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.

Index It’s an Evolution Baby
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  • FITCamaro - Thursday, May 1, 2008 - link

    While I'm not saying the game is bug free (there will always be glitches in a video game), what exactly are you referring to? I've found nothing wrong with it so far.
  • zainab12345 - Monday, September 14, 2020 - link

  • zainab12345 - Monday, September 14, 2020 - link

    Really the best game ever, really liked it
  • Locutus465 - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    This is a very sad truth... Particularly since I do still enjoy PC gaming because typically this is where you first see the major break throughs with gameplay, graphics and all the rest.
  • Ivan244 - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    Glad to see you brought a critical eye from seeing all the unabashed frothing I'm seeing elsewhere.

    Would love to get your take on the Halo3 matchmaking. For me personally I refuse to play Halo3 mp because of MM. I don't like, for unranked matches, being told what I'm going to play and on what map I get to play it on.

    Yes I understand friends list but then you have to have x number of people on and x number who want to play Halo and x number who want to play that map/game type.

    I much prefer Gears and all the other games out there that give me a list to choose from. Pick what I want and if I don't see it host my own.

    Plus with Halo and Forge all those people create great custom games and yet it's like pulling teeth to find them. Finally there are some workarounds but you got to admit it's far more hassle then if we had a server list.

    So curious to see what you like so much about matchmaking that draws you to Halo.
  • tfranzese - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    I'm holding out for a PC version, like I've done in the past. Dunno, maybe I'll change my mind if the wait is more than a year.
  • Baked - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    I was gonna pick-up the MGS4 PS3 bundle and GTA4 because I love Sony products and have loved the GTA series since the beginning, but after reading Anand's excellent review, I've decided to spend my money on a Xbox 360 and Halo 3 instead. Even though I've never played Halo and absolutely hate the FPS genre, Anand's review has convinced me otherwise. Thank you Anand.
  • BZDTemp - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    Don't by a console for Halo 3!!!!

    The Halo series is overrated and for each installment it has been going downhill. Sure there are some nice points but it is nothing special.

    If GTAIV is worth getting a console over or not I can't say. I have not played it and release day reviews are to be taken with a grain of salt. Anyway I have both a 360 and a PS3 and if getting just one console of the current ones then get the PS3.
  • Locutus465 - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    No offence... But what's your problem? Anand made graphical comparisons to games known to be graphically very good. I.e. Gears of War and Halo 3, the point being the graphics in GTA4 aren't quite on their level. That doesn't mean that graphics aren't good (indeed anand points out that generally they are) or that the game isn't any good or that you should buy Halo instead. It's called creating a point of reference, many of us here have seen/played Gears an halo, so we understand the point of reference.
  • aikendd - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    I love Anandtech for technical news, so I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that this review is technically focused in forest/trees sense.

    There's confusion about story: in movies, story is distinct from acting and cinematography, and it's silly to confuse the three here. I'm fine with faulting the story in GTAIV, but saying the story is weak because the animation isn't photorealistic is like saying that the story in Toy Story is weak because everyone knows toys can't talk. It shows a lack of understanding of how the word is generally used.

    The review also misses the single most important question: is the game *fun*? There's some half-in, half-out comments about "if you liked other GTA's, you'll like this, if not then not", but how about the reviewer? Did he have fun?

    I more or less agree with the conclusions, such as they are, but on the whole this seems like a review of the draw distance and character animation with only cursory attention to the actually game experience.

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