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Letters from the Front

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GTA IV Concept Art, 2008.

The strongest reminder that GTA IV is now old is that Niko’s phone has buttons on it, doesn’t have access to the internet, and the GPS has a voice to it and all of this makes the game itself feel like I’m being transported back into time, before smartphones and smartcars ruled the day. It’s closer now to a decade since the release of the first ever HD GTA, and somehow through that grainy and blurry graphics, it showed a true leap that was happening on the 360 and PS3 much like Gears of War and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion that released two years prior. GTA IV ended the 3D Era and ended the clones that followed in the wake of GTA III’s release back in 2001, nobody else and still to this day nobody can match an open world game designed and produced by Rockstar themselves.

GTA IV is the story of Niko Bellic, a Serbian veteran of the Bosnian War who comes to America to start a new life however it doesn’t take long for him to stay out of trouble and soon enough, he’s popping heads and breaking legs for the Russian Mafia, Italian Mafia, and his well-to do cousin Roman. I remembered Niko back in 2008 as being someone who has reluctant and did it for good, although now looking and going back to playing the game, a closer look reveals that Niko did enjoy being a criminal on some level or at least understand what he’s good for which is the real tragedy. It was an attempt to add drama and bleakness into the franchise, but truth be told I like Niko alot more then GTA IV’s three playable characters.

While the story ended somewhat good for Niko with him reportedly going into a life of recluse and relative peace, his story isn’t the only story that GTA IV tells. The game’s two brilliant and masterpiece expansion packs, TLAD and TBOGT were way better then the game itself and somehow was superior to the base game. Johnny Klebitz and Luis Lopez both appeared in the base game as cameos and came into contact with Niko, which is a nice connection to the main game. The GTA IV trilogy offered a gritty and deep portrayal of life within Liberty City and most likely in this stage planted the seeds for Michael, Trevor, and Franklin in the sequel.

Playing it now, it’s a little bit weird as the gunplay feels strange and outdated, it’s not that great to control. The driving was loose and stiff and punishing for car chases, I’m glad that GTA V learned from the mistakes of it’s predecessor. GTA V got the shooting, cover shooting, and driving just right.

These are most certainly the signs of age, this in particular doesn’t stop GTA IV being far from enjoyable though. Revisiting it has been great fun and remembering such great memories, I remember the story being more serious then daft and my memory was right. The story was a dark and gritty one, and most certainly a unique take on the American Dream and the story of an Immigrant coming to this country, it had a vibrant cast and some pretty good and well developed villains like Uncle Vlad and Dmitri.

For the first time, Rockstar brought player choice into the game including a situation where you had to choose which one of your friends would die. I remember them being not so great but quite memorable, they’re well done and let you shape Niko’s morality. The story still holds up, but let’s be honest for it was always the great city of Liberty City that was the star of the game.

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GTA IV Concept Art, 2008.

Rockstar’s updated version of New York is a far cry from the Liberty City of GTA III, it had golden sunsets, numerous landmarks and no wasted space as opposed to the Liberty City from GTA III. It was a compressed and beautiful place full of life and a beautiful almost authentic encapsulation of New York, it was a great thing to move the series back to Liberty City after the simplified sprawl that was San Andreas. Rockstar moved their engine from the 3D Era, simple character models, cardboard-cut buildings to this rich HD vision that only the new generation could’ve pulled off.

The one thing that I liked about GTA IV’s rendition of Liberty City is that you feel immersed and you feel like you’re actually there. Algonquin is still GTA’s most dazzling area in the entire franchise: The big skyscrapers, the artistic differences between neighborhoods and the big bright lights of Star Junction. There’s nowhere else like being in New York and Rockstar faithfully recreated that feeling.

I know for a fact is that GTA IV isn’t what everybody wanted from Rockstar at the time. San Andreas set the expectation that every single GTA would go bigger and more goofier then the last, but GTA IV was different. It was dark, somber, and gritty and messing around inside that game didn’t feel right and didn’t have that appeal. Collectively at the same time, the main game and the DLC made GTA GTA today, a mature storyline mixed in with weird antics. GTA IV is rough to play and the story remains the top attraction. GTA IV holds it own.

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