Only in video game math does three plus four equal four, as such seven years and four Grand Theft Auto titles after Rockstar graced us with GTA3 we are finally witness to the arrival of GTA4. The anticipation leading up to the release bordered on mass hysteria, and the praise following bordered on blasphemy. So is it everything everyone claims? All that and a bowl of…whatever? Well, to be honest…yeah, pretty much.
All jokes about creative counting not withstanding, GTA4 is the ultimate follow up to GTA3. Excursions to Vice City and San Andreas were nice, but this iteration brings the action back to Liberty City, and oh what a city it is this time around. Rockstar has totally outdone themselves in creating a living, breathing city. It is the ultimate parody of New York and the American way of life, not to mention the ultimate sandbox for all your wanna-be-gangsta needs, and it really is the star of the game.
As for the gameplay, it’s consummate GTA. The biggest improvement is in the ramped up aiming system, which was greatly needed, but all in all it’s pretty much more of that same trademark GTA style. You drive, you shoot, you chase people, you get chased…the usual shtick. It’s a little disappointing that they didn’t take a few more risks with some of the missions and break formula a little more here and there, but from the school of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” there’s still plenty of ass kicking and name taking to be found.
As if that wasn’t enough, GTA4 also includes online multiplayer. While you can’t play through the story co-op, you can play all manner of competitive games types—from races to classic deathmatches and even objective games based on stealing cars and doing jobs for the mob. You can also join free play games and just goof around. The only knock on multiplayer is that how you get into games is a little wonky, with how the host is chosen oddly nebulous, and it can be frustrating when you can’t seem to get into a game with options set up the way you like. It’s a shame that such a silly error in logistics mars an otherwise tremendous console multiplayer debut.
All that would be enough to make GTA4 a good game, but what makes it great is all the little things Rockstar managed to cram into an already substantial format. The story is really well done—grittier and more, believe it or not, poignant than past offerings—and the satire that permeates every molecule of the game is just superb. No matter who you are, where you live, or what you do, this game is making fun of you, and it makes you like it. New to GTA4 is a whole mechanic built around your cell phone—keeping your contacts current and happy by going out on “dates” with them—which, while it can get a little tiresome maintaining a full compliment of friends at game’s end, overall works really well.
One could go on and on about what’s great about GTA4, but really what’s the point? Sure the graphics are better and there are some new activities you can do, but really this is just another hard charging GTA title. If you’ve liked GTA before, you’ll love GTA4. If you didn’t care for it, is the fact that you can now play darts with your virtual buds going to change your mind? Probably not. But if so know that you are in the minority, because Rockstar has delivered everything they needed to here—bigger, better, and most importantly more, more, more GTA. Simply put, it rocks.