Just when you think you know the Grand Theft Auto series and everything the developers have put into the universe they created, they go and switch up on you. Granted, if I had paid attention to any of the games that came out after the original Vice City game, I probably wouldn't be as surprised as I was when I dove into Grand Theft Auto IV. However, my lack of knowledge going into some of these titles has led to some fantastic first-time impressions, which I can't complain about at all.
Talk about reinventing the wheel, though. In GTA IV, players return to Liberty City, set in present day (2008), but this isn't the Liberty City you grew to know and love. The city before was designed from the ground up , and players spent so much time in it, it became almost a staple or calling card of the series. However, everything that fans thought they knew about Liberty City ended with the GTA III era, and the older consoles that those games were released on. GTA IV, however, was the first Grand Theft Auto game developed for the next generation of gaming consoles, the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Finally, Rockstar had the ability to make the kind of game they envisioned making since GTA III, and what they tried to do with every game since that one. Of course they were limited in scope of what they were capable of doing from the technology standpoint, but you could always tell they had grand ambitions for what they wanted to accomplish.
Well, in GTA IV, they seemed to finally understand what they were trying to accomplish. And by that, I mean redesign Liberty City into what they envisioned it to be. Now it bares a stark contrast to New York City, complete with individual boroughs, familiar neighborhoods and islands, and even the Statue of Happiness, which is creepy yet eerily similar to the Statue of Liberty. While Liberty City used to be it's own character, now it feels less like a video game and more like the real deal. And in doing so, what was once a character now is a living, breathing organism in the universe, full of life and personality unseen before in a GTA game. Liberty City is now a place to call home.
The main character is Niko, a European immigrant with a mission, who quickly falls victim to the corruption and seedy lifestyle that Liberty City seems to inject onto everyone in sight. I remember when the game first came out, there seemed to be some backlash or resistance over having a European as a main character. Maybe I am remembering wrong, but I seem to recall that being a thing. After playing the game, I can't understand why there would have been a problem with it. Niko is a great character, someone you can connect to in ways that are really hard to explain.
Overall, this game feels groundbreaking, and a real step forward in the gaming industry, looking back at when it was released. It was the first exceptional showcase of what the new consoles were capable of, and well deserving of the critical acclaim. In fact, for the longest time it was the highest rated game on Metacritic (fluctuates up and down a spot or two as random reviews happen). In other words, it has been the gold standard for video games for a generation.
But now, a new generation is about to start.
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