GTA was one of the first games I ever really *loved*. It is one of the major reasons why I got so interested in games and why I went to University to study developing them. It was what I most loved about working for Realtime Worlds and Dave Jones. So given all this, when GTA4 game out as a console exclusive and I still had my PC/Dreamcast combo, I HAD to get a console. So I duely went out and bought a PS3, which I do really like, however my reasons were wrong. GTA4 was wrong.
What I loved about the original title was the light heartedness and just general fun that you can have tearing around a city in a Beast GTS. GTA2 didn’t really feel the same, although it did make significant improvements to the actual mission based gameplay. GTAIII of course moved to 3D and whilst I was initially unsure about this, I warmed to it very well. Vice City was absolutely fantastic as I built up my crime empire as the wonderful Tommy Vercetti and San Andreas also provided excitement with varied gameplay, vast environments and a strong plot. Saying that the cliched “Gangsta” stuff annoys me and the whole girlfriends thing was just a nuisance. Nonetheless, I felt every game had provided great thrills and an enjoyable and fairly light hearted experience. I really didn’t see GTA IV turning out how it did.
Liberty City is just dull in GTAIV. Dull as they come. It does look very realistic, I can really believe that a dull city would look this way. Niko is just a thug. About a third of the way through the game when I decided to move on to some of my other titles, Niko was still a thug. I never really got to keep any decent vehicles and just felt like a jakey bastard. I don’t want this from a game! I want to be someone like Scarface, the Godfather, Yakuza… a kingpin. Failing that, a Leon. But no, I’m stuck as Niko. So aside from being in a dull city with a jakey thug as my character, what else didn’t I like? Was there anything wrong with the gameplay? Yes. Oh yes.
Lets start with Roman. Not only is he an annoying character that needs to FOAD but I have to run around after him… and not just with guns. I have to go play pool with him. I’m sorry but no. No no no no no. I play pool with my friends. I’ll maybe play cards online against other people or crummy online bowling games but with some AI character as part of a game? No. It was just a boring chore. The biggest annoyance with this was having Roman completely fail to keep up with you, getting run over time and time again. FFS! And it doesn’t stop there… I have other NPCs to do this rubbish with as well. Seriously… wtf? So yeah, I didn’t like the minigames that got thrust upon me every few minutes when I wanted to be running missions or just driving around, causing havoc.
Ah, driving. There was a lot of debate in our office regarding GTA IV’s driving versus APB’s. Whilst the bounciness was kinda fun at times, albeit annoying when you are in a car chase, I didn’t like the camera angle. All too often it was stuck up my car’s arse and I couldn’t see where I was going… cue driving into a police car. I’ll give GTA IV its dues, it was very responsive. Just I couldnt see where I was going. Maybe I’m wrong but I’d rather have vision than quick responses (although both should be present!). The new “go flying through the windscreen” feature was a stroke of genius. Wait no. It wasn’t. It was annoying. First few times there was a “cool factor” but once the novelty wears off I just became infuriated when a crash not only trashed my car but it killed me as well. Especially annoying when the crash could have been avoided if I could see where I was bloody well going! Finally regarding vehicles, something I mentioned earlier, was the feeling that I never really got to store cool vehicles. With the poor driving it felt kinda wasteful to take the rare cool sports car you found out with you. It’d be wasted or dumped within a minute or two.
I was also disappointed not to have the opportunity to purchase houses, businesses and so forth. Maybe this is something that comes later in the game but aside from the scummy 2 flats I stayed in, purchasing clothes from one scummy shop and the couple of parking spaces, there was a lack of ownership. Vice City did this very well, San Andreas too. I was disappointed to see it get dropped.
Final gripe is movement. Turning was such a slow and annoying process. All too often I’d find myself turning stupidly wide circles, of course with the camera positioned so that I can’t see where I’m going. This of course results in running into objects, LC, moving vehicles and so forth. Awesome cakes.
It wasn’t all bad though. There’s a lot of things to do from minigames to side missions to just watching Ricky Gervais on the TV. R* have put a lot into the game to ensure it looks as polished as possible and contains an incredible depth to provide a lot of unique game time. As ever, just causing mayhem and getting the cops on your tail is fun! Much of the classic GTA fun is still there.
All in all I found GTA IV seemed to be developed so that it looks good. The camera is designed to get cool looking angles of your player’s movement or vehicle. There’s a massive amount of features, minigames and gameplay with an impressive attention to detail. However the one thing they’ve missed out on is making it playable. Hopefully the next GTA installment will look at Vice City much more than IV for inspiration.
So, what would I change? Well the camera first of all. I don’t mind if it isn’t very cinematic, so long as I can see what is infront of me and to the sides so I know where I’m heading and turning. Next up, scrap all this friends giving you phone calls. It is a nice addition as something to break up play but don’t nag me to do it and certainly don’t have any negative effect on me for saying “no”. Lets leave this to a 100% completion like shooting seaguls. Also provide more opportunities to build up an empire, or at least new flats / save points! I hope that the next GTA is in a more lively setting as well. A bit of sun as well as a character that has a bit of charisma. Perhaps another new feature could be introducing player dialogue. Allow players to define their personality in the game by what they say and have certain answers have possible consequences. Telling someone to “give me the fucking money or I’ll blow you’re head off” as opposed to “lets calm down, no one needs to get hurt here” could cause a variation in what happens next. Similarly you could have the opportunity to select a tactical approach. Arriving at a destination / during a cut scene, a character could say “We going to sneak in the back or burst in all guns blazing?”. This allows the player to pick the mission style that they most enjoy and also gives them a real sense of involvement and influence in the game and plot.