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The Ultimate GTA 4 PS3 Review

Updated on January 8, 2015

The Ultimate GTA 4 PS3 Review

The most in-depth, spolier-free review of GTA 4 you'll ever find: get to know the differences since GTA: San Andreas, and what to expect when you load up GTA 4 for the first time.

As you head back to Liberty City, you'll experience a far smaller "world" within a much bigger city, more jam-packed with detail, grime and grit ever seen before. This review is written by a PS3 gamer, but still applies to all platforms!

Niko Bellic - protagonist of GTA 4
Niko Bellic - protagonist of GTA 4

Meet the Anti-Hero of GTA 4

Niko Bellic

In GTA 4, you're Niko Bellic, immigrant fresh off the boat who arrives at Liberty City in search of the "American dream." Although the game never reveals what country you're from, speculation points at Serbia or Croatia. As an ex-soldier of "the war" (which is also never specified but might refer to the Yugoslav War due to Niko's age), you're already hardened from the horrors of combat and retain your knowledge of weaponry and hand-to-hand.

Coming from a poor background - Niko has a positive outlook toward his new life in America, until all is not as glamorous as it seems once settled in. This time around, it's not the 80s or the 90s but the current day.

Liberty City (GTA's traditional spin-off of New York City) looks more amazing than ever. You'll be taken through amazing replications of the grime and grit of the biggest city in the world, as Niko gets adjusted to America by surviving the crime ridden underground, inhabited by shifty characters, gang members, police and other interesting characters only a big city could birth.

Originally moving to Liberty City to work with his loudmouth cousin Roman Bellic at an allegedly thriving taxi business, Niko soon after realizes quite the contrary: Roman is full of shit, and he lives in a run-down apartment while working a crappy job and telling tales of grandeur.

What Has Changed Since San Andreas

The Most Detailed GTA Ever

The Most Detailed GTA Ever
The Most Detailed GTA Ever

The Game Environment of Liberty City

Smaller "World", Bigger "City"

In terms of gameplay, GTA 4 is a milestone when compared to San Andreas. While GTA: San Andreas was an excellent game that relatively had the same graphics of GTA: Vice City, GTA 4 cranked up the realism. The level of detail as seen in Liberty City is insane -- it seems as though every square inch of the city was meticulously designed. No corners were cut, and no graphics were replicated to save time.

Incredible, Never-Seen-Before Detail

From building facades to alleyways and even construction zones, there are tons of movable, destroyable objects placed in a natural way that really makes everything look real.

Traffic cones, plastic orange fences and wooden horses with strobe lights wrap around construction sites. Trash piles up on the curb for garbage collection day, hand trucks full of flattened cardboard boxes wait outside of garage bays, and the occasional piece of plastic bag or paper shredding floats in the wind as the traffic lights gently sway.

Even the streets are beautifully rendered - realistically patched up with iron slabs and grates, showing faded paint lines for parking spots and even cracks and potholes - it really gives you that old, dirty New York feel. Drive through ethnic neighborhoods and you'll take a moment out to appreciate the different kinds of graffiti, wall murals and country flags.

After playing GTA 4, I seriously don't think I can ever go back and play the older games in the series, since this one really spoiled me.

Ramped-Up Graphics

The graphics of GTA 4 are significantly better than GTA: San Andreas. Rather than the "fog of distance" as seen in previous GTA games, this one blends fog, haze, street mirages and other weather-based elements to give an extremely realistic view of distance in this game. Weather behaves and looks more real. Water looks and acts like real water - not like a quivering mass of clear Jell-O. Nothing beats crossing the river and getting a nice view of the Liberty City skyline lit up at night...especially knowing that you can to go any of the buildings you're looking at and explore around them.

There's hardly a single element of the city that isn't full of life. This is the most realistic GTA 4 ever, and you'll spend countless hours of real lifetime exploring every square inch.

The Characters

Character development definitely did not take a back seat in GTA 4. You'll get to know Niko better than perhaps all of the previous Grand Theft Auto protagonists combined, as he actively takes part in cut-scene conversations and otherwise. You'll definitely feel more of a connection with the characters this time around, as their dialogue is well written, entertaining and relevant to the plot. Just like how OG Loc was the "comedy relief" of GTA: SA, the character known as "Brucie" is, in GTA 4.

Liberty City: Beautifully Dirty and Grungy

Liberty City: Beautifully Dirty and Grungy
Liberty City: Beautifully Dirty and Grungy

Improved Night & Weather Conditions

Improved Night & Weather Conditions
Improved Night & Weather Conditions

Living in Liberty City

Surviving the City...and Adjusting To It

You'll notice a few old elements of past GTA games, as well as new inclusions in GTA 4:

Food & Eating

GTA: San Andreas first introduced eating as a new feature for the series. The "hunger system" annoyed some gamers, and that facet has been removed in GTA 4. Eating still exists and is a good way to replenish your health, regardless if it's from the dirty water guy at the corner, or at the local Burger Shot. There's no more weight gain (or muscle mass) as seen in San Andreas, but that was kind of gimmicky, anyway.

