This is the main reason I went to great pains to explain my list criteria at the beginning of this series. To be clear: GTAIV is in no way a bad game. From a technical standpoint it is an indisputable triumph, and it’s almost certainly peerless in the genre of taking-your-fat-cousin-bowling simulators.
As I previously mentioned, GTAIII was a revolution in gaming, and set the benchmark for open-world adventure games on consoles that wouldn’t be surpassed for quite some time, except by it’s own sequels: Vice City and San Andreas.
Similar to Resident Evil 5, all fans really wanted from GTA’s first next-gen outing was more of the same: bigger worlds, better graphics and as much action as the more powerful hardware could throw at us. Instead, we got a visually astounding, painstakingly detailed, very boring life simulator. If I’m totally honest I didn’t actually get very far into GTAIV’s campaign because 90% of my activities seemed to revolve around checking my e-mail, watching TV or driving my cousin from place to place.
Rockstar had managed to create a bona fide living, breathing world and truly deserve commendation for their efforts, the only thing they forgot is that the real world is boring as fuck and nobody except the criminally dull play video games just to do the same stuff they have to do in real life, already.
Everyone knows that the real fun of a GTA game comes from going on mindless rampages through the streets. So even if the story was as dull as a rainy day at the agricultural market, at least you could still just go on a killing spree and see how many stars you could get before getting wasted, right?
Kind of, not really.
The combat in GTAIV felt excruciatingly slow and awkward, much more so than the PS2 games, and the driving seemed to be making a valiant attempt at real world physics, meaning all the cars handled like crap, especially if you were driving in wet weather, and that crashing into a tree would often result in Niko flying through the windshield and braining himself on the pavement. Hilarious the first time you see it happen; boring at best every time after, and flatout annoying if it occurs when you’re trying to evade the police.
It felt like Rockstar completely forgot what kind of game they were making with GTAIV, so it’s just as well Volition were on hand to come along and pick up the slack with the criminally under-rated and massively superior Saints Row 2, 3 and 4, all of which blow GTAIV right out of the water and deserve infinitely more praise for making fun a priority instead of wanking off of how realistic the particle physics are on your broken windshield while you lie twenty feet away from your crashed car; watching Niko bleed into the gutter.
When all is said and done though, I don’t think it’s fair to be as hard on GTAIV as I was with the other entries on this list, because Rockstar have always been pioneers, not bandwagon-chasers. Whereas the other sequels are at least partially if not entirely guilty of forcing change for the sake of change, I think Rockstar genuinely set out to create something unique, and all the best innovations in gaming have come as a result of throwing out the rulebook and challenging conventions.
Having said that, it still doesn’t change the fact that playing GTAIV is like watching an Iron Man sequel about Tony Stark’s day-to-day life running Stark Industries instead of doing cool Iron Man shit.
I’m not saying that there doesn’t exist out there a person who would enjoy something like that, all I’m saying is that hypothetical person can fuck right off.