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Is GTA IV Really That Perfect?

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I'm sure I'll get flamed for this, but I have to be honest. I've played Grand Theft Auto 4 on the PS3 for several hours now. After all the ridiculously high ratings on Metacritic I thought, "How could they be wrong?" Well, in my opinion, they are.  This might deserve a 7 or an 8, but not a 10/10.  We do value originality, don't we?

If you've never played a GTA game before, this isn't a bad place to start. If you have, this is simply more of the same, only with more spit and polish on the visual side. You've already played this game at least three times before, just with different names and faces. In addition, I was one of the lucky few who encountered the game-freezing bug when it first boots up, common mostly to the 60GB PS3 models.

The controls are worse this time around, changing look-left and look-right from the triggers to an all-powerful right analog look-around, which works okay on the standard config, but it's still a pain in the butt to have to constantly wrangle the camera during a chase, and using the right analog and using X for accelerate is cumbersome at best.  The classic control setup in general doesn't work due to the rest of the keys not remapping correctly.  If you choose not to answer your phone or accept a mission, you have to not hit the gas for the entirety of that time.  And the look buttons don't remap to the triggers.  Heck, the headlights button didn't even do anything in this setup.  I eventually just crashed into something to get them to shut off.

What's more, it seems they decided to take the loose-but-fun vehicle physics out and replace them with something more realistic and fussy and less responsive, akin to Driver.  A car won't always turn, even if you let off the gas.  Cranking the wheel, I'm still careening straight ahead, and the only alternative is to hit the emergency brake and spin the car out entirely and slide around for a while.  I spent hours with this and could not find a happy middle ground. 

It also sports possibly the worst camera I've seen in a GTA game. Sure, you can swing it around with the right analog stick now, but that's little compensation for just making it sloppy, collision-happy, and lagging behind when you desperately need to see what's going on in front of you.  Also, when driving, it has a tendency to dip down behind your car so you can't see what's coming.  For a game with so much driving, this is a big problem to me.  Having to constantly tip the analog stick up again and again and again and again to try to keep it where I wanted it wore me out.  I'd rather hit things I guess.  Getting into an ambulance or anything bigger is laughable in this regard, as the boxy posterior blocks out everything you need to see.

Speaking of the ambulance, remember how in every other GTA game, you could take side missions with the ambulance, taxi, pizza bike, fire engine, etc.?  Not anymore.  Maybe they unlock later, but in past games, I valued these missions as a fun distraction and a way to build up money early on in the games.

The whole "terror alert" reasoning for closing off the virtual Brooklyn Bridge seems a lot sillier to me than how the bridge was simply blown up in GTA3, and as in San Andreas, trying to cross said bridge (since they didn't block it off at all) gets you a six-star rating and puts the full force of the law on your tail.  It made more sense in the last game, as CJ was a felon out on parole, so the cops wouldn't want him roaming free.  Here, it just looks paranoid and ridiculous.  I crossed the bridge into the city on the subway tracks, found a bunch of homeless people standing around burning barrels there.  Guess the police aren't interested in them.  Right.

Improved are the visuals (duh) and the auto-aiming, though it still pales in comparison to the mouse-aiming on the PC version of San Andreas. Speaking of, as food plays a fairly important role in keeping yourself alive, it'd be nice if all the hot dog vendor carts and restaurants you find would all show up on the map like they did in Andreas.  I even found eateries that weren't actually accessible.  Also, said visuals turned a little hokey when I looked across the fictional version of the East River from the borough into the big city at night to admire the skyline.  Sure, I have some kickass HDR and shine effects on my jacket, so who cares if the buildings in the distance look like they were pulled straight from G-Police (PS1)?  I do.

I tacked this under the opinion column because I haven't actually finished the game, and don't want to qualify this as a full review.  I also can't test out the multiplayer yet because the only way to get around the game-freezing bug is to unhook the PS3 from the Internet.  This is more of an early heads-up for those of you who are reading all the hype in other reviews saying how revolutionary it is; it's not.  It's the same GTA you've been playing for years, just with a shinier coat of paint and prettier car deformation that managed to take a few steps back in the playability department.  No amount of involved quest-lines or voice acting is going to cover up the fact that you still chauffeur people from place to place, run over pedestrians, and shoot bad guys.  It's not a bad game, per se; it's just more of the same, and doesn't alter the familiar formula much.  Rent before you buy.  I'm glad I did.

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About Mark Buckingham

  • Moi

    How dare you rockstar making a game formula that you created not original??? Of course its original, they invented it, if the changes were to be that drastic it would no longer be a gta series..

  • Big Dan

    You just had to be “that guy” didn’t you. Sigh…

  • Jalex

    Well, while I don’t agree with all your critiscisms (the camera works fine for me), I do have to say it’s nice to see someone who hasn’t merely glossed over the problems that do occur in the game.
    Hand-to-hand combat is still extremely primitive, driving is no longer very fun, the physics of some items are very basic and, as you mentioned, the formula is still too much of the same.
    I give it a 94 out of 100, still.

  • giggity

    wow i think you need to lay of the crack my friend and take that giant butt plug out of your ass. sure GTA is by no means perfect but as a whole with MP and the Masterful storyline it deserves the high scores it got.

  • Mark

    I went back and played it again today to see if I was too hard on it or anything. After the fourth multi-car pileup resulting from the iffy camera and getting into the wrong car because the controls decided I didn’t want the one I was staring at and leaning straight into, I decided I was right.

    Burnout Revenge also sported a camera that was too low most of the time, which ruined that game for me. And after the fluidity and solid functionality of the on-foot camera in Assassin’s Creed, this wonky last-gen camera for out-of-the-car antics isn’t cutting the mustard anymore. Furthermore, the take-cover/fire mechanic employed in games like Rainbow Six: Vegas works way better than whatever it is they tried to do here.

    The fanboys will love it, no doubt about it. I’ve entertained the samey-ness of GTA over the years, but this promised to be something different. It’s not, and actually manages to screw up gameplay in the process. All the story in the world isn’t going to fix that. And if actually being objective and pointing out what the other critics were too willing to look the other way on makes me “that guy,” then that’s a guy I don’t mind being.

  • Paul

    You should have tried the 360 version, it doesn’t need the 5-10 minate install that’s been causing all the game freezes, the framerate is slightly better and it runs at a sharper looking native 720p unlike the PS3 version that runs at a slightly blurry looking native 640p.

    Sorry i’m not usually such a fanboy but the Sony fanboys have been asking for it lately ;)

    Anyway while i wouldn’t give any game 100% this review is still crap, the game looks and plays great on both systems and i’m sure they’ll be a patch along soon for the PS3 freezing problems so enjoy it whichever console you have, i’d give it 95% and probably game of the year.

  • Mark

    Framerate and resolution weren’t really issues I raised. Nor was the initial install. The freeze starts after the install when it tries to start a new game. But to say it “plays great” is being awfully forgiving.

    Furthermore, I never said it was a BAD GAME. It’s okay, a 7 or an 8 in my book (where 5 = average). This was more of a warning to those buying into the rampant hype that it was a major departure from previous iterations or revolution in game design or whatever. It’s not. It’s the same game GTA players have been playing for years. Some will love that. Clearly that includes all of you. Just not me.

    Lastly, handing out game of the year nods in MAY is a little naive. Surely there will be other worthwhile blockbusters in the remaining 7 months of 2008, particularly around year-end.

  • Toni

    I’m sure I’ll get flamed for this..

    Hehe, trying writing a negative review of a Clay Aiken CD. Then you’ll know the real meaning of being flamed ;)

  • DV

    I have to agree with you. When I read the reviews, many of them were saying that this game rivals major Hollywood productions in its script and (voice) acting. I actually don’t think it’s that good of a story and the voice acting most of the time is just average (I think San Andreas was better) – sometimes the story seems “pushed” along for the sake of time and also has plotlines inserted that don’t make any sense (!!!SPOILER ALERT!!! – why does d want x killed and vice versa? Their characters wouldn’t do that – they go back a long time!).

    Anyway, though it is now my favorite game (mostly because of the multiplayer mode and the open-ness of the world), I feel that I was misled by all the reviewers saying this game is near-perfect. Yeah, it’s realistic (the pixelation flicker gives me a headache however) and HUGE, but there are still some pretty big flaws, many of which you described above. And I thought they would somehow build upon the old GTA formula of missions/cut-scenes, etc., and make it better, but they basically just reused it with new characters and actions (which so far haven’t been very varied or interesting). I’d give it an 8.5.

  • Avon

    I am so releived… I was starting to think there was something wrong with me.