Safe Houses

There still are safe houses, but you'll acquire them after certain portions of the plot have been met. A safe house is no longer a simple room with a floating "save" icon in it. You can change your clothes there, watch TV, and rest - which saves the game and passes 3 in-game hours. All safe houses have a designated "resident parking only" spot that is large enough to fit two sedan-sized cars in it. These cars will never disappear when you park in them and save the game (unless you remove them from the designated space and re-save the game).

Clothing

Clothing and reputation still remain a part of gameplay since San Andreas. What you wear is noticed by who you date, and some will care more than others. They'll even greet you on your next date by saying "hey, I love the new pants and shoes" (that goes for which car or bike you drive, too). You'll have to wait awhile before getting access to other clothing stores. Unfortunately, there are only four clothing stores in the entire game (the Russian shop, 2 Perseus shops and 1 Modo), unlike San Andreas where there were multiple chains and brand names throughout the gaming world. It's obvious that clothing was a very low priority in GTA 4. Sorry to all of you fashion enthusiasts.

General Theme of the Neighborhood

The general "theme" in GTA 4 is that of eastern Europe. The immediate area you live in is an ethnic Russian neighborhood, and there's even an eastern European pop music station on the radio. Wander around the city, and you'll notice the changes of culture and ethnicity.

Radio

Radio stations are back, and better than ever. I personally loved Vice City's stations, since they were a fun mix of off-beat humor, heavy satire and great music. That whole element seemed to have disappeared somewhat in GTA: San Andreas, which had more cut-and-dry radio, but GTA 4 goes back to those "Vice City roots" with hilarious talk radio dialogue, tons of cursing and a few quotes that will make you laugh out loud.

Things went a step further in this new installment. Radios will also feature news flashes between segments. So, that guy you murdered will be announced as today's news, as police work to find leads on the killer (that's you). These news flashes will also include other information that will make you smile.

TV and the Internet

A new feature, watchable TV, actually features in-game television shows that you can watch in their entirety. Shows run on a schedule, just like they do in real life, and you'll even hear about upcoming TV shows being advertised on the radio.

The internet is yet another new feature - it's a place where you can check email from friends and family, get new tasks, visit amusing websites, click ads, and even set up online dates. You can first access the internet through an internet cafe pretty early in the game. Much like radio, the internet will also feature your latest hi-jinks as the news of the day.

Dating

Dating is more complex than it was in GTA: San Andreas. The girls you date each unlock a new feature that will benefit you at some point in the game, provided that you keep the success rate high. Certain girls like certain activities (bowling, pool, darts, drinking) and dislike others (strip clubs). All of the games I've mentioned are fully playable.

If you were a San Andreas player, you'll undoubtedly remember the "Hot Coffee" fiasco. While Rockstar didn't include that "mini-game" in GTA 4, you do get an amusing cutscene after being "invited up for coffee" that was undoubtedly created as a sarcastic throwback to "Hot Coffee."

Cell Phone

Your dingy cell phone becomes one of your most used gadgets from the very beginning of the game, and it enables you to keep in touch with friends you meet along the way. Set up a date, check on your cousin, or see what's new with the street boss you just met...or, listen to their answering machine machine if they don't pick up.

People call you on a regular basis, which will sometimes annoy you, as you will feel a little overwhelmed with the amount of stuff you have to keep up with. Friends or dates will call you and ask if you'd like to go out on the spur of the moment - you can accept or reject, but each time you reject means that your reputation drops with that person.

You can turn your phone off at the risk of missing out on incoming phone calls that might deal with the plot. Different things happen in the game depending on who calls who first - sometimes you'll get an additional conversation that might have never triggered if you hadn't taken it upon yourself to call someone first. Additionally, you can call police, fire and ambulance services and they'll show up to your location.

Heights

As in previous games, falling from heights will result in taking significant damage, or downright killing you. The game is not forgiving when it comes to heights, and has arguably changed quite a bit from previous games in the sense that it is more realistic. Take a good 2+ story drop, and you're dead.

Flying

Perhaps one of the bigger disappointments is the fact that there are no pilotable airplanes (nor parachutes) in GTA 4 - one of the fun new features that premiered in GTA: San Andreas. Helicopters still exist, though.

