story. Think of it as a boxing match but with words instead of all that silly punching each other in the face. So, to the ring…

Ladies and Gentlemen, in the red corner, rabid GTA fan, wannabe carjacker and owner of the game for BOTH the PS3 and the Xbox 360, heeeere’s Tony!

And in the blue corner, the Queen of Neutrality herself, Scotland’s answer to Simon Cowell (only without the high trousers), its GTA-sceptic Kirsten!

*ding ding*


They say “The devil is in the details”. In this respect, the Daily Mail’s opinion of GTA IV is most likely right – it is in fact the spawn of Satan. Never before have I seen such a massive amount of detail in one game.

I joined two friends of mine playing a free-roaming game on Xbox Live the other night, and I spawned a little way away from them. Naturally, this being GTA, I stole a firetruck and set off to see what they were laughing at over my Xbox headset.

When I got there, they had stumbled across a small porn shop, and were busy scouring the titles on the shelves and wetting themselves laughing at them. Of course, lots of games have these kind of jokes in them; but consider the fact that this was a tiny one room shop in a vast city and you start to see the utterly unbelievable level of detail displayed in GTA IV.

Ram a car from one side, and not only will you smash all the windows on that side of the car, and your own cars headlights, but you’ll see the people in the car you hit be flung over to one side as you hit them. Hit a car head-on hard enough and sometimes you’ll end up with a dead driver leaning on the horn until you either run away or pull them out of the vehicle. This realism actually affects the way you play the game, too. During an early mission when I had to steal a car, two guys tried to fight me for it. Thinking of the old GTA games, I deftly switched to a shotgun and blasted the first guy at point blank range. It was the first time I had shot anyone in GTA IV; I expected their character to fall to the ground in a puddle of Tom And Jerry style blood. What actually happened was brutal – he was blasted against the wall with a deafening bang, collapsing into a crumpled heap as blood splattered onto the screen. If that had been San Andreas I would have just shot the other guy right there and then, but this was so brutal I just jumped into the car and left the other guy unscathed. Likewise, smashing into pedestrians is so realistic looking now that you find yourself braking carefully on corners even with an entire division of police cars right on your tail…

The detail, and everything else in the game, is amazing. When people who have played previous GTA games but not GTA IV ask me what it’s like, I’ve taken to saying “It’s GTA, but turned up to 11.”

This is a game that has been hyped unmercifully for months, and been over three years in the making, and as a massive fan I had ridiculously high hopes that could never realistically have been met. Except once I started to play I was repeatedly surprised and impressed – astonishingly, it’s beaten the hype. Hard.

The idea of using an in-game mobile phone to control your contacts in the game sounded good on paper months before the release of the game, but it’s brilliant in the flesh. The much-altered driving physics, which worried me greatly for the first two minutes of play, are a massive improvement once you get used to them. The same goes for the shooting, the graphics, the voice acting, the cut-scenes. I’m struggling to think of negatives. Even the main character is a great compromise between the strong but silent type in GTA III and the constantly chatty CJ in San Andreas – he’s quiet, yet dry and funny.

And the city. it’s well, a city. It’s astonishing. You could watch it for hours without participating at all. Forget that fish-tank screensaver, just pop on GTA IV in a busy area and watch away. Even people with no interest in games at all (my other halves parents) were astonished at how amazing it all looked. (Naturally, I didn’t show them anything too violent or sexual!)

I mentioned playing on Live earlier, and I have to say that the multiplayer isn’t the most polished I’ve ever seen, but it works, on both PS3 and 360, and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve never really gotten entirely tired of a GTA game yet, because of the “pick-up-and-playability” of all of them, but the multiplayer on IV will definitely have me coming back again and again.

To the negatives – I suppose the obvious negative is a point I’ve already hit on. It’s GTA turned up to 11, which in my mind just makes one of the best series of games even better than ever. Of course, if you’ve never liked GTA, then it’ll still not be something you’re likely to be hugely interested in. I am genuinely interested to see what my counterpart Kirsten makes of this new, and in my mind, greatly improved GTA, given that she isn’t a huge fan of the series, but is (of course) a huge fan of games in general.

I’ve never been a Grand Theft Auto evangelist. I like the games. I especially enjoyed playing GTA 2 and GTA London 1969. I found them fun and a bit different. When I first set eyes on GTA3 on the PS2 I was gob-smacked. I couldn’t believe that gaming could make such an incredible leap forward all in one go. The size, the detail, the immersion – all incredible. I played it for a few days and then naturally stopped as the game was incredibly repetitive and the on-foot controls and combat unforgivably poor. I say that with pat joviality, with no malice, not at all as a put down or with any annoyance. GTA3 was a brilliant game and change the landscape of development permanently – end of! San Andreas was for me a bizarrely short experience of riding up a mountain on a bike, falling over a lot, blowing up a car that I was in at the time and tottering around (badly) on foot looking on in awe and wonder at how incredibly orange everything was. After that I was bored rigid and moved on to other more enjoyable though not necessarily better games. This is my history of GTA. Not one of hating or loving but of mixed feelings. I don’t think GTA is the best game series ever and that’s quite unusual for a gamer.