    If it drove like PGR and shot like COD then it might be worth 99%

    As far as rivaling cinema, I am so embarased that I joined in with the hype and regurgitated some of those reviews to friends who will surely be thinking ‘WTF was he talking about?’ It’s good, but one can easily imagine so much more.

    Bring on the Xbox720/PS4 and GTAV

  • Mark

    @ Moi….think changing the formula would break the game or make it “not GTA”? Go back and play GTA 1 and 2, then play 3. Notice any differences? Yeah, they play totally differently, but it’s still GTA. Same could be said of Prince of Persia from the 80s compared to Sands of Time, Super Mario Bros compared to Mario Galaxy, Metroid to Metroid Prime…the list goes on.

  • http://www.booklinker.blogspot.com Deano

    I’ve never played any of the GTA games (barring the very first top-down version) but the unrelenting hype left me to rent this one to take a look.

    The city – amazing! As a sandbox, it sets the standard. The depth of detail, the realism, the ever-changing neighborhoods – fantastic! Everywhere there are little touches – an empty weedy ballfield, a rubbish-silled alleyway, a quiet boardwalk (at least until you drive your car screaming past the vendors)….now we get into the howevers…

    Car handling – middling at best. In all honesty, even if you didn’t want to create wanton destruction, the vehicle handling and camera is such that you will still end up taking down countless light poles, mailboxes and hapless passerbys. That being said, the variety of vehicles is very nice, although it seems to lack buses and very many larger, more potentially destructive vehicles. Where or where is a nice fire truck? The super stretch limos are fun to destroy with but for just sightseeing, only the motorcycles seemed to have really good handling.

    The map – relatively useless, unless it has some secret functionality that I haven’t clued into yet. The GPS is good but the map itself is utterly devoid of details and you can’t zoom in to plan your route through a neighborhood. In addition, with the bridges blocked off, downtown remains a distant unreachable dream. Even swimming the river doesn’t work. I assume it unlocks somewhere upon completion of the missions but honestly I don’t have the patience to bother with that right now.

    Combat – aside from beating on some people with a baseball bat and one brief encounter with a shotgun, it seems to work well enough, although the controller layout ont he 360 sometimes gave me problems, but thats more symptomatic of me going up the learning curve.

    The Missions – I was so irritated by the character Roman that I decided to free-roam and explore instead. I was sorely tempted to shotgun him in the face but lost my weapon to the cops after accidently shooting out a cruisers window…seriously, it was just a mistake officer!

    Multiplayer – didn’t try it yet.

    Overall it is a very cool game, probably far cooler then I’ve uncovered in my brief visit though not one I would ever buy. You can only smash your way through so many city streets splattering pedestrians before it gets old, and the missions so far were more irritating then fun.

  • Paul

    “The freeze starts after the install when it tries to start a new game” yes but it’s still connected to the install, i think there is possiblly two diferent bugs one that corrupts the auto game saves and another that locks up when trying to log online, some have reported that they can avoid the freezes by logging out first while other have had to delete their game saves.

    Anyway my comments about the resolution and framerate were just a half hearted dig at Sony fanboy who have given me a hard time on forums lately and nothing to do with your poor review.

    My criticism of your review is not merely because you marked it low and i’ve stated that perfect marks are dumb as they don’t allow for a better score should a better game be released, the reason i think your review is flawed is that you don’t seem to understand the mechanics of the gameplay.

    To start with you complain about the handling of the cars which is actually a vast improvement over earlier game, no longer can you drive flat out and just yank the handbrake easily round every corner, you now need to master the much more realistic attributes of each diferent car, you say that the camera angle is to low and you can’t see going on in front of you but in truth the angle only appears low when you are on a hill and it’s not difficult press up slightly on the right analog stick.

    It’s ok that you personally prefered the simple but unrealistic and forgiving handling of the previous games but to suggest that it’s a flaw when most of us with more patients than yourself see it as a vast improvement is bad reviewing.

    Your other complaints seem to be mostly misplaced due to personal preferences and to suggest that it’s just more of the same with different names and faces suggests to me that you haven’t spent much time with the game which makes your review even more pointless.

    Seems to me that your disappointment over having to actually drive the cars this time around has soured your view of the entire game, also you seem to have unrealistic expectations, this is a huge totally open world game, it would be naive to think that it would be presented as flawlessly as a game that runs on rails with set paths.

    Also i said it would “probably” be game of the year, obviously it’s too early to know for sure but hey if you can’t be bothered to learn to drive the cars in GTA 4 i guess you can’t be bothered to read my comment properly either.

