Beeg Amerikan tee-tees!

So against my better judgment, I decided to sweep up GTA IV off of Steam when they were having one of their crazy sales (it was hard to pass it up at $15). Plus I convinced myself that it had been two years since the game came out for the PC, so obviously all the bugs and complaints surrounding the PC port were ironed out in that time, right? Because Rockstar really cares about their PC ports, and because—alright, so I got this far with a straight face. From here on in, however, it’s just going to get ugly.

The American Dream

Grand Theft Auto IV starts out like the others in the series with Niko, an illegal immigrant from a Baltic country, arriving in Liberty City with his cousin, Roman, to greet him into the new world. Niko shacks up with his cousin after a trade in E-Mails explains that Roman is apparently doing very well for himself. Of course you know this is utter bullshit as soon as you see this tub of lard from the start of the game, and eventually he takes you to the Eastern European slums part of town where you check into a roach apartment.

You learn later on that Niko has come to Liberty City for his own reasons—amongst them include running away from the Baltic mob and as well as being under the impression that a man that betrayed his village unit of rebels is in town. This proves for an interesting point of difference in regards to previous GTA titles, as the title character was usually a native to the city or had some very serious business to take care of in the city, hence why he’s there. GTA 4, on the other hand, starts out slow and never picks up the pace.

You start off like any other GTA game—shoe-horned into taking missions for ridiculous characters as the only way to progress in the game. As a war veteran, Niko obviously has his strengths in force, and quickly picks up work for European gangsters in the neighborhood. Eventually things escalate and you have to relocate to shake off the heat. Along the way, however, you pick up a roid-raging car thief and Beenie Man’s double as your partners in crime.

As you can guess, you eventually find yourself working for more unlikely characters, including the CIA (no jumping out of airplanes or stealing jet packs out of military bases this time though), the Italian mafia, and a rapper-playing-gangsta. All of these apparently lead to one end for Niko—finding the man that betrayed his village friends a decade ago. The heat presses on for Niko, however, in light of what the game simply overshadows as “terrorist attacks.”

Eventually the game reaches its apex, and it sadly does not end with finding the man who betrayed Niko’s village (who apparently did it for a couple hundred dollars and is now some crack-whore who can’t stand up straight). In his path to seek revenge, however, Niko has pissed off the criminal underworld, and after they kill someone close to him, he goes on a rampage to settle the score. The game ends in an iconic scene of Niko gunning down a man who had been causing trouble for him throughout the game at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

It’s a long ride before a sinking feeling settles in that Rockstar has apparently taken a different direction with the GTA series this time around, specifically ditching the overall feel of the series that once parodied just about everything to a hilarious level and instead switched its color wheel to the swatches of gray and brown. GTA IV instead plays out as an obvious shot to the ever-enigmatic “American Dream” pie-in-the-sky whilst also finally throwing repercussions to the player for how violent he has been throughout the game. The curtains close as you are left with a unsatisfying taste that you just wasted 23 hours to feel depressed about reality more than you already are.

New faces in familiar places

GTA IV changes a lot of things aside from the basic premise and plot from previous GTA games. Apparently Rockstar went full-retard when it decided that the entire game needed a new vibe change, replacing the beautiful neons of Vice City and the deserts of San Andreas for the gray shit stain of Liberty City. Any design temp can tell you that using dreary and washed-out colors means you’re simply setting yourself up to put your audience to sleep, and that’s essentially what you feel when driving around in the absolutely lifeless Liberty City.

Speaking of driving, Rockstar, as I said, was not content with screwing up one thing, and instead decided that car handling apparently needed to suck even more than it did in San Andreas. Whereas the RPG stat system is now gone, it has since been replaced by “realistic” physics, No more taking turns at 60MPH—nope, now you’ve got to slam on the breaks and hope you can hairpin a turn under 20MPH (lest you slam into oncoming traffic). Considering Liberty City is a navigational nightmare, you rarely find yourself going faster than that old fat guy jogging down the street.

For some reason Rockstar also believed that the girlfriend side missions from San Andreas was a feature everyone loved, and instead of just keeping the dreary aspects of going on dates to some restaurant as the worst part of it, they instead added a complete social aspect to the game that involves mini-games like bowling, darts, and getting plastered at a bar and being unable to drive home. This proves to be of an extreme nuisance when the bonuses provided by some of your accomplishes need to be kept up with these social activities (as well as yawn-inspiring dialogue with each outing). Which brings me to my next point…

The cellphone. Essentially a “fast travel” to chat with related peoples of interest in future missions, you can find some neat easter eggs with it by dialing some random numbers. It plays interestingly well into some missions too, replacing the old video game trope of automatically recognizing a face you have never met or has never been described to you. The most dynamic feature of the phone? Niko dropping to a stroll’s pace in a gunfight to answer a phone call from his cousin to wonder if he wants to go bowling. Yeah. The phone is equally the single best and worst added feature to GTA IV. I can attribute a number of deaths to it because plot missions were triggered by it while I was fleeing from the cops.

