Grand Theft Auto IV: Exceeds Every Expectation

One if by taxi, two if by motorbike

Confession: I had only dabbled in the Grand Theft Auto games before GTA IV, racing helter-skelter through the storied streets of Liberty City in fits and starts. I quickly wearied of the bipedal synthetics replicated en masse and sent marching like cut-and-pastes out of someone's future-fantasy battle CGI. That's still largely the case with GTA IV, where for all the hundreds of actors that Rockstar brought in to voice Liberty City's populace, citizens are still more "shove or coldcock" targets than individuals (to be fair, random chatter is much diversified). If you opt to wander, you won't find the city noticeably split along factional lines, either. And the game won't let you wander for long, what with phone calls and messages interrupting you constantly and threatening to downgrade your relationships if you don't respond in kind. While the sense of rival powers jockeying for territory and commerce comes with your work, Liberty City itself remains factionally static, meaning that you're not likely to bump into random hostile thugs on enemy streets unless they're a plot point. EA's "The Godfather" games took a half-hearted stab at making Mario Puzo's New York City factionally dynamic, so it's too bad that Rockstar wasn't able or willing to one-up those games and make the city feel truly alive. On the other hand, GTA IV's intertwining main and side story threads take such precedence that you rarely have time to notice just how little changes in the city itself.

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