I had very mixed feelings again when the reviews came in for Grand Theft Auto 4. I want nothing more than new games to be totally great. I never actively want a game or console to fail nor do I feel any glee when a product I’m not that into is a bit of a dud. GTA 4 got straight 10’s across the board in reviews and as a games journalist I put a lot of stock in review scores, yet I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe GTA 4 was going to be the best game ever made, in keeping with it having the highest scores ever allotted to any game. However I thought I should show willing and give it every chance. I ordered the special edition pack in advance and am now the proud owner of a Rockstar hold-all bag, a black GTA lockbox in which I keep my GTA4 art book, soundtrack CD and stylish Rockstar keyring. I had a whole morning and afternoon free to sit down with my new copy on release day and play it, with no one there to disturb me and no work pending to prey on my mind.

As I began to play I was immediately struck by what a dismally grubby setting the game appeared to have. Having played now for several days this hasn’t really changed. More so that any other in the series GTA 4 has managed to accurately portray an underclass immigrant life in Shit Town, USA. On an entirely personal level, just my own opinion – I want certain things from any game to which you could assign the word ‘sandbox’ the very least of which is that it should be better than my own real life. GTA4 is not. It’s a dismal, depressing existence where I’ll shoot someone in the face, to save a vague acquaintance’s crappy drug deal from going sour or to keep some idiot’s protection racket going, then steal a heap of junk car and take out a girl to a disgusting burger bar before slime-ing my way into her house dressed like a tramp to, hopefully, feel her up. It’s not funny or clever or stylish or glamorous, it’s just depressing – and that’s when the game is really jumping with activity. That doesn’t mean the story is rubbish. It’s actually very compelling but ultimately it leaves me feeling like shit.

It’s good that there are a lot of things to do like watching hours of funny telly, playing bowling or darts, or going to see an, admittedly rubbish, cabaret show. Variety is always good in sandbox gaming but it comes at a cost. Where these elements have been put in others have been taken out. Many say that GTA needed the fat trimmed after San Andreas but can anyone honestly say that they wanted to not be able to buy a house? That they required nothing more than the most basic choice of clothing or any real control over their character’s lifestyle and abilities? Is anyone glad that the checkpoint system is garbage? That you have to go home just to save your game unless you’ve completed an entire mission? I mean what is this, 1997?

Sadly where some things have been added and some taken away others haven’t changed much at all. Since GTA went 3D the on-foot controls have been poor. It may not be the main focus of the game but they have had seven years now to get it right and it’s still frankly abysmal. As Niko turns round he leans over like some weird dummy. The aiming and combat controls are more a matter of luck than anything else. Choosing a direction and running in it only works if you have plenty of space around you. Running through a corridor, on the pavement or anywhere indoors shows up the controls for how slap dash they are. Being on foot also gives you a chance to look at the shop fronts up close which are a ridiculous blurry jpg stylee that pop in and out as you walk near them. “Ahh, but there are so many shops” you say. Well maybe there shouldn’t be then. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. And this is my basic problem with the game. Maybe instead of internet cafes and ringtones more time should have been spent on the frame rate, the pop up, the freezing and bugs, like driving motorbikes upside down along the street. Maybe some basic adjustment of the in-car camera to give just one of the five available view points a useful ‘slightly above’ angle. Maybe the car control could be a bit more… fun. I don’t actually want to drive properly, breaking carefully on corners and waiting for traffic to move. That’s what we do in real life except not in a scabby downtrodden world of drug addicts and gun wielding twats.

All of my whinging comes with a massive disclaimer. The size, the detail, the immersion – all incredible. I’ll play it for a few more days and then naturally stop as the game is incredibly repetitive and the on-foot controls and combat unforgivably poor. I say that with pat joviality, with no malice, not at all as a put down or with any annoyance; GTA 4 IS a brilliant game. It’s just not a ten.

Screen from GTA IV

“Don’t shoot me – it’s only a game, after all!”







One response to “Grand Theft Auto IV”

  1. Jake avatar

    See, the hidden pigeons alone make it brilliant fun for me. Listening out for their little pigeony noises is like hunting the orbs in Crackdown. It’s brilliant fun, admittedly interupted by annoying phone calls to go and play darts all the bloomin’ time, but it is an epic hidden item game. I’ve only done enough story to open up the islands to hunt for the pigeons. And I’ve still got 176 to go!

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