Perhaps no other game in the GTA franchise has sparked more debate than 2008’s GTA 4, which was a divisive entry in the series, to say the least. For one, the game ditched the playful, light tone of the earlier games in place for a far more gritty, Dark Knight-esque tone.
That immediately caught fans of the series off-guard if they hadn’t paid attention to the game’s promotional material and trailers. GTA 4 feels like the most distant game from the series’ identity, which is exactly what makes it one of the most special entries in the series.
The change in tone wasn’t purely visual, as several changes were made to how game mechanics worked, and many systems were revamped. Even though the game has a special place in the hearts of fans, is it fun to play in 2021?
Note: This article is subjective and solely reflects the opinion of the writer.
How does GTA 4 feel in 2021?
It didn’t take long for GTA 4 to win over players right from the opening credits as the now-iconic “Soviet Connection” set the stage for what was going to be a rather grim immigrant story. The game wastes no time in setting up Niko to be a likable presence, with his razor-sharp wit and humor. This is in stark contrast to his stone-cold killer talent for murder and fighting.
GTA 4 had to be a shock to the system in many ways in order to be the stand-out entry in the series that it hoped to be. This was accomplished in large part through a story that ditched “government conspiracy” shenanigans for well-written and acted dramatic sequences.
That is not to say that the game’s story lacks any sort of big Hollywood action, as there is plenty of that to go around. The highlight of the story are characters like Dimitri, who is potentially one of the best-written villains in the GTA series. The high points of the story come fast and furious with stand-out moments like the Three-Leaf Clover mission that sees Niko rob a bank with a crew.
The story takes unexpected turns into explorations of trauma, war, and the pursuit of the American Dream. It is clearly the best part of GTA 4 and one that doesn’t leave much room for complaint.
Gameplay – Driving
The most drastic change to the series that was brought by GTA 4 was the tweaks that it made to the driving physics of all vehicles. Cars had a ton of more weight and reacted realistically to the player’s actions instead of feeling like something straight out of Need for Speed.
While that was certainly very polarizing upon release, fans eventually grew to love that realistic, weighty, driving physics. GTA 4 might not be the most casual game in the series, but that is a good thing for fans of the series who want a slight challenge in the way they experience the game.
An interesting story, character, and theme wouldn’t work all that well if they didn’t have an intriguing game world to be set in. GTA 4 suffers from no such issue, as Liberty City in this game is quite possibly one of the best virtual 3D open-worlds ever created.
The identity of the game is reflected in every street corner and high-rise. Liberty City truly feels alive and lived-in, with multiple opportunities for the player to explore the lands freely and with plenty of motivation to do so.
There is always something exciting at every turn in Liberty City, and it feels completely detached from the identity of Vice City and Los Santos.
GTA 4 saw Rockstar Games embrace cover mechanics in their prized open-world franchise, yet it doesn’t feel half as decent as the mechanics seen in Gears of War or Uncharted. Enemies can shoot through cover as if it were non-existent, as Niko’s movement while in cover feels awkward at best.
The health bar on enemies feels decidedly 2000s, which is more a case of the game mechanics not having aged all that well. The fact that players will need multiple headshots to down one enemy feels counter-intuitive and annoying at worst.
The less said about melee combat, the better, as even though GTA 4 introduced throwable objects, it failed to make any real impact on the overall experience. Other than adding a neat trick, the throwable objects add little to the overall experience as stealth is as viable in GTA 4 as it would be in God of War.
The single most intense detractor of the GTA 4 experience is by far the pacing. The game has a lot of incredible themes to explore and interesting things to say, but the pace at which it does so is absolutely horrid.
The game takes an awful lot of time setting up the world and takes even longer to get the plot moving. It is only after the death of a certain “big” mobster and a betrayal that things start to move along fast and get interesting.
The majority of the game leading up to that point is 80% driving and 20% talking/shooting. This can cause many players to quit halfway through the game or even earlier than that.
Should players try GTA 4 in 2021?
If players have the means to play the game today, then they ideally should. For one, the game might be a little hard to get into, but players will be rewarded with quality story moments and exciting gameplay should they manage to do so.
The game can feel dated in parts, but not to the degree that will leave them frustrated. In the worst-case scenario, players will likely develop game fatigue early on with GTA 4, but that is easily solvable by playing at a reasonable pace and not trying to rush through.
Most of what works with GTA 4 comes in its quieter moments of nighttime driving or in conversations with other characters.
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