The Ugly is in the Controls

Grand Theft Auto is one of those games where it is more fun to talk about what you did in the game, than to actually do it. Let me give you an example:

Early on in the game, I was trying to steal someone's car, the driver got out and we got into a fist fight. The cops arrived and what's the first thing they did? Shot the driver of the car I was stealing in the face. I took the opportunity to hop in the car and drive away.

That's one of those stories that wouldn't exactly be funny in real life, but it's hilarious in the game itself ("hey! I was committing a crime and then the cops shot the victim in the face, woohoo!"). Unfortunately, my example omits struggling with camera, controls and the actual pace of the game itself.

The controls in GTA4 seem sluggish, even moreso than in San Andreas. They do take some time to acclimate, but even after that point they are just not all that great. You can easily play the game with the controls, but your movements always feel slow, almost to the point of frustration. Many have praised the cover system as being very Gears-like; now I liked the cover system in Gears, and the cover system in GTA4 is nothing like it. Conceptually the two are identical, but it's simply much more awkward in GTA4.

The default camera tends to follow you pretty well, so fumbling with the right thumbstick isn't as critical as in a first person shooter (which is one of the things you'll have to "unlearn" when first playing GTA4). But moving around and fighting both feel like the slowest parts of the game.

Decidedly GTA

After reading all of the perfect-score reviews, I sort of expected GTA4 to be a revolutionary take on the franchise. Grand Theft Auto IV is instead more of an evolutionary successor to San Andreas, the gameplay is very similar and the types of things you do are decidedly GTA.

If you were put off by the "drive here, rob this guy and drive back" missions of previous GTAs, then GTA4 does have more of the same. Granted there is a good deal of variation within the missions, but if you fundamentally didn't like the previous games, then there's a good chance that GTA4 will be no different.

At least you can take a cab to your missions, it costs money but you can always murder the driver when you get there and even make money on the trip.

To me, the majority of missions in any given GTA title were never that good, but what kept me coming back was to fill in the gaps in the story or the handful of missions that were unbelievably fun. It's a lot like a season of 24 or The Office, you get a little taste of what you want in each episode which keep you coming back for the whole season. You could even take it one step further and say that GTA4 promotes a healthy outlook on life: if you live for the 1% of the time things work out perfectly, it makes the remaining 99% not so bad. That may be a stretch, but the likelihood of that even being entertained by the mainstream media is next to nothing; they'll be too busy blaming the latest installment in the GTA franchise for some horrible event.

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  • bigben - Friday, May 2, 2008 - link

    Not that Anand needs defending, but you should know that the guy plays a lot of games. Far too many, really. Having just spent a weekend with 20+ hours of Rock Band and Kane's Wrath and having sat with him through Oblivion, Mass Effect, Gears, Halo 3, Zelda, Mario, Resident Evil 4 and a few others within the past few month, I can tell you that they guy plays more than his fair share of games and will play the good ones (the ones that really catch his attention) through to the end. 30+ games a year? Easily.
  • theslug - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    Although I agree that there are games with great stories, the same can be said about movies and shows. The reimagined Battlestar Galactica series comes to's sci-fi and it has an excellent storyline. How can you make a comment like this when you just admitted you don't even watch much tv or movies?
  • aos007 - Thursday, May 1, 2008 - link

    I can't really make a comment that movies nowdays "suck" - that's just my opinion based on a few occasional shows that I did get to see. One of them was BS Galactica, which is just that - BS. I watched 8 episodes before I had to stop. It has all depth of those naive, campy 60's sci-fi movies. It is very hard to suspend belief while watching it as there is so many things that are illogical if not impossible (the survival of humans under given circumstances and hence the continuation of the show itself being the big one, obviously). And even if it was possible to forgive illogical plot, based on political opinions the characters were overwhelmingly displaying I would've wanted Cylons to win anyway. Those "people" were a disgrace to humans.

    Yet I'm aware the show has a cult following. I'm guessing there is a generation gap at play here (I'm in the 30's and stuff I liked when I was in 20's is now "out"). The new generation has emphasis on different things than mine did. Which is probably the case with Anand and games he likes. Today it seems to be more about whether the way things are done is "cool" rather than "right". The story and the reasoning behind character's actions is less important than whether gameplay mechanics are good and presentation "cool".

    At any rate the GTA IV (being the first one I played strangely enough) does seem to have a lot of depth and breadth (I spent a lot of time watching in-game TV). This is reminiscent of best games of yore and is refreshing to see. As such I think the game has a wider appeal than if it just had good gameplay mechanics and presentation. I am quite happy with it.
  • morose - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    Everyone has likely heard all the gushing about the game done by the review sites, so it's nice to see someone focus on the negatives. A couple of things I wanted to comment about though.

    First, you mention the GPS and having to manually activate it from the map. That's not strictly true since (as an Option) it starts up automatically for missions. Just not for general driving about. I've never had to go to the map to get a route myself.

    Secondly, the story. I certainly understand your point about animation. That's one of the problems I had with Vice City. Even though there was some good dialogue going on, the lack of expression by the characters kept it from being truly great. However, thus far in GTA4, I've been pleasantly surprised. There have even been a couple of times where the characters pulled off some "physical comedy" and I laughed out loud at the expressions they made through their animations. Brucie especially, but Little Jacob a time or two as well. :) The actual plot is better in GTA4 as well. I actually found myself playing "just one more mission" to keep unearthing more and more of Niko's backstory. That's a compelling sign in my book.

    I agree with your take on a lot of things though. Especially the controls, which I still struggle with after 10 hours of gameplay. Someone please... what's the secret to keeping your car under control through corners at any kind of speed?! Completely different feel than Vice City (my only previous GTA experience) and a serious negative in my book.
  • DigitalFreak - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    Turn BEFORE braking
  • FITCamaro - Thursday, May 1, 2008 - link

    Typically you do the reverse, brake then turn. Unless you just want to powerslide. I think they kind of made the friction between the tires and the road a little too loose because you can't brake for shit. Past GTAs you've been able to slow down adequately to take a turn or had enough grip to power slide around a turn without slamming into everything. This time around its almost like they figured everyone would want to hit everything. I've gotten decent at taking turns in the game but it should be as easy as it is to pull the ebrake and flip a complete 360 without hardly slowing down.
  • RMSe17 - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    I hope the PC version comes out soon :) But until then, still plenty of games to play (Crysis, COD4, SupCom, X3-reunion) Though I do find it a minor annoyance that some games are delayed in their coming to PC (mass effect, gta..) since I don't own any console systems and dont plan on ever owning one... PC hard core gaming is where it's at :)
  • michal1980 - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    pc gaming is dieing, in no small part due to tefth.

    even though the 360 gtaiv is already on torrents. you still need to hack your 360 to do it.

    a pc version would see about a 50% pirate rate, and we would all hear about how so and so stole it because they couldnt afford it, and what harm is it, since they were never going to buy it anyways etc etc.
  • mmntech - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    The other 50% of the games not pirated end up being so riddled with DRM that it makes them unplayable for many people. Bioshock comes to mind. So much for "Games for Windows" revitalizing PC gaming. The market self-destructed. I was PC gaming only for many years but I must admit I like the fuss free experience of just popping the disc in and playing without having to worry about bugs, patches, hardware requirements, and DRM.

    The article was good. As the others said, it's nice to see a focus on the technical side. I think we see a lot of franchise fanboys out there who are quick to give any GTA instalment a good score. I've never been a fan of the GTA series myself but I might have to rent this one. Gotta love that "warm coffee".
  • SerratedDrums - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    You will still have bugs and games that need to be patched on 360/PS3. Take GTA IV for example.

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