Grand Theft Auto IV

By Shamus Posted Friday Aug 10, 2018

Filed under: Retrospectives 101 comments

Grand Theft Auto IV is the highest rated entry in the franchise, which is bizarre to me since I think it’s the absolute nadir of Grand Theft Auto. The virtues of the series (the open world sandbox) were more restrained, while all of the worst faults (a heavy focus on a no-fun story that tries and fails to be a movie) were stronger.

The tone is even more self-serious than what came before. The world is drab and joyless. The driving and shooting are “realistic” by way of being sluggish. The lead character is a mope that doesn’t seem to enjoy anything the game asks us to do. Many of the supporting characters are grating. The missions are more scripted than ever, keeping the player on an even tighter leash in the service of set-piece driven mission design spiked with DIAS “gotcha” moments. The mechanics are cluttered with shallow, frivolous side activities like bowling and dating that don’t make use of the open world that is the strong point of the franchise. The gameplay / story dissonance is more noticeable than before, thanks mostly to the fact that Niko Bellic’s personal goals are completely at odds with the typical “boss of the week” mission structure.

No Fun Allowed

This wall of low-contrast brown and grey is our introduction to the world? Ugh. I'm bored already.
This wall of low-contrast brown and grey is our introduction to the world? Ugh. I'm bored already.

But for whatever reason this clunky, grim, humorless, aimless, dissonant, heavy-handed, frustrating, visually dull, thematically incoherent game has been elevated not just as the apex of the series, but as a crowning achievement for gaming in general. As of this writing, it’s the third highest-rated game on any platform, with an astounding 98%. Yes, Metacritic is deeply flawed. But it’s still an aggregate of critical reception, and it’s shocking how highly this game was praised in the face of so many glaring problems.

On top of all of that, the PC port is a complete shitshow. It’s the only game I’ve ever seen with three simultaneously competing in-game overlays: Steam, Rockstar Social Club, and the execrable Games for Windows LIVE. While some games have been mercifully patched to remove the now-defunct GFWL, Rockstar evidently doesn’t care. To this day the game still requires you to install itProtip: Skip the GFWL install and use the fan-made drop-in replacement that removes the need for Microsoft’s obnoxious malware..

Given the alleged prestige of this title, Rockstar’s famously deep pockets, and the fact that there was never a good reason to saddle this game with GFWL in the first place, their refusal to patch it out of this game is completely inexcusable. The cost to fix this would be completely trivial, but they can’t even be bothered to do this small gesture on behalf of one of the highest rated games ever made.

Good thing they added SecuROM. It would be dangerously irresponsible to only have three layers of pointless DRM on this thing.
Good thing they added SecuROM. It would be dangerously irresponsible to only have three layers of pointless DRM on this thing.

Rockstar loves using their cutscenes to take swipes at “evil corporations” and “greed” and “capitalism”. While I’m normally down for calling out scummy companies for scummy practices, I find their attempts at this sort of social commentary to be enraging. GTA V made one billion US dollars in the first three days of sales. They could have given away the game for free from that point on and it still would have made them back five times their purported development costs and ranked as the most profitable game since World of Warcraft. But then they went on to add the multiplayer stuff with PvP and scummy pay-to-win microtransactions. This company is the poster child for corporate avarice and contempt for the consumer, and if they can’t spend the small handful of man-hours to remove the now-defunct malware from GTA IVThat absolutely nobody wanted in the first place and which offered the consumer nothing but headaches., then I don’t think they have any room to be criticizing the likes of Apple computer, McDonald’s, or any of their usual punching bags. Hypocrisy is not a good look, and it’s completely destructive to Rockstar’s attempts at social “satire”.

I realize it's not totally fair to blame GTA IV for this, but with Microsoft announcing their schemes for a cloud-based gaming service at this year's E3, I feel the need to remind the world just how awful they are at this and how many headaches they cause.
I realize it's not totally fair to blame GTA IV for this, but with Microsoft announcing their schemes for a cloud-based gaming service at this year's E3, I feel the need to remind the world just how awful they are at this and how many headaches they cause.

Even ignoring GFWL, the rest of the game is still a technological mess. At launch it ran like a pig and was prone to glitches. Even today with now-overpowered hardware it’s still oddly sluggish at strange times. I can get a nice smooth 30fps out of GTA V, but GTA IV has these occasional inexplicable dips in performance that push the framerate down into the single digits. This is true even though GTA V has much sharper visuals, a larger world, a longer draw distance, and both games are running at the same resolution. There’s no justification for GTA IV running this poorly.

I realize the industry doesn’t care about the PC and that it cared even less back in 2008. Still, I’d expect critics explicitly reviewing the PC version to do a better job than slapping a 90/100 on such a deeply troubled port.

The Mud-Covered Lens

Left: The default look of the game. Right: I tried to add color and contrast. Yes, my supposedly fixed version shows ugly color banding, but I can't restore color data that isn't there. I'm just trying to show how much clearer the image is when our characters stand out from the scenery.
Left: The default look of the game. Right: I tried to add color and contrast. Yes, my supposedly fixed version shows ugly color banding, but I can't restore color data that isn't there. I'm just trying to show how much clearer the image is when our characters stand out from the scenery.

The performance problems might be more understandable if the game wasn’t so relentlessly ugly. In a baffling waste of both artistic effort and processing power, the game uses HDR lighting but does so without using all of the available black values. That is, if you take a screenshot indoors and analyze the color usage, you’ll find the darkest parts of the screen don’t get anywhere near the bottom of the available spectrum, and the lightest values barely register. Which means the overwhelming majority of the screen is filled with medium-brightness pixels. That would be bad enough on its own, but then the color filter drains all the saturation out of the scene and it tints everything slightly brown. Which means our final image is:

  1. Low contrast.
  2. Low saturation.
  3. Little hue differentiation.

You could get away with doing one of these for some stylistic effect, but all three together makes for incredibly bland images. I realize this game is a product of the Brown Age of gaming and this is just the style of the day. But even allowing for the icky brown filter, the complete lack of contrast makes the game tiring to look at.

Since this game is so enamored of the work of Martin ScorseseWhich is not a bad thing at all. Scorsese is a master and if you’re an aspiring filmmaker then aping this style is not a bad goal for learning the craft. let’s take a look at this shot from the opening moments of Casino:

This movie is so good.
This movie is so good.

Sure, we’re looking at a dark room. But notice how much the image pops. The foreground details have color. The bright light stands in stark contrast to the black room beyond, focusing our attention exactly where the filmmaker wants it. The fruit bowl gives a splash of color so the shot isn’t overwhelmed with earth tones. If you’re above a certain age, then you can probably taste the cigarette smoke in the air. And yet, the smoke isn’t fogging up the shot and getting in the way of the faces. The harsh lighting highlights the lines in the faces of these old dues, making them appear both ancient and sinister. While the subject matter is ugly, the shot itself is beautiful and clear.

For comparison, here’s a shot from the opening scene of GTA IV:

Is there something wrong with my monitor? I mean, BESIDES the fact that it's showing me images from GTA IV.
Is there something wrong with my monitor? I mean, BESIDES the fact that it's showing me images from GTA IV.

Here are our two lead characters standing in what I guess is supposed to be medium darkness. They’re not under a light and neither one stands out from the background. The only light in the scene is shining on some random junk in the background. No shadows. No color. No contrast.

I realize there are additional constraints placed on a game designer. You can’t get away with leaving large areas of a scene in total darkness, because the player will get frustrated if they end up blundering out of the light and into the pitch-dark areas. Total darkness is just as bad as a total white-out, and in the context of a game you can’t let the player to stumble around blind because you wanted to set up some fancy lighting arrangement. But that doesn’t explain why we have main characters standing around in cutscenes with flat lighting while the lights are aimed at the background clutter.

