A new game came out this week, you may have heard of it.

As the biggest installment in the GTA series, Grand Theft Auto IV has garnered quite a bit of attention, even more given its reception of many perfect-score reviews. Given the sheer importance of a title like GTA4, and my love for virtual carjacking, I couldn’t resist but putting together some quick thoughts on the game. By no means is this a thorough review, I'm no where near done with the game yet, but it’s simply a collection of my thoughts on the title.

Graphics

Grand Theft Auto is one of those games that you don't expect to actually look good, mostly because it never actually looked good. It's not a Gears of War, Assassin's Creed or even Halo, it's a game where you sacrifice visual appeal for gameplay. Grand Theft Auto 4 however restores the balance a bit and actually surprised me with how good it looked. Again, it's not as good looking of a game as Gears, but it's pretty damn good for a GTA.


The cutscenes look pretty good, but in-game graphics aren't nearly this detailed

The graphics of GTA4 fall short in two areas: draw distance and animation. The draw distance issues are pretty annoying; while the game looks great in close quarters, look off into the distance and you're met with a sea of blurry. It's like the cameraman just discovered depth of field and went nuts with it. I get that there are technical limitations that mean we can't have infinite draw distance, I just want to point it out the blemish.


Here's a crop from the picture above it

My second complaint is about animation, and it's not one that's GTA4 specific but really applies to all modern day games. To understand this complaint I must first talk about telling a story in a video game.

It's rare that when a game is praised for having a great story, that it actually has a great story. We must be very careful about how we throw around phrases like "great story" because you might accidentally give someone the wrong impression that the Halo franchise could somehow have a story that is on par with the Godfather. There are some games that, in my opinion, actually come close to having a decent story (read: Mass Effect) but even those pale in comparison to the best stories in movies.

Just as a good story in a movie can be ruined by bad acting, a good story in a game can be ruined by poor, or un-lifelike animation. The problem is that we're not quite at a stage in both the CPU and GPU space, where we can apply lifelike animations to many highly detailed characters, in complex worlds, in real time. GTA4 comes closer to reality than any other previous GTA, but we still have a long way to go. Facial expressions, body movements, environmental interactions, etc... are all no where near lifelike, and it's simply tough to believe in a well written story if it's acted out in a choppy fashion.


These two don't look very convincing, I'm sorry

The story in GTA4 isn't bad by any means, but I'll reserve complete praise for when we've got the processing power to tell it in a way that can truly rival a movie (and this is why we'll continue to need faster CPUs and faster GPUs, we're no where near done folks).

The Ugly is in the Controls
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  • bigben - Friday, May 2, 2008 - link

    Not that Anand needs defending, but you should know that the guy plays a lot of games. Far too many, really. Having just spent a weekend with 20+ hours of Rock Band and Kane's Wrath and having sat with him through Oblivion, Mass Effect, Gears, Halo 3, Zelda, Mario, Resident Evil 4 and a few others within the past few month, I can tell you that they guy plays more than his fair share of games and will play the good ones (the ones that really catch his attention) through to the end. 30+ games a year? Easily. Reply
  • theslug - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    Although I agree that there are games with great stories, the same can be said about movies and shows. The reimagined Battlestar Galactica series comes to mind..it's sci-fi and it has an excellent storyline. How can you make a comment like this when you just admitted you don't even watch much tv or movies?
    Reply
  • aos007 - Thursday, May 1, 2008 - link

    I can't really make a comment that movies nowdays "suck" - that's just my opinion based on a few occasional shows that I did get to see. One of them was BS Galactica, which is just that - BS. I watched 8 episodes before I had to stop. It has all depth of those naive, campy 60's sci-fi movies. It is very hard to suspend belief while watching it as there is so many things that are illogical if not impossible (the survival of humans under given circumstances and hence the continuation of the show itself being the big one, obviously). And even if it was possible to forgive illogical plot, based on political opinions the characters were overwhelmingly displaying I would've wanted Cylons to win anyway. Those "people" were a disgrace to humans.

