Is Grand Theft Auto IV Old-Gen?

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.

About Daniel Roy

Daniel is a writer, backpack foodie, slow traveler, and endurance runner. He is the author of the upcoming book, "The Way of Slow Travel: A Hands-On Guide to the Best Travel of Your Life."

10 comments

  1. I think Euphoria in itself can justify the “next gen” qualification

  2. Can you elaborate on that? I didn’t get a feeling of euphoria for GTA IV, and that may be why I feel it isn’t next-gen… But maybe I’m alone in this!

  3. until Gta, i saw ragdolls on dead characters. here, i play an alive ragdoll (or i have this feeling at last)

    steal a car, wait for the guy to come back and try to open the door, then, accelerate. look how fun it is, to see him hooked to the door while you drive.

    ok, DETAILS you will say. but i think details are why people love this game

  4. drive at very slow speed on an npc feet and look how he reacts.
    play online i see how you can fall just trying to jump other an obstacle.
    this is euphoria. this is next gen

  5. by Euphoria i talk about the name of the physic engine of course

  6. this is for the technical aspect.
    Now, there is a social aspect. GTA is socially next gen in his subversion.
    just like Bioshock 🙂
    we are fed up to be enrole by army, killing thousand of people and receiveing medals for that.
    Even COD4 sux for this: they say War is bad because a tank cost too much. NAAA war is bad for way other reasons Niko explains well at the begining of the game.
    We want subversive games like bioshock and GTA.

  7. I half-agree. Design-wise, you’re right. Playing GTA IV isn’t all that different from San Andreas, Vice City or III. There’s just more sugar coating and new bells-and-whistles. At the same time, I see people around me – real human beings – who can’t get enough. Most of them will only play a couple of titles a year, Gears Of Wars, Mario Kart, Rock Band, the ‘big’ releases. Maybe the industry as reached a point where it’s understandable that some titles don’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel. I think of GTA IV in the same way that I think of Assasin’s Creed, or Michael Bay’s Transformers Movie, or a new album from the douchebag who won American Idol. They’re all blockbusters. They’re not the deepest, the wisest or the freshest of the crop, yet you know as a consumer you’re getting some bang for your buck, such as high production values. GTA IV is a consumer’s safety blanket. And at 60$ a title, I can’t blame them for playing it safe.

    Yet, you know, maybe there’s more than meet the eye, here. ‘Next-Gen’, to me, is about embracing networking and community as much as possible, because those are the features that truly differenciate old-gen from this one. I dream of the day where the characters in my FF Tactics army on PSP will upload themselves to my Facebook profile, so that I can show my progress to my friends and compare my progress with them. The Rockstar Army website doesn’t exactly bring this type of gaming revolution, but it’s a solid step in the right direction. Same goes for the multiplayer features, which should turn into full-blown MMO next-time around.

    What if Rockstar released two GTA series, one complementary to the other ? GTA ‘the MMO’, in which strong community features define the next-gen experience, and GTA ‘classic’, which reuses the GTA IV engine, only adding new missions in a new city and some minor novelties ?

  8. By the way, I started a ‘game diary’, which I’ll update from time to time. Check it out !

    http://www.destructoid.com/blogs/Monogamie

  9. @Gogol: Aaaah, the physics engine! I just thought you meant a feeling of euphoria playing the game. Hehe. I agree, they did a great job with it. Running over pedestrians has gone from ‘amusing if unrealistic ragdoll show’ to ‘oh my god that’s GOT to hurt!’

    That being said, I agree with you about the social commentary part… I love it. (I do think it was there since GTA III, but anyway.) For the record, I’m actually very tired of war glorification games… So when a game tries to do something more, like Bioshock, I’m very excited. CoD4 made me very uncomfortable about its glorification of war, but the way it told its story, and its flawless execution, are what makes me praise it.

    There’s nothing I like more in GTA IV than to drive around listening to Liberty Rock… Boy is that satire at its finest.

  10. @XPH: I’m not contesting it’s popular, or exciting everyone… I do believe this is built on the success of its predecessors, though, pretty much like Halo 3. Like Halo 3, GTA IV brings pretty much a refined but similar experience… And just like Halo 3, that’s all they really need.

    And I don’t question their decision either… They’re obviously more successful than any title *I*’ve ever published. I even think I would make a very similar decision if I had somehow been on the GTA IV team. “Let’s not try to change the recipe, let’s just make it even better.”

    CoD4, on the other end, came in at a time where their franchise was slowly losing steam. CoD2 was a long time ago and pretty much outdated for being a launch title, and CoD3 was nothing to write home about… So they kicked it up a few notches. I guess this might happen to GTA at some point… But given GTA IV’s awe-inspiring success, I guess it won’t be before GTA VI. 🙂

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