'GTA IV': The good, the bad, and the sometimes ugly

Initial thoughts on the final game's pluses and minuses.

Rockstar

If you're reading this, there's a good chance you're very interested in a video game being released Tuesday, April 29, called Grand Theft Auto IV (actually something like the eighth game in the series, depending on how you count).

We previously tried the game out a couple of times while it was still in development, and now that we've had a chance to give the final shipping version a serious run-through over this past weekend, here are our initial thoughts on the final game's pluses and minuses.

Rockstar
Grand Theft Awesome:

  • The main attraction is the city itself, and it's beautifully rendered and full of activity. The game's random characters occasionally get involved in amusing bits of action--we saw a pedestrian get hit by a car, and a minute later, an ambulance pulled up and a paramedic got out (he just stood around after that, but it was still impressive).
  • The game starts out slowly, giving you a chance to get comfortable with the environment and controls, and giving the story and characters a chance to breathe.
  • The on-foot segments of the game no longer feel tacked on. A decent targeting system and the ability to take cover behind objects is a huge plus and makes shootouts fun instead of frustrating.
  • The dialog and voice acting are about as good as you'll find in a video game, and long, talky scenes give the characters a chance to develop.
  • Multiplayer is not as an integral part of the game as it was to Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4, but the ability to play various multiplayer modes online over the entire city map is great.
  • The in-game radio stations are still a big highlight, and we loved that the on-air DJs include cult figures such as Roy Ayers and Femi Kuti.


Grand Theft Annoying:
  • Main characters like Niko Bellic and his cousin Roman look great, but many of the secondary characters are sometimes ugly, looking a bit like clunky PS2 holdovers.
  • The camera still has a little trouble with tight, indoor spaces, making navigation difficult.
  • Some of the cars are especially hard to control, and using the handbrake to pull off hairpin turns is more difficult than in previous GTA games.
  • We wouldn't play most of the mini-games, such as bowling and darts, more than once or twice, and activities like shopping for clothes have an awkward interface, making it a chore to try on different looks.
  • One area that hasn't really been updated is the save system. Missions can be long and complicated, and often require split-second timing, so not having a more modern save-anywhere system can turn off mainstream and casual gamers (or anyone who only has 15 to 20 minutes at a stretch to play).


About the author

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of laptops, desktops, and Windows tablets, while also writing about games, gadgets, and other topics. A former radio DJ and member of Mensa, he's written about music and technology for more than 15 years, appearing in publications including Spin, Blender, and Men's Journal.

 

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