    Yet I'm aware the show has a cult following. I'm guessing there is a generation gap at play here (I'm in the 30's and stuff I liked when I was in 20's is now "out"). The new generation has emphasis on different things than mine did. Which is probably the case with Anand and games he likes. Today it seems to be more about whether the way things are done is "cool" rather than "right". The story and the reasoning behind character's actions is less important than whether gameplay mechanics are good and presentation "cool".

    At any rate the GTA IV (being the first one I played strangely enough) does seem to have a lot of depth and breadth (I spent a lot of time watching in-game TV). This is reminiscent of best games of yore and is refreshing to see. As such I think the game has a wider appeal than if it just had good gameplay mechanics and presentation. I am quite happy with it.
    Reply
  • morose - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    Everyone has likely heard all the gushing about the game done by the review sites, so it's nice to see someone focus on the negatives. A couple of things I wanted to comment about though.

    First, you mention the GPS and having to manually activate it from the map. That's not strictly true since (as an Option) it starts up automatically for missions. Just not for general driving about. I've never had to go to the map to get a route myself.

    Secondly, the story. I certainly understand your point about animation. That's one of the problems I had with Vice City. Even though there was some good dialogue going on, the lack of expression by the characters kept it from being truly great. However, thus far in GTA4, I've been pleasantly surprised. There have even been a couple of times where the characters pulled off some "physical comedy" and I laughed out loud at the expressions they made through their animations. Brucie especially, but Little Jacob a time or two as well. :) The actual plot is better in GTA4 as well. I actually found myself playing "just one more mission" to keep unearthing more and more of Niko's backstory. That's a compelling sign in my book.

    I agree with your take on a lot of things though. Especially the controls, which I still struggle with after 10 hours of gameplay. Someone please... what's the secret to keeping your car under control through corners at any kind of speed?! Completely different feel than Vice City (my only previous GTA experience) and a serious negative in my book.
    Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    Turn BEFORE braking Reply
  • FITCamaro - Thursday, May 1, 2008 - link

    Typically you do the reverse, brake then turn. Unless you just want to powerslide. I think they kind of made the friction between the tires and the road a little too loose because you can't brake for shit. Past GTAs you've been able to slow down adequately to take a turn or had enough grip to power slide around a turn without slamming into everything. This time around its almost like they figured everyone would want to hit everything. I've gotten decent at taking turns in the game but it should be as easy as it is to pull the ebrake and flip a complete 360 without hardly slowing down. Reply
  • RMSe17 - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    I hope the PC version comes out soon :) But until then, still plenty of games to play (Crysis, COD4, SupCom, X3-reunion) Though I do find it a minor annoyance that some games are delayed in their coming to PC (mass effect, gta..) since I don't own any console systems and dont plan on ever owning one... PC hard core gaming is where it's at :) Reply
  • michal1980 - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    pc gaming is dieing, in no small part due to tefth.

    even though the 360 gtaiv is already on torrents. you still need to hack your 360 to do it.

    a pc version would see about a 50% pirate rate, and we would all hear about how so and so stole it because they couldnt afford it, and what harm is it, since they were never going to buy it anyways etc etc.
    Reply
  • mmntech - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    The other 50% of the games not pirated end up being so riddled with DRM that it makes them unplayable for many people. Bioshock comes to mind. So much for "Games for Windows" revitalizing PC gaming. The market self-destructed. I was PC gaming only for many years but I must admit I like the fuss free experience of just popping the disc in and playing without having to worry about bugs, patches, hardware requirements, and DRM.

    The article was good. As the others said, it's nice to see a focus on the technical side. I think we see a lot of franchise fanboys out there who are quick to give any GTA instalment a good score. I've never been a fan of the GTA series myself but I might have to rent this one. Gotta love that "warm coffee".
    Reply
  • SerratedDrums - Wednesday, April 30, 2008 - link

    You will still have bugs and games that need to be patched on 360/PS3. Take GTA IV for example. Reply

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