  • Neal

    I tried to get my girlfriend to play this amazing game, and she had the same complaints as you. The cars were too difficult to steer, the camera wouldn’t hold still, etc. The thing is, she sucks at video games and it sounds like you might also. If you can’t control the cars or the camera, maybe you just lack in skill.

  • Boojum

    It’s not a perfect game. I’ve never played the previous GTA games, so can’t comment on how it compares (or whether it’s original), but my first thought when I saw the graphics was how poor they looked. Compared to Burnout Paradise, the long distance views of the city are very low quality, and the AI’s driving ability seems to be terrible, even when I’m nowhere near the road.

    The camera sucks, but the camera on all PS3 games seem to suck (you obviously had better experience with it in Assassins Creed than I did). I guess this is a console thing more than anything (the PS3 is the first console I’ve owned since the Atari 2600) since I’m more used to PC FPS or RPGs.

    Despite this it looks like it could be an interesting game which probably has long term appeal, though it doesn’t have the same initial wow factor as I’ve got from other games. And yes, the annoyingness of Roman doesn’t help matters one bit, and neither does the music choice – why can’t I choose my media server as a radio channel?.

  • Mark

    @giggity…grow up.

    @Paul…I spent a whole paragraph explaining that this isn’t a review. The driving is less forgiving than it used to be and more realistic, and I don’t mind that, but the camera and control options (PC versions of games [including GTA] let you remap EVERY control how you like, why not on consoles?) make driving more grueling and less fun. I play games to have fun, not be annoyed. I don’t know about you. And in 2008, why should I have to constantly tip the camera this way or that just because they didn’t fine tune it? It’s not like making a camera for a 3D game is new. I’d forgive it on Saturn and PS1 games, not so much a decade later. I also had just as many (if not more) qualms with the on-foot controls as the driving…now who’s not reading.

    @Neal…saying “you just lack in skill” is ridiculous. Did I not specifically cite various games where the problematic areas with GTA4 were implemented better? It’s not “skill.” Being good at linking huge combos in Tony Hawk or learning to play guitar is a “skill.” Having to settle for aggravating camera/control work is not. My girlfriend DOES play games regularly and she put down the controller after about a half hour, having lost interest and gained frustration. Using non-gamers as your “control group” doesn’t make much sense.

    @Boojum…agreed on the music. The PC versions of some of the earlier GTA games let you drag mp3s in to make your own soundtrack. Didn’t really mind prior to San Andreas as the radio stations seemed more snarky and enjoyable.

    @DV and Avon….glad I’m not the only one who can see through the hype. :)

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Ken Edwards

    Mark, we are playing two entirely different versions of GTA IV… I am playing the 360 version, and have logged over 20 hrs. in single and MP combined.

    What the heck is with the controls on the PS3? I do not have said issues or annoyances with the 360 default controls.

    Driving, you nailed it It does not work. Every vehicle corners like a tank, and the only way to really take a corner is use the e-break and hope for the best – hardly the best way to handle it. Makes the races online and off an utter joke.

    I am also not annoyed by the camera. Every game’s camera has issues, but I do not have nagging ones here. You can always zoom the camera out a notch, I assume that is Select on the PS3 as it is Back on the 360.

    OIn thre freezing side of things, I am having major 360 freezing issues with GTA IV. I am not entirely sure if this is a sign that my SECOND 360 is about to fail, or if is just the game. FWIW, it is the only game recently that crashes my 360.

  • Brad Schader

    I had freezing issues at first, but I turned off auto-save and disabled my internet and it has been fine.

  • Paul

    @Mark

    Ok now you’re getting a bit petty now, i read every word of your two page NOT review or OPINION or whatever you want to call it, you actually state that it’s not a “FULL” review because you haven’t finished the game yet which suggests that it is a review of what you’ve played so far but the wording you choose is not important since most of your comments we disagree on are to do with the mechanics of the game.

    “A car won’t always turn, even if you let off the gas. Cranking the wheel, I’m still careening straight ahead, and the only alternative is to hit the emergency brake and spin the car out entirely and slide around for a while. I spent hours with this and could not find a happy middle ground”

    The alternative is to use the brakes then enter the bend at the correct speed for the type of vehicle you are using and use the E-brake for tight hairpin turns, it’s not Forza 2 but for an openworld sandbox type of game it’s implemented very well.

