Genre: Action Developer: Rockstar North Publisher: Rockstar Classification: M15+ Release Date: To be advised (future release) Platforms:PC
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The Good bits
The freakin' video editor.
Still one of, if not the best game out this year!
The Bad stuff
Future-proofed games make people feel like they've wasted a lot of money.
Games for Windows Live is still a little clunky to use.
Grand Theft Auto IV's migration to the PC demonstrates the good and the bad of PC gaming in one awesome package. The outstanding amount of effort taken to make GTA IV on the PC work well highlights the sloppy effort many other devs put into their Console to PC ports. The fantastic graphics and unbelievable draw distance reinforces what every PC gamer believes - PCs rule, consoles drool.
And the fact that my absolute monster of a computer can't run the game on even High settings without slowing to a crawl serves as a reminder that no matter how new your PC is, obsoleteness is just around the corner. Grand Theft Auto IV is a god damn monster, and probably the only fault the game's transition to the PC has is the fact that it makes me feel like I wasted a lot of money.
The argument is that it is future proofed - in five years when video cards rock their own power supplies and PCs have more RAM than an Xbox 360 has storage space you can load up GTA IV and appreciate the game as it was always supposed to be. It's a bold move to make - but then Rockstar have always been bold.
The problem wouldn't be so very, very evident if you didn't have to immediately lower your graphics when you started the game. As if to punctuate how beefy Grand Theft Auto IV is the game auto-configures to graphical options above what your PC can handle, so as soon as you're in the game you'll spend a good amount of time fiddling with the graphics to find the right balance. It should still look better than the console versions but finding the performance/prettiness ratio will take some time.
One thing you should do - if your PC can handle it - is bite the low frame bullet and ramp up the draw distance and the graphics when a bridge connecting the islands of the city together is in view and just marvel at the details you can see across the bay with nothing limiting Niko's vision.
The game itself is absolutely fantastic. Old school Grand Theft Auto players will straight away feel at home with the keyboard + mouse set up, but new school gamers will be pleased to know that control pads work as well and the game configures them flawlessly - even on the fly. Everything in the game feels like it has weight - it all has a gravity about it which only serves to accentuate your every movement.
The storyline is really well written as well - the characters are beautifully realised, and while it doesn't maintain the same humour as the older GTAs there are still plenty of great in-jokes and heaps of play on stereotypes. As Niko Bellic you will rob banks, steal cars, make and break friendships and you will definitely, definitely blow stuff up. You'll even go on dates - whether it's heading out to get hammered with your cousin or finding a woman through an internet dating site to go bowling with. They've created a very, very complete world for you to... destroy.
I've already banged on about the graphics quite a bit - the absolutely amazing draw distance and the mindblowing details - but the game has so much more atmosphere than just its looks. When people rocked GTA IV on the Xbox 360 or PS3 the emphasis was on the combination of the great sound effects, the pro voice acting and the (as always) exemplary emphasis on music stations. Now - throw in your own custom radio channel with all your own songs.
The PC supports 32 players per game instead of just 16, and while games have been doing 32 (and even 64 or 128) players for years now, none have been doing it on this scale. The lack of dedicated server support and the game's dependency on Games for Windows Live's matchmaking style setup is unfortunate - though the same system makes joining your friends' games that much easier.
I can see myself and my friends using multiplayer for one main purpose though - Free mode and the video editor. The video editor is your one stop shop to making machinima (movies made with games) - the editing options are bloody fantastic, and you will already see it being put to good use before this week is out... I've just finished my own (very amateurish) video for release in fact. The idea that the
game captures raw data so you can pan in and out, move the camera and utilise a dozen or more special effects is a stroke of genius, and it lets you really get your story across like never before.
The fact of the matter is - Grand Theft Auto IV on the Xbox 360 and PS3 was the heavy favourite for game of the year already. Grand Theft Auto IV on the PC is the same game, but better - sure you'll get some driver conflicts and it won't look it's absolute best yet due to future proofing, but pit that against its strengths - the gorgeous graphics, proper radio customisation, the much better multiplayer and the phenomenal video editor and what it boils down to is... Grand Theft Auto IV on the PC is the definitive GTA IV experience. You haven't played GTA IV before now - not properly. I guess what I'm really saying is... PC Supremacy.
There is no doubt that GTA IV is a masterpiece. Rockstar has stuck to the feel of the series well and fans won't be disappointed. The improvements on the physics engine and such things are nothing short of brilliant. Car crumple, ragdolling, the feel of the cars and the way Niko can fly out of the windscreen all contribute to what makes the gameplay so amazing. The graphics are stunning I am sure, even though I don't experience that because I run the game on a laptop which only just meets the requirements. All of that is taking place inside the game's huge map which really gives you a feel of what New York would be like. It probably means more to the Americans than it does to us, but it still works. I still think I prefer San Andreas' way of capturing small snippets of places all over America, but the new Liberty City is still a great environment for the rampaging and exploring which works so well in this game.
There are a few problems I had with the game. After creating such an immersive experience in San Andreas with things like the weapon and vehicle skills, player stats and heaps of non-essential activities to try out, GTA IV is a bit disappointing in that respect. All that remains of the types of things that were new in SA is the small collection of minigames like pool and darts which you play with friends ingame or real people. I would have preferred SA style activities rather than the extra content like being able to watch TV programs in your house (A cool feature I admit, but who will actually use it?). Another of the game's let-downs is that there are nowhere near as many of the things like the gang tags and horseshoes in SA. The only things in GTA IV are the pigeons and unique jumps. The rewards are nothing like the old games as well. There is no progression as you collect the pigeons, just one reward at the end, a helicopter which you can find parked anyway. Yet another of the downgrades from SA is the arsenal. There are a total of 15 weapons to choose from in the game, and most of them have an equivalent. The two pistols are similar, just like the two SMGs and the two assault rifles.
Basically GTA IV has some awesome new features, but is let down by what they took out. There are fewer side activities than in San Andreas and the game is focussed too much on the story (Which is great, I must say and complemented by a witty script). However, those complaints aside, GTA IV is a brilliant addition to the series. When Rockstar has worked out the balance between storyline and side missions, they will have finally perfected GTA (Although, SA was close). I really look forward to what they have in store for us in the future.