The difference between the visuals we’re seeing and the technology going on under the hood is really drastic. It feels like someone bought a $100,000 film studio camera and used it to record a school play.

A Good Idea For a Movie

My cousin, do you want to play some shite brown American videogames?
My cousin, do you want to play some shite brown American videogames?

I should make it clear that I’m not against serious stories. I like Niko and I think his story would be worth watching in the right context. GTA IV is the story of a man haunted by the horrors of an unnamed war in eastern Europe. During the war his unit was betrayed and led into an ambush. He barely escaped. Afterwards he went back and looked through the mass grave where his comrades were buried. Aside from himself, two other men are missing. He concludes that one of them must have been the traitor.

For years his cousin Roman has been sending him letters, telling him about his wild life in America. He tells Niko about his mansion, the sportscars he owns, and all of the hot models he’s banging. Niko makes his way to Liberty City to join Roman and look for the traitor.

When he arrives, Niko discovers that Roman’s stories were all bullshit. Roman lives in a cockroach-infested one-room apartment. The only thing Roman has are gambling debts.

From here, Niko begins working for the local crime bosses, hoping to make a living and find the man who betrayed his unit.

That’s a great outline for a story. We’ve got a solid protagonist, a great mystery to hook the audience, a lurid world of crime and violence to keep it exciting, and an annoying but lovable supporting character to give it a little heart. If this was a movie by Martin Scorsese or Michael Mann, I’d be thrilled to watch it.

But this isn’t a movie, it’s a Grand Theft Auto game, which means it’s a great idea tragically diluted by mountains of extraneous cruft, dragged down by sophomoric humor, and muddled by an inconsistent tone. The central mystery is a good hook, but you can play for hours without Niko ever attempting to make any progress on it. It’s supposedly his central motivation, yet for most of the game it feels like he’s forgotten his purpose. He spends most of the game working for a succession of unstable bosses who ask him to perform dangerous jobs in exchange for for money he doesn’t really seem to need or care about. And these bosses aren’t the amusing and outlandish weirdos we worked for in San Andreas. These guys are a drag.

Multiple Dissonance

INCISIVE SOCIAL COMMENTARY.
INCISIVE SOCIAL COMMENTARY.

It’s not that you can’t do a serious game in the context of an open-world city game. The Mafia series is a pretty good example of this kind of game that plays everything straight. The difference is that Mafia isn’t draped with childish toilet humor.

This is a world with an internet cafe called [email protected]If the English pronunciation isn’t clear from context, it’s “Twat”. Sort of. Close enough for the “joke” to work, anyway.. An innuendo-gushing donut place called Rusty Brown’s Ring Donuts. A World of Warcraft analog called Loot and Wank. The background of this game has the sense of humor of a 12 year old.

And I’m not against crass humor! I even laughed at a couple of the visual jokes. The problem is that these elements do not work with the self-serious story. This game wants so badly to be a Martin Scorsese movie, but Scorsese films don’t have Adam Sandler and the Wayans Brothers grabassing around in the the background while Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro agonize over whether they need to kill a guy. Tone matters. In fact, mastery of tone is one of the hallmarks of the movies these games are trying so hard to imitate.

This game doesn’t just have ludonarrative dissonance, it has comprehensive dissonance. The “wacky” world is dissonant with the serious story. The linear story conflicts with the open-world design. The open-world design is at odds with the rigid DIAS mission structure. And the mission structure doesn’t mesh well with the wacky world. This game is constantly pulling itself apart because it can’t reconcile it’s story, setting, gameplay, or tone.

The Simulation Stuff is Pretty Good. I Guess.

Let me end on the contents of this video, which asserts that “Grand Theft Auto IV is better than Grand Theft Auto V”, and as proof it shows all of these fine gameplay details:


Link (YouTube)

GTA IV does indeed have more subtle transition animations, more fully developed brawling mechanics, less irrationally aggressive AI, a more diverse set of combat animations, far more detailed limb damage, more varied vehicle damage, and more destructible objects in the environment. The open-world systems are a little deeper and a little more interestingAlthough the video also portrays the over-exaggerated wobble-car suspension physics as a good thing, and I just can’t get behind that..

GTA IV has a lot going for it on a mechanical level, but we don’t engage with mechanics in a vacuum. This is a sad mope of a videogame. It’s a dreary world, telling a dreary story, using dreary visuals, with a dreary main character, that has NIKO MY COUSIN DO YOU WANT TO GO SEE SOME RIPE BROWN AMERICAN TITTIES?!?

You can’t fool me, GTA IV. Neither of us is having any fun and you know it.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Protip: Skip the GFWL install and use the fan-made drop-in replacement that removes the need for Microsoft’s obnoxious malware.

[2] That absolutely nobody wanted in the first place and which offered the consumer nothing but headaches.

[3] Which is not a bad thing at all. Scorsese is a master and if you’re an aspiring filmmaker then aping this style is not a bad goal for learning the craft.

[4] If the English pronunciation isn’t clear from context, it’s “Twat”. Sort of. Close enough for the “joke” to work, anyway.

[5] Although the video also portrays the over-exaggerated wobble-car suspension physics as a good thing, and I just can’t get behind that.



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101 thoughts on “Grand Theft Auto IV

  1. methermeneus says:

    Ah, the whole article is on the front page. Now I know everything’s back to normal with the site!

    1. Derjungerludendorff says:

      Once more we sound the refrain:
      It’s all splayedout on the homepage again!

      1. MadTinkerer says:

        There wasn’t nearly enough entire-article-on-front-page with the old webhost. Now things are finally back to normal.

  2. Carlos García says:

    Whole article in the front page.
    For me the story worked enough to understand Niko delaying the hunt for the traitor as he gets in with the first criminal boss to save his cousin from getting killed and then they go on having to go for others to save their lives and so on; but it lasts too much. It’s also a too linear story indeed that always made me think when playing this why make such a big world when the story doesn’t feel like allowing us to go out of our way to explore?
    Btw, I found in g2a.com GTA V is now on just under 20€, a third of the Steam price, to be downloaded from the game’s home page and I don’t see them saying it’s on https://www.g2a.com/es-es/grand-theft-auto-v-rockstar-key-global-i10000000788017 Is it a good idea to take it? Am I missing something?

    1. derjungerludendorff says:

      Well, G2A is a rather skeevy key reseller who does things like sell stolen goods, and is often considered a financial burden by devs due to all the problems they cause and facilitate.

      So the offer is probably genuine (although with these guys there is no guarantee). Wether you want to buy from them is up to you.

      1. evilmrhenry says:

        Also: it’s not a Steam key, just a Rockstar Social Club key.

        Also: Grand Theft Auto V on Steam is $30/£25. No idea where you’re getting the £60 price from.

        Also, it’s on sale at Fanatical for $20, also as a Rockstar Social Club key.

        1. Carlos García says:

          What the hell… Yes, opening Steam is at 29.99€. Yesterday I checked on browser and saw 59.99€. Guess reflection on monitor made me misread.

          @derjungerludendorff it felt like that, hence my hesitation to go for it without asking somewhere.

          Thanks to all who answered. I will pass on it and buy from Steam if I decide, which I’m thinking now better not to, since I have so many games I’ve not finished/played.

    2. ElementalAlchemist says:

      It’s cheaper than that on legit sites.

      https://isthereanydeal.com/game/grandtheftautov/info/

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    It’s not that you can’t do a serious game in the context of an open-world city game. The Mafia series is a pretty good example of this kind of game that plays everything straight. The difference is that Mafia isn’t draped with childish toilet humor.

    I wouldnt use mafia as a good example of a serious open world game.Yes,its a good game,but the open world part of it feels like an afterthought.Plus,the entire game is highly scripted,with your side activities not mattering at all.

