Back near the end of 08 and beginning of 09 there was the yearly awards given out for amazing games. At the time Fallout3 was pretty much the only Game of the Year nominee that I had played. I really rooted for the game, it was an amazing experience and anything that I can clock 70+ hours into must be worthy of the award. To my dismay though, GTA IV took home at least half of the GoTY awards, and with sites like GameTrailers, it took home almost every award it got nominated for.
I had played about 5 hours of GTA III back in the day and found it less than amazing. Vice and Andreas came and left, there was plenty of buzz about them but I never actually got around to playing them. GTA IV eventually came out, I didn’t yet have a 360 or PS3 so I paid it no thought. Eventually I saw other people play it, specifically assassination missions. I was pretty impressed by the visuals and the little game play I saw, but it just didn’t register at the time.
About three weeks ago the Lost and Dammed DLC came out, and the reviews said it was great, so on a whim I went to eBay and there I found a buy now option at a great deal. Last week I got it in the mail and less than a week later I’ve already beaten the story of GTA IV. It was simply AMAZING.
First, the game itself exemplifies what games are capable of this generation. Vast and highly detailed world, cars, people, even the weather, all of it looks the best I’ve ever seen it in a game. Cars take realistic damage when hit or something else hits them. You can even watch as your tire deflates after being hit by a bullet and then get torn apart. Animations, especially character animations, are some of the best I’ve seen. The only animation that I didn’t like would have been some of the flame animations, especially candles, which looked like it was just 4-5 flat pictures changing every couple frames.
While the graphics in the game are pretty amazing, they aren’t perfect. During my run on the 360 I noticed one rather annoying flaw. Every time the lighting changed, the game seemed to have to reload everything, usually resulting in severe pop-ins. So anytime I go from inside to outside, or a tunnel, or some other instance I’m not remembering, everything will go dark for a second and then reload with a different lighting effect. (I even had one instance where I entered a tunnel and suddenly everything but the cars disappeared until the world reloaded itself.) There was also a slight pop-in issue when traveling really fast, but I’m a bit more forgiving on that one. Also note, I was playing this game after having installed it, which usually fixes these types of problems in other games as well as decrease load times.
The world that this game paints has got to be one of my favorite things. It’s consistently perverted and full of tongue in cheek social commentary, which I felt brought this world to life like few others. From the radio station’s talk shows, and news reports, to the billboards and local chatter, everything is contributing to painting the world with a different coat of paint. I also loved the billboard ads for the Pisswasser, marketing GENIUS right there. Something else that really helped set the environment is that after most story events you could actually hear news reports about it on the radio, again bringing a sense of life and growth to the game.
Controls are well done, I think they did a pretty good job of mapping everything to the controller. There are a couple context sensitive buttons, like trying to jump onto a ledge is the same as jump over, so there were a few times that while trying to climb on top of a railing, I instead jumped over it to my death. The cars are hit and miss, I can see that they were trying to go with real driving physics, so a car acts just as it would if you tried to make a turn going at 90 in real life. But making turns at any speed higher than what the local traffic is doing(which I think is 20) is a huge pain. They have an e-brake to help with turning, but using the thing would more often send me in a tail spin than around the corner. This becomes even more annoying whenever your performing a chase or race type of mission. The AI seems to know exactly when to brake, how much, and just feels like the route it’s taking is already mapped…. oh wait, it is.
Driving annoyance #1, chase missions. It took me about half the game(somewhere around the 20 hour mark) to realize that whenever you are chasing someone, they are literally on tracks until a certain point. Cars and such spawn in specific points during these missions, and you’ll find that the car or bike or whatever it is that you’ll be chasing is 100% invulnerable. You can pump 100 rounds into someone you’re chasing, even when they are on a bike and everything is just absorbed or deflected or something. It isn’t until you reach the end of their track that you can take them out in 3-5 shots. This proved even more annoying when you are supposed to kill the person, but can only do so after a certain point, a point that you might fail to reach and thus have to restart the entire mission from the beginning. One mission after failing a few times, I decided to just race ahead of the guy, since I already knew his route, and set up a trap. I even launched an RPG at his car, and it went THROUGH his car.
