Grand Theft Auto V may have only released this week, but today we’re heading back to GTA IV’s Liberty City for our PlayBack feature. I can vividly remember the day I bought the title. It was a frantic release day which saw me traipse across Cardiff to each and every Game and, at the time, Gamestation store in search of a copy. At every store I was greeted with the same message – “we are all sold out, sorry”.
HMV was my last hope. There sat behind the counter were the final two copies. I quickly entered the queue and even whilst I waited nervously one copy was sold leaving only one GTA IV left in the entire city of Cardiff (this really isn’t an over exaggeration). Finally it was my time to be served and that last copy was mine! Learning from my mistakes this time I pre-ordered GTA V to avoid any manic release day shopping.
GTA IV, although heavily praised by the critics (98 on Metacritic), received mixed opinions from the rest of the gaming community. You play as Niko Bellic, as he starts a new life in Liberty City (a re-imagined New York) putting his past behind him, and hoping to live the American Dream. It’s not long before everything starts to go wrong.
The best bit of GTA IV, as with all Grand Theft Auto games really, is the sheer magnitude of the game – there’s so much to do. It’s near on impossible to run out of ideas with the breath of vehicles, weapons and locations available. One session you may fancy guiding an Annihilator through the narrow streets of Manhattan, or another wrecking havoc whilst speeding along on a superbike.
Even on foot you can visit clothing stores, fast-food outlets, comedy clubs and if you’re into pixellated lap dances, there’s always the strip club. There were also mini-games such as darts and bowling you could play either by yourself or with a date, for which it was far too easy to ‘get lucky’ at the end of the evening.
The online proportion of the game took this a step further, adding races, deathmatches and a wonderful party play system. Every time I ventured online something new happened – the game continued to surprise me, and that made GTA IV a special game. Even though GTA V has released this week, I can still see myself returning to Liberty City in the future, as there are still so many things I’m yet to do.
Of course, GTA IV wasn’t without flaws. Firstly there were Roman’s annoying, attention-seeking, phone calls every 5 minutes. It wasn’t a good sign of things to come when you wanted to shoot the main protagonist’s cousin within the first hour of the game. Even more disappointing were the array of activities from previous GTA titles that were omitted from IV, such as swimming underwater, going to the gym (along with the subtle RPG elements) and flying planes. Small details that, unfortunately, all added up.
However, the most disappointing aspect of GTA IV was the more serious approach to the game – it simply wasn’t as fun as the previous titles. The main missions didn’t have that wackiness or spontaneous nature that we had seen in Vice City or San Andreas. What happened to being able to drive a tank on the streets while the military hunted you down in full force? Or riding a pedal bike off the top of a mountain? The city setting felt confined even with all the activities on offer.
Even the characters didn’t feel normal. Not one actually scared me with their crazy attitudes and ideas throughout the story. With the game constantly requiring you to improve your relationships with these characters, the side missions and activities became boring fast.
Grand Theft Auto IV didn’t ever feel like a Grand Theft Auto title. During the single player missions the element of fun was lacking or subdued. Thankfully, the online made up for this. With a few friends GTA IV online was fantastic. I’m only a few hours into GTA V, and already I’m enjoying it far more than IV. The character of Trevor fulfils my need for an insane character, and all the small issues I had with IV have been rectified. I’m definitely going to have more fun with GTA V, especially when the online portion becomes available.