    Personally,Id use new vegas as an example.Not only is it a great open world game,not only does it do serious stories well,it also blends seriousness with humor almost seamlessly,which is what gta4 was trying to do.Plus,it actually gives you motives for doing side things if you prefer them over beelining for the main quest,which gta4 also fails to do.

    1. Derjungerludendorff says:

      I agree that Mafia seriously underutilizes it’s open world.
      But thematically it seems pretty consistent with the story, which I believe is what Shamus was referring to here.

    2. Decius says:

      New Vegas would be so much better if they had finished all the content that they planned. The difference between the locations that they finished and the ones that they shipped with filler content or just boarded over the doors is so drastic.

      To be fair, there’s a lot of locations that they finished and only a couple that they didn’t; Westside, the farms, and Jacobstown are the ones that I really notice that they put hooks in, but there’s nothing to catch.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I know that video is made to present 4 as better,and its showing off mechanics,but it really works well to showcase your first point:gta4 looks like piss,while 5 is so much more vibrant,more lifelike.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I was actually having a hard time telling them apart at first, since I played neither game. I think 4 is the browner-looking one (usually) on the right of the video, with a bit more pronounced polygons, a bit less texture quality, more physics objects, more people and cars, and a lot more brown?

  5. Redrock says:

    I think a big part of why people like GTA IV is the great shift in mechanics compared to the PS2 era. The cover system and gunplay seemed a huge leap at the time. The physics, the vehicle damage, all that stuff. And, yes, people like Nico. Sure, the tone is all over the place, but he was probably the most interesting and consistently sympathetic player character in the whole franchise, so people tend to overlook it, That said, I mostly agree with you, Shamus. I never finished GTA IV because it just frustrated the hell out of me.

    1. ElementalAlchemist says:

      And, yes, people like Nico. Sure, the tone is all over the place, but he was probably the most interesting and consistently sympathetic player character in the whole franchise

      I think this is an important point that can’t be understated. I started the series with GTA3 and have played all the mainline entires at least once, and SA, IV, and V multiple times. IV has plenty of problems, as Shamus has outlined, but it has a special place in my heart, and I think that is pretty much solely down to Nico. My feelings on the various other protagonists across the series range from disinterest to outright dislike, but there’s something about Nico that keeps me coming back to IV.

      1. Matt Downie says:

        How do you reconcile the personality the game wants him to have with how he acts, murdering hundreds of people, often for no very good reason? Ignore it? Assume he’s gone into a trauma-related fugue state?

        1. ElementalAlchemist says:

          How do you reconcile it for any GTA game? Or any other similar type of game for that matter?

          1. Viktor says:

            Running through a few series:
            Well, the protag of the Saint’s Row games is a sociopath puckish rogue. There is no conflict between someone who drives on the sidewalk and someone tricks a gang boss into driving over his girlfriend.
            In the Dead Rising games, everyone you kill is an acceptable target. The lack of character qualms over killing at all are a bit odd, but acceptable for the medium.
            TES/Fallout, the game doesn’t try to tell you who your character is(much). If you kill a ton of people, your storyline decisions will probably ALSO kill a ton of people. If you avoid doing much harm, so will your character.

            There’s ways of handling the way the players will actually use the character, but those rely on acknowledging how the player will play and building towards it, which is not what GTA’s story does.

            1. Droid says:

              Since you mentioned it, the (Saints’ Row II) protag’s treatment of Maero (leader of The Brotherhood, the red gang) is the only thing that really troubled me.
              The Ronin (yellow gang in SR II)? They killed Aisha, so they made it very personal, and got the short end of the stick in a series of ever-escalating revenge/counterattack moves.
              The Sons of Samedi (green)? They’re mostly focused on the drug trade, and while you’re terrorizing them, you do so by destroying drug labs and the like. So it’s by far not the moral high ground, but what you’re doing is at least not as bad as the following:

              You get offered a 20/80 deal in exchange for a truce with a gang that currently controls about 1/3 of the gang territory in the city, at a time when you control next to none. You are apparently so insulted by that offer that, OUT OF SHEER PETTINESS, you decide to blow up some of their trucks and inject Maero’s tattooing ink with nuclear waste. That’s not something you do as a show of force to change the deal more in your favour, that’s something you do to show that you’d rather kill them all than to consider even negotiating on the 20/80 split. To show that scorched earth is the only appropriate answer to having the gall to demand something from an (at that point) nearly powerless gang.
              After that, it’s the usual “they started escalating, so we need to escalate MORE” thing, even though making Maero unknowingly kill his girlfriend is still more off-the-deep-end than with the Ronin.

              So, I guess I have no problems with all the violence and contrived conflict as long as it’s the other guys being stupidly unreasonable about all this and leaving at least the possibility that if only they were less suicidally stubborn, we could be convinced to not kill them all.

              That said, I really liked both how Maero realized he had to get Vogel in on the job to have any chance at revenge as well as the twist that Vogel wasn’t helpless at all and ditched him as soon as he saw the both of them weren’t winning.

              1. Dorenkosh says:

                Some spoilers for Saints Row (the first one) here; I don’t know how to do spoiler tags.

                The Boss’s treatment of the Brotherhood seems like, in part, a reaction to the Westside Rollerz plot of the first game. It’s not rational or reasonable, but it’s also not exactly petty. The Boss (then Playa) was stuffed in the trunk of a car (!) with another Saint and left to die. PTSD (as mentioned in the Third) isn’t surprising. The only surviving other person who was involved in that scene is Donnie, now one of the Brotherhood’s mechanics. So the Boss decides to torture Donnie.

                Rejecting the 80/20 offer … I take it as mix of “the Boss just woke up out of a coma and is still forgetting how low the Saints have fallen” and a manifestation of gangland pecking order logic. The Saints won’t be subordinate to the Brotherhood, the Brotherhood isn’t going to offer an even deal (they’re currently superior), so there’s never going to be an agreement. The default state is war.

                How do you punch above your weight and make a superior foe fear you, take you seriously? Nuclear terrorism’s not a bad option. (The plant was also right there, in view, out the train window.)

                1. SharpeRifle says:

                  I’ll point out that your choices as a player can change how “insulting” the offer is too storywise.
                  There is no reason you have to meet with Maero when the mission first comes up. If you wait a while and conquer most of the Sons territory and some of the Ronin when you meet with Maero you can have almost a third of the city your self THEN its totally insulting and the remainder of the missions jibe better if you like a “kindler gentler” boss….well less sociopathic anyway…8-P

                  1. Michael says:

                    If you leave The Brotherhood until last, they’ll have full auto assault shotguns as standard armament when you’re running their missions. So, that’s one reason to go after Maero early on.

                    All three of the gangs get weapon upgrades as you defeat the other two. The Ronin get some nasty SMGs. I can’t remember what the Samedis get.

                    1. SharpeRifle says:

                      Key word being “defeat” no one said you had to clear their territories….but you can aquire a third of the city before you meet him by playing right. Then you can take out whoever as you want.

          2. Cubic says:

            All the other GTA characters are basically heartless sociopathic killers, to a greater or lesser extent, but Niko was so depressed and broken down about all those dead guys pre-game that it did feel pretty weird to kill another 1500 or so during the game.

            (I seem to recall that Niko was something of a war criminal himself, but I frankly don’t remember the details that well.)

          3. Olivier FAURE says:

            And that is (one of the many reasons) why I couldn’t take Watch Dog’s story seriously.

        2. Benjamin Hilton says:

          I find there’s bits in every game that I just put down to something I did vs something the character did. For example I doubt the master chief would ever bunny hop around the room during a briefing. How do I reconcile these actions? Simple, he didn’t do them. That was something I did. Why does Nico mow down civilians on the way from one place to another? He didn’t, that is something I did but I implicitly understand didn’t take place in the story.

