Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Xbox 360 - Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto IV by Rockstar

I'm trying a different approach for the Grand Theft Auto IV review. I intend to review this game as I play it. Since games generally take quite some time to complete (especially GTA games), reviews can be incredibly old by the time someone actually completes the game. So, instead, I've decided to create this living review that I will continue to add more information to as I progress through the game. While this review may seem premature, rest assured it is not. I have played well enough GTA games to know their premise and how they work... so, this review is actually especially important for my initial impression of this game. An initial impression of a game is just as valid, if not more valid, than final impressions.

Grand Theft Auto III vs IV differences

The main thing to notice about the differences here is obviously the updated and higher resolution graphics. In addition to these updated graphics, the cars look a lot better. In fact, because it's higher resolution, the whole world is rendered much more realistically. That said, it still has a stylized appearance much like Grand Theft Auto III.

Bugs, bugs and MORE bugs (first 5 hours of play)

  • Spontaneously went into multiplayer mode without prompting (this happened in the first 5 minutes of play)
  • Total lockup trying on a hat in the clothing store. Required power off. Had to redo this mission.
  • Began the 'China store' mission and it went into 'LOADING...' forever. Had to power off the Xbox 360. Had to redo this mission.
  • Twice this happened. Tried to get into a car as a passenger using Y and the game refused to open the door. Then, after walking away from the car and back to it, I ended up jacking the car (did not end up a passenger).
  • Numerous times I've tried pressing Y while near a car to jack it, and it simply ignores the button press. Alternatively, numerous times tried pressing Y to exit the vehicle and no exit.
The problem with bugs, especially lost mission bugs, is that they interrupt your enjoyment of the game. In the worst cases, you lose your saved place and have to redo missions. So, games with selective save locations suffer badly when lockups occur when saves are few. Lost missions are enough to cause me to put the game down and focus on a more stable title. Game developers need to extensively work the bugs out of games for consoles. There is absolutely no excuse to release a title this large with this many bugs at release especially since the game was delayed twice or three times already.

Wanted Levels

The police wanted stars still exist in GTAIV. However, it's not always obvious which areas will lead to a wanted rating. So, you'll want to be careful when you wander into seemingly innocuous areas. For example, if you try to go over a bridge that's blocked by police, you'll get a full 4 or 5 star wanted level if you try to cross. So, 5 stars for trying to cross a blocked bridge? Give me a break.


Here's the crux of it. This game, while it has some decent stories (so far), is just too slow moving. So, you'll quickly find that it takes forever to get weapons and the other fun stuff. Worse, the game is buggy. And, by buggy, I mean very buggy. Buggy to the point that the game really needs to allow you to save anywhere, but you can't. I've started over from previous checkpoints at least 3 times so far and had to lose everything I had been doing up to that point. That included losing some cool jacked and stored vehicles. Rockstar definitely needed more development/debugging time with GTAIV.

Checkpoint saves

GTAIV saves your game at random intervals, usually after completion of a mission. However, you can also save your game at your safehouse at any time. But, you have to get back to the safehouse first. Good luck doing that before you hit a lock up bug. Unfortunately, the lockup bugs are far too plentiful to make this save location useful. If a game developer intends to release a buggy game, then they need to allow you to save your game at any point in the game. With selective save locations, like GTAIV, then developers need to be especially careful to work out all of the bugs before release. Otherwise, a buggy release with selective save points becomes a buggy frustrating mess that no one will want to play and will ultimately get bad reviews.

Random quests

While you can swim, there's nothing to swim for. You can walk around all day long and find nothing of interest. I've been driving around Liberty City and have found not one insane stunt ramp. I know some have to exist, but where are they? Also, because of the more realistic crashes, you can end up flying head first out of the windshield ending up in the hospital. So, the insane stunts may not really even be possible in GTAIV.