It’s hard to avoid mentioning the good changes in GTA IV, however. For one, shaking the heat now has a much more dynamic and interesting system. Whereas in previous GTA games you needed to find a dark alley or visit a Pay n’ Spray, you can legitimately outrun the cops by hitting the numerous stunt spots or driving across lawns and parks, as the cops will no longer follow you blindly. Instead a “heat” radius is replaced with the traditional stars based on when the last cop spotted you, making for some pretty exciting car chases (especially if you manage to shake them at four stars).

The game also offers “choices” in some missions, which apparently have “serious” repercussions down the line, although in reality they simply unlock a different mission path than the other and both eventually lead to the same ending anyway, so it’s just a feature only useful if you’re doing a second replay. Considering there’s only like three of these choices in the game, however, I don’t see a replay happening any time soon (or if you are right of mind). Generally the new additions and changes to GTA IV simply bring down an already terrible game to below a bar I haven’t seen in quite some time. I’m talking Hellgate: London terrible.

Driving stick

There was a fatal flaw to the GTA series once Rockstar obviously started to take the PC ports less seriously than the console titles. I still have nightmares about the San Andreas flying missions (so much that every time I see or hear James Woods I want to fly a VTOL into his face). Of course not a damn thing has changed to improve the nightmare that is an attempt to optimize controls for the mouse and keyboard. Instead the game only throws you into the mix with one helicopter mission and it turns out to be the hardest in the entire game (go figure).

As my esteemed colleague at the start of this review noted, simply attempting to start playing GTA IV on the PC is a nightmare. Nothing has really changed from his experience. I found myself having to register for the Social Club crap just to launch the game, followed by needing a Live account just to save the game…Of course the fun didn’t stop there, because I needed to have Live updated or else the game would crash every time I would try to make it past the load up screen. I also had to box with the key mapping controls about SIX TIMES before the settings finally saved (I’m a lefty, so I change every damn key). I spent the first two hours just trying to get the game to work before realizing I had to jump through hoops to be disappointed.

Of course the main trouble of the series being on the PC hasn’t changed. You quickly learn you want to stay away from melee combat as often as possible (the first mission I failed TWICE was the introduction to melee combat actually). Driving and shooting at the same time require you to execute about six different keyboard commands at the same time. And don’t even get me started on the sound bugs I had to endure (thank God for subtitles). Apparently two years does shit for a crappy port, especially if you don’t attempt to fix it.

Take cover and flee

I think I understand very well why GTA IV was on sale for $15. I mean, sure, there’s the fact that it’s a two-year-old title, yeah, but then I realized later that it was only a $5 knockdown of the current $20 price tag. There’s a really good reason for that, folks, and it’s because the PC port is utter shite. This is on top of a game that changes up the usual flavor and pace of the GTA series and tries to dazzle you with concepts and philosophies that are so obvious that it’s about as subtle as parking a dump truck in your living room. The problem? The series has never been able to portray such serious concepts and is still unable to because the foundations are still shallow. And really, that’s all the series has always been, and still should be. Instead Rockstar tried to make GTA something it wasn’t, and it simply backfired. Hopefully they’ll get it right next time.

Brucie gives this a 1 out of 5!

Trackback: Slightly Relevant

Advertisements

About Agamemnon
Started blogging back in 2007 amidst that whole Hellgate: London fiasco on a blog known as flagshipped.com. Eventually moved on to do my own thing in December 2008 at gameriot.com and started Caveat Emptor there. Wrote there for six months, gained some notoriety, and then left. Now I'm back.

2 Responses to Beeg Amerikan tee-tees!

  1. Ivo says:

    Baltic? You mean Balkan. Although Niko’s last name was almost always mispronounced(it’s not Belik, it’s Belich) they clearly intended for him to be Serbian. And the European mobsters he fights in the start of the game are Albanian. But yes, to this day this game remains the worst PC port that I have seen in my life and it’s a travesty that they released it in this state and they received glowing reviews.

    • Agamemnon says:

      I was never really sure, considering they never really state it clearly in the game. But yes, I meant Balkan, and given my username, I should know better to confuse the two. I was disappointed by the gang affiliations present in the game, however. Where were all the modern street gangs that dominate crime these days? Only European mafias made appearances in the game (and a non-existent Jamaican gang). No Triads even.

%d bloggers like this: