by Dave De Gasperi
As discussed close to the end of 2008 in our “GTA IV – First impressions – Games For Windows Live” hands on preview, GTA IV for PC immediately presented a whole array of problems for PC gamers straight off the bat whilst simply attempting to get the game to run. Those who braved the daunting task of actually getting the game to run with its hoard of software requirements and DRM issues then found themselves faced with a second round of frustrations with in-game issues like graphical setting limitations and getting this game with its “Crysis-esque” system requirements, to actually be playable.
A bit of a disappointment to those of us who have decent-to-huge monster gaming rigs that can handle any new mainstream title without even breaking a sweat, but none the less, once you start the game, it’s almost impossible not to completely immerse yourself in it’s Hollywood-Grade script and exceptionally convincing cast of characters, even though the game itself might not look, or perform as good as you had initially hoped.
So, PC gamers, is it time to find out what all the fuss on the consoles was about?
You play as Niko Bellic, who has been lured to Liberty City by his cousin Roman, from somewhere in the regions of Eastern-Europe. He speaks with a heavy “Russian-esque” accent, and is very entertaining to listen to. You quickly find out as he is picked up by his cousin at the docks that it’s not all “cash-money-bling-bling” and an endless supply of women with ridiculously big breasts waiting to please, as your character arrives at his measly little apartment.
About 10 minutes into the game, in a bout with your cousin about the phony letters he sent, you find out that there’s more to your character than meets the eye. Your character reveals that he was involved in some illegal, extremely bad things back in his home country during his military years in “the war”, but is very reluctant to reveal specific details about what he was involved in. As it turns out, his move to Liberty City was an attempt to get away.
Regardless of the disappointment surroundings your character finds himself in, you quickly set off on various missions or “jobs” to earn wealth and respect, and although it might all be ill-gotten, it’s all just one step at a time that you need to take to get closer to the “American Dream” your cousin keeps promising you.
As a result, you meet other characters which somewhere down the line you might do some work or favours for, or you might even “bust-a-cap” in at some point. You even meet other characters that you build relationships with, like a lady that can become your “girlfriend”, if you decide to call her. If you do decide to take the leap of faith by picking up the phone, you quickly find yourself “wining and dining” her true GTA style, taking her to bars, pool parlours, bowling alleys, and a whole assortment of entertainment destinations.
The first thing that grabs your attention is the surroundings, rhythm, and sheer vastness of Liberty City, as if it wasn’t already obvious taking a look at the fold out map that you get along with the game. As you step out of your little dilapidated apartment into the street, you can’t help but be overcome by an irresistible urge to steal a car, and start exploring and causing havoc. This is one thing that GTA has always had through out it’s many titles in the series, it’s ability to keep you entertained for countless hours while not attempting a single mission. While the choice of things to do is far from endless, there is still quite a bundle to choose from.
Activities range anywhere from, stealing cars, ramming over pedestrians, and running from the cops, to watching TV, surfing the internet and checking your mail at the local Internet CafÃ© or even going to watch a full length stand up comedy show at the nearest comedy club. As cool as this may sound, given enough time, you will run out of things to do, and the city itself, as vast as it is, will end up being nothing more than a pretty back drop.
I personally found handling your character, whether on foot or in a vehicle, a little difficult and stifling with the mouse and keyboard. The game is undoubtedly better suited for an X-BOX 360 controller for PC, as the game was surely designed and developed with that in mind. Your character on foot handles well whether walking, jogging, or running flat out. The driving on the other hand, I found a little difficult, and took some time to get used to. But once you’ve got it down, you easily navigate your way around the vast city in a vehicle of your choice. Throughout the gameplay though, I had a tendency to stick to the bikes, they are few and far between but found them much easier to handle than the cars. A bike is not always an option in some of the missions though, so sometimes you’re forced to use a car. The combat system has also been greatly improved since it’s predecessors, and is much easier to handle, especially with regards to the gun fights.
As mentioned before, throughout the game you will meet an assortment of different characters that play a certain role in the over all story line of the game. Although the story and gameplay are essentially linear, who you meet, and how you decide to carry out the “relationship” can have a profound effect on the turnout of events and which turns the game may take. As a result of this, the game achieves a certain sense of emergence and personality that only serves to engulf you further into the game. Another thing that adds an incredible amount of depth and realism to the game is its physics engine. Dubbed the Euphoria Physics Engine, it’s by far one the most dynamic and realist physics engines featured in any game, allowing for super realistic breakage and destruction as well as character movement. You’re even able to shoot at people through walls, depending on how good your aim and x-ray vision are.
