GTA returns to Liberty City; new graphics, same game play

By Rory McCarty

Senior Reporter

For many years now, the Grand Theft Auto series has been an ever-flowing spigot of controversy for mainstream media and politicians looking for a quick way to become relevant.  

At last, Rockstar, the company that pioneered open-ended “sandbox” game play, has released the long-expected sequel to the M-rated game franchise with “Grand Theft Auto IV” for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 consoles. But in all the years GTA has been around, aside from the graphical upgrades, little has changed.

“GTA IV” lets players return to a redesigned Liberty City, the setting of “Grand Theft Auto III”, and take on the role of Serbian immigrant Niko Bellic.

Although the numeric title would lead you to believe that this game is the first true sequel the series has seen since “GTA III,” it would be impossible to ignore the last console title in the series, “GTA: San Andreas,” which was set in three cities spread across an entire state.  “GTA IV” scales back the experience to a single large, yet detailed, city. Given the amount of detail in Liberty City this time around, it’s easy to let that slide.

But a huge number of other features from “GTA: San Andreas” have been either removed or drastically scaled back. There are fewer guns to find, less character customizing, no stats to build, no planes or bikes to steal, no parachutes, no assets to buy and you can’t binge on cheeseburgers to turn Niko into a chubby, waddling hit man. While none of these things are

integral to the experience, their removal does seem like a step backwards.

The main game is polished but mostly unchanged. The car handling is more realistic and the guns are much easier to aim. The graphics are good but not great; they do not approach the quality of something like “Gears of War.”  Little details, like drivers flashing their bright lights at you to get you to turn on your headlights, give the city a level of life it lacked before. But missions frequently fall into the same “drive to X location, kill person X, escape police” pattern that the series has done all along.

It is also disappointing to see that problems, which have long plagued the series, have not been addressed. The camera is as twitchy as ever, especially inside buildings. Objects still suddenly pop into existence as you approach them. Most annoyingly, despite the painstakingly designed city the characters inhabit, 99 percent of your interactions with

people involve throwing them out of cars or killing them.

The online mode is one thing that truly sets this game apart from its predecessors. For the first time in GTA, you can raise havoc in Liberty City with a maximum of 15 of your online friends.  Aimlessly running around and killing each other will get old eventually, so it’s good that Rockstar included multi player modes like “cops versus crooks” and city-wide gang wars.

On the controversy front, the game cannot offer anything of the magnitude that the “GTA: San Andreas” Hot Coffee scandal provided. However, a new drunk driving mini game will certainly get the attention of MADD members and Joseph Liebermans alike.

If you’ve played any previous GTA games, you already know what to expect here. If you’re a hardcore series fan or you’ve somehow avoided being exposed to GTA, you’ll want to pick this up. But everyone else, move along, there’s nothing new to see here.