Police & Wanted Levels

A complete overhaul has been made to the "wanted level" system, which goes up to 6 stars. Now, your wanted level can be evaded if you leave a radius. If you have a 1-star wanted level, a tiny blue and red flashing radius appears around your marker on the map, and you basically have to leave that radius and remain outside of it for several seconds for the police to "lose" you. The radius increases as your wanted level increases, not only making it more difficult to leave, but making it more tedious as the police will be more relentless and use more resources to find you, as they did in previous GTAs. In fact, it starts becoming incredibly difficult to evade the police at the 3rd star.

Danger

There are times where you'll come across a regular citizen on the street who simply has a problem with you. Perhaps you were staring in their direction too long, and it annoyed them? Did you accidentally nudge them when walking by? Or, maybe they're a gang member with a short fuse. Regardless, they'll unexpectedly start mouthing off. Unless you leave right away, they'll start swinging at you, or worse...

Prostitutes

One of the most famous and controversial things about Grand Theft Auto was the fact that you could pick up a prostitute. With all of the uproar this created, fans wondered if this would remain in the game. Well, in GTA 4 - it's not only still there, but it's more graphic than ever. This time around, you get the option of paying for 3 different "services," all of which show full body movements if you position your camera so that you can see through the windshield.

Entertainment & Related

Not only are there bowling alleys, pool halls, pubs with dartboards and arcade machines -- all of which are fully usable as mini-games, but you'll also be able to visit a cabaret which features two back to back shows, and a strip club which enhances the experience of the ones seen in San Andreas. You can parttake in all of these places on your own, or invite one of Niko's friends or dates. There are also ATM machines around the city where you can check on your statement.

Bowling is A Playable Mini-Game

Bowling is A Playable Mini-Game
Bowling is A Playable Mini-Game

The Citizens of GTA 4

Making the Population More Realistic

In past GTAs, the local denizens were nothing more than "visual accessories" to your surroundings. Now, they're much more individualized and seemingly have their own personalities...well, to the best of what today's consoles can provide.

People Aren't Just Props Anymore

Citizens are no longer "generic humans" with Barbie doll faces, mindlessly walking around. They seem to each be individuals - they dress differently, they answer their cell phones, they engage in conversations with each other -- or curse each other off, get hit by cars, react angrily to car horns, drop their groceries or cafe lattes, freak out and do a number of unpredictable things.

Their eyes move and blink, and their lips and jaw perfectly mouth each word that they speak. Some of them will attempt to be brave if you pop a bullet out in public, while others will run in a frenzy.

For all of you people watchers, you might find amusement in the ridiculous and hilarious conversations that citizens have on their cell phones while walking down the street (they're full conversations, too...not sound bytes!) Also amusing is the occasional nut job you'll find, spouting off religious banter and warning of damnation.

New "Rag Doll" Physics System

The fun of GTA 4's physics is that pedestrians finally have rag-doll movements when hit (and you will too, if some idiot hits you while you're crossing the street). So, you'll see pedestrians doing mid-air cartwheels and landing in a pile of garbage...or against a brick wall. No two collisions will ever be the same, thanks to velocity, speed, and flailing limbs :)

If you clip a pedestrian with your car as they cross the street, they'll do a realistic roll over the hood of your car, or a horizontal or vertical flip depending on the angle they were hit and the speed your car was going. Is someone attempting to pull you out of your car for a beatdown? Hit the pedal and drag them along the pavement as they hold on to your door handle for dear life.

Humans Act Human in GTA 4

Humans Act Human in GTA 4
Humans Act Human in GTA 4

The Cars of GTA 4

GTA's Most Favored Method of Transportation

Cars have always been one of the highlights of the GTA series: as usual, nothing beats the feeling of seeing a rare car drive by, tempting you to steal it and bring it back to your safehouse's parking space. Everything you drive is noticeably different. Some cars are terribly bad when taking turns, others are not. Some have great pickup, others are complete dogs. Industrial trucks "feel" like industrial trucks when you drive them.

Awful Car Handling Is Back

Ever since Vice City, we've seen a new car maneuvering system where your camera directly aids in the car's steering. This was a major annoyance in GTA: San Andreas, continuing on to GTA: IV where your car has the handling of a baby deer on an ice rink. You'll have to train yourself to steer your car using both joysticks on the controller -- that is, one to physically turn the car and one to physically turn the car's camera in the same direction. Failure to master this will result in your car fish-tailing, spinning out or doing out-of-control drifts. This is a total nightmare when you're running from a high star rating, or competing in a street race.

Old Favorites, and New Ones, Too

GTA 4 didn't skimp when it came to cars. There are plenty of them: common, rare, ultra rare, you know the deal. Lots of your favorites are still included, such as the Banshee and Comet - many of which would have been disappointing if they hadn't made yet another appearance in the GTA series.

