Before Grand Theft Auto IV was released in April of 2008, Rockstar built up an unbelievable amount of anticipation in the gaming community by releasing scarce details and no gameplay trailers. I, myself, was drawn into the massive hype and was thrilled when I saw the amount of glowing reviews and perfect scores the games was receiving.
In fact, when I first played it in 2008, I was among the camp who thought the game was nothing short of a perfect score. Looking back now, it’s obvious to me that the incredible hype for the game was the driving force behind its over 50 perfect score reviews. Playing through GTA IV and its two add-ons, I can honestly say that the game is anything but perfect.
I’m not trying to be a GTA hater because I truly love many aspects of the game, but I’m surprised that so many reviewers overlooked the fact that one of the game’s key mechanics was utter garbage. Almost every aspect of the game is great, except for the combat and on-foot controls.
All of Niko’s moves look and feel like they’re being done in an invisible jar of peanut butter. For a game where gunplay is so prevalent, you would think Rockstar would spend plenty of time refining and polishing the subpar combat in the previous GTA games. In the end, it’s only a minor improvement from their past work, and that’s not saying much.
The lock-on mechanic works well from time to time, but it slows Niko’s movement. Oftentimes, though, enemies will be behind cover and switching targets can be quite unresponsive, which is annoying when every bullet absorbed takes out a significant chunk of health and first aid kits are few and far between. Sadly, the free-aim isn’t much better due to its sluggishness and lack of precision.
Rockstar also implemented a cover system for the first time in GTA history, but unfortunately, it’s completely useless. Upon pressing the right bumper, Niko clumsily sticks to the nearest surface, but all of his movements feel stiff and slow. You can’t quickly pop out to shoot; Niko slowly peels his back from the wall, exposing his meaty parts to gun-wielding drug dealers and gang members for much longer than a normal person would want.
The first Mass Effect had similar combat issues, with its peculiar aiming reticules, inaccurate weapons, and clunky cover mechanic. However, in a little over two years, BioWare was able to transform the series from an RPG dice-roll shooter to a kick-ass third person shooter with a slick, simple cover system. While GTA IV is a definite improvement on GTA III’s combat, it still doesn’t feel like they have fully taken advantage of the nine years in between.
I’m not trying to be a dick, but when you’re talking about a studio as talented as Rockstar it’s hard to find major flaws in their work. GTA IV has so many amazing features, such as its top-notch story, well-delivered dialogue, and beautiful cityscape, but is it perfect? Not quite.