Tech: Grand Theft Auto IV review
"Grand Theft Auto IV," like its predecessors, is a video game that offers a big sandbox for you to play around in. Continuing the trend of ever-increasing detail, there are all sorts of places to waste time, including restaurants, strip clubs, nightclubs, and bowling alleys. The gameplay in GTA has gotten so complex that the first five or so hours are tutorial missions (you don't even get a handgun until a couple hours in). GTA IV has thus unwittingly turned into the "Dragon Quest" of sandbox games (a long slow grind), albeit with better plotting and more straightforward mission design than its competitors.
A problem not addressed in most mainstream reviews is the lackluster performance of the game engine. Like most GTAs, the framerate hovers at around 30 fps, which simply isn't very good for a fast-moving action game involving split-second shooting and driving sequences. Everything has lower polys than you'd expect, especially the character models. After seeing expressive faces on the NPCs in "Half-Life 2" and "Mass Effect," going back to mediocre-looking mo-capped models in the cutscenes of GTA IV feels like a step back.
The multiplayer is the big new feature, with plenty of modes to satisfy anyone's list of demands. You can race helicopters, you can play cops and robbers, you can re-enact "Gone in Sixty Seconds," or you can just mess around the city, all with up to 16 people at a time. I can imagine people getting pretty addicted to this stuff, since the driving and combat mechanics in the game allow for good players to really shine. Unfortunately, the whole experience is very rough and unrefined (the game kicks you out to the lobby if you want to switch games, for instance). Add to that the fact that the average knuckledragger you meet on Xbox Live isn't going to be very fun to play with - best to find some friends you can trust.
The minute-to-minute gameplay of GTA IV, whether single or multiplayer, is essentially identical to that of previous GTAs, so if you didn't like the old ones, you won't like this one. But while it isn't much of a leap from the previous generation, the game is still stuffed to the gills with content. All in all, GTA IV is probably one of the best bang-for-your-buck deals going this summer.