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.