          1. Droid says:

            Yes, but that stops working as soon as the story missions themselves explicitly tell you: “Hey there are some people, kill them!”. Niko, as depicted in the more drama-heavy parts of the game, wouldn’t just start gunning and ask questions later. He especially wouldn’t gun down 30 cops just to get a small suitcase full of diamonds that CAN’T POSSIBLY BE WORTH THAT MUCH to a boss who doesn’t really know what to do with them (that goes for all three interested parties and protags, tbh.).

            Or was I the only one who was just REALLY, REALLY confused about what happened to those damned diamonds that we seemingly delivered to our boss in 3 different missions, except we apparently didn’t?

            1. Mr. Wolf says:

              The diamonds ended up thrown into a garbage truck, and were later found by a homeless man. None of the criminal cartels got them in the end.

              Personally I was more confused by where the diamond money ended up. Last seen in possession of the Lost MC, but they didn’t seem any richer for it.

              1. Droid says:

                I wasn’t wondering about where the diamonds ultimately ended up, I caught that at the end of TBoGT, I was confused about where they came from, and how they eluded three different protags in about 10-15 missions total centred around retrieving them.
                Every damn mission including the diamonds felt like filler where we were promised some sort of progress, but either failed to get them even on a mission success or got them but just got told that “something happened, I guess” (like at the end of the trash pickup mission by Niko).
                Looking at the timeline of events, there’s no wonder I was confused, GTA missions and their nonsensical, or at least non-sequitur, dialogue and the boring, bland cutscenes really didn’t make me pay enough attention to follow THIS sort of convoluted plot.
                Of course, it’s everyone betraying and backstabbing everyone else with little regard for how they are going to survive said betrayal, so par for the course, I just wasn’t expecting such a high number of active participants actually interfering and undoing the actions of the protags.

                So, in conclusion, if the delivery wasn’t so aggressively bad, I would have actually enjoyed such a comparatively intricate thread of missions.

                1. Cubic says:

                  They basically inserted a caper story as a subplot, which is not in itself wrong. However, I think the weakness was that such a story is usually complicated and requires more attention than they gave it to really shine. The final effect was more like “oh yeah, those diamonds. So that’s what happened, huh?”.

                  (You could compare it to the GTAV heist system which worked far better IMO.)

            2. Benjamin Hilton says:

              Ok, you got me there. I got nothing.

        3. Guest says:

          As someone else said, how do you reconcile it anywhere else? Trevor or SR’s The Boss are the only ones I feel justify it.

          But Trevor is, for me, the most singularly unlikeable part of GTA V. He opens the game by killing a previous protagonist who was a much more interesting character, seemingly so the game can show how cool he is. He sexually assaults numerous people. The idiot writers at Rockstar think that they can have him torture a guy, and then be the moral mouthpiece for why torture is bad, mkay? He makes more sense when rampaging, but I don’t want to deal with him.

          The Boss is at least more likeable because the entire series is so detached from reality, but I rarely felt anything for them. They made me laugh, but when the games go serious, it’s very hit or miss. I can run with it for the melodrama, but this is a character who is meant to be cool and funny and wacky.

          Nico is at least sympathetic and I kind of like him. He’s schlubby, he’s a downer, but he does have some positive values, even if he is a criminal. And the game goes out of it’s way to ease you into doing awful things, and giving you some reason to be doing them. Right off the bat, you’re in debt and Roman basically puts you in a crummy position.

          I think it’s a really weird complaint to be honest, when people say “Well, Nico becomes unsympathetic because I went on a rampage and killed 46 innocent people and 389 police officers”. If you’re capable of accepting that that massacre has no consequences on the story, whether you’re arrested or killed, then you should also be able to accept that that that doesn’t have an impact on the character. And if you can’t accept those things, perhaps you should be trying less hard to break your own immersion. I’d rather Nico to Trevor, because Trevor makes the silly things we do for fun character consistent, but is impossible to sympathise with in a story.

          He’s not the pinacle of writing by any stretch, Nico, but controlling someone likeable is a good start to not hating a game.

          1. Droid says:

            I think you’re misunderstanding what exactly needs reconciliation here. As Benjamin Hilton already noted above, the freeplay/open world portion of the game can be safely considered non-canon, but the problem is that Niko occasionally turns into a murdering psychopath within the story missions that frame him as a tragic figure fed up with violence. Missions which will not proceed until all red dots on the minimap are killed.

            Why do we kill Faustin’s daughter’s boyfriend as a first course of action rather than scaring him away?
            Why do we kill about a dozen people with a cameraman in tow (who presumably plans to publish that shootout) for Manny “Hello, Fellow Kids” Escuela?
            Why do we accept mission after mission trying to get some diamonds that, at least after a while, we absolutely know will be contested by at least 20 people with guns from 3 different factions?
            Why do we rob a damn bank with Packie?

            There’s a lot of directions “I am sick of violence, but am forced into it” can go in logically/with internal consistency. But “I’ll do absolutely everything for money (that I apparently need, in some unexplained, abstract way) including killing people at first sight even when not explicitly instructed to do so” is NOT one of them!

          2. Soylent Dave says:

            Trevor is, for me, the most singularly unlikeable part of GTA V […] He makes more sense when rampaging

            I liked Trevor as a character for precisely the reasons you seem to loathe him.

            I mean – I don’t like him (or even “love to hate” him), but I think the character concept is great for a GTA game; he’s the first character to actually have a personality that matches up with how we play the character outside of story missions – a terrifying psychopath that no-one in their right mind wants to associate with, and as a result acting as a mirror to the way we play the game and what behaviour we’re okay with ‘off-stage’.

            My only gripe is that the canon final mission has all three characters surviving – Trevor makes much more sense as a villain, and while you CAN have that ending, it’s clearly not what the writers intended.

        4. Redrock says:

          You don’t reconcile that, simple as that. The game has problems, it’s wildly inconsistent partly because Niko is so different from other GTA protagonists. But that’s not what I was saying. I’m saying that people genuinely liked Niko despite those inconsistencies, which improved their opinion of the game. But, sure, when you analyze this, it stands out as another flaw.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I never could get over how niko sounded,especially when he tried to talk serbian and came off as an american who tried to speak the language(which the actor is) instead of an actual yugoslav.It was just too uncanny valley for me.

      1. Droid says:

        Same with Assassin’s Creed II and Ezio, I was appaled at how obviously “fake-Italian” the whole bunch of them talked. Especially since the German version had FAR BETTER fake-Italian. I think changing the language to actual Italian was the best move in all the Spoiler Warning series. Mumbles even commented on how she never knew that that was how actual Italian sounded like because she had only ever heard American fake-Italian (which she said sounded ugly, a sentiment I can fully support).

  6. Lame Duck says:

    There also seems to be a curiously large disconnect between the critical and consumer reaction to the game. The aggregate user scores (again with all the hand-wavey disclaimers about using Metacritic as a data source) aren’t bad but they’re a lot lower than the review scores and the individual scores are a much more divided than the universal praise the critics gave it.

    1. wysinwyg says:

      My rule for metacritic is to trust the consumer reviews over the critic reviews — for games at any rate.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        I tend to trust the reviewers who have taste that are similar to mine,or at least whose tastes I know in depth.I may not be a souls fanatic like Yahtzee,but when he talks about the fighting mechanics in any game,I know precisely what he means and how Id feel about it.

    2. Vinsomer says:

      I think there are 2 problems with using metacritic for either.

      The first is review culture. Nobody is going to wait days to get a review for a GTA game out. It has to be out ASAP, before release if possible. If no review copies are given out then on launch day at the very latest – sites need the traffic to survive.

      For a game as huge and long as GTA, there’s no way you can even finish in a day it bar speedrunning, and even if you do you have no time to ruminate on what you played – which is far from everything. So it does not surprise me that reviewers, in a flurry of release-day hype, with one eye on the clock, overlook flaws which end up being both obviously and consequential on later reflection. The entire model of reviewing itself prevents reviews from being any good.

