Grand Theft Auto IVís PC launch incited virtual riots. A paroxysm of complaints stormed Rockstarís porch. The game performed poorly on systems that exceeded recommended requirements, crashed, froze and in general refused to work. Then comes January and Rockstar releases a major patch. For the most part, it seems to have resolved major issues. If you have a capable rig, then thereís no reason to play wait-and-see anymore. Grand Theft Auto IV is officially playable!
The only real hurdle that remains is the installation process, which is a migraine in a headache. Before you start installing the game, the autorun will install Rockstarís Social Club, Games for Windows Live, Flash, .NET framework 2.0 and a few other things. If you donít have SP3, then prepare to run into issues, like the game not booting up. I got around the problem by changing compatibility modes and installing .NET 3.5. This in particular was confounding, because there isnít much of a legitimate reason for Rockstar to not go with 3.5 in the first place. The entire process was painful and took around 2 hours to install and troubleshoot, but once I finally started -playing- the game, the pain subsided as Niko stepped onto American asphalt for the first time.
The game starts off with vigor and dramatic energy. Seeing Nikoís meditative spiel on war is poignant, seeing the reality that Nikoís cousin, Roman, has tossed onto his shoulders makes him an incredibly sympathetic character. For the first third of the game, it is all about Niko and his new trials and tribulations in Liberty City.
Eventually, the game wanders, stretches the story and changes focus. What was a narrative about Niko becomes a story about Liberty Cityís inhabitants. There are so many characters that are introduced, with their own problems and their own personalities that Niko gets tossed to the sidelines. He goes from a prominent character to becoming your avatar for a very long time, for better and for worse.
This shift in narrative priority isnít particularly bad, because the excellent writing and voice-acting fueling the expertly crafted cut-scenes always prove to be entertaining, but it just could have been so much better. Then there are the missteps, like potentially dramatic subplots being given weak resolutions. But the most glaring one is when the story gets too railroaded and you are forced to take actions that donít feel justified. There will be times when you, nay, Niko is forced to kill without a choice in the matter, because thatís how it was written. It clashes against Nikoís character and requires a certain suspension of disbelief. Still, taken as one big whole, Grand Theft Auto IVís story is very good. All the characters are memorable and leave an indelible mark in the game. Nikoís story eventually moves forward and ends strong. The ending is more than satisfactory, it is superb.
Impressive and dazzling
The gameís narrative is only of many reasons why Grand Theft Auto IV should be played if you havenít already. I have always had a personal problem with Grand Theft Auto III and its two continuations Ė the gameplay felt half-baked. They were packed with content, but all felt so unrefined and lacked polish. It was admirable to see Rockstar push the technology so hard, but it was ultimately just that. Admiration for their ambitions, but not infatuation for the game itself.
With Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar has the technology to power their vision. Liberty City looks amazing. Just from a macro scale, the towering skyscrapers, the dank alleyways, the visual franticness of Times Square and so on provide a convincing backdrop. Liberty City is more than just a playground. It is a real city with real people. All the little flourishes, like how citizens actually engage in conversation when they take out their cellphones. It adds so much to the life of the city and really, this is one of the best-realized gameworlds to date in terms of being completely convincing. And of course, the Euphoria engine provides a whole new level of chaos. The physics in the game range from impressive to dazzling, offering brand new memories on a daily basis, because of the flexibility this engine provides. The gameís soundscape is even better and it is just as good as it was on the consoles. Awesome voice-acting, clear and distinct sound effects and a great selection of music add immensely to the gameís personality.
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