Grand Theft Auto IV is the latest title in the Grand Theft Auto series and the first to appear on the Xbox 360. Technically it is not the fourth in the series. The game had a tremendous amount of hype building up to its release. The hype ratcheted up even higher upon its release with strong sales and near universal great reviews. In fact a few notable gaming websites gave it their first perfect scores in years.
Does the game live up to the hype? Frankly no, but it would be hard for any game to live up to it. The game does innovate, but it is not nearly as innovative, intuitive, open-ended, or as emotionally gripping as many have claimed.
The story of Grand Theft Auto IV follows Niko Bellic, an Eastern European immigrant. He comes to Liberty City to pursue the American dream. His cousin Roman has sent him letters claiming to be much more of a ladies’ man and high-roller than he actually is. Niko says he comes to America because of Roman’s letters but he is actually seeking revenge on someone who has wronged him in his past. At the start of the game Roman introduces Niko to some low-level hoods and gangsters, but as the story progresses you meet drug dealers, gangsters, hoods, and crooked cops who are higher up on the totem pole. The story follows Niko as he gets involved with more and more of the Liberty City underworld and continuously seeks his revenge.
The story has been praised by critics for its span and its emotional resonance. It does not deserve all the praise it has been getting. The story does include many well-drawn caricatures, but that is more of a hindrance to it than a help. Towards the end of the game I was getting confused about which gangster was which from which family. There are a few tough choices you make about where you want the story to go, but ultimately they all lead to the same place. The story was too scattershot and clichéd to resonate with me emotionally.
Grand Theft Auto IV is a sandbox game but there are some restrictions. Not all of Liberty City is open to you at the start of the game. Completed missions unlock new hangouts in the city you can visit. You can play missions in the order you choose, but not every mission in the game is immediately available. There are different mission threads; each thread’s tasks must be done chronologically. Sometimes you must complete a few mission threads before a new thread opens. So occasionally you are still stuck doing a mission you do not want to play because you must to advance the game.