I'm sure as you progress through the missions, it will open up more and more of the game. But, why aren't there things to find around the city already? Literally, beyond the missions, there's NOTHING to do.. other than beat up total strangers, jack cars, swim, become wanted by the cops and ride the elevated train.

Cab missions

Where are they? I jacked a cab, but had no ability to do any cab missions. In all of the previous GTA games, you could always do cab missions to get extra cash. Granted, Roman works for a cab company, so I guess his missions count as Cab missions (some of them), but c'mon. Taking the cab missions out really makes it a lot less fun.

Love Interests

Thankfully, Rockstar decided to open up the character to the possibility of relationships. But, unless the relationship becomes interlinked in the missions, it will simply be one-off missions. Again, this is a living review and I will update this as I progress. So, as the story unfolds, the love interest combined with the missions may become clear.

Car Handling

While the cars look way better, the handling has gotten far worse. The controls are overly slow and cumbersome to respond to commands. The cars almost constantly back or run into something when you're trying to maneuver them from a parked position. So, on missions where you need to peel out and catch someone, you find you're being slowed by breaking windows or maneuvering the car into position even just to get moving. All of this kills precious time that you need to chase someone. This portion needs more work badly.

Controls / Controller issues

The controller is overall slow to respond. So, you press a button and the game as to "think" about it before it reacts. This makes working with the game tedious at best. Instead of just trying to work the game, you're concentrating on trying to get the game to respond to the controls. This is a bad move by Rockstar. Sluggish controls do not make an award winning game. In fact, this game is overall sluggish. It feels like you're in slow motion compared to other GTA games. Perhaps they added this slower pace to counteract the unrealistic speed in the previous GTA games. But, this sluggishness really detracts from the overall game and makes the game appear lackluster.


When you get into a fight, you use the RB button to lock onto your opponent. The issue is that the accuracy is horrid and the controls are extremely sluggish. So, you press the buttons to do the move, but the game takes up to a second to react.


I don't generally have need of harping on the camera in 3D games, but GTAIV is the exception. The issue with the camera is that it takes too low of a center. So, you can't see what you need to see. If you try to move the camera up, the game moves it back down and centers again. There's no way to move the camera to where you want it and leave it there (that I've found). This is a serious problem. If you're actually trying to see the car you're chasing, then you need to move the camera and leave it in that position. In other words, the auto centering camera needs to go.

The cinematic camera angles are practically useless. Yes, while they are cinematic in quality, they are overall confusing to actually use while playing the game (especially while driving a car). So, I can't imagine anyone actually trying to use these randomly changing camera angles and actually play the game, unless you want a real challenge.

Note to developers. A camera is there to let you SEE the environment. It's not there to be used as a challenge point.

GPS Navigation

This is a MUCH needed addition to this franchise. You could spend tons of time trying to get from place to place, but with the GPS, it leads you there easily and reroutes you when you end up on the wrong road. Even still, having the GPS nav doesn't make up for the sluggish controls and buggy game.


The sound is no better or worse than other recent GTA titles. You still have the radio in the vehicles (which is mostly annoying at best) and also the chatter of the people on the street. This time, they have cell phones and they're constantly ringing. Worse, you can hear them ring when you're in the car (seemingly with the windows up). I just don't get that. You normally don't hear a thing from the outside in most new cars when the windows are up.


So far, I'm only moderately impressed by this game. While the graphics and sound excel, the controls and game storyline are overly sluggish. Worse, there's nothing to do or find when you just want to wander around. Also, with this is the level of debugging from Rockstar, then let's hope this is the last game in this series. Enduring these serious bugs to play the games is unacceptable and I simply won't do it again.

Let's hope Rockstar can push out some updates rapidly for this game through Xbox Live. It desperately needs an update to fix these major issues.

  • Sound: 8/10
  • Graphics: 9/10
  • Gameplay 5/10
  • Buggyness: 2/10 (too buggy too early into the game)
  • Bang-To-Buck 6/10
  • Replay Value: $5
  • Overall: 7.5/10

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