Tuesday, July 22, 2008

GTA4 - Great start, weak middle, crappy ending

The first five to ten hours into the game I was pleasantly surprised by this game. This is was the first GTA I played seriously, mainly because it was the first that featured a main character that looked like a nice guy. In a world of crazy people, mafia, drug dealers and other organized crime he comes along as a reasonable guy and gives a good contrast to the crazy world out there. His cousin, which isn't part of that organized crime, but gets into conflicts with them every now and then also seems ok. So far so good, but then the game slowly falls appart bit by bit.

The characters that you care about simply fall out of the story, once you have done all their missions, there is simply nothing left for you to do with them except that rather pointless relationship-system. This really feels rather weird, since you have some characters which you pretty much don't see for 20 hours only to have them jump back into the story 5min before the end of the game to be featured in the grand finale. And this isn't just a case with some people, but pretty much a case with all people. The people who you work for are either dead or in jail after a handfull of mission and those that aren't simply fall out of the story. You still have them on your phone, but they don't answer to calls and just aren't relevant to the story any more. So you basically just jump around from one mobster to the next doing your handful of missions to be then done with them. There simply isn't a real plotline going on, it just feels like random stuff thrown in to keep the game going. The relationship system also feels completly pointless, since it doesn't seem to have any impact on the story. The girlfriend that I dated a few times in the beginning just disappeared after a little plottwist with no explanation whatsoever, while the new girlfriend, which I never dated in the whole game, became Nikos story-arc girlfriend. What good is a relationship system if you can't even chose your girlfriend? The main story arc also concludes in a rather unconclusive, predictable and stupid way. I could see that stupid plot twist coming from a mile away as it was pretty much cliche-in-a-box. The oh so great story that other reviewers talked about was nowhere to be found in this game. It might have been hinted at at the start, but it never happened in the later game. And of course as if that wouldn't be enough, the final bad-guy isn't exactly which you expect, since that guy I did expect to finish off, just disappeared like all the other characters earlier in the game with no explanation whatsoever.

Ignoring the story, the gameplay itself is decent enough, but not without plenty of faults that you would have expected to be fixed in the now fourth iteration of 3D GTA games. Driving around still feels like GTA and is still quite fun, thanks to the big detailed city around you. The shooting this time is quite good, but a little easy at times, which means the mission get harder by pure enemy-mass, not by enemy- or teammate-cleverness. The cover mechanic work most of the time quite well, but sometimes you get stuck to the wrong wall, directly in the line of enemy fire, which is annoying and should have been fixed. Where the gameplay however falls short is simply in the complexity of the missions or lack there of. Due to the lack of reset points all missions are rather short and symplistic. Most are either of the "drive from A-to-B" kind or of the "shoot-this-guy" kind. There is one bank-robbing mission that is quite amazing, since it combines everything that is good about this game into a great experince, but that mission is sadly pretty much the only one that exhibits this type of complexity. One nice, but problematic, addition is the abiltiy to drive taxi, which reduces the need for boring drives through the city, it however also makes things a little to easy, since it allows you to pretty much skip from one mission directly to the next, leaving little need to explore the city on your own. I would have prefered it if they would have reduced the mission count and instead of focusing on quantity, focusing on quality. Even as somebody who never seriously played a GTA before, the mission become stale and boring after a while, since its pretty much the same thing over and over again, with only a litle bit of variation.

The graphics in the game are decent, nothing that will blow you away, but given the size of the city and the freedom you have, they hold up pretty well. In a tiny few police chases the framerate becomes pretty low, but for normal gameplay it holds up well enough.

To sum things up, the game starts out pretty well and in the first 10 hours or so I could have understand why this was rated by so many a 10/10, but a little longer into the story it just loses coherence and stops developing and the terrible pretictable cliche ending just puts a nail in the coffin. The game is a lot, but it could have been so much more. It feels stuck halfaway between awesomeness and mediocrity. The game has plenty of great parts, but also plenty of weak ones and after finishing it the weak parts sadly just stick out more. Finishing some games gives you a feeling of joy, but this one left me pretty annoyed. Especially with all those great reviews out there, I simply would have expected much more from the story. All those characters and dialog simply don't do it when the overall storyarc is completly lacking, down to the point of pretty much being non-existing in parts.

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