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Late GTA 4 Impressions |

This post is extremely late, but GTA 4 is easily one of the most influential games of this generation and is worth a look back. I’m looking forward to a discussion in the comments 🙂



  • Huge Range and Depth of Detail Obviously the physics and graphics have received major overhauls. But beyond that, absolutely everything has been expanded. The NPCs have more elaborate behaviors and reactions, the environments are more detailed and there are more ways to interact with everything. For great coverage of these little touches read here and here.
  • Writing, Humor, and Narrative The wit, humor, and hilarious sarcasm of the series have always been a key part of the experience. That hasn’t diminished; the writing is as fresh and sharp as ever. This felt like a satisfying evolution to GTA fiction rather than merely more of the same. The main themes of the central story are slightly different. For example, the main story line moves away from the rags to riches arc of previous titles.
  • Gunplay The physics, impact, cover system, aiming controls, explosions are all improved. Also, shooting out of and into vehicles works much better than before.
  • Driving The car physics and damage is much more elaborate. Cars spin out and fish tail very easily which gives this game a steeper learning curve.
  • Wow Moments The game’s “wow” moments are more frequent and more spectacular than ever before. This is largely a result of more elaborate car chases, shootouts, gun fights, and explosions.
  • Full Multiplayer Multiplayer modes are surprisingly fun. Great voice chat and friend invitations.
  • Graphics Sure, all the polygon counters and pixel geeks scoff at this title and can name dozens of games with higher specs. But this game is absolutely beautiful to look at: the explosions, the car crashes, the jumps, the falls, and mostly, the overall rendition of the city. For maximum effect, fly through Times Square in a helicopter at night: it’s absolutely stunning.



  • Extended Tutorial The first 30-40 story missions all felt like part of a huge tutorial sequence. They were still fun to play through, but ideally the player wouldn’t feel like they are playing a tutorial for so long.
  • Soundtrack Where is my massive GTA 4 soundtrack boxset? Amazon lists a mere three online albums.
  • Core Game is aging I played GTA 1 when it came out on PC, and that was only OK, but GTA 3 blew me away when it came out. The whole game felt completely magical and completely unlike anything else I had ever played. GTA 4 is probably the biggest and best evolution of a series into the new generation of hardware, however, after playing through the last five GTA games (3, VC, SA, LC:S, VC:S), the core game experience is no longer new to me. Despite the game doing everything better than ever before, I no longer feel that raw sense of wonder just aimlessly exploring the fictional city.



There was a lot of controversy about the outrageously high praise that this game received at launch. Every highly rated game has legions of detractors and this game is no different. In an ideal world, GTA 3 would be rated more highly, since that was such a massive genre defining experience, but that’s probably a once in a lifetime sort of thing. No game can appeal to everyone, but this game deserves its unusually high marks for delivering ridiculously high polish and for the sheer quantity of detail and content, the great writing, the frequency of in-game wow moments, and great multiplayer.

Agree? Disagree? Let’s hear it.

  • James

    The soundtrack sucks. I was all excited about there being another classic rock station, but there were only like 3 good songs. There also seemed like there was less to do, especially when compared to San Andreas. Maybe that’s because of this being the first next-gen game in the series. They did a lot of good things with the physics engine and graphics, but, in my opinion, most of the story was flat and dry. If I had to pick anything about where to go with the series from here, though, I definitely think the best setting would be San Andreas in the late ’70s (especially the soundtrack). The ’60s and ’70s had a lot of great movies and vast differences in culture in the areas most closely related to the locations of San Andreas (San Fransisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas). Plus lots of potential references to movies like Up in Smoke, etc. bringing the fun factor back into the story (going with the more serious approach to the story, in my opinion, took away from a lot of the ‘zest’ of the series, but that’s been happening since San Andreas anyways).

    That’s just me though. I’m old fashioned like that 😛

  • Mike

    I agree the soundtrack was a big letdown, both in what it was comprised of and the fact that there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of material. I remember hearing some songs over and over and over again. Limits of the 7GB footprint they had to work with?

