Having recently kicked my WoW habit, and being a huge fan of GTA: San Andreas, I really couldn’t help but pick up GTA IV and check out the hype for myself. After all, how could I pass up on the bestselling game of all time and one of the most critically-acclaimed ones as well?
For starters, I want to make it clear: I’m enjoying this game a great deal. There’s just something that resonates with me about the story of Nico Bellic, trying to escape his shameful past only to find into the criminal element of Liberty City. I enjoyed San Andreas‘s story a lot as well, and the gangsta culture didn’t bother me at all… but the Eastern European flair of this installment is charming to me. Not only that, but the voice work and the mo-cap are pretty amazing.
But my problem is this: I don’t see the generation gap between Xbox and Xbox 360, here. Whereas GTA: Vice City on the PS2 was a revolutionary piece of gameplay, GTA IV on the X360 sounds like a refined version of an old-gen title.
Sure, there’s more details in the city. What I question, however, is how much of it actually builds up to a next-gen experience. It seems Rockstar has added width to the offering, but very little depth. So now I can go bowling, play darts, witness explicit sex with a prostitute, take the subway, or even go online and meet someone over Craigslist. Uhh… Ok.
Contrast this with San Andreas, and the way it innovated. GTA:SA essentially took GTA III, and expanded it in scope. It added elements of RPG into the mix with character customization. It gave us not only the city of Los Angeles, but also the countryside and San Francisco.
These added elements injected depth into the experience. I would argue that logging on and looking at websites in GTA IV is funny, but doesn’t add any depth. In other words: I get a slightly more complex GTA experience, but nothing innovative with this iteration. How is it that GTA:SA doesn’t deserve the magic “4” number, yet this X360 iteration does?
And once I’ve experienced the added quirks, what am I left with? Pretty much the same mission structure as before, actually, with all its flaws. I still can’t save anywhere, and when I fail a mission, I have to start all over. It’s ok for a game to be hard and ask me to start again a few times, but when I have to start all over again the boring parts, then have to fail because of crappy controls or poor difficulty balancing? That’s unacceptable. When I dread certain types of missions because the crappy controls get in the way of my experience, that’s inexcusable especially if you consider that these problems have existed in previous GTA installments. (I’m looking at you, “shooting at an enemy motorcycle while trying to follow it at high-speed without being thrown off my own bike” missions.)
GTA IV is “old gen”. It’s a wider, more expansive version of GTA III, without much added polish or realization, or even depth. Was it too much to ask that GTA take the Call of Duty 4 road and offer us unparalleled levels of excitement instead of adding a bowling mini-game? Perhaps. After all, that’s not preventing them from selling gazillions of copies.