Grand Theft Auto IV - PS3 - Review
When Grand Theft Auto III came out, the game changed the way gamers and game designers looked at games. Pushing the envelope with each sequel, Rockstar’s smash hit was received with adoration from fans and complete disgust from parents and a certain Presidential hopeful. Whatever you might think of the series, though, Grand Theft Auto IV was destined to be big. It’s big, all right, but it’s also one of the best games you’ll play on your PlayStation 3.
You assume the role of Nico Bellic who arrives in Liberty City fresh off a boat and hoping to make a name for himself in America. Nico lives with the ghost of the Bosnian conflict but this is what makes him tough-as-nails and ready for action. He also finds that his cousin Roman isn’t exactly living in luxury so he takes it upon himself to make big money the illegal way. Unafraid of stepping on a few toes as well as doing a number of odd jobs that will put his life in danger, Nico is a likeable fellow who - despite his violent nature - is actually sensitive and trying hard to erase the horrors of the war. It’s a deep story with enough layers that the main characters are just as big as life.
Anyone who has played a GTA game knows that the main story contains a number of missions offered by various different characters and this game is no different. You’ll be running a few jobs for Nico’s cousin Roman as well as friends of his like the Jamaican drug dealer Little Jacob and Roman’s mean-spirited boss, Vlad, just to name a few. Unlike past games, though, running missions for certain characters will place them on your cell phone’s contact list. Friends will offer items and their specialty when needed but you can always call them to just hang out.
Girlfriends, a feature introduced in San Andreas, are back and just like a friend a girlfriend will offer her specialty to you. If you need health, just call up your girlfriend who just so happens to be a nurse. If you need your wanted level to drop, just give your lawyer girlfriend a call. Of course, they’ll also be calling you and many of them are fussy about little things such as the car you drive to pick them up on a date or the clothes you wear. You can take a friend or a girlfriend out to a restaurant or just shoot some pool, toss some darts around or go bowling. There are also nightclubs that offer entertainment like a hilarious magic show or watch some real stand-up performers live on stage. You can also just go out drinking or hit a strip club.
It’s these little things that make Liberty City a far more immersive place than it was in Grand Theft Auto III. There are Internet cafes in the city where you can surf the web for news as well as enter a dating site to find a girlfriend. The city looks a lot closer to New York City with its parks, somewhat familiar landmarks and colorful neighborhoods that make up the city. Once again, you can jack a ride whether you like to cruise in a sports car, motorcycle, speedboat or even a helicopter. This time around, though, carjacking isn’t as easy as just shoving the car owner off the vehicle. Some of them actually put up a fight and some others would hang on for dear life as you speed away. Most parked cars are locked so Nico smashes the window to get to the car. Worst yet, some cars have alarms you must tab the shoulder buttons to disable it.
There is also a bigger police presence in this game than in past GTA games. In other games in the series, you can fire a shot and if there’s no cop around you can get away with it. In this city, fire off a shot and the authorities will send a squad car over to investigate. Of course, you will often find yourself in a high-speed pursuit with the local law but instead of chasing you relentlessly, you can actually outdrive them to the point that they’ll stop chasing you. It’s a far more realistic approach than in past games.
The open city offers plenty of opportunities to make money whether you perform missions for friends and criminal bosses or random people off the streets. In one instance, Nico meets a drug addict during his exploration of the city that befriends him. Nico will often encounter these random folks that pop up on the map and you’ll be paid for driving them around or help them accomplish a task. The main missions are a blast to play, although they tend to follow the usual GTA-styled repetitive mission tasks. Of course, there are several missions that really stand out such as an impressive bank robbery with your Irish friend. It’s these missions that will make you really appreciate all the game has to offer and the fact that conversations change each time means the replay value is high.
Thankfully, Rockstar hasn’t really toned the game down and it certainly never lets go of that witty sense of humor that is scattered throughout your stay in Liberty City. Like in Max Payne, you can watch television shows that poke fun at society (“Republicans in Space” being my personal favorite) and the game’s dialogue is funny and smart. The game is still quite violent and even more so thanks to NaturalMotion’s Euphoria engine that makes for some interesting car and character physics. Bodies crumple naturally now and it’s quite possible to crush a person to death with your car.