    As for the game, it was great. It fixed what GTA’s biggest problems were: graphics and gunplay. The aiming, cover, and blind fire worked great (a hell of a lot better than the aiming in Saints Rows, still don’t get why that is praised so much), and it’s still the best looking sandbox game despite some of the other games coming out. I was worried that GTA wasn’t going to live up to what it could be in terms of graphics when I saw some of the earlier sandbox games this gen, but they made everything look good and in a game of this scale that is quite an accomplishment.

    My main problem with the game was the dozen or so “chase” missions – they were completely, overly scripted. Remember how in previous GTA games you could do something unorthodox that would either end the mission earlier than you expected and made it seem like what you were doing had a real impact on the world around you? That was pretty much missing. In one mission, you’re chasing guys on motorcycles but you cannot kill either of them until you hit the subway, no matter how much you fire. The ending mission was epic, but again, you’re going through the motions until a certain part where it could end in a specific area. I can forgive it somewhat for the cinematic aspect of where it ends, but that was the 15th time a mission was like that in the game and just reminded me what went wrong. That said the other 80 or so missions range from quite good to among the best in the series (three leaf clover was outstanding). Add in how fun some of the assassination and car theft missions were, or the new way the vigilante missions work, and the game is back to being a 10/10 for me.

    The outrage over the reviews was ridiculous, and the way people turned around and make stupid criticisms of MGS4 six weeks later in order to look “tougher” on games was just as bad. If you think a game is a 10, say it and stand by it. To me, GTA IV was a 10. I was never huge on some of the aspects that were added to San Andreas (the countryside, tatoos, and crazy clothes didn’t matter much to me) and the core mechanics of GTA finally hit what they should have been a while ago.

    It’s amazing how people will bash something like this but praise a short, repetitive, and unoriginal game like Gears of War. Rockstar North pleased the critics that matter: the ten million people that bought the game since it came out.

  • Darrin

    I completely agree with almost everything you two said. The soundtrack was weak compared to VC & SA, although I’m glad they didn’t repeat the same formula with a different decade.

    The missions did feel overly scripted compared to previous GTA titles. There were a few really great epic missions but most of the others were too simple or predictable or scripted.

    Still a 10 game, in my book: many flaws, but this is still the best game I’ve played this generation.

  • Yeah…

    I say GTA4 was good, but not as good as SA, because of many elements missing, like the Clothing and RPG stuff… I loved that in SA and it wouldn’t have been too much to ask to include that in 4.

    I liked the game, but it got stale. Most missions were boring… Either kill that one or pick up a at b and drive it to c. That just wasn’t fun.

    Three Leef Clover was an AWESOME mission, yet it was a sole contender in that huge game.

    After I played through the main missions, I left the game and never played it again, because chasing pidgeons or driving racing missions isn’t what I want to do in a GTA game. But I got an urge to play it again those last few weeks^^ I feel like I missed sooooo much stuff in this game (I nearly never drove around, only missions etc.)

  • Beautiful, but tedious.

    Why can’t I respawn closer to the point where I died (like the great COD4) ?I have to return so far back, to the hospital, accept the retry phone message, steal a car, drive the loose controls, blah-blah

    It’s shaping up that I am not going to complete this game. It’s not fun anymore.

    I am a games artist and it’s amazing to me that powerful visuals are not enough – as in GTAIV!

  • JimmyStewart

    I’m not going to get to into this, as I think in general video gaming on the web focuses far too much on flaws and nit picks than just enjoying the games. Sure I can think of a handful of things in GTA that possibly could have been done better. Respawning closer is a good example. The 40 level tutorial has been mentioned in a handful of reviews, but I personally didn’t see that. The game gripped me from the word “go”.

    Perhaps it’s because this is the first GTA game to grab me so I can’t compare it to previous titles. I only played GTA3 briefly on the PC. I’ve never wanted to play the game franchise prior to this game and I have to say I’ve been constantly blown away. I’ve always hated the GTA franchise, but this game prompted me to go out and buy the GTA bundle pack for the PS2 to give another shot later.

