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'Grand Theft Auto' is back ... and it's OK

May 06, 2008|By BRAD SMITH / Pulse Correspondent

After a few years away, fans of the Grand Theft Auto series are finally being taken back to Liberty City for yet another go-against-the-law adventure in crime.

In "Grand Theft Auto IV," you play as Nico Bellic, a Russian immigrant coming to America to live with your cousin Roman and try to achieve the proverbial American Dream. Along the way, Roman gets in trouble with some loan sharks and, after a few scuffles with some questionable characters, decides that the two of you will have to take over the cities' underworld.

The "Grand Theft Auto" franchise was built on its open game-play. Although there is a storyline available in GTA games involving a series of missions, players can also simply wander around Liberty City, driving cars, interacting with other characters, going into shops, exploring the city.

One of the main aspects of GTA IV is your relationships with other people in the city. By meeting them through missions and spending time with them as friends, you can eventually use their special abilities to aid you along the way. By going to do activities with Roman, you can gain access to free cab rides from anywhere in the city. After hanging with a weapons dealer named Little Jacob, you can buy weapons from him whenever you wish to do so. You can even create a relationship with a contact of Roman's named Michelle, eventually having that acquaintance grow until she is your girlfriend.

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Though the storyline and people make for a compelling game, what always shows in GTA games is the gameplay. The cover and lock-on systems fit in very well, though different than we've seen in previous games. Also, the game's physics seem very real to life.

The driving however, is maybe too realistic. Turning is very difficult unless you pull the handbrake, which usually sends you sliding out of control. It is very annoying, especially while trying to escape the police.

While story mode is entertaining, I've found that most of my time is spent online with my friends - not playing the player-versus-player modes, mind you, just playing in free mode and terrorizing the city with my pals. While I'm driving, I can have three other friends in the car shooting out the windows.

GTA IV is very entertaining. But a lot has been changed from previous versions. Though the city shares the name Liberty with the cities from GTAs I, II, and III, it is a completely different city. Which is disapointing. Being the GTA veteran that I am, I was really looking forward to being in a next-gen version of the city I had played in years earlier. I really thought I would have an upper hand too, because I knew the whole city like the back of my hand, and was shocked to see that nothing at all was even similar.

This city is really just a virtual re-creation of Manhattan and the surrounding areas. It is even equipped with an Empire State Building, a Central Park, and a Statue of Liberty (it's called the Statue of Happiness).

Also, although the ability to fly planes has been available since GTA III, for some reason it's absent in this installment. Flying helicopters is available and very fun. But not even the tiny Dodo plane is available to fly.

The arsenal has been reduced, also. Only a third of the firearms that were in "GTA: Vice City" have returned.

Another thing that has been taken away is the activities that you can do. I was not a fan of everything that was shoved into "GTA: San Andreas," but I think perhaps too much was removed. Rockstar Games, the makers, was trying to get back to basics, but this might just be too basic.

Maybe my expectations were just too high. Not to say that "GTA IV" isn't good, I just think it could have been so much better.

I am giving "Grand Theft Auto IV" 8 Russian cousins out of 10.

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