    With the new generation of consoles games are getting more realistic if that doesn’t suit you i suggest you stick with the Wii or except that these are not game flaws but are your inability or reluctance to adapt.

    I’ve never played a sandbox type of game where the 3d camera was perfect it’s a difficult thing to pull off when your not on rails but that said GTA 4 is as good as any i’ve played unless the PS3 version has some problems the the 360 doesn’t have.

    As you stated yourself driving is a big part of GTA that’s why being able to take every corner flat out by just hitting the E-brake would get old real quick.

    “I play games to have fun, not be annoyed. I don’t know about you”

    Ha ha, the reward is in the effort you put in to master the game as is the main principle of most games, if that all seems like too much hard work for you maybe you should stick to watching Blu-Ray movies and calling out for piza as i don’t believe this requires any effort at all, providing your parents foot the bill and you don’t have to actually go out and earn it.

  • Mark Buckingham

    Hey Ken…I tried zooming the camera out, didn’t really help the dip-down issue. My gf used in-the-car view to see the road in front, but that didn’t help for knowing what’s around you. I dunno…it’ll be more tolerable to me when the price drops. $60 for a prettier version of essentially an old game with new problems isn’t a good investment IMO. But I imagine the next GTA game will show marked improvement.

    @Paul…I haven’t lived with my parents for several years. You should try it sometime, it’s a rush. Work on finding a mate later. Baby steps!

    If you want to master a flawed game that plays largely like the last one, by all means do so. I never said “Don’t play it” or “It’s a bad game.” I said it’s not as refined or revolutionary as all the mainstream press coverage and media hype would have you believe, and “try before you buy” is always sound advice…not that it’s stopping anybody given the $500 million in sales already. That’s fine. I like Rockstar. I’m glad people are having a good time with their game (and here’s hoping its success staves off EA’s hostile buyout of T2). I still have to wonder how many of those people are wishing their local retailer didn’t have a “no open games” return policy.

    I have played open world games with cameras better than this, and I don’t have anything against realism as long as the entertainment value exceeds the annoyance, but I’ve got better things to do than try to debate rationally with someone who doesn’t want to hear it. You go play GTA4 and I won’t. Happy?

  • Paul

    “Work on finding a mate later” Oh i’m so hurt, here i am sitting in a small room in my mummy and daddies house alone and no girl will ever look at me because i’m so fat and ugly and you had to cut me with your harsh words that were oh so true, what ever will i do now… ;)

    P.S I’ve never been any good at stealth games, maybe when MGS 4 comes out i should write a rewiew (sorry opinion) about how flawed and overrated it is because i suck at playing it, worked for you.

  • Ulrich

    I’d agree it’s a nice game, and the city is well done…. but it is not a perfect game….

  • Mark Buckingham

    Paul, funny you should mention MGS4….another ridiculously overhyped game that, while mainstream media (the only people you evidently relate to) are giving it glowing reviews, everyone I’ve talked to who has played it so far finds the combat to be awkard and clunky, the constant install times annoying, and the story as convoluted and screwy as ever. But hey, don’t let that stop you. You apparently love flawed games.

    People here have agreed that there were problems with the controls, particularly with car handling, so you can get off your ignorant high horse about how much I “suck at games” because your accusations clearly hold no water.

  • James

    I’m gonna try to be objective and not tease people… A few months ago I bought a xbox 360, to the time, I had only bought nintendo consoles, but there so many xbox games I wanted to try that I finally decided to buy one, now, I had try two GTA games before (and I say try because it wasn’t more than an hour per game), and I always wanted to try the whole thing, so I decided GTA IV would be my first 360 game, so even if it was good or bad I was not a fanboy either I had any experience in the series.
    What happened was that I found myself loving the game, it is one of the best games I have played in a long time, but I have to admit it has issues, I mean, there is not perfect game, and I do admit these rating pages go to far when they give a 10/10, it may mean they are not objective and get carried away by their personal taste, I would give the game a 9, wich for me is really good I mean for me a game worth buying is somewhere between 8 an 10, but then again this is kinda ambiguous depending of the person.

    So, I think you may be annoyed by all this people overreacting over the game, but for me you are not being as objective as you could.

  • Mark Buckingham

    Hi James. I agree that it was a “good” game and technically sound, just not perfect, and not revolutionary. It’s a lot like the last few games, but with a few new strengths and weaknesses where they tried to alter the formula slightly. Essentially, I agree with what you’re saying; it’s not a 10, but certainly not a 5 either.