This proved increasingly annoying since any other type of mission you have free rain over how you take the person out. I loved it when they would send me to kill someone who is heavily fortified on top of a building. Instead of fighting my way in and then out, all I had to do was go across the street, get into a good position, then snipe the person. Freedom in a game like this is what it’s all about. There was also one mission that you had to take out the guards by sniping them from another building. Then you were to move in and take out the 4 bosses one at a time. Well, the first boss I took out while driving a car, took the car up to the second level of the construction site, got out using it as cover, worked my way to the 2nd boss took him out. from there I sniped the third boss, went back to my car and drove around back to the last boss and took him out. Reading about that mission later I found out that the last boss would have normally had a large number of guards and even a helicopter come in to give him reinforcements, and yet I was able to bypass all that. It feels great when you can pull that kind of shit off.
Since I’m practically talking about combat anyways. Sniping is my favorite way to do things, followed by using explosives. Sadly both these things don’t really use the cover system/lock on, that the rest of the game does. Locking on to an enemy works pretty well, you gain the ability to see the target’s health, and the sight even grays out if there is no way you can hit. You can also shift the aim, so instead of center mass you can aim for a limb or even a head shot, though it’s important to note that it’s very easy to switch targets when trying to do this since it’s tied to the same movement on the controller. The new cover system also works more often than not, while not being as robust as Gears of War, it serves it’s purpose and is an important skill to master if you want to survive some of the larger shoot outs. One problem I had with the cover system was things like throwing grenades was a dangerous idea. You have to be all the way at the edge, if not even though you’ll be targeting and appear to be ready to go when you throw the grenade Niko might throw it at the wall you are hiding behind, it then lands at your feet, and you go flying, thus having to start the whole mission over again. The rocket launcher and sniper rifle are unable to lock onto the enemy, so using them from behind cover also poses as an annoyance/dangerous, and the sniper rifle doesn’t even work from cover period. Blind fire on the other hand works great with most weapons.
Story, is surprisingly good. From my first experience with GTA all I remember is being some random guy who gets introduced to a mob boss or something for work, and as you go on you work for more important people. The story this time around is filled with all kinds of character development, moral/game changing choices, and some surprising twists. There are even random character missions that are side stories centered around the unimportant people that you saw during the story, one of these characters quickly became my favorite in the game. That said, I think the first half(or chapters 1 and 2) is of a higher quality than the second half of the game. By the second half you are working for so many different people it’s almost confusing, and the whole idea that you have to complete these chapters to unlock each island is just plain annoying and again ruins that freedom. It makes sense to limit us near the beginning to give us time to understand what is going on and get used to the world we are in, but by the half way point of the game it’s annoying to suddenly get a 6 star wanted level, all because I flew over the locked island.
Another thing that surprised me is the after story, while Fallu0t3 simply ends, this game actually has a bit of an epilogue, and all of the achievements and the percentile are geared around things that aren’t going to die on you during the story. Another thing that surprised me is most missions that you escort someone, there is an in game conversation. But what was really great about this was how there were sometimes multiple conversations that could take place during this time. So even if you failed and had to do the mission a second time, you could still have something different to listen to.
The missions are also all unique enough that throughout the entire story I never stopped being amazed at what I was being sent to do. From a bank heist that would go down in the history books, to chasing a biker through the subway stations, no two missions ever felt too much alike. And with about 70 of these missions in the story mode I think that’s quite a feat. Side missions on the other hand, like the collect cars and kill that person, while never being stale, don’t have the same flair that the story missions generally have.
Physics are everywhere in this game. From driving to bowling you can feel things move, and it’s an amazing sight to see in a video game. I know we’ve been seeing this for almost a decade now, but every time they polish it up like they did here, it feels new and great. The ragdoll physics didn’t quite fit in with everything else though. I can understand why they did it, but I’ve just never liked how it looks. They also used the force feedback perfectly, from the phone vibrating to the thunder from a lightning storm they used and timed it all very well without ever feeling overused.
Finally the sound, while the soundtrack for music on the radios never really hit my taste like Burnout Paradise and other games, there aren’t many tracks to complain about. Personally, as stated above, I loved simply listening to the talk radios and advertisements. They also have it set up to randomly play the different tracks depending on which station your playing, instead of it being one long track that keeps repeating. Voice acting was top notch, better than most games, and there are hours and hours of it. Even voices like Jacob which is the best example of ebonics I think I’ve ever heard in a video game, as well as foreign languages thrown in for good flavor, I may not understand everything being said but I still enjoyed every second.
It really is a great game, and I’m happy I actually gave it a chance. It deserves many of the awards it received last year, and I can only hope that they keep that strong sense of humor in future games. Now to go finish the last 30% of the game (pigeon hunting sounds like it’ll be annoying), and maybe even try out the online mode, but I worry I might suck at that after most of the people on there having already been playing for almost a year now.