Having survived the ambush from the Chrono Trigger fanbase, I’m back to look at another much loved game. Dusting the cocoa powder off, I’m jumping into a modern day Liberty City, and taking a look at not only Grand Theft Auto 4, but also the $25 Million Expansion pack, The Lost and Damned. Let’s lock, load and go flying into adventure…then maybe a tree.
Let’s start with the main game, where you play Niko Belic or Nicky, or random insult here – he got so many names during the game, I lost count…Anyway, you come fresh off the boat from Unspecifiedland, sold on the idea of your playboy cousin who has a penthouse, lovely ladies and various sports cars – you know, the “American Dream!” Unfortunately that optimism is misplaced as he finds a fat, balding man who drives an old banger…and is drunk. Lovely. You jump straight into the first mission that teaches you how to drive. However, the driving controls are like trying to make a man half-snail win the Olympic 100m sprint…on second thoughts, just making a man half-snail is on the same wavelength…
Anyway, the steering is awkward and clumsy, supposedly realistic – further fuelling my fear of getting behind anything with a motor if this does ring true. Compared to the last “proper” sequel, San Andreas, released roughly three or four years before GTA IV – yes, Rockstar follow Capcom’s method of numbering games – the vehicles feel lacking, as I’ve been spoiled by Jetpacks, Super Secret Army Jet Planes that hover, and pushbikes. The latter may not sound as cool as the Jet Plane, but with a cheat that let you jump hundreds of feet into the air, it was bloody entertaining. Sure, the cars are massively detailed, and have realistic damage such as appropriate dents, paint scratches, and if you wheel spin enough the tyres explode – spent 10 minutes trying that in SA before realising you can’t. Also, a major travesty in terms of vehicles – the Rhino tank – a staple of carnage in every GTA to date was left out! Guess it was too complicated to make…shame…
The story cannot be faulted – it’s got twists, turns, depth – it’s incredibly long, and a fantastic experience. Grand Theft Auto has always supplied a great storyline, although the dialogue at times appears to be written by someone with Tourette’s. You begin to feel attached to the various people you meet, and take surprisingly great delight in exacting revenge on the people who wrong you. The taxi service is incredibly useful, all you have to do is summon a taxi, and get it to take you to your destination, for a fee of course. For the lazy that just wanna shoot stuff, it’s brilliant! For the purists who feel it goes against what GTA is all about…wait, they don’t exist – everyone’s too damn lazy to drive everywhere.
The graphics, as mentioned while yelling about the vehicles, come from the Force Unleashed Store of grey, grey, grey, brown, grey, black – it’s all dull, boring, gritty, just downright depressing! If I wanted to play a game that depresses me, I’d go play Sonic and the Secret Rings! Now, that said, they are some of the nicest graphics I’ve seen in a game, with realistic damage to the cars like dents where you crash, and the engine will stop dead with enough damage. One thing that takes the fun out of the game is the AI Engine. As comes natural with a GTA game, there will be shooting – lots of shooting. However, it makes you feel bad if you shoot someone thanks to the ragdoll physics engine. In San Andreas or the Saints Row Series, GTA’s biggest Rival, when you shot someone, it was comical, they did some unrealistic fall, and you didn’t think twice. In GTA 4, they hold the injury, limp, and fall over realistically, making you feel bad. If this was designed to feel empathy for Niko’s internal struggle about killing people, then mission accomplished.
Music is another consistently high point in the series, and this instalment does not disappoint, with legends of music on the airwaves. Billy Idol hosted the Rock Station, and that’s the only main person I know, as that’s the only station I listened to…>.> Anyway, Lazlow makes yet another reappearance – kind of like one really long running gag…except it’s not funny. No offense to the guy, but his voice is kinda really annoying. Give me Billy Idol with his soothing tones, and some classic rock while tearing through Liberty City on a motorbike…which is what help make The Lost and Damned pretty damn awesome. But that’s for later paragraphs – I’m still poking holes in the full main game.
The missions are rather varied, offering non-monotonous gameplay with a multitude of gameplay elements…but that can be a major problem as well. Basically until you get the next safehouse, 99% of your missions are tutorials, teaching you how to shoot, how to drive, how to take cover, how to bowl, how to play darts, how to drive drunk…it’s what happens when you incorporate so many gameplay mechanics – you take way too long to explain them all. There are some fun missions, along with the really, really annoying follow the train mission – anyone whose played GTA4 knows exactly which mission I mean, but if you can plug through the odd terrible mission, and can stand starting from scratch when you die – and you will die – then you will have fun.
Now, there is one thing that stops GTAIV being a legendary game – all your friends phoning you up between every mission if you’d like to go drinking or to a strip club, then yelling at you if you say no or if they have an “Accident” and don’t pick them up from hospital, as you just spend five minutes getting to the mission start. I mean, seriously – why was that necessary, and what’s up with the TV shows? Why have those in? Instead of scripting those, or the drinking sessions, make the handling better – or devise a way to let us continue halfway through missions!
Now, Music, Graphics, and Missions – they won’t change from an expansion pack, so let’s talk about the story of The Lost and Damned. You play Johnny Klebitz, a support character in the main GTA4 game plot. The story of TLAD intertwines with the main plot on at least three seperate points directly – twice where you team up with Niko, and once where you go meet his cousin, Roman. Where Niko was hesitant to kill people, Johnny finds it a sport, however he does have his limits – wanting to turn the club of which he is Vice-President, The Lost, into a profitable organization. The President, Billy Big-Beard ((Not his actual name, but I gave him that name – as the game went on, I gave him some others I feel wrong to litter Rappy’s blog with)) would rather air out anyone who looks at him the wrong way. So, yeah – bit cliché with the “Topple corrupt leader” Scenario, but I don’t think it’s ever been done with bikers…
Now, one thing that must be mentioned is the staggering value for money that Rockstar offer. Take Portal – three hours gameplay, 1200 Microsoft points…around £10…roughly. TLAD? That’s fifteen hours gameplay, including the extras, as well as the new multiplayer modes – only 1600 Microsoft points. How awesome? Damn awesome. A quick note on the Multiplayer mode – people are selfish cry-babies who drop from a game because they aren’t winning – although there’s a variety of modes, I always go on Free Mode, and mess around with other causing havoc with Rocket Launchers.
The vehicle handling is a lot smoother, at least with the bikes, as you would expect. At first, I was crashing into everything, and it was a wonder how I kept up with the gang. It’s one of the two updated features of GTAIV – the other of which is the fact that they let you continue a mission half-way through if you die – that cheered me up a lot, and gave me the motivation to see it to the end. You could call up your fellow gang members for back-up, new bikes, weapons to buy, or just have some banter with – you become as attached to The Lost as you did with Niko’s motley crew, which Rockstar excel at. Also, you get some new weapons – they were fun.
So, what do I think of GTA4? I say what I say about Chrono Trigger – it takes a while to get going, but once it does it’s good fun – however, a great game does not need a while to get going – the full game gets a 7, while TLAD gets a solid 9 – bring on the next DLC, Rockstar!
Next time, watch as I review a 360 game, that keeps bringing me back no matter what