    I’m not going to drone on and on about how good I think this game is, it’s possibly the best game I’ve ever played (I’ve only got 50 hours in so far… perhaps hunting down pigeons will kill some of my enjoyment). It’s hands down the best game I’ve played on any console this generation. I think it’s a disservice to try and bring up any flaws. Any game can always be improved, and it just seems to dirty the accomplishments of this game to bring up the minor annoyances. Maybe it’s hearing the coverage NPR gave this game and how serious mainstream outlets really saw this game as an evolution for gaming. Something that’s really brought gaming closer to a serious medium or art form. A great game and I’ll leave it at that.

  • chrysostom

    I found the graphics very impressive. And I agreed that the mission is a bit stale. However, I will try to focus on the philosophical aspect of the game.. which I think are worth exploring.

    For some reason, I think that these missions were purposely created “pointless”. The reason? To drive home the feeling of an immigrant criminal in a foreign country.

    Nick kept mentioning that he needed money for every mission and yet, there was really not much he could do with the money. Why? Is it the insecurity of an immigrant in a big city that he doesn’t feel belong to?

    And, the guys he was looking for the whole time… one of them was gay (nothing wrong being gay) and harmless. The other was also not any big boss type and was completely at your mercy. Killing him didn’t give you any gratification. Why? Are the developers trying to tell us that a revenge doesn’t give us the pleasure that we usually anticipate?

    The final mission. Whoever’s advice we follow, that guy/gal will be killed.. Again, why? A gamer would feel helpless either way.. Is this the life of an immigrant that the developers want us the experience?

    Also, all of the criminals we met are immigrants trying to make a name for themselves in this big city. Is Nick trying to do the same thing? Apparently, not.. Nick doesn’t seem to be interested in organizing his own gang. Why? Nick was created a killing machine (sounds like Solid Snake in MGS4??)

    I am not good at expressing my thoughts but I think this game has a deeper meaning than what the media portraits.

    I can’t say it’s a 10 for me.. but it’s definitely worth playing. I would rank it just a bit below MGS4. 🙂

  • darrin

    “I think it’s a disservice to try and bring up any flaws.”

    Another time, you made a great point that people spend too much time bashing highly rated games that they don’t like. But that’s not the case here. I enjoy discussing and analyzing the pros and cons of my favorite games the most, and GTA is easily my favorite series.

    And, while I think GTA 4 is a huge improvement over the previous titles in so many ways, I can’t help but feel that I didn’t have quite as much fun as I did with GTA3, VC, and SA. I think the missions were a little less interesting and the core game just isn’t as new and this is definitely worth discussing. I still love GTA 4 though. It was a ton of fun, the upgrades are amazing, the writing and humor are as great as ever.

  • mcloki

    As a long time games but someone who never played any of the previous GTA games. GTA IV was a great game.
    There’s nothing like driving somewhere to kill a guy and have Black Sabbath Heaven and Hell playing in the background. Jut a nice geeky thrill. Booting around town at sunset was actually fun. It had a cool badass vibe for me. I enjoyed it.
    The game for me played out like an RPG. Maybe we can start calling them American Role playing Games. ARPG’s. It has all the classic RPG elements. A weapons upgrade system. Missions. A quest element. Loot. I look good in the ONYX suit. Thought I wish i could buy a red tie then i could be more Res Dogs. The humour was good. There’s more that could be done graphically but the engine does not need much improving.
    Actually GTA IV could easily go episodic. I’d pay $20 for another 10 hours story arc. Maybe wiping out a rival gang or tacking down a corrupt politician. Or recruiting strippers fro Romans International House of Stripers.
    The writing of the radio ads was very funny. The internet stuff didn’t work out that well.
    Some things i’d like to see.
    I’d like to see a more “empire build’ type of dynamic. I’d love a trophy garage of all the cars I’ve stolen. A photo montage of all the girls “who invited you up to their room” And a way to build a house that you have to constantly upgrade with new stuff, like pools, bars, marina’s.
    I’m just starting to kill pigeons and that’s actually fun.
    The game is a must play. One, it is a cultural experience. Everyone yo know has played it and therefore to be “in” on the conversation you need to experience yourself. The same way you need to see Star wars. So many references would be missed otherwise.
    2nd It’s easily one of the top 3 games on the PS3 at the moment. MGS being the top. You owe it to yourself to play these two games. Rent them if you don’t think they’re your cup of tea. I didn’t think GTA was my cup of tea but I am really enjoying the experience. It’s more fun than MSG but that’s because of the unexpected stupid things that happen in the game. Like running over a cop on a date and having to outrun the cops. That’s funny.