New GPS Systems

All cars now feature a GPS where you can set a way-point on your map screen and get both a visual line as well as turn-by-turn directions. Different cars have different sounding GPSs, depending on how classy they are.

Car Damage

Cars take more realistic damage. Tap the front or back corner against a hard object and the brake or headlight will pop. T-bone another car and a realistic crumple will appear in the exact location where you hit it - not just a generic center crater. Depending on how hard a car is hit and where it was hit, something unique will develop in regard to the type of damage it took.

The damage representations for cars go far beyond that. If your car gets shot a couple inches to the left of your driver's side brake light, then you'll get a bullet hole a couple inches to the left of your driver's side brake light. Catch my drift? The level of detail for damage is extremely intricate in this game, which really cranks up the realism and fun.

Heavy Car Damage & Explosions

While it was mildly fun in the past - cars don't act like chain reaction bombs anymore. In the past, it was really easy to destroy a car quickly. In fact, they were almost disposable items. Hit or shoot them enough times and they'll start to smoke and catch fire, then explode after a brief moment. Or, simply overturn a car and it becomes a bomb in a matter of seconds, igniting all of the cars around it, continuing on with the gradual chain explosion.

In GTA 4, however, it's not that simple: cars no longer explode when overturned. Cars will also be un-drivable after sustaining a certain amount of damage. Depending on how bad the damage is, you might be faced with a dead ignition.

Stealing Cars

Even car theft isn't the same. You actually have to steal them for real this time (after all, previous GTAs were unrealistic since all cars everywhere were unlocked, except for occasional patrol cars and armored security trucks) - an elbow to the driver's side window will do. Just make sure a cop isn't anywhere in screen view, or they'll hear the glass break, and the chase is on. Carjack someone, and you never know how they'll react! Carjackings "work" differently depending on what you are (or aren't) equipped with at the time.

Car Spawns

I was extremely grateful for the fact that the "car spawn" issue from GTA: San Andreas was fixed in GTA 4. Basically, San Andreas cars would "spawn" at the worst possible time - mostly when you were on a motorcycle chase mission (think "high speed motorcycle accident") or were speeding. Also, cop cars were notorious for 'being right there' when you had just begun to carjack someone, or they happened to be making a turn in front of you while you were speeding. All of this ridiculousness has been removed: traffic and randomness acts normally.

As usual, cars will spawn depending on the one you're driving. So, if you're driving a high-end sports car, the probability of seeing other high-end sports cars on the road increases. If you drive an industrial truck, more industrial trucks will appear in traffic.

Traffic

This is Grand Theft Auto - there are no traffic rules. So, don't worry about stopping at red lights, unless you're a hardcore role player. Feel free to bust through lights, stop signs, and even drive on sidewalks while a policeman is right next to you - there will never be any repercussions unless you cause bodily harm to a pedestrian. The population does follow a strict rule set with traffic, and there most definitely are some very crappy and impatient drivers...beyond the normal ones. You'll see.

Traffic depends on the time of day you're driving, and where you're driving. It tends to get heavy during rush hour near a highway offramp. However, at 3 AM, the roads are nearly car-free.

Don't Even Think of Not Paying!

Don't Even Think of Not Paying!
Don't Even Think of Not Paying!

Public Transportation Is Finally Here

Got No Ride? Try This!

While carjacking is fun, sometimes it's not practical because there's a cop around. Otherwise, you may not feel like sitting in unruly traffic or driving somewhere the hard way. Finally, there are alternatives!

Taxis

Finally, taxis aren't just a background element in GTA! If you don't have a car or simply don't have time to jack one, look for a cab anywhere on the screen and hail it with your L1 button. Taxis will take you to any waypoint on your map, even if you're going on a date or meeting up with someone (although, they might ridicule you for not arriving in a car). One of the most amusing parts of taking a cab is the view you'll get. Use your left analog stick to look out the windows and relax on your way there. The realism of the city coupled with the in-game motion blur really makes it look like you're watching actual video footage.

If you get annoyed at waiting in traffic (there are times where I've waited at least 5+ minutes in dead stopped traffic while in a cab), hit your square button to tell the taxi driver to get a move on. He'll then start driving like a total nut - over the sidewalk, crashing into other cars and doing whatever it takes to get you to your destination.

Subway/Elevated Train

You can now take a subway/el-train. Trains run on schedule and take you to specific drop-off points, just like they do in real life, of course. Simply walk up the stairs to a platform and take the train to one of the main stop-off points - it will save you a lot of time as opposed to driving through side streets and bridges, although you'll probably have some walking to do afterward.

