So I've recently finished Red Dead Redemption, and it was splendid. Well executed, well told and a joy to play. So, with such fond memories of Marston and the Wild West, my faith in Rockstar was restored. So much so, in fact, that I slammed in my copy of Grand Theft Auto IV. I got a fair bit into the story on the first play, but then gave up, disillusioned with a game that I couldn't get on with, and found boring. But did I still feel this way? Had Red Dead reminded me of what was good about Rockstar, and that I was perhaps a little rash and hasty with my original judgements?
Is Grand Theft Auto IV actually any good?
No. No it isn't.
It just isn't good enough. It has all these fantastic ideas, all these cleverly-built features and facets, but they are completely worthless in the absence of good gameplay. It feels like the developers tried to show off, tried so much to display their understanding of 'meta-gaming' that they lost sight of what made a good game, and what made something fun to play.
When I started playing again, I went straight for a mission. Get back in the swing of things, get back into some action, get running and gunning. Now, when I got to the mission's core, after a lot of pointless driving, I was struck at just how frustrating the cover system is. Enemies have a ridiculous amount of health, enemies don't ever pop out from cover, and the target assist is really difficult to get along with, Needless to say, I didn't complete the mission, and got shot in the back.
That's fine. No problems, I could look past that. So, I'm sent back to the hospital, as is the case, and activated the cellphone feature, to replay the mission. It then sends me back to the driving part of the mission. A completely pointless drift across the city, from the place you were originally. Surely, surely if you were trying to encourage decent gameplay, or even base it on some kind of realism, you'd just take me to the mission start point? SURELY? Baffling. It really frustrated me. It seems that Rockstar can't get realism OR gameplay out of this game.
Red Dead Redemption really does shine through when we look at things like this. It takes you back to cleverly-placed checkpoints. If you die, you're taken back to a fair point in the mission, and often a part that's immensely fun to play anyway. Such a simple idea, but one that makes a game a pleasure to play, and not a chore.
And we've not even got to the driving part yet. Perhaps the most disappointing element of the whole game. Grand Theft Auto, it's called Grand Theft AUTO, and the driving physics are frightful. Over-twitchy cars, bad handling and poor camera angles make this a frustrating exercise in patience and Schumacher-reflexes. The only way I could seem to get any success out of the driving was to change to first-person view. Obviously though, you sacrifice seeing things coming, and eventually lose out in another way.
I'm not a GTA hater at all, I want to make that point crystal clear. I've completed all of the modern iterations, bar this one. I've completed Bully and RDR, so it's fair to say I enjoy Rockstar games.
I think my point isn't in slamming GTAIV, really. It would be a bit odd to come out and slam a game released 2 years ago. Not exactly relevant. No, the point I'm trying to make is just how a developer can make fatal errors when looking at the picture close-up, and not taking a step back to see it all. Games should be FUN, a point that 4 seemed to miss completely.
So Rockstar, please, PLEASE look at the San Diego boys, and what they've done, and make us a GTA we can have fun with again. Change time period, change tact, and do something brilliant, like you just have done. GTA in the 1920's? Oh wow. Someone get the Houser brothers on the phone.