  • JimmyStewart

    “Another time, you made a great point that people spend too much time bashing highly rated games that they don’t like. But that’s not the case here.”

    Yeah I understand where the feeling comes from. And in some cases I agree. I think as I said it’s more to do with this being the first GTA game that I actually “get” that has impressed me so. And with that in mind I’m saying I personally think it’s a disservice to the game to bring up it’s flaws. I’m still playing the game but I’m done with the story and looking back on it I honestly can’t think of much that I seriously could see improving. For every minor annoyance that I hardly noticed during gameplay I could say volumes about what was done perfectly. It just seems weird to take a game that’s made such strides for gaming and to bring out the negatives. Even by metacritic standards this is one of the best games we’ve seen to date and it seems a bit much to read all these reviews that always feel the need to bring up what’s wrong with the game. Why focus so much on what’s wrong with a game that does so much right? Just today my wife and I were discussing how we were dreading the thought of the rumored Halo 3 achievements and how even though it was a good game we weren’t looking forward to doing anything else with it. However, I haven’t even completely finished with GTA and I’m already dying to get my hands on that new DLC.

    I don’t know perhaps it’s just my nature. I prefer to think of the positive side of things and it seems like game discussion so rapidly turns negative. I can’t think of many other discussions where even the best examples of the medium start out with statements like “It’s great but here’s what’s wrong with it…” Maybe it’s just in the communities nature, but it’s certainly not in mine.

  • James

    My biggest problems were because I have played past GTAs and loved them, but the improvements are still overshadowed by the things taken away (esp. with what SA had, including more aerial vehicles, location variety, parachutes, more body/clothing options, car customization, minigames (like taxi missions, etc.), specialty events (destruction derbies, stadium circuit races, etc.), and even the cheats (hey, they’re fun). There’s still more).

  • JimmyStewart

    “Are the developers trying to tell us that a revenge doesn’t give us the pleasure that we usually anticipate?”


    I think that’s exactly right. I think as such it’s a very nicely illustrated lesson. Even more than suggesting revenge might not give you the pleasure you’d expect of it, it also presents a story which shows a man consumed by anger and is corrupted to such a large degree in his quest. The game to me is almost a parable for what letting hate into your life can do to you personally. The greatest toll Niko receives in this game is almost entirely self-inflicted. It’s not just that he didn’t find satisfaction in his revenge, it’s that he gave up his humanity for the opportunity. His hate consumed him and left him empty and helpless.

    I can’t think of any other game that’s been able to pull something like that off. I would’ve been entirely disappointed if the game had ended with the same cookie-cutter ending of killing the bad guy and wrapping everything up with a tidy little bow. Every game I can think of has that ending… this game is the first one that really provides any variety to the formula and it’s that which helps to elevate this game above the rest imo. The entire game is about choices and consequences… and I think the ending illustrates that beautifully. It’s why I believe this game is bringing gaming closer to a respected art form like movies or music. It’s not just mindless violence and pointless entertainment. It’s a story that provides real substance and impact and causes conversations just like this. I can’t think of any other game that’s prompted any conversation on this level. Ordinarily it’s kill, kill, kill, kill bigger boss and credits. This game has provided so much more.

  • superjp

    That was the best GTA 4 review I could read.

    Maybe I just wrote that cause I think the same about the game !!

    But there is just some thing that is missing maybe because you were not hurt with those : the catastrophy of the first two weeks with the online not working and the game freezing constantly.

    But apart from that I read what I thought about the game in this article:

    Also the most true part is about the core gameplay of hanging around the streets that was so brilliant and exciting in the previous games and that is there not there in that one.