Busses (There Aren't Any)

Strangely enough, there are no functional busses in GTA 4. It's possible to find a few parked ones, but they're just props. You can still hijack them and drive them around. It's not known if Rockstar had no intention of including them, or if they simply didn't have time. There are areas within the game that have "bus lanes" and there are many bus stops with glass enclosures, but they are basically pointless.

Missions in GTA 4

Adjusting to the Challenge of GTA 4 Missions

Missions basically work the same way they had in the past - they'll be indicated by icons on your map, and you can trigger them anytime you want. A higher degree of realism has been applied to the way they behave in GTA 4.

Choosing Paths

One very welcome feature of the game are the choices you can make. Sometimes, you'll get to decide someone's fate...should they live, or die? If they live, will they reward you later on? That's for you to find out. These choices will pop up with flashing text when available, allowing you to press one of two buttons to make that decision.

As seen in previous GTAs, the earlier missions will serve a dual function by training you on how to do things in the game. Sometimes, killing someone isn't the answer - shooting them in the leg will get the message across. The game will teach you how to do it. You could disobey it and go for the chest - which will change the results of the mission.

Learning New Features

You'll also learn how to throw objects, jump platforms, or even access the police computer network when you steal a cop car (which opens up a whole bunch of side-missions, and even character's criminal records). When you fail a mission or complete it an unorthodox way, a new dialogue will open up afterward where the person who assigned you the mission will talk about what went wrong.

Surprises

One thing's for sure about Grand Theft Auto 4 - it is brutally realistic in some of the cut scenes. There will be times where something shocking will happen out of nowhere, leaving you dropping your jaw. This game is very real in the sense that it depicts the same kind of real-life violence that happens amongst criminals in the real world, hidden from the nightly news.

New Locations to Call Home

New Locations to Call Home
New Locations to Call Home

More Enter-able Buildings Than Before

More Enter-able Buildings Than Before
More Enter-able Buildings Than Before

New Actions & Features in GTA 4

Features Not Seen In Previous Games

What would a GTA game be without new features? We've seen them in every new inclusion to the series, and GTA 4 is no exception.

New "Duck And Cover" System

Firearm combat has improved with the inclusion of "duck and cover" tactics. Hide behind a crate, wall or car, then pop up and fire a few rounds. Your enemies will be doing the same. Some of them will even tilt their arm around a corner and blindly shoot a few rounds out.

New Climbing Actions

Climbing (finally, it's here!) has been introduced in GTA 4. You can now scale a chain link fence, hop over a ledge, climb a ladder or pull yourself out of the water, all of which are necessary for reaching new areas or even chasing enemies in a mission. Use your square button to perform this action when you're next to something that can be climbed. If you're holding on to the side of a ledge, you can even inch yourself left or right if you want.

New Running Jump Action

You'll learn a running jump (run for a certain distance, then tap the jump button) which is vital for jumping rooftops or doing a long-distance jump that ends in a tumble. These usually result in a dramatic camera angle showing you how it ends up.

New Throwing Action

Throwing items is more precise and accurate than before, and it's no longer a simple button mash. Weapons like molotov cocktails and grenades (or even soda cans) can be thrown by holding down the left trigger for desired positioning, then holding down the right trigger for the strength of the throw, and finally letting go of the right trigger to actually throw the item.

REAL Multiplayer...Finally!

It's about time - a real multiplayer mode (and a VERY highly rated one, just check any reputable gaming review site) for both deathmatch and street racing. It's what everyone has been crying for since Vice City!

Finally, Real Multiplayer in A GTA Game

Finally, Real Multiplayer in A GTA Game
Finally, Real Multiplayer in A GTA Game

SIXAXIS Motion Controls

PS3's Alternative to Using Buttons

For the Playstation 3, A new motion control feature called SIXAXIS allows you to steer vehicles by simply moving your controller like a steering wheel. Turn left and right without having to use your analog stick at all - just tilt the controller. You can turn this feature off (I personally find it difficult to use with helicopters). It's also a much easier way to do motorcycle tricks, which is difficult with the analog stick unless you have a really steady thumb.

Things That Annoy Me About GTA 4

The Camera, The Joystick & "Crouch Mode"

...and the Fact That You Can't Modify Your Buttons

One thing that I was really disappointed in was the persisting camera issue. This may very well be my personal opinion that most others might not share, but I found the camera of GTA: San Andreas to be extremely frustrating, and it is no different in GTA 4.

Auto-Snap Camera Mode...It's Back, Unfortunately

Ever since GTA: San Andreas, the camera would snap back to the center of the screen the instant you took your thumb off the left analog stick. This annoyance still persists in GTA 4. As a result, every time you're driving, running or flying, you have to move both the left and right analog sticks at the same time if you actually want to see where you're going -- otherwise, you're going to get a side-view of your vehicle and you won't know what's in front of you. Imagine how annoying this is when you're in a mission, getting shot at from all different directions...or if you're in a timed car race. Or, if you're shooting while driving and making a turn at the same time (which makes accuracy a moot point).

