Playback: Grand Theft Auto IV

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.


Best Bit


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.

 Worst Bit


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.



  1. I think V actually shines a rather unforgiving light on IV too. I don’t think I realised how many little things bothered me until they were rectified in the new game.

    I am still expecting them to lampoon themselves with a ‘let’s go bowling’ joke somewhere in GTA V, so infamous did those missions become.

  2. Hated GTA 4, just couldn’t get on with it at all.

  3. After reading this article its nudged my memory & you’re pretty much spot on.
    In 4 I found I was slogging through boring missions and wanted to skip cutscenes.
    However, as for 5, so far I’ve enjoyed the cut-scenes and missions. The 3 characters are actually likeable in this unlike the 4th and they blend together a treat.

    Now I’m faced with a dilemma… It’s Friday night – Do I go for some dinner and a few pints when I finish work or straight home & sit playing this again ’til 3am for the 4th night in a row?

    • You will go home and play straight through the night, as will I.

      Simple fact is GTAV is better than my real life.

      • Yeah I probably will.
        When you take into account the strip club and various other things I’m inclined to mention, it’s very similar to my life. lol

      • Haha, I will pry no further!

  4. I’m glad I’m not alone in my feelings towards IV. V on the other hand has been an absolute joy.

  5. I disagree. I absolutely loved everything about IV, and I’m loving V too. It remains my all time favourite franchise (apart from Skate obviously!)

    • You say going bowling was a ball ache, but then say you were disappointed you couldn’t go to the gym? I don’t think any of the 20 odd missions I’ve done in V have been any ‘crazier’ than those in IV. In fact the heists and assassinations offer stealthy options.

    • I completely agree with you. I thought the realism of GTAIV was a refreshing approaching, sure it wasn’t the same box of fun as San Andreas but it had its own interesting story to tell as well as gameplay mechanics.

      When FPS’s reuse the same mechanics time and time again we complain about their mediocrity but when a developer tries a new approach we quickly shut them down. I think we need to be a bit more patient sometimes to allow developers to experiment a little here and there.

    • I couldn’t agree more, GTA IV was (and still is excellent!) I played it almost every week from release up until my last game (September 15th 2013!)

      GTA V has improved on it of course but I will always have a soft spot for 4, especially the driving mechanics as I felt V to be a little arcade(y) – but still good nonetheless!

  6. I think Rockstar misjudged the market on IV.
    With Saints Row becoming more popular and getting the “crazy” title, most comparisons are “SR is the immature mental open world, GTA is the more mature and serious game”.
    So in an effort to NOT compete on “craziness” (which they couldn’t anyway) they tried to differentiate the other way, ending up becoming too serious.

    SR is overboard mental, and nothing but mental. GTA had the balance right but then lost it in the face of a “more crazy” competitor. They overcompensated.

  7. GTA IV was serious, but I think that at the time that was what I was after, so I enjoyed it a lot. After playing The Ballad of Gay Tony and then GTA V, which features the return of the wonderful Rampage mini-missions, I think I prefer the lighter hearted gratuitous violence rather than the gritty dark approach. All the games compliment each other really, there’s a nice veriety of everything across the series, but V certainly seems like the pinnacle at the moment.

  8. Loved the city design and scale. Even liked Niko, but it all just lacked fun and was too clumsy to control certainly when looking at it now. Spent far more time with Red Dead than I did GTA IV, so it’s not all about being too realistic, but Rockstar have definitely shown they have learnt a lot with V.

  9. IV was technically the best GTA at the time, but the setting did feel very much the same at all times. It was either grey skyskrapers or grey harbours. I really liked it though, but the episodes where more fun.

    I want to add that I hated the gym in San Andreas.

  10. I liked the different take on the story although I missed the crazy stuff. Playing gta 5 also shows me how much I missed the random things and RPG stuff from San Andreas.

    Some things were still amazing though being the first one on ps3, seeing a person sweeping the road and the dustbin men were 2 ‘firsts’ highlights for me.

    It was mainly the driving controls that annoyed me the most and thank god they’ve sorted it in V.

Comments are now closed for this post.