Saturday, April 11, 2015

My History with the GTA series. Part 5: GTA 4: The Next Generation!

When I heard Grand Theft Auto 4 was approaching I was filled with hope and wonder, remembering just how amazing the first three were and imagining how much better the fourth would be on the new hardware. When I heard they were distancing themselves from the first three games, as their own universe, I was filled with trepidation and disappointment. I imagine my reaction was just like anyone else who had spent countless hours on the first three games, because when the last gen games peaked with San Andreas, the franchise had become such an amazing and diverse game.

I was hoping they would sustain the level of wonder and exploration that made San Andreas such an amazing game and expand up it, albeit in a much brighter and better looking world. I wanted to roam aimlessly in a larger, more living, vibrant city that made me feel as if I were truly walking within an inhabited city, rather than a cold, empty environment. Well, they did make it a much brighter and better looking world, but GTA 4 was destined to become a bitter sweet stain on my GTA gaming history.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed GTA 4. The protagonist was humorous, the supporting characters were humorous, but the main attraction, cars, were completely and utterly underwhelming. GTA looked more realistic than it had ever before, and rightfully so, but I also feel as if Rockstar tried to push a more realistic angle that just shouldn't have been in the game. Cars would swing and sway through corners at high speed, and understeer was a major factor in getting anywhere, even at low speeds. But the bustling city landscape and environment lived and breathed as if it were truly a city.

Many new additions made the game it's own, yet I still felt that it was lacking so much that Rockstar had built up to in the previous installments. GTA 4 started a new era, a new story line, but no matter what, we were still influenced by the previous three games we had played, and hoped GTA 4 would encompass some of those things, and not just start all over again. GTA 4 brought new characters, new story lines, new inside jokes, all of which, I'm sure, most GTA fans truly wished were in addition to what we were already accustom to.

Now I know I keep bitching and complaining that GTA 4 was such a large change from San Andreas, but I do understand that it was a smart move for Rockstar and the GTA franchise itself. Admittedly it was really getting stale to keep seeing Kent Paul and  Ken Rosenberg popping up and having a panic attack over getting himself into shady business deals he should have learned from 10 years ago. But from what I see with GTA 5, it seems as if they've left almost all of that behind, with merely 1 link from GTA 4 even in GTA 5. Which is something I believe I'll miss once I get a chance to play through GTA 5.

One good thing about GTA 4 being on the new hardware was, of course, DLC. When I originally heard about it, I thought Rockstar was going to release countless updates that we could endlessly download and keep GTA 4 fresh and new. The sad truth was that we only got two; The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and Damned, after that it seemed as if Rockstar had abandoned their child to fend for itself in a harmful, unforgiving world. Even the ability to play online didn't seem to appeal to people enough to keep GTA 4 alive.

Since I prefer to own a physical copy of video games, I bought Episodes from Liberty City and finally got my chance to play both DLC packs. To be honest, they're not bad. Vehicle controls seemed to be slightly tightened up and even more vehicles were added. A pair of short, interwoven episodes of characters that we didn't even really notice while playing the Niko campaign now reveal the other side of the shady business ventures Niko happened to get himself into. Which was actually quite an interesting thing: to take control of a completely different view point of the same mission.

Overall GTA 4 brought GTA back on the map, but not nearly as long as the previous installments did. Sure GTA 4 did well and was a massively better looking game than the previous "universe", but GTA 4 is, to me, a clear sign that brighter and more beautiful isn't always the better option. GTA 4 became stale very quickly and although it did spoil me away from playing San Andreas, which I love with a passion, GTA 4 simply will never and can never make me invest as much time in it as I did San Andreas.

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