      The next is that User scores aren’t worth the bits of data they contain. Anyone can give any score for any reason and it’s all treated as perfectly valid. So there are gonna be a whole load of 0’s for whatever reason. Maybe some issue with the game, maybe a glitch ruined their experience, maybe they hate GFWL – some valid reasons to dislike it, but to give a game 0? There are going to be fanboys who, rather than overlooking flaws due to time or lack of skill, will straight up convince themselves that those flaws don’t exist and maybe even give the game 10’s to rebalance the scales, so to speak. It’s the Yelp! problem: often, only those motivated to not just say something, but to deliberately change the thing in question’s fortunes will actually bother to write a review means that any well-written or sensible review will be swallowed up by the warring fanboys, review bombers with an axe to grind and meme-spouting internet comedians.

      1. King Marth says:

        The Wolfenstein articles also came to mind here, with the theory of how review scores are really for the previous entry in the series in order to correct the difference between the initial scores (which are rushed for the many reasons you give) and the lasting impression the game had.

  7. Infinitron says:

    The late 2000s in general were a bad time for gaming. There was a lowering of critical standards across the board in a multitude of genres.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Not just games; Weren’t the 2000s the decade that introduced so many of our new standard of film reboots, remakes, re-remakes, re-re-boots, decade-later sequels, and so-on?

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        True,but they also introduced marvel to the big screen,so the decade was not all that bad.

  8. Asdasd says:

    Attempts at telling serious stories, especially the kind where a character has pretedermined characteristics and values, are often at odds with the actions the player is obliged or allowed to make the character do. Some of the time that will completely eject some of the player-base (with varying mileage) from the experience, causing Cascade Immersion Failure, enjoyment whiplash, and a great general wailing and gnashing of the teeth.

    Lord knows I gnashed my teeth to stumps years ago, but on the other hand, when I’m pointed to examples of games which are lauded as having solved the problem of Ludonarrative Dissonance, I’m often turned off by either the silliness and self-referentiality of the story, or the boringness and restraint of the gameplay. You gain something by achieving ludo-narrativistic coherence, but you also place yourself necessarily under design constraints. Certain combinations become impermissible because they cause LND, and many of those combinations are fun.

    GTA IV wanted to have its cake and eat it, as it always has. Serious movie-aping story, crude humour, chaotic free-form gameplay. Niko broods about the things he’s seen then mows down twelve innocents on the sidewalk rather than stop for a red light. It’s hardly gaming’s Citizen Kane and it’s not as fun as other games in the series, but I like Niko, and if I’m going to experience his story I’m not certain I want to have to wait in traffic because he would.

    I’m fine with people wanting to criticise it on the (many) breaking points where game and story come into conflict, and I’ve done the same regarding other games such as Newmb Raider. But the game makes me think – and not specifically because it itself qualifies – that there must be instances where disparate elements flagrantly refuse to conform to ideas of best design practice, and yet their combination, though dissonant, still exceeds the value of something more expressly holistic.

    1. Guest says:

      “GTA IV wanted to have its cake and eat it, as it always has. Serious movie-aping story, crude humour, chaotic free-form gameplay. Niko broods about the things he’s seen then mows down twelve innocents on the sidewalk rather than stop for a red light. It’s hardly gaming’s Citizen Kane and it’s not as fun as other games in the series, but I like Niko, and if I’m going to experience his story I’m not certain I want to have to wait in traffic because he would.”

      I largely agree with you, but that’s totally the player’s choice. If you make him do something, and then actively lose sympathy for him as a result, then you’re being kind of ridiculous. Like, just don’t run over those pedestrians, jeez.

  9. Karma The Alligator says:

    I only got GTA 4 because some friends got it and we wanted to play some multiplayer. The 3 fold layers of DRM didn’t endear the game to me right from the get-go (I remember spending hours just trying to get GFWL to work), and I spend a total of 1 minute with the single player (why was it necessary to start the single player campaign to launch the multiplayer? WHY WOULD YOU DO SUCH AN AWKWARD THING??), because it looked so bad.

    Multiplayer was fun, though, I’ll give it that.

    1. RichardW says:

      The multiplayer was incredible, particularly compared to GTA V. Having the option to just do a full-on free form gametype with friends is one of the best things about that game, the level of customizability when setting up a match really separates it from its sequel. That, and the *massive* modding community.

      Rockstar never quite officially endorsed mods, even if they often featured them in the Newswire, it was sort of an honor system that you could use mods but just keep them to the freeroam mode instead of interfering in competitive. Many modders intentionally made their work in such a way that it physically wouldn’t work outside of freeroam to stay on Rockstar’s good side. Unfortunately that tactic didn’t seem to quite work with GTA V from what I gather.

      Point is though, playing GTA IV online with buddies even using nothing more than the Simple Native Trainer mod was a whale of a time, and almost had the feel of some kinda AAA version of Gmod. Put so many hours into that.

  10. BlueHorus says:

    I’m curious: what happens if you just blow off your telephone-happy cousin in this game? Doe he just keep calling? Hunt you down with a pair of bowling balls?
    ‘Cos he sounds like exactly the the kind of loser I’d happily let loan sharks kill: ‘I don’t get you into debt, jackass. Maybe you should give then your phone as collateral, then you can leave me out of it.’

    Makes me think of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and all the complaints about Navi shouting ‘hey, listen!’ at you. All you had to do was press two buttons to shut her up, then move on. Is that really meme-worthy?

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      I’m told those calls are story related, so you can’t blow him off forever.

      1. ElementalAlchemist says:

        Not the activities ones (Hey cousin, let’s go bowling!). You can blow those off, at the cost of losing relationship points. In Roman’s case, his relationship perk is free taxis, so it’s no big deal as you can just pay for a regular taxi if you need one. Little Jacob probably has the best relationship perk, a mobile gun store, but he’s super easy to keep happy. Just take him to Cluckin’ Bell once in a while.

        That said, yes, you can’t entirely ignore him if you want to progress the main plot. But he does tend to be a little less prominent in the latter half of the game.

        1. Rack says:

          As I remember it Roman’s perk was free taxis that come pick you up. With the game’s tendency to leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere with no ride it was easily the best perk in the game.

    2. Syal says:

      All you had to do was press two buttons to shut her up

      Every five minutes, for the length of the game.

  11. DeadlyDark says:

    I love GTA IV the most. Most of it because of the city and the music. I just want to walk on these streets, and listen to these people. World just feels so alive. And that “aliveness” is absent in GTA5, at least I feel less inclination to walk on foot there.
    Storywise, SA probably a little better, but IV is out there. Love most of the characters.

    Wish missions were less linear, and it has more side stuff overall. But some side stuff, as ten assassin missions are pretty good. And internet is great

  12. John says:

    I’ve never played GTA IV, but I suspect that many players may have dealt with the ludonarrative dissonance by making a (possibly informal or unconscious) distinction between the story missions and cutscenes on the one hand and the open-world tomfoolery on the other, as if they were two separate games played in parallel rather than a single game. For the story-related stuff, the player is or is controlling Nico. For the tomfoolery, the player is controlling a character-less avatar that doesn’t necessarily have anything in common with Nico other than his appearance.

    Or else they don’t care about ludonarrative dissonance in the first place. I don’t know.

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      Plenty of players don’t care about the story in videogames. They’ll skip every cutscenes and do the absolute minimum required to get to the next gameplay segment. I imagine this game was no exception.

    2. Guest says:

      Pretty much this. If I decide, as I do in pretty much every GTA game, to run off at the first opportunity, mug a cop for his gun, and go on a cross city rampage killing cops simply to collect ammo?