I've personally found this to be one of the biggest curses of the Grand Theft Auto series, and was hoping it would have been optional to turn on or off. It's continually something that I cannot get used to, and a simple "chase cam" option that follows your character as he turns would have solved the problem entirely.

Constantly Getting Stuck in "Crouch Mode"

Couple this issue with the one I've explained above: the left analog stick (which controls the camera) also acts as the "L3" button on the Playstation 3 when you push down on it. Doing so causes your character to enter crouch mode. In a car, it causes you to hit the car horn. Since your left analog stick will get so much use, you'll accidentally press it on a regular basis since it doesn't require a lot of force to push down.

As a result, your character will constantly enter "crouch" mode...even in the absolute worst of times. You'll have to press down on the analog stick once more to enter "standing" mode. However that one or two seconds can cost you your life in a fire fight. This fact alone has caused me major issues during game play. Doubling the functionality of one of the most used parts of the game controller (the left analog stick) was not a good idea.

Miscellaneous Frustrations

Things You'll Have To Get Used To

Timed Missions

Some missions are technically "timed" as you'll have to chase someone who just found a getaway car, or has gotten out on foot and started running. If you're trailing too far away or can't get to a car in time, the game has no mercy and the mission is failed. Things get even worse when you're on a mission and a cop happened to see you hijack or break in to a car - you'll have to finish the mission after evading the police, first. That alone can most definitely cost you the mission if it is a "timed chase" mission.

Tedious Driving Distances

Some drives are very long due to distance, traffic, bridges or accidents, and you'll have to take that drive over and over if you keep failing the mission. Other missions require you to start the mission, drive to point A, pick up a car, drive to point B, then continue the mission. Fail the mission, and you have to do everything all over again.

During the first 1/3rd of the game, you only have one safehouse, which means that you'll have to get used to driving long distances on a fairly often basis. For the expansions: Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost And The Damned, you only get one safehouse - PERIOD, which means you'll be doing cross-city commutes on a regular basis...an extreme annoyance.

Difficulty Finding Your Target's Map Location

In the beginning of the game, it can be very difficult to figure out where someone is on the map - their marker will have an "up" arrow indicating that their elevation is higher than yours, or a "down" arrow indicating that their elevation is lower than yours.

However, sometimes you'll find yourself looking for your enemy off the side of a cliff, wondering "how the hell do I get down there?!" Other times, it looks like they're on a roof or inside of a building, but you can't find it. The good news is that your target will start shouting at you once you get close enough, and you'll know you're getting near.

Collecting "Free" Weapons Is A Chore

As in past GTA games, every weapon in the game can simply be found in various spots all over the map. You can simply find maps of bullet proof vest locations, weapon locations and other things with a simple Google search. However, they're not simply "drive up and collect" situations as they were in the past. Most of these items require going into a building, hiking up 4 flights of stairs, going on to the roof and looking for the weapon. Or, swimming under a dock, or looking in the bushes. I've found this to make the gun shop a much better alternative. Just buy your ammo - it will save you a lot of time, but it makes money more precious.

Evading Police

Getting away from the cops is as hard as ever. There aren't many Pay-And-Sprays in the game, and the ones that do exist are usually quite a hike from wherever you are. You can't even use Pay-And-Spray if a cop sees you, and they're usually on your ass at all times, making Pay-And-Spray not an option. Most of the time, I found that swimming in the river is a good way to get distance in dire situations, as is driving on the wrong side of a narrow highway with a divider, or off-road in a park that has no close-by roads.

In GTA 4, you can no longer save the game at your apartment to make your wanted level go away (this was an old trick that was traditional in the other Grand Theft Auto games that was eliminated for the first time in GTA 4). Just know that some missions, as hard as they were, aren't over because you'll be left with a high wanted level which might result in dying and having to do it all over again. I have to be honest, I got so frustrated with evading police that I made a lot of usage out of the cheat code. Simply dial 267-555-0100 on Niko's cell to erase his wanted level!

Over-active Cell Phone

After awhile, you'll want to throw your cell phone in the river. It rings constantly, and it's almost always when you don't have time or simply don't feel like picking up a friend or date. If you reject someone's request to hang out, it reduces your relationship status with them (this can be seen in your pause menu under your statistics, in the form of a percentage). After you've played GTA 4 for a certain length of time, you flat out don't feel like visiting any of the entertainment venues anymore, but will be forced to if you want to keep your relationship status up with friends and dates. I wish the developers have turned the frequency of phone calls down.

