The cops would try and stop him. But it wouldn't be a fair fight.

When Grand Theft Auto III was released, it was not only revolutionary, and highly innovative, but also one of the most influential games of all time. But now that the dust has settled on Grand Theft Auto IV, the same level of fan appreciation that was sustained for a long time with GTAIII hasn't been achieved. The question is why?

The first and probably most obvious reason, is that GTAIV lost a lot of its longevity by removing many non-story based features that could be found in the previous games, but this is probably pretty minor in the main scheme of things.

Grand Theft Auto III introduced console gamers to a huge 3d city where you could do anything you wanted. The level structure was something else that console gamers weren't familiar with, you would effectively go to 'quest' vendors and take on their missions, and at most times there were a variety of different vendors, which meant you had a choice in how the missions would progress. And, if you ever got stuck you could simply go and do some side missions to avoid frustration and try again later. Of course, GTAIII had its fair share of problems. From graphical glitches, to a rather uninspired shooting system, and a somewhat unengaging story, it was far from perfect, but even with its faults it managed to successfully establish its major innovative points.

As the major innovations were already established (and expanded upon in Vice City and San Andreas), it was always going to be tough for GTAIV to do something substantially new, even with the new grunt of next-gen consoles. The improvements to gameplay were more a case of polishing, from revamping the aiming system, to drastically improving the driving engine, and trying to tell a more sophisticated story. Yet these improvements got a little in the way of the game itself. It's much harder to introduce lot of minor gameplay mechanics, than one rather large one, which meant that the first few hours of the game was one long tutorial. Not only that, but the new aiming system means that the gunplay is much slower, and much better suited to indoors shooting where cover is easily found. This means that it is much harder (and less fun) to simply wreak havoc on Liberty City, virtually killing what many would describe as one of the best parts of GTA. To make matters worse it is much easier to escape from Babylon this time around, which effectively makes it rather hard to enjoy a long police chase when you're not doing the story missions. Both of these are necessary changes, the more sophisticated gunplay gives Rockstar more room for better level design and gun battles, and the police needed to be easier to escape from because virtually every mission ends with a police chase. But, if you're just trying to have fun away from the missions, you'll find it harder than it was in previous games.

The story—while having a more serious tone—is still a blatant satire, this time of melodramatic mafia flicks, yet with the added next-gen grunt there were many missed opportunities when it comes to storytelling. As they've taken the path of satire instead of parody, the story should have been a lot more emotional impact than previous games, and sometimes they got this absolutely right. There are several points in the story where you have to kill characters and twice this is handled well. Once you have to physically shoot the character, and it has a lot of impact, at another point you have to choose whether to kill another character, and this is carried off very well, as you simply walk away or shoot them yourself. Yet at other points when you shoot the character it goes to a cutscene and the control is taken away from the player so that Niko and his unfortunate victim can engage in some dialogue, and then Niko shoots them without your control. This might make sense for the story, if something meaningful or important was portrayed, but the story is told from the first perspective, so it would have far more impact if the player could shoot them and then it goes to the cutscene (where they are dead), or simply continues and you hear Niko's thought. As much important information can be told to the player, and it won't take away from the impact. Storytelling problems like this were acceptable in the previous GTAs, when it made sense that you'd shoot the boss until you did enough damage to trigger a cutscene where they would then be killed by the main character, but with a more sophisticated attempt at storytelling it doesn't work.


Cousin, you want to go bowling?

Of course the previous 3D GTAs had their questionable gameplay mechanics, like the character customisation in GTA: SA, but for the most part they were not too intrusive, and you were not substantially punished for not doing them. Yet in GTAIV there are some that simply do not work from either a storytelling perspective or a gameplay one. Yeah, you guessed it, the social missions! From a storytelling perspective these could have been a very effective tool for character development, yet the dialogue between the characters during them, are either incidental, or state the obvious of what they're feeling, which quite frankly doesn't even need to be said. Hell, sometimes the same feelings are repeated when you pick them up, that they have told you over the phone after a mission. It's definitely one of the biggest missed opportunities from a storytelling perspective.

And from a gemeplay perspective it's even worse. I could live with the fact that they're some of the most unengaging and boring things you'll do in front of a TV, I could put up with the fact that they intrude into the missions (and I say I could put up with it because you can turn them off) but it's simply not acceptable that a large proportion of the side missions are only accessible if you have wasted several hours doing the social missions, and if you don't do them, or turn them off, you are punished by not being able to do the freaking side missions! That means if you do turn off the side missions then you've pretty much got nothing to do except for the main story.