      I’m not also going to whinge that this thing I did entirely of my own volition for shits and giggles which will nearly always end in me being shot to pieces (Which also won’t be dealt with by the game moving forward) makes the character less sympathetic, or that it’s acting out of character for them, I had the option of staying in character, I decided against it for fun, and I can accept the character as written for story purposes.

    3. RichardW says:

      I don’t remember who described it as such, might even have been Shamus, I honestly don’t know… but I really like the comparison of videogames to musicals.

      In real life, people don’t usually burst into song and dance to tell you about their day, but these interludes are some of the most fun parts of a musical and a large reason for their existence. Similarly, it’s not very realistic to mow down several thousand people on your weekend vacation, but this is the main way action games engage you, it’s the fun, and why there’s a disconnect between the effects of a baddie shooting the hero in a cutscene and during gameplay.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        But even in musicals you can have the disconnect between the story and the music.In a good musical,the songs complement the story,the plot gets moved forward during the songs,characters develop during the songs,most of the songs are there to accomplish something.In a bad musical,the songs are just musical interludes that do nothing other than pad the work a bit,while everything of importance happens in the non music parts.And that padding is felt when you watch to a bad musical.When you watch a story unfold,and then the characters burst into a song that just stops the story dead for a few minutes,you feel that disconnect.But when the story simply continues only in a form of a melody,choreographed dancing and singing,you are still immersed in it all the way through.

        Same with games.People dont really complain that mute nerd physicist mows down a bunch of extra terrestrials,human and alien soldiers and all in three days with no sleep.But they do complain when a guy keeps talking how he feels traumatized about killing people in the past while he slaughters dozens of guys without flinching.

  13. Distec says:

    I wonder if it would have even been feasible for Rockstar to steer a GTA game into more serious, dramatic territory; if it would even be possible to sand off the random, wacky, juvenility and still have it recognized as “GTA”. Of course, there’s the risk of overcorrecting and just getting more of the “drab and grim”.

    I don’t remember any of the GTAIV trailers except one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lALQQpJiHUw. And I remember thinking “Well, this is a novel tone for Rockstar! Consider me intrigued!”. It feels more like Hitman. Although the music (from a favorite artist) is admittedly doing a lot of the lifting there.

    1. Viktor says:

      You can do a serious story in a game, but in any game where the player always has weapons available, your story needs to be able to survive the player just slaughtering anyone he feels like. Players will gladly aggro the entire police force just to see how long they can survive, and that shouldn’t be stopped. But if they do, then the next cutscene has to work even if the char is currently coated in the blood of 300 cops. The GTA games just ignore this and hope the player does too. If you want to fix the tone, that is the first major change to make.

      1. Guest says:

        Nah, they don’t. If you’re the sort who thinks the story is broken because you did something entirely unprompted like that, then you shouldn’t do that. It’s really easy.

        I’m not interested in more Trevors, or the character hitting the brakes to stop my rampage.

  14. zackoid says:

    Another thing that makes the game so ugly is that, especially when you’re stuck in Brighton, the clothing options are all so damn frumpy and lumpy. The default jacket-over-jacket is bad and the things you can buy are worse.

    The one thing I disagree with Seamus about is that I thought the car handling was a major improvement. It makes the differences in cars much more pronounced and adds a skill progression to driving. But it was jarring at first.

    The GTAIV DLC both had much more interesting stories imho.

    1. Cubic says:

      Only by playing the DLC do you find out what happened to those diamonds involved in the big heist. Not sure if the payoff is worth it though.

  15. Viktor says:

    Rockstar loves using their cutscenes to take swipes at “evil corporations” and “greed” and “capitalism”. While I’m normally down for calling out scummy companies for scummy practices, I find their attempts at this sort of social commentary to be enraging. GTA V made one billion US dollars in the first three days of sales. They could have given away the game for free from that point on and it still would have made them back five times their purported development costs and ranked as the most profitable game since World of Warcraft. But then they went on to add the multiplayer stuff with PvP and scummy pay-to-win microtransactions. This company is the poster child for corporate avarice and contempt for the consumer, and if they can’t spend the small handful of man-hours to remove the now-defunct malware from GTA IV[2], then I don’t think they have any room to be criticizing the likes of Apple computer, McDonald’s, or any of their usual punching bags. Hypocrisy is not a good look, and it’s completely destructive to Rockstar’s attempts at social “satire”.

    I wonder if this is just different chunks of the same company. Say, the head writer is an artiste who dislikes greed but enjoys the work and also paying his rent, while the corporate bosses love money. Writer adds a bunch of anti-capitalist messages to the game as jokes since that’s the only way he can get his message across, and the bosses let it happen because the game sells and they’re not killing that golden goose.

    1. Shamus says:

      I’m very confident this is the case.

    2. Dreadjaws says:

      The internal memo that Shamus complained about in the past entry suggests that rather than the corporate bosses leaving the message slide because they like money they do it because they genuinely think they’re the ones being clever. I don’t know if that’s scary or hilarious. Or both.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        To be fair,its always far easier to criticize others than yourself.

      2. Droid says:

        Look, we may be cashing in billions of dollars, but can’t you see we’re doing so ironically?

      3. Philadelphus says:

        Scare-larious?

    3. Kdansky says:

      I have always read this much more cynically: Rockstar isn’t doing satire at all. They are celebrating these things under the guise of satire. It’s revel in violence, crime and consumerism. Satire is just a thin façade to give an excuse, because games like Kingpin played it the hard way, and they got smacked by rating agencies and censorship bureaus. They think their audience is stupid and won’t notice. Turns out they are right about that one.

      I think the whole series has disgusting themes, while also not offering all that much in the gameplay department. Serviceable driving + serviceable shooting: I’d rather play a good shooter shooter and a good driving game instead of one mediocre mix.

      The only thing truly great is some of their tech. GTA V especially is very technically impressive.

      The fact that it gets such glowing reviews? Mass market appeal to teenagers and kids: You can be a gangster, and shoot grandmas in the face. Epic! People who like Micheal Bay shlockbusters also like GTA.

  16. Jabberwok says:

    GTA 4 was the game that made me hate Rockstar [that, and their lead writer referring to GTA V as the “endpoint of the American dream”, as if it was anything more than a cheap Sopranos ripoff that came 15 years too late to be relevant]. I stopped playing it less than halfway through at a time in my life when I had almost nothing to do except play video games, that’s how bad I thought it was. The digs at corporations weren’t just dumb. They were SO dumb, they felt like lies. I sensed a complete disdain for the audience, which in this case was me. Couple that with Nico’s constant dourness and (like every GTA) what was essentially fanfic of the same dozen mob movies I’d already seen countless times, and I could not find anything to enjoy in the game. None of the attempts at humor felt like they were in any way connected to what actually goes on in a GTA game, and the serious bits were equally nonsensical.

  17. Dreadjaws says:

    The fact that I liked Niko so much was the only reason I finished GTA IV, because I found the game frustrating to no end. The last mission, I believe, in particular was a pain. Extremely long, only one checkpoint in the middle (I think it’s the only mission that has a checkpoint, but it’s also the longest one, so it definitely needs it more than any other) and multiple ways the game surprise-kills you with scripted events. That means you’re forced to do the same thing over and over and over with no variations and the same lines of dialogue being uttered every time.

    Seeing as how it’s irritatingly long and you probably were already sick of the same damn BS throughout the whole game, it’s a surprise anyone finished the darn thing, let alone twice, which was needed to see both endings.

    Also, despite owning the PC version I had to go out and buy the PS3 one (thankfully for cheap) because the PC one was practically unplayable.

    It’s a sad state of affairs that I found GTA V the better game due to how frustrating IV was, considering IV does have better mechanics and more likable characters (or, you know, ANY likable character at least).

    1. There are two endings. A bad ending and a not so bad ending.

      I never got the ending I wanted as the helicopter controls was fucking horrid. I failed 10 times doing that, I even tried again the next day. I gave up and took the other (bad) ending instead; just so I could complete the game.