Less "Lee-way" In Missions

In previous GTA games, there were different ways to complete a mission. You could either run in and pull a Rambo with guns blazing, or cheese it by standing across the street with a sniper rifle. While you can still do the latter, it's not as effective in GTA 4, simply because the game wants to you follow a fairly concrete path to complete most of the missions. This is especially true in missions where an NPC joins you in battle - if they die, you lose, and you'll spend more time covering them than worrying about yourself.

Car Handling & Street Racing

Extreme Patience Required

Street Racing

Street racing is back in GTA 4, and boy, is it harder than ever. Street racing missions were always my most hated part of Grand Theft Auto, simply because I'm not good at them and I find that the computer is so precise and so perfect with the same 2 out of 5 cars racing against you, that the only way you can win is if some unique accident happens to your competition. Attacking the other cars is worthless as it will only waste time, since they will never take enough damage but will only get away from you more quickly.

I found these same frustrations happening with the first street racing mission in GTA 4. If you falter or fail in the least bit, the race is lost. It certainly doesn't help when your car loses complete control while taking a curve, or when you hit a post head-on and have to go in reverse to get free. The frustrating camera of GTA 4, which has to be moved every time you take a turn, sure makes everything that much worse. Ultimately, the plot can't go on until you finally beat the mission, and that can be a big issue if you have a hard time controlling cars with crappy handling at top speed. Sometimes, "slow and steady wins the race" as speeding all the way will almost always result in you losing.

Your first street racing mission will result in the unlocking of racing side quests.

Car Handling (In General)

The way cars handle, for the most part, can be very taxing on your nerves. One of the worst things about having to move the camera and direction at the same time is that the camera actually assists in steering your car. That's why failure to use the camera properly will result in your car spinning out and stopping, which will frustrate the living hell out of you in a chase situation, or when you're trying very hard to evade the police at a high wanted level.

Driving In Place

A gigantic annoyance with the cars in GTA 4 is that they tend to "run in place" and just burn rubber as the wheels spin and the car goes nowhere. This can be absolutely fatal when you have a 3+ wanted level, and it will also cost you a mission if you have to keep up the pace with something else. You'll have to be a master of power-braking and rotating the camera to make it through some missions.

Street Racing: It's Back

Street Racing: It's Back
Street Racing: It's Back

My Final Thoughts On GTA 4

Replay Value & Finishing Up GTA 4

My final word on the game's last moments (spoiler-free)

Replay Value of GTA 4

When you've beaten the game, it still isn't over. It keeps going on, infinitely. Even though you've finished all of the missions, you can simply go back and finish off all of the side-quests. There's a number of people you can meet on the street (you can find them via the green "person icons" on your map) who will require your help. You can also find and shoot all 100 pigeons, if you're bored (find a pigeon map via Google). There are also the street races, stunts and rare vehicles that you can find. Lastly, the police missions are like a whole new game in themselves. Hunt down the city's most wanted, or respond to any current APB's.

Plus, let's face it - this is Grand Theft Auto. It's easy to burn hours just driving or walking around, looking at stuff or causing havoc. This is what GTA fans have known and loved about the franchise for years.

The End

Once again, I promised not to give spoilers, and I won't. I will tell you, though, that the game has two alternate endings, depending on a major decision you have to make near the end of it. Something incredibly shocking happens, and it determines which of two "final missions" will appear for you.

Once you beat the game and make it through the ending credits - be sure not to turn off your gaming console, since you'll want to wait up for a few conclusive cell phone calls to Niko that will put some closure to things that you were afraid were left undone.

Ballad of Gay Tony
Ballad of Gay Tony

GTA 4 Expansion Packs

What Are "The Lost and Damned" & "The Ballad of Gay Tony"?

Once you've finished GTA IV as Niko, the game continues on with two additional expansion packs, which you should play through in succession.

First is "The Lost and Damned," in which you are the character Johnny Klebitz, a member of The Lost (a Liberty City-area biker gang), and secondly, "The Ballad of Gay Tony" in which you play as Dominican drug dealer Luis Lopez. You'll notice that both of these characters wind up meeting Niko during GTA IV and have cameo appearances.

The two expansions install on top of your GTA IV game, and you'll be playing the same exact city as before. However, your character is obviously not Niko anymore, and you have a whole slew of new missions to complete. In addition, you will have access to additional buildings that you couldn't enter as Niko. The expansions also feature new mini-games, including a golfing range, dancing and air hockey. There are also several new abilities, features, items and weapons.

While these two expansions bring in more missions and story parallel to that of Niko's, their character development leaves you wanting more. For instance, Ballad of Gay Tony puts you into a whole new fray of amusing and interesting characters - most of which will simply vanish from the plot entirely, once you complete their meager amount of missions. There's no closure to their story, and you simply will never hear from them again, leaving you feel a little empty.

