Anthony's Film Review

Grand Theft Auto IV
(Video Game, 2008)

Just when you think Grand Theft Auto cannot get any more awesome, it does...

Grand Theft Auto III was such a phenomenally popular video game that Rockstar Games would produce more GTA titles using the same engine and graphics, including Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Those games would also incorporate new features not seen in GTA III, so that the games would look familiar and feel new at the same time. It's good that Rockstar wants to keep the series fresh by exploring new ideas. Still, just adding features while reusing the same engines and graphics can only do so much. To really shake things up, Rockstar would have to make a GTA game that is hugely different from its predecessors while retaining the core game formula. The company did just that with Grand Theft Auto IV, released in 2008.

And what a refreshing feeling this game provides. Instead of animation that can be described as adult cartoonish, we have realistic graphics that walk the line between animation and live action. The characters look so much like real-life people, and everything in Liberty City looks so much like New York in reality. Whether you're looking at vehicles, streets, buildings, construction zones, industrial areas, junk piles, or the body of water surrounding Liberty City, you're looking at a living breathing location. You could say that Liberty City itself is a character in the game. It really provides a nice backdrop for the story and the playground for any activity, criminal or legal.

The realism also carries over to the things you do in this game. In previous GTA games, parked vehicles are assumed to be unlocked so that you can just get in and take it. In GTA IV, parked vehicles are typically locked, so that carjacking involves looking around, breaking a side window with an elbow, unlocking the door, and hotwiring the vehicle. If you decide to use weapons while driving, you're no longer limited to shooting only to the left or to the right. With the ability to stick an arm out the window, you can attempt to shoot guns or throw grenades in any direction, to the extent that your arm can aim while you're in the driver's seat. And if you're wanted for arrest by the cops, you will be surrounded by a search area, marked by a shaded circle on the game's map, with a radius that is proportional to the level on the 1-through-6 wanted scale. You can evade the cops by escaping the circular search area and not getting caught again for a few seconds, but if you're seen, the imaginary circle will recenter over you. You still have the option of driving into an auto spray shop to evade the cops, but it only works if the cops don't see you enter it. Again, realism is a big part of GTA IV.

Even the story missions comprising the game's main content have a few new modifications. While most story missions are triggered by going to a character's location whenever you want, there are a few that begin with a cell phone call and occur without warning after a certain amount of time has passed following a specific event in the story. If you happen to fail such an urgent mission, or any of the other non-urgent story missions, you have the option to retry the mission immediately, which ignores the events of the failed mission but not your character status regarding health and weapons. Then there are the two-part story missions, indicated by an ellipses (...) before and after the mission name denoting, respectively, parts one and two. When part one ends, you go back to doing whatever you want, but once it's time for part two, you must take care of that. Speaking of twos, some missions include moments where you make crucial moral decisions, which can affect certain characters and later events. This includes the fourth-to-last story mission of the game that presents you with a choice as to which mission shall be the third-to-last mission, which in turn affects the cutscene for the second-to-last mission and determines the specific variations of the final mission and the story's ending.

If you think all of this new stuff is great, you'll love the other new stuff. Yes, there's a lot more. For example, when you are in a gunfight, you have the ability to duck behind a large object or take cover next to the corner of a wall, then momentarily step out of cover to fire or throw weapons. You can also do running jumps across gaps and use ladders, unlike previous GTA games. As for fun side activities, options in GTA IV include watching a stand-up comedy show (featuring real-life comedians Ricky Gervais and Katt Williams), going to a Russian cabaret, getting a lap dance at a strip club, bowling, shooting pool, throwing darts, and street racing. Oh, and there's also the option of drinking with a friend. When that happens, you and the other character emerge from the bar in a drunken state. You can take a cab back to the friend's place... or you can drive drunk, with the vehicle's controls not 100% cooperative, the game's camera rocking wildly, and the possibility of getting chased by a cop car. And no matter what happens when you're driving, you have GPS on your radar to guide you to your destination (so no more pausing the game to consult the map and figuring out your own driving directions).

OK, I have one more new feature of GTA IV to talk about and I'm done with that aspect of the game. As with previous GTA games, you can listen to radio stations while commandeering a vehicle, and you get to hear a variety of licensed songs as well as hilarious fictional commercials and radio hosts. Just when you think radio entertainment is a very impressive feature of GTA, this game goes even further, by also providing fake television programming. When you are in a safehouse, you can take a break from the game to watch TV. There actually aren't many channels, but the stuff that is on can be quite amusing. Examples: a satirical documentary about the history of Liberty City, commercials for the reality show America's Next Top Hooker, a reality show about insanely rich people, a commercial for Weazel News, and (my favorite of all) an animated series about bigoted redneck space heroes called Republican Space Rangers. Oh, and if you go to an Internet cafe in this game, you can view fictitious websites. I don't have to emphasize that the stuff on them can be funny to read.

Enough of the game's incredible new features (and I'm sure there are others I haven't covered). What about the story? Well, one thing is definitely original here: the main character of GTA IV is not an American street criminal. Rather, he's a European immigrant and war veteran. However, because he has a dark past, he has no problem being a tough criminal when he has to. Anyway, this man, Niko Bellic, arrives in Liberty City by ship from an unspecified country and meets up with his cousin Roman, who had already started a taxi business in hopes of achieving the American Dream. While this sounds great, there's one problem. In an effort to quickly achieve the ultimate American Dream, with luxury, hot women, fast cars, and the like, Roman gambled away lots of money, and is now in debt with Russian organized crime. Hence, the first several story missions involve Niko trying to help Roman pay off his debts, by performing crime jobs here and there.

The American Dream only becomes an American nightmare. After dealings with Russian crime figures, including the ruthless Mikhail Faustin and the sly Dmitri Rascalov, the syndicate turns against Roman, threatening his life and the things he hold dear. Niko has to continue his money-making criminal exploits through other figures of the criminal underworld, including Jamaican drug dealer Little Jacob, Latin drug czar Elizabeta Torres, and Italian crime bosses Ray Boccino and Jimmy Pegorino. He also carries out missions for crooked Irish-American men coming from the same family: the corrupt cop Francis McReary, the young and always tough Patrick "Packie" McReary, and another rough one named Gerry McReary. Throughout, Niko finds himself in situations that are increasingly dangerous and extreme. Examples: kidnapping a mobster's daughter, killing a lawyer in his office, surviving a gunfight in a museum, getting ambushed at a funeral, taking out a guy on a basketball court, committing murder in a hospital, and (perhaps the most shocking mission in this game and maybe in the entire GTA series thus far) robbing a bank before gunning down 50 or so cops with heavy machine gun fire in order to get away with a huge load of cash.

The moment I started playing Grand Theft Auto IV, I was quickly pulled in. I was so amazed by the graphics, the new gameplay features, and the story. There was never a single dull moment, as the game just got better and better to the end. Just when I thought I could not imagine a bigger GTA game than, let's say, San Andreas, GTA IV completely blew me away. Before, I would consider San Andreas to be my favorite GTA game. Now it's a tie between Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I would even go as far as to say that anyone wanting to step into GTA for the first time should just go straight to GTA IV. It's a title proving that Rockstar Games never stops going above and beyond to thrill avid gamers out there.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Grand Theft Auto IV, visit the Internet Movie Database and Moby Games.


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