      Because of that, it’s the only game I’ve never replayed.
      I did replay The Lost and the Damned. And I’ve replayed The Ballad of Gay Tony several times.
      Haven’t touched it in years though due to GFWL.

      I think The Ballad of Gay Tony should have been GTA IV, just more of it. Nico’s story would have worked better as a expansion instead.

      1. Cubic says:

        The Ballad of Gay Tony was the best part of GTAIV.

        The Lost and the Damned was in the end okay but from what I recall perhaps even more repetitive than the main game, especially in the first half or so. It felt a bit thrown together. Poor Johnny later got kicked to death by Trevor.

  18. Cubic says:

    The GTAIV engine was a big upgrade compared to the GTAIII series. The characters were quite good (I liked them better than those in GTAV). I’m not offended by DIAS.

    However, I too thought GTAIV had some severe problems and overall wasn’t a lot of fun. I last played GTAIV many years ago, so my memory may be glitchy, but apart from what’s mentioned above, I didn’t enjoy:

    1. Very repetitive missions after a while, just killing another dozen guys in another warehouse. There was little or no sense of progress, enhancing the treadmill feel*
    2. The cityscape just became claustrophobic at some point.
    3. Perhaps mentioned, but the social missions were mind-numbingly boring.
    4. SPOILERS GTAIV ends with a bifurcated mission. Too bad, you get screwed whichever fork you choose. I guess that fits with the general tone of the game? Nevertheless, this was one thing that GTAV did a lot better.

    Some of the first three could have been deliberate, but if so it was badly chosen.

    * The Uncharted games suffer from the same treadmill effect, at least as far as I’ve played them.

  19. Bubble181 says:

    I was a big fan of the 2D games, but skipped the first 3D version. I tried 4 A FEW years later, and bounced off hard. I think I managed half an hour of the single player before giving up and uninstalling – if this was the “best” in the series, I thought, well meh. Still haven’t tried 5, to be honest.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      if this was the “best” in the series,

      Nah.Saints rows 2,3 and 4 are the best in this series.Which one of those three is the best of the best though,thats kind of hard to judge.

      1. Ciennas says:

        Personally, I found Saints III to be the right mix of fantastical and mundane (Zombie island aside)

        I mean, yeah, it was all over the top, but it all made sense from a storytelling perspective- each follows logically from the last, and it all felt…… right, more or less.

        Saints II was unrunnable for me after I got it off of Steam- I blame my hardware, but I’m told it’s a common problem for it.

        Saints IV is fun- but it’s…. pretty out there. If it wasn’t so well done, I think people would have lynched it- especially for reusing Steelport again.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          And gat out of hell is a musical,so its clearly on top of them all.

          As for 2,I remember I had to use some fan made patch or something in order for it to run correctly.But it was too long ago so I cant remember.I had to use quite a few of those for some older games,which is a shame.

  20. PatPatrick says:

    The best GTA so far

  21. Roofstone says:

    Personally I love both IV and V, but that is the power of subjective opinion. I enjoy seeing another perspective.

    I will however, protest against the use of Crowbcat videos in any context, he is the poster boy for cherry picking to twist a narrative.

  22. eldomtom2 says:

    I think one of the major problems with GTA’s tone, and one that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere, is that the background elements seem to be in on the joke. A GTA bank doesn’t advertise their lubriciously high interest rates as a good deal, they just shout about how evil and greedy though. People call it satire, but I think for it to work as satire there has to be some element of believability – the point of satire is to exaggerate, yes, but GTA’s idea of satire is just companies listing off their own flaws in a way that’s completely unbelievable. For the background elements, that is. The actual story manages to keep it at a more believable tone, while the radio and internet go off into wacky fantasyland.

    1. Jabberwok says:

      Exactly. It was caricature, not satire. It was so ham-fisted that it felt like Rockstar had skinned satire and was making fart jokes while wearing its face. It’s like they mistook meanness for wit, but thought I wouldn’t notice.

      This was probably the element that made me unable to swallow any part of the main story. I guess some of this same sense of humor was also in the early games, but mostly confined to the radio commercials. Plus, the plots and characters were silly enough to belong in that background.

      The most recent Rockstar game I’ve played is Red Dead Redemption, and I find I have a similar problem with it. The game is naturally appealing, but the story does nothing for me. The GTA ‘satire’ isn’t there, really, but I always get the sense that the writers of these games are including a bunch of tropes from other media without really understanding their purpose. The influences are so obvious that the result feels disingenuous.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      Another thing done better by the Saints Row series. They entire world bought into the craziness, 100%,
      I remember a great radio political ‘attack’ commercial that played on the radio in SR2:

      *Threatening music*
      [Rival candidate] drives an SUV. In the last year alone, there have been 6 unsolved hit-and-run murders involving a SUV – was it him? He denies any involvement…but do you believe him?
      *Happy music*
      Vote [our candidate], who hasn’t been accused of vehicular murder!

      I can’t really say that it’s smarter than GTA’s satire, but it trusts you to get that it is satire, on your own. And like almost everything else in the bacground of Saints Row, it makes the Boss’s antics seem less abberant.

      1. Mr. Wolf says:

        Huh? I could swear that political advertisement was from Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines. Speaking of which, GTA has some good radio DJs, but they’ll never hold a candle to The Deb of Night.

        1. Jabberwok says:

          I think you’re right. Oh man, Deb’s voice. Sometimes, I’d walk into the private eye’s office in Santa Monica, just to see the clock stuck after midnight, the half-eaten box of donuts, and hear that hypnotic voice in the background.

        2. BlueHorus says:

          Ach, right you are.

          Weird; when I think of that commercial, I still (automatically) picture driving around Stillwater in SR2. Could have sworn it was from that game. But I looked up thads from SR2 on youtube and they…aren’t as clever as I remember.

          Ah well. Mea culpa.

          In other news, the Deb of Night was good. I remember cheering everytime Gomez the conspiracy theorist called in.

  23. Even ignoring GFWL, the rest of the game is still a technological mess. At launch it ran like a pig and was prone to glitches. Even today with now-overpowered hardware it’s still oddly sluggish at strange times.

    The fact you simply got it to run is a miracle all on its own. Last year, I took a crack at it and I’d indeed forgotten about the GFWL bullshit. But there was something else I’d also forgotten: The game doesn’t run on multi-core processors past 2Ghz.

    I am not joking.

    It will ‘run’ in the sense that you can open up the game, but it defaults the graphical setting to their lowest possible setting (including resolution) and does not allow you to change them. I eventually found the solution was to tie the game to one of the cpu cores. I say ‘found’ when I mean ‘rediscovered’ because I’d had this issue before. It was when I first bought the game…in 2010! In fact, I’m pretty sure there were more multi-core computers out in the world than otherwise back when the game first released!

    Even when I first played it, I was astounded at how godawful its port was. Now, I can’t understand how it’s not infamous as being out-and-out unplayable.

    1. PPX14 says:

      Good grief! My lower-mid range laptop for uni in 2009 was 2.6GHz dual core. Pretty sure it was impossible to get anything but a netbook below 2GHz, and impossible to get below a dual core Pentium! Our desktop from 2005 was a Pentium 4 at that point and I remember being annoyed at the time that my parents had got a single core PC without consulting me as dual cores were out.

  24. Preciousgollum says:

    GTA4 got good reviews because it was Next Gen(TM), and most Next Gen(TM) versions of beloved PS2 and Xbox games got very high scores at the time, because of the hype. Xbox 360 and PS3 were hailed as ‘the grear leap forward’. 10 years on, and it all looks a bit foolish now – looking at you, God of War…

    Graphics/HD and ‘Next Gen-ness’ were all the rage for Xbox 360 and PS3, to the point where a lot of other problems were overlooked.

