This game is excellent at crafting a sense of place. Liberty City manages to be reasonably big but also maintain interest around almost every corner. Even with a contrived “the bridges are closed” setup, it was nice to solidly understand the initial neighborhood you’re stuck in before moving on to the big city. It felt like I was remembering turns, and relying very little on the GPS, which is kind of rare for newer games. GTA IV is a bit slow to get you into the thick of things though, and I would have preferred a shorter tutorial section.
It unfortunately falls a bit flat when it comes to plot development, and the story is less character-driven than it might have been. Despite the world being open, you’re being called, emailed, and texted so often that it feels like there’s a constant pull towards the direction of finishing the game. More space in which to take in your surroundings might have been nice. Random encounters do some of that, but it’s all too easy to ignore them.
There are a few moments of color, but often the game looks extremely drab. I’m not sure if this was just riding the wave of late-2000s “realism” through toning everything down, but it’d be nice if IV had some more color, to match the color of its world.
The main theme song is memorable, and was probably the part of this game that most reminded me of San Andreas. By comparison to that game, Niko feels more alone, like an aloof hitman who’s called in to do certain tasks, but doesn’t really have much of a life for himself. This game is sandwiched between an excellent predecessor and successor, so I guess I shouldn’t judge it too harshly.
There are a few interesting characters, namely Little Jacob, Brucie, and Bernie. Time spent with them provided some of the most interesting parts of the game, even when not driving major plot points. Along with the parodic worldbuilding, Rockstar is good at building interesting (if somewhat shallow) personalities that exaggerate real traits and add a sense of heightened reality to the world.
All in all, I enjoyed my time in Liberty City, but just wish I hadn’t been constantly called off to do the next thing. Especially compared to this game’s successor (GTA V) it feels like there’s relatively little to do besides drive around and shoot people.
You’re into uncovering game worlds piece by piece, want to do lots of driving, want to do lots of shooting, or just love getting phone calls