To Sum Up Grand Theft Auto 4...

It was a long wait after San Andreas, and Rockstar delivered the best, most detailed and most re-playable Grand Theft Auto of them all with this game. The ratings it received across the board spoke for themselves. Until GTA V comes out, this is one stunning game not just in looks, but story and gameplay. If you've had enough of single player, the multiplayer mode will keep you busy for years to come - it's just simply that good. The 2.6+ million units of GTA 4 that were sold to date are proof enough.

GTA 4 is a game of "Murphy's Law." If something bad and obnoxious can happen, it WILL happen. Speeding and about to take a curve? The random probability of driving into a cop car is enormous. Carjacking a car? The probability of a cop witnessing it somewhere behind you is high. At times, it is an immensely frustrating game that pushes your limits of human tolerance. Do a mission where you're forced to evade a 3+ star rating on a motorcycle, and you'll see what I mean. It's a part of the GTA experience that you probably already know of.

Now that GTA 4 has achieved "bargain bin" status, you can even pick up a single DVD release that includes GTA 4 and its two spinoffs, "The Lost And Damned" and "Ballad of Gay Tony," both of which are fully playable sequels that also take place in Liberty City. To put it as an IGN reviewer once quoted about the game, it was originally a $60 game with a $300 value.

From beginning to end, this game totally lived up to everything I hoped it would be. It took me almost exactly 61 hours to beat GTA 4, and that was with a little 'time wasting' in between, and a few mini-quests. Even though the story is over for me, it's one of those discs that gets a lot of spin-time in my PS3.

Good Stuff About GTA 4

  • Realism, graphics, gameplay and storyline are leagues above those from previous GTA games.
  • There's finally a multiplayer feature...and a damn good one, at that.
  • The randomness and enhanced physics makes the game very fresh on a regular basis: huge replay value!
  • Entertaining GTA radio stations are back with a vengeance. The soundtrack is so catchy that you'll want to buy the MP3s.
  • Interactions with NPCs are more real and personal, and you don't feel like you're simply interacting with them just to get something over with. Dating has been hugely improved. Now, if only you could get some real life ones...
  • The "police radius" system of your wanted level meter is more realistic and true-to-life as opposed to what we dealt with in past GTAs.
  • Two expansions: Ballad of Gay Tony & The Lost And The Damned are practically two parallel, separate games alongside Niko's story, and you can now buy all three games on one disc.

Bad Stuff About GTA 4

  • The stubborn "snap-in-place" camera angle still sucks, since San Andreas. PC gamers will have a community mod to fix it, but PS3 and XBOX players will suffer.
  • Individual buttons on your controller can't be re-assigned. You're stuck with the analog stick/"crouch" annoyance forever.
  • Many previous innovations such as property ownership & clothing have really taken a backseat in this game.
  • "Owning" cars is tougher. Your properties only allow for two car spots. Unlike previous GTA games, you can't 'cram' more vehicles (such as squeezing in two motorcycles in between your cars) as the game will simply delete them after a save. Being able to own some kind of car lot, or just a place to store lots of cars would have been really nice to have. Many people, including myself, love the cars of GTA and wish to see the return of something similar to the "Sunshine Autos" property from GTA: Vice City. Also, never accidentally bump into one of your parked cars with another car so that it moves outside of the painted park space - there's a strange bug that will make your parked car vanish after a game save.
  • Unlike other PlayStation or XBOX games, GTA 4 doesn't seem to get updated, nor does it get new purchase-able content. This game came out in '08, so it's pretty safe to say that we'll never see any DLC.
  • No more airplanes and parachutes. Rockstar, why on earth did you remove this super fun feature that was given to us in San Andreas?!
  • Other things that have been taken away: there are less cars and weapons than in San Andreas, no more underwater swimming, star icons (they used to reduce your wanted level), weapons with silencers, getting hair cuts, getting tattoos, car modification and pedal-driven bicycles.

Watch A Video Review of GTA 4 - From IGN.com...and in high definition

Buy GTA 4

Grand Theft Auto IV & Episodes from Liberty City: The Complete Edition
Grand Theft Auto IV & Episodes from Liberty City: The Complete Edition

PLAYSTATION 3 game Includes:

+ Grand Theft Auto 4

+ The Lost and Damned

+ The Ballad of Gay Tony

 
Grand Theft Auto IV & Episodes from Liberty City: The Complete Edition
Grand Theft Auto IV & Episodes from Liberty City: The Complete Edition

XBOX 360 game Includes:

+ Grand Theft Auto 4

+ The Lost and Damned

+ The Ballad of Gay Tony

 

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