    Xbox One and PS4 gen games aren’t bad, in fact they’re quite good, but the small leap definitely shows that there is only so much room left to ‘polish’ games and make them slicker, but perhaps not yet to ‘evolve’ them. It’s not so much about the tech as it is about the money. I doubt that a PS5 or Xbox whatever will be much different.

    To reviewers in 2008, GTA4 represented THE PERFECT FORM, but then those reviewers forgot that everything has limits, ageing exists, and that new diseases come along etc etc and you get the idea.

    So, basically, if GTA4 were a pokemon, it would be Mewtwo.

    1. Droid says:

      We all know it’ll be PlayStation 5 and xXxBxoxXx.

    2. PPX14 says:

      Mewtwo is the best how dare you

  25. Gethsemani says:

    Shamus, I think you underestimate what a great leap forward GTA IV was on release. The graphics, which we consider poor today (because they are, 10 years later) were outstanding at the time, the draw distance was insane and the fidelity of the numerous NPCs was massive. Just compare the graphics to GTA: SA (4 years earlier) to get a feeling for the massive leap forward that GTA IV represented in graphics.

    Same goes for gameplay. As someone mentioned earlier in these comments, the shooting on consoles was much improved, you could take cover (and that cover could be a car, an open car door or whatever, not just static waist high boxes) and the shooting was quite reactive for its time. Not to mention the huge amount of side-activities. Then there was the open world which was also a massive leap forward for its time. The world was massively reactive for its days, the in-game radio was bordering on bloated and you could even watch TV within the game!

    As for the NPCs, the very fact that you could call them up and hang out with them was seen as a huge leap forward, even more so that they could call you and just ask to hang out (that this got annoying quickly is what we remember today). Gone were the days of Big Smoke and Ryder only appearing in missions, because you could hang out with Roman or Packie at any time just by calling them on your cellphone (that worked like a real cellphone!). All NPCs used Havok-physics to simulate being hit (by bullets, cars, fists) or bumped into, which meant that NPCs (and Nico!) fell over in realistic manners. Cops hit in the arm clutched the gunshot wound, Nico fell down if someone clipped his leg when he ran. And then he used procedurally generated animations to get back up without it looking weird or stupid. They even made a whole mini-game out of the physics by having you stagger when drunk. This was truly revolutionary compared to the pre-made death animations of other games.

    GTA IV was deeply flawed for all the reason that Shamus lists. It is not a good game by modern standards. But by the standards of 2008 it pushed the envelope for open world gameplay far beyond what anyone had expected. That’s why it is so critically well-received, because it was the game that truly showed the power and potential of the 360 and PS3 and in doing so set an absurdly high new gold standard for open world games (one which would only be surpassed by GTA V, 5 years later). It is the PS3/360-era equivalent of GTA III, in that it didn’t make some incremental improvements to formula, but radically redefined what was possible with open world games. It was groundbreaking and for that it deserves its high metacritic score. That it is not a good game today is for the same reason Seinfeld is no longer funny: All the novelty has vanished because it became the standard which we expect.

    1. PPX14 says:

      Will this ultimately also therefore be the fate of GTA V ?

  26. baud says:

    I played it on PS3 and had an awfull time: it was ugly, I found the driving horrendous and, at the start of the game, there is not much to do except driving, which sucked. When I finally got any weapons, I couldn’t get around the shooting system. And since I disliked most characters I’ve met so far, I just stopped playing.

    It’s interesting because I later played Red Dead: Redemption and had a blast: it’s very pretty, with lots of colours and interesting vistas, clunky driving is not as much of a problem, since you’re riding a horse and the penalties for not driving straight are much lower. And some characters, except in pseudo-Mexico, are quite likeable. And I figured out the gunplay, except the duel mechanisms, but that’s not an important part.

  27. Ebalosus says:

    GTA IV does indeed have more subtle transition animations, more fully developed brawling mechanics, less irrationally aggressive AI, a more diverse set of combat animations, far more detailed limb damage, more varied vehicle damage, and more destructible objects in the environment. The open-world systems are a little deeper and a little more interesting.

    GTA IV has a lot going for it on a mechanical level, but we don’t engage with mechanics in a vacuum. This is a sad mope of a videogame. It’s a dreary world, telling a dreary story, using dreary visuals, with a dreary main character, that has NIKO MY COUSIN DO YOU WANT TO GO SEE SOME RIPE BROWN AMERICAN TITTIES?!?

    You can’t fool me, GTA IV. Neither of us is having any fun and you know it.

    Pretty much this. Although the mechanics of playing the game are stronger in IV, it doesn’t make up for the flaws in the game, said as much on CrowbCat’s video that you linked.

    The only thing that GTAIV has going in its favour for someone like me is that it’s the game that brought all my Xbox Live friends together through its fantastic multiplayer.

  28. Doc M says:

    I’ll start this comment with what is quite possibly the most ridiculous nitpick ever, even by my standards, but it always irks me a bit when people misspell Niko’s name as “Nico”. It might have been interesting if he sang “Femme Fatale” in the game, though.

    Hell, people were still calling him Nico in the comments for my GTA IV let’s play a couple of years back, despite me having the subtitles enabled and also despite the fact the title of that LP was literally “Niko, it’s your cousin! Let’s play GTA IV!” That was a miserable slog towards the end, by the way; the game’s campaign consists almost entirely of padding, and it gets even worse after the bank heist mission.

    Out of the ~80 missions in the game, there’s maybe a dozen that are in any way relevant to the storyline. The rest of the missions are just Niko working for various idiots to earn some money, but of course you’ll no longer need any money once you’re done with the bank heist. The problem there is that the heist happens in the middle of the story rather than the endgame, so almost everything after that mission feels beyond pointless and you’re just treading water until the writer finally throws you a bone and gets on with the plot for the endgame.

    And while I’m on the topic of the bank heist mission, people always tout that as the highlight of GTA IV. Well, sure, it’s an exciting setpiece and all that, but it’s also a huge offender when it comes to this game’s overly tight scripting. Want to skip the whole prolonged gunfight through downtown Algonquin by stealing one of the police cars in front of the bank when you emerge, and going on a wild car chase instead? (It’s a five-star wanted level so it’d be difficult to outrun the cops, but why not give you the option at least? Maybe I’m a good driver but not so great at shooting, so I could try to do things in a way that suits my skills?) Well, apparently the LCPD has wised up and bothered to lock the doors of their squad cars and SWAT vans this time around, and Niko is so confounded by this that he won’t even ATTEMPT to smash the windows if you try to enter one of the cars. How about that, the game called Grand Theft Auto won’t let me steal a car to complete my mission, even though it’d make sense in the situation. Where have I heard that before?

    So no, you’re not getting away that easily. You’re shooting your way through all these cops and you’ll like it, and you certainly won’t get in any cars until the game specifically tells you to, or before the game gets the opportunity to have you fail the mission in a variety of stupid ways. These include the money bags getting shot up too much, one of the AI buddies getting shot up too much, or Niko getting run over by a subway train because he was walking on the wrong track and focusing on the guys shooting at him from behind. Naturally, if any of this happens it’s time to do it all over again from the beginning, and it’ll be just as exciting the second time! To be fair, I’ve never actually failed the mission myself, but some people had issues with it back in the day.

    Speaking of issues people have with GTA IV… I, uh, genuinely love the driving in this game. Throwing the back of a muscle car around a corner or feeling the bite of oversteer and correcting a slide in one of the game’s supercars is just immensely satisfying to me. Some of the crummy jalopies you drive around in the early game do handle quite a bit like boats because they have terrible suspensions and are basically junk in general, but the faster cars feel just right. Maybe Rockstar could’ve included a choice between “regular” and “simulation” handling, but considering the fact I always had to do the driving missions for my friends in the earlier games anyway I’m not sure it would’ve helped all that much.

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