GTA IV and Upcoming Titles

GTA IV has gotten a lot of extremely favourable and even “perfect” reviews. But after having played through the  story line and currently sitting at around 77% completion, I think the game doesn’t really deserve these high rankings. To be fair I have to say that I was unable to try out multiplayer yet, which I am certain is an excellent new addition to the series and warrants higher ratings. But the single player experience offered hardly any innovations over previous GTA games. In fact, it’s just more of the same while looking a little better than before.

The graphics certainly are nice, especially the way you are getting a feeling for what time of day it is. The weather effects look very good as well. But overall, it’s not such a major improvement over the previous titles. I’m sure this has to do with both the sheer amount of content that had to be created for the game, and the hardware capabilities of the current console generation. The frame rate already isn’t very smooth at certain times in the game, so I guess it’s safe to say that the hardware is being pushed to the limit.

Telling a story is probably the strongest part of the game next to the free exploration of the city. The story does suck you in, so that you’ll see yourself breezing through it as quickly as possible just so that you can see how Niko Bellic’s quest in Liberty City ends. It’s always a good thing to have multiple choices during the story and different outcomes, and you do have to make some hard choices in the progress of the game. But after being treated to a new piece of the story, there’s this really annoying part you have to play through, the missions.

For one, they are still identical to all other GTA games. Drive somewhere, kill some people, escape. And this gets old really quick. It has been a long time since I last played San Andreas, but I do remember that the game contained a couple of more varied missions (which were still a little annoying, but at least something different), like dancing on the beach or having to get a pilot’s licence. So far, I haven’t found anything like that in GTA IV. It’s really always the same missions, even all the side missions I’ve played so far only involved stealing cars or delivering packages. The only variety comes in the form of the mini-games where you have to take out your friends to events like pool, darts or bowling. But these games get old fast (plus I can’t play any bowling games with regular controls anymore after Wii Sports), and then there’s nothing much left to do. Going drinking however has the best being-drunk-effect in all of video game history though so far, I guess you can actually get physically ill by looking at the screen. I found the friends to be annoying as well though – if they like you enough, they will unlock some new abilities you can use, like planting bombs or getting cheaper weapons. However, my focus was more on getting through the story, and I kept getting negative feedback from my friends for ignoring them all the time. This feeling of obligation kind of distracts from the “you’re free to do whatever you want”-spirit of the game.

The other thing with the missions is that some of them had me dying over and over again, and having to redo them from the start felt very unnecessary. Especially if the first part of the mission involves driving all the way to a specific location. After you’ve done that the third time in a row you’re already getting sick of it. I think a checkpoint-system during the missions would be really helpful here to avoid some of the frustrating moments. Of course, that’s not good for the hardcore gamers, who will think it’s making the game way too easy. I don’t care that much though, I’d still have a feeling of accomplishment.

Driving around town in general can be really tiresome, because it takes a lot of time. Towards the end of the game, I found myself making use of the taxis more and more, since you can easily skip from A to B. I mean, sure it’s fun just driving around and exploring a simulated city, but after a while, even that gets old.

In general it felt like they took a lot of fun things out of the game (especially the RPG aspect with changing the looks and physical properties of your character from San Andreas) and didn’t add that much new stuff in exchange (save for the multiplayer of course.) It’s certainly not a bad game, but I don’t think the 10/10 reviews are justified. There’s no real innovation in this game, I’d rate it somewhere around 8.6 probably.

In other news, I’m looking forward to Boom Blox. Finally a 3D-jenga game that seems to work well, yay. I hope this kind of puzzle-physics game is more my kind of thing than games like Crayon – the possibilities of drawing your own objects is just a way too confusing concept for my unimaginative mind. I can never figure out complex puzzles.

Also, another new shmup has been announced called Protöthea (what’s with the umlaut, trying to sound cool?), this time as a Wii Ware game. It doesn’t look very exciting, but I’ll probably get it anyway as usual.

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