The game’s controls on the PlayStation 3 are just perfect. Nico’s aiming borrows its style from GTA imitator Saint’s Row for more precise shots. Nico can also take cover Gears of War-style and perform blind fire shots when things get too heavy during combat. The PS3 version also takes advantage of the SIXAXIS controls that make motorcycle-driving feel like your driving a motorcycle and boating move far more effectively. Also unlike the Xbox 360 version, however, the PS3 version requires a 10-minute installation process that keeps the game running a tad more smoothly than the Xbox 360 game. I say a tad because there are hardly any load screens. Both versions suffer a few glitches (why do characters still think they can walk through walls?) and pop-ups.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for the PS2 toyed with the idea of multiplayer but it is Grand Theft Auto IV that actually goes for a far richer experience. Your cell phone is the gateway to online play so in the menu you can instantly transform the single-player experience into a multiplayer one. The open city acts as the main lobby where you can join up to 16-players in a list of match types that can be set up in certain parts of the city with pedestrians and cops a part of the experience as well. You can perform co-op missions with friends or the team-based Cops ‘n Crooks that is actually really fun. There are race game types and the Deathmatch-styled Turf War. While I experienced framerate stutter that occasionally did get in the way of gameplay, there are also many times when the action is seamless. Overall, multiplayer is a blast to play and I see gamers playing this one for quite a long while to come.
Graphically speaking, the game looks quite exquisite on the PlayStation 3 and the character models look fantastic. Liberty City is alive with various pedestrians so you don’t often see the same people all the time and the skyline at night is a sight to behold. Different parts of the city have their own distinct look and even the people change in the neighborhood. As I mentioned, there are a few glitches here and there such as pop-up and sometimes Nico’s hand will go right through objects. Still, these are minor annoyances that really pale in comparison to the solid visual effects and incredible detail.
The sound is also a major attraction and not just because of the amazing licensed soundtrack and celebrity DJs (like actor Juliette Lewis and music artist Iggy Pop). The city is alive with sounds and conversations between pedestrians. The main cast of characters is voiced wonderfully as well and you just have to love the music that ranges from reggae (Bob Marley), to classic rock (Heart) to international funk (Fela Kuti). Even the television and radio commercials are hysterical as are the comedic acts and stage shows.
Grand Theft Auto IV for the PlayStation 3 is one of those rare games that push the console to its very limits to bring gamers a living world that is simply irresistible. Rockstar has gone to great lengths to improve the series with each iteration but this GTA game is, by far, the best one yet. It’s not often that we give a game this high a rating but with all the things the game has to offer you, too, will find that this is the type of game that’s way too hard to put down once you pick up the controller.
Review Scoring Details for Grand Theft Auto IV
The game is a deeply engaging crime drama that effectively blends humor and violence well so following Nico on his quest for the “American Dream” makes this an instant classic. There’s a lot to see and do in this game so the replay value is high. The PS3 version of the game features SIXAXIS controls for boating and motorcycle driving.
Visually, the game looks amazing on the PlayStation 3 and Liberty City is alive with lights and people of all shapes and sizes. The character animations are more realistic this time around but there are a few glitches that pop up from time to time.
With humorous dialogue spoken by an excellent voice cast, detailed sound effects that make you feel like you’re in a busy city and a wonderful licensed soundtrack, the game has the best sound experience. Play this one loud and play it proud.
Like all Grand Theft Auto games, some missions are a piece a cake while others require you to play through them repeatedly until you complete the mission successfully. The trickiest missions are usually pursuit missions … those car chases are fun and frustrating.
Liberty City is back and there’s a lot more to see and do in this city that never sleeps. There are dozens of things to do in the city aside from following the game’s main story mode and the playing field feels more real now with little touches like Internet dating, hanging out with friends or fly a helicopter over the city at night. Oh, and let’s not forget the awesome multiplayer mode.
While there are a few framerate issues that pop up on the PS3 version of the game, the online multiplayer portion is a dream come true. Up to 16 players can basically run wild in the open environment and there are some fun game modes that will have gamers coming for more for a long time to come.
Brilliant and absolutely mind-blowing, Grand Theft Auto IV is not only the best game in the series but also a true achievement in game design. This is one of those games that lives up to its own hype in just about every way while giving gamers a genuinely amusing and fun game.