Time to jog your memories back a few years. Five years ago today, Tuesday April 29, 2008, Rockstar Games released Grand Theft Auto IV for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. I remember queuing up for it to buy at midnight and just being sheer excited for the game (despite being eight months under the BBFC label). So much so, I double dipped on the game and got both the PS3 and 360 standard editions (though to this day, I regret not going for the special limited edition).
Five years on, I still find it memorable. In fact, a lot more so than Rockstar’s other open-world opus this generation Red Dead Redemption. I know people are going to find that a very controversial statement considering RDR is held in a better light to GTA IV in most people’s eyes and I’ll explain why as I go further in.
But the main point I wanna make is Grand Theft Auto IV’s Liberty City is still one of the best-crafted worlds in gaming even after half a decade. In fact, it is the star of the game, not Niko Bellic, the Eastern European immigrant you play as throughout the game. Don’t get me wrong, I think Niko is one of the best told main characters in the series’ history and there’s something in him that makes him a lot more likeable than Johnny or Luis from IV’s DLC episodes The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony respectively.
Yet Liberty City is the standout here. Its scope is one of the biggest open worlds ever in a game I’ve played. And though Columbia and BioShock Infinite may claim otherwise (fairly, I add), its ambition has very rarely been challenged at all since 2008. There was also the thriving world of the people within Liberty City. When I went through a mighty GTA IV playthrough at the start of the year, I remembered people going about their business, such as talking on the phone, drinking a cup of coffee or – as shown in one mission in the game – someone at the front of their car with the bonnett up trying to fix it.
In fact, the best example I can give is of a tale involving a cop and a civie. When I was on my first date with Michelle in my new playthrough in January, I was coming out of the bowling alley when I saw a cop chasing a civilian down the boardwalk. The cop caught him and got him to his knees. The cop led the NPC civilian away, hands behind his back, to the cop car at gunpoint. We’re walking behind them when, just as they got to the car, the criminal makes a run for it on the boardwalk with the cop giving chase. Again. Just fantastic.
And the soundtrack too. I only mainly listen to Radio Broker whenever I play, but there’s some fantastic stuff on it. If you compare it to past instalments in the series, it is the weakest soundtrack of the lot, but on its own merits, it really is quite fantastic – LCD Soundsystem, Justice, Aphex Twin, The Smashing Pumpkins, Queen, Bowie, Electric Light Orchestra and a lot more (again, my personal pick goes out to Radio Broker and a majority of its songs: The Boggs, Tom Vek, LCDS, The Rapture and more).
In fact, it was a debate on the soundtrack on GAF over the weekend that spurred the following subject – is Grand Theft Auto IV better than Red Dead Redemption? In the majority’s eyes, yes? In mine? No.
Look, I get why people love RDR and basically want to marry it if they could. I really do. But the truth is Red Dead Redemption bored me. A lot. I wasn’t a fan of Revolver due to it being a straight up action game with me thinking it was an open-world game when I bought it. When I got Red Dead Redemption, considering it was the proper western GTA that time around, I was hoping for it to be incredible in my eyes. It should have been. And I really wanted to love it. But it really bored me in comparison to GTA IV. Maybe it tells a lot about the games I like (that maybe a game with a modern setting suits me more than a western).
Or, in terms of the majority, maybe people were pissed that GTA IV was a more mature game in the series compared to III, Vice City or San Andreas after expecting a zany game with IV whilst RDR would deliver on the mature. And? I loved the maturity of IV and hope V continues with it (though I’d be lying if I said a part of me didn’t say it contained Gay Tony levels of insanity). If you want open world crazy, Saints Row: The Third is it. And I’m not saying that as a bash, Saints Row: The Third is fantastically hilarious.
But back to the main topic. Did IV have its faults? Yeah. Some of the social stuff was turned up way too high (“Cousin, lets do [insert subject to do here]”). And yeah, Roman was a very annoying prick, while the combat was still an annoyance sometimes (though admittedly, less so than previous games) But besides that, I’m kind of struggling to think up of too many flaws. I might need to play it again after that January playthrough before I can start to think of them.
Nonetheless, even now after five years, Grand Theft Auto IV is still one of my favorite games of the generation. And as the GTA V marketing train choo choos forward and gathers even more momentum, beginning with the release of three new trailers tomorrow, even now, IV still holds up from 2008. If by some God forsaken reason you haven’t played it already, you can pick it up for a fiver on Steam until tonight. Do it now.
Because it really is one of the best games I’ve ever played. Happy birthday, Grand Theft Auto IV.