One addition to the game is a cell phone that your cousin Roman gives you. With this phone you can call characters you meet along the way for jobs to do, or to just hang out with. The phone itself serves almost as a checkpoint device of some sort. If throughout the course of a job you fail, or die, you will receive a text message asking you if you would like to retry the mission. If you do decide to, it will automatically take you to the start of the mission again. No need to run all over the city back to where you started the mission. One thing I do ache for in the game is progressing check points along the course of the mission. Some of the missions are far from easy, and it’s sometimes gets quite frustrating doing a mission over and over again from the start.
PC vs. Console:
The PC version boasts three new features over its console cousins. One potentially major, the other minor and the last trivial. The major new feature is video editor, which by hitting F2 on your keyboard, allows you to record the last 30 second of GTA action to a movie file on your hard drive. This will surely have YouTube fans close to ecstatic; as I’m sure many will be posting videos of their favorite GTA montages to a soundtrack of their choice.
The minor new feature is with regards to Multiplayer gameplay. The limit of players in a game has been increased from 16 to 32 in a single game. Figuring this would have multiplayer addicts in seventh heaven with GTA’s many different multiplayer modes, I quickly jumped online to find people comments about this. To my dismay, many have been complaining about not being able to find an online game with more than three players in it. Some even doubt that you’ll EVER be able to find an online game with 32 players in it.
The final new feature is an independent radio channel that allows you to listen to an assortment of your very own MP3’s and favorite songs. Although this is a very nice feature, but hardly has gamers “oooh-ing” and “aaah-ing”, they have taken it to the next level by featuring GTA style random adverts, and commentary that inevitably comments on the legality of your MP3’s.
Performance & Graphics:
This is where area where GTA IV for PC falls more than just a little short of it console relatives. Sure, the fact of the matter is when push comes to shove and given the right configuration on a system, the PC version does look better than the console version as the video on this post proves:
But do yourself a favor, and consider the system that that video was created on, and how many gamers out there actually have a system like that.
In recent benchmarks with GTA IV, it was found that when playing, the CPU usage and temperature sky-rockets, while the graphics card usage and temperatures stay relatively cool and low end. This obviously points out that the game wasn’t developed with PC specific hardware in mind. Inside any of today’s leading consoles, your find multiple, multi-core processors, an architecture consideration GTA IV was obviously designed and developed on, and something that wasn’t ported correctly for the majority of PC processors.
So on 90% percent of PC systems, GTA IV will suffer a pretty significant performance loss. But, it’s nothing the built in graphics limiters can’t take care of. A feature that supposedly optimizes the game for your system , and actually doesn’t allow you to push the settings any higher. Many believe this to be a great feature as it ensures to a certain extent that your gameplay won’t suffer due to your graphics settings being too high. Others found this to be a huge irritation and have resorted to command line “hacks” to resolve this limiter, and push the settings up. In my opinion, the graphical settings are a little bizarre, to say the least.
What this all boils down to is that you need a system that’s far beyond that of the recommended specifications to be able to enjoy this game, while having to look good, or even remotely descent. This is one area where consoles have always, and continue to hold an advantage over PC. There are never any performance issues like this with console games. Sure they might be relatively more expensive, but at least your gaming experience is uncompromised and guaranteed.
At the end of the day, despite all the scruples and head aches, in terms of gameplay, storyline, and over all immersion and feel, GTA IV does its predecessors proud, and at the same time manages to push it up a notch and take it to the next level.
It’s unfortunate that the port to PC has not been done properly by any standard, and given the choice, I would much rather play one of the console versions, but for those of us that don’t own a console, or a console might not be an option, the PC version is the only choice, and it’s what we have to live with. Even though I would rather play one of the console versions, I would much rather play the PC version than not play it at all.
One aspect of GTA IV that in my opinion holds a great advantage over many mainstream titles these days, is the amount of gameplay time. It’s far longer than the majority of games these days, and in essence it all boils down to value for money. Games aren’t exactly cheap, and the more gameplay time you get out of them, the more you feel like your money has been well spent.
We as PC gamers can only hope that they will release a patch that could possible rectify all the performance issues in this otherwise great game.
Gameplay: 8.5/10 : Good Gameplay, easy to handle once you get used to it
Presentation: 6/10 : To get it to be playable, you need to sacrifice some of the good looks
Sound: 8/10 : sound is excellent, especially in 5.1, although a little noisy at times
Value: 9/10 : Great value for money, will keep you entertained for countless hours
Overall: 7.8/10 : An excellent game overall, once you get past all the technical hassles