It’s time once again to become one of the city’s most destructive renegades, this time as an illegal Russian immigrant named Niko Bellic. The sixth installment in a series known for its gangster film-like corruption and mayhem, Rockstar’s latest game has been finally ported to the PC and released last December. This time around, though, the game wasn’t launched without a hitch. While the company is often praised for its attention to detail and special additions in console-to-PC ports, Grand Theft Auto IV seems to be plagued with bugs and errors. In fact, there were so many reports of players experiencing issues with the title, that we decided to hold off reviewing it for at least a couple of months. There was also a certain hype factor, as usual with this kind of large budget title, which I wanted to avoid. Some publications and sites, for example, seemed to just copy and paste their console reviews. Being a PC gaming only site, you’re not going to find that at 2404.
So after waiting a while, I finally installed the Steam version of the game and luckily didn’t have any initial issues. One minor thing that happened after I first started up the game was that I was unable to connect to Games for Windows Live. It ended up that my firewall was blocking Live, and it wasn’t telling me in a normal pop-up alert. This is, of course, not Rockstar’s problem. Speaking of GFWL, I have to note that I really don’t find it necessary in GTAIV. I’ve also been playing Fallout 3 lately, and between the two games, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really just don’t like GWFL. I think that at least some problems with both these games can be attributed to it and would go so far as to recommend that developers avoid it in the future. In GTA IV, you actually aren’t even able to save your single-player progress without signing into Live, which I found quite aggravating.
While I didn’t seem to have any other Live problems, I did experience the following issues:
The reason I list these things off is that even though Rockstar has released a patch, you’re still likely to experience a bug or two if you play this game. I spent some time browsing through the Steam forums and GTAforums, and it’s very apparent that many people have issues with this game; some can’t even play! Shame on the reviewers that gave this game a 9+ overall score – the ignorance is almost humorous. With problems this widespread, a game must be scored lower. It’s really disappointing, because Rockstar does such great console ports compared to other companies – like they actually do care about us PC gamers. Not this time around.
Despite new characters and storyline, the actual missions in Grand Theft Auto IV don’t seem all that different from the previous installments. You’ll be instructed to take out a target, kill a group of people, assassinate a character, or make threats/rough someone up for money. It’s as simple as that. The storyline seems to go a bit deeper, and character relationships, such as the one you have with your cousin Roman, are stressed, but I just believe it could have been a little better. In the end, it can be difficult to not see this as the same old GTA on a new engine, with a few additions, and much better graphics.
One of the highlighted new features includes the cover system. During combat, you are now able to stand or lean against a wall or some other form of cover. You take aim while behind the cover, and when you’re ready, pop out and take a shot. It’s one of the things that makes this game seem more realistic, but I didn’t like it that I had to press a key to move away from cover.
The other major highlighted feature in the PC version is the replay video editor. The editor itself is fairly simple to use, and it’s definitely a fun and innovative addition. A question I have though is how much time was spent developing it? When you consider the amount of bugs it’s easy to see the replay editor as a distraction from the actual game. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a positive feature, but it’s hard to see people spending a ton of time with it. At some point, people are going to get really sick of GTA videos and just move on.
The final main new feature is the multiplayer component; the series finally includes online play without installing a mod! It’s a definite plus for the series, with 15 different modes; it’s just a matter of finding a server to play on that can be a bit of an issue, as Live rears its ugly head. It can be difficult to find a server that actually has people playing on it, and when you do, you also have to worry about the plethora of cheaters. It’s somewhat surprising that many servers are empty and, after doing some reading, some people have come to the conclusion that the “modders” have wrecked multiplayer. So this component ends up not really qualifying as “good,” but at least Rockstar is headed in the right direction. Hopefully a patch will be released to circumvent the cheaters.
There were several aspects in GTA for that I found to be very annoying; so many, in fact, that I’m going to go through each of them.
The in-game radio is, of course, back as usual and has a great selection this time around. You’ll be able to hear music from popular bands such as Bob Marley, The Stooges (Iggy Pop), John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Philip Glass, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Aerosmith among several others, along with music from many lesser known bands. Don’t forget one of the PC staples of this series, which allows you to use your own music in its own radio station. Along the same lines, the game’s own music is also well done, as expected.
The good graphics will be the first thing that players will notice when starting up GTA IV for the first time. PC graphics are improved over the console version, as the city, characters, vehicles, weapons, etc. all look really nice. Driving through Star Junction, the replica of Times Square, for the first time was a great experience. As most people know, several landmarks in-game are actually replicas of locations in New York City. Other landmarks include Firefly Island/Coney Island, Middle Park/Central Park, and Statue of Happiness/Statue of Liberty among others. Maps are large, and though the system requirements are somewhat high for this game, it does look nice.
Overall, I’m simply disappointed with Rockstar when it comes to Grand Theft Auto IV. PC gamers already get shafted with the slow GTA releases compared to the consoles. To have all the bugs at launch that it did makes me wonder what happened during the testing period. It’s also missing a lot of great features that were included in San Andreas. GTAIV definitely has some great features, but when you look at the big picture, the result is definitely lackluster.