Released April 29, 2008, Grand Theft Auto IV was a groundbreaking entry in Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto franchise. The game took players back to Liberty City, the site of Grand Theft Auto III. But now, with the improved capabilities of the PS3/XBOX 360, the sky was the limit in terms of what could be done.
The Little Things
The first thing a lot of players noticed was the overhaul in the driving. The physics had been massively updated. Gone was the ability to navigate a corner doing 90 MPH and stop on a dime. To a lot of players, it was a very welcome change. While the driving in the GTAIII universe was fun, it always had a certain arcade element to it. When the series made the leap to a grittier story, set in a fictionalized New York, everything had to step up.
There’s lots to talk about as far as the big blocks go, but GTAIV also packed in lots of small details that made the game great. The banter from Roman’s cab drivers to Niko when he gets free rides comes to mind. It made the game world feel alive. Like these guys are just trying to make a living and they have to miss a fare so they can drive YOU for FREE.
Or even something as small as just standing on the sidewalk. With the new power of the new consoles (PCMR notwithstanding), the animations took a huge leap forward. If it’s raining, Niko will brush the rain off his head, then shake his hand to lose the water. Puddles form on the sidewalk and next to the curb. People carry umbrellas. If Niko is standing next to a curb and his foot is off the sidewalk, he adjusts his posture to have one foot on the road. These small little graphic details add immensely to the world that Rockstar created.
One of the easiest ways to really experience the immersion is to just walk down the street. Park in Star Junction and just walk a few blocks. People have conversations with each other, talk on their cellphones, and live their lives. They react to the wildness of your playing as you crash into a light post.
The story is another area where the game stands strong. Gone are the simplistic turf wars that dominated Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, or the cliche revenge plots of III and Vice City. No, now we’re dealing with a former soldier who is trying to find the man who sold out his platoon and discover why. Is it a revenge plot? Yes. But it’s a revenge plot where the backstory is told through small revelations by a main character struggling to understand who he is and where he fits in the world.
Additionally, the level of planning by the team at Rockstar is something to marvel at. In Grand Theft Auto IV, one of the main subplots is about some stolen diamonds. After completing the mission “Museum Piece”, the player gets a trophy/achievement called “Impossible Trinity”. Most players thought nothing of it. Now, Niko comes into contact with a number of interesting characters, not the least of which is Johnny Klebitz. Johnny is a biker with The Lost Motorcycle Club and assists Niko on a couple missions, one of which is “Museum Piece”. Also in that mission is a then-unnamed character who crashes the deal and steals the diamonds.
Once Rockstar announced the first DLC for Grand Theft Auto IV, ‘The Lost and Damned’, players learned they would play as Johnny. They would get to see his path intersect with Niko’s at various points in the game. Obviously not a coincidence, but not something huge either. Then, the second DLC was announced, ‘The Ballad of Gay Tony’. This DLC saw players taking on the role of a character named Luis Lopez. Screenshots showed a striking resemblance to the man who busted up the diamond deal way back in the base game. So from the very beginning, Rockstar had put together three complete stories that all tied together at major points in the base game. Stunning.
Grand Theft Auto IV set a new standard, as GTAIII before it had, and the original Grand Theft Auto before that. It showed that games can truly be considered art and emphasized a story that rivaled much of what could be seen in movies. Colorful characters, beautiful set pieces, and very small details all added to the immersion of the game. It truly felt like a facsimile of New York and all it contains.