The final (and probably the biggest) reason GTAIV isn't as impressive as III was, and arguably Vice City and San Andreas were, is because it is set in Liberty City. The reason Vice City and San Andreas were not stale or repetitive was the new setting, and timeline. The 80s and Miami were captured perfectly in Vice City, as was the 90s, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas in San Andreas. Taking the game back to Liberty City in a modern day setting, is immediately less engaging, because you're taking a polished San Andreas, and putting it back in a setting everyone has already played a very similar game in! Not only that, but a modern setting means that the satire has to be modern too, but satire on global warming and terrorism is far less remarkable than satire about cocaine sniffing business men in the 80s, or OGs in the 90s, and even with the far more polished city, it was still the same city as was in Grand Theft Auto III, the same city that in seven years has apparently lost a hell of its side content.


Rollerblades, fluroscent colours, big hair, cocaine, and lycra. A hell of a lot of lycra. Welcome to the 80s!

Of course like GTAIII before it, despite all its problems, it's still a great game that is a hell of a lot of fun. And like GTAIII before it, I'm sure the potential it has showed us can be polished and improved upon. So here's to GTA VII where ever it might be set!


Oh, and you could fly those things in San Andreas.

Posted by Foolz Fri, 28 Nov 2008 06:33:19 (comments: 16)
next >>
Fri, 28 Nov 2008 12:41:25
Great post. You know this sounds weird but I almost prefer the bright colours and chunky characters and environments from the past games. Realistic visuals these days are almost too clean and rounded, it gives them this sanitized plastic look.
Sat, 29 Nov 2008 05:04:59

I dunno, you kinda have a point. There's a distinct lack of style in a lot of games visuals these days.

Mon, 01 Dec 2008 04:06:26

What's Grand Theft Auto? Is it on Wii?

Mon, 01 Dec 2008 13:15:07

Can't you see those great graphics? especially the first pic! Of course it's not on wii!

Mon, 01 Dec 2008 21:37:27
I don't remember a rocket launcher in that game.
Fri, 05 Dec 2008 08:37:02

Are you serious...?

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 00:29:11
gamingeek said:
I don't remember a rocket launcher in that game.

Are you kidding?

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 00:39:23

I started GTA4 a couple of years ago, longer perhaps.  After performing exactly 70 missions I got sick of the old GTA bullshit and shelved it until a few days ago.

Coming back to the game was jarring, in the time that has lapsed since last playing I have re-beat GTA3 and beaten Chinatown Wars, Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories.  So I had to re-learn everything, which was about as much un-fun as when I first startd playing it.  But I got a mission done here and there, and before I know it I've done 10-13 missions in a row.  The driving is making sense again, and I'm now able to get through a gun-fight without accidentally calling Brucie and agreeing to a date.

So, now I am remembering the good things about the game, and will be finishing it shortly (just 6 missions to go).  The world created for this game in incredible, I remember now the hours I spent just fooling around with the world, driving, getting into trouble, getting out of trouble, watching TV, getting drunk etc...  The problem with this game is the pacing.  For the first 20 hours, the game explodes with things to do, but after you've played with all the toys there is a long, slow slog of missions that boil down to various racial stereotypes telling you to whack this guy, all for the ethereal promise of "helping me out".  There have to be about 40 missions in the middle of this game where the story is not advanced at all.  No wonder hardly anyone finished this thing.

Well, happily, with about 15 missions to go, the story gets picked up again, and your actions begin to have some consequences.  I have some good ideas as to where I would take the story, but I know that is not the direction the game is going in (I'd have preferred to find out after all this that Nico was the bad guy working for his formr government sent here to wipe out the ones that got away -- but after meeting Florian, I know that is not where this is going).

All in all, it's not as bad as I remembered, it;s actually quite good, but for FUCK's sake Rockstar, go play Uncharted 2 and learn something about checkpointing.

Fri, 22 Oct 2010 03:52:01

Oh yes, despite its problems it was still really good! Just not entirely mind blowingly awesome as some of them have been in the past.

Sat, 23 Oct 2010 06:47:41

This thread has made me want to install GTA III. Unfortunately, I have plenty of stuff to play and little time to play it.

next >>
Log in or Register for free to comment
Recently Spotted:
Login @ The VG Press
Remember me?