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User Rating: 7 | Grand Theft Auto IV X360
With all the hype surrounding the release of the newest installment of GTA, you'd think there would be huge revolutionary step taken. And if you thought that, you'll be sorely disappointed.

Almost 60% of the little tidbits you enjoyed in San Andreas and Vice City are gone, without a trace. Some examples are: buying property, riding bikes, working out, character customization, most of the interesting vehicles (i.e. Hunter, ice cream truck, etc.), R.C. vehicles, strange but fun weapons (i.e. pool cue, screwdriver, machete, etc.) and airplanes as well as parachuting. All have been removed, for what purpose I don't know

Instead GTA has been stripped of all the extraneous details that made it fun and adventurous to play every time you picked it up. What's left is a bare-bones version of GTA that keeps you for the most part confined to the same tasks you feel you've done many times over.

In place of these details are better graphics and character interaction, which were hardly benchmarks of the series in the first place. Most players familiar with the series know that for lack of graphical polish and detail, GTA more than made up for it in gameplay and open-ended exploration. However, this GTA has great visuals, but less of the freedom you enjoyed.

Controls are very awkward to get used to, and Niko feels very tied to his animations, making it diffucult to make fine adjustments to movement. Instead of quick, reflexive movement, Niko feels as if he needs a lot of steering and guidance to get him where you really want him to go. His default walk speed is excruciatingly slow, and his run speed is nothing to brag about. The rapid tapping of the A button to sprint helps, but only until he is winded. I can't really tell if his endurance increases like in San Andreas, but it doesn't seem like it. In San Andreas, I remember having a character who could run very fast for quite some time without stopping, but not here.

Driving is equally frustrating, since now the cars have more of a realistic simulation feel. In a game not particularly built on a sense of realism, I find it strange that now the cars accelerate, brake, and turn much like they do in real life, which definitely bogs down gameplay. It becomes irritating when no matter how many ways you take a turn, you just can't seem to do it cleanly without hitting something, at any speed. Helicopter flight is much in the same category, and takes some getting used to. Boating is still smooth and feels realistic, and isn't very difficult, which is a breath of fresh air.

The new targeting system works very well for the most part, and makes you feel more into the action during fierce gunbattles. With the lock-on system relied upon less, shooting feels very strategic, and shooting at different parts on other characters causes very realistic animations, like holding injuries and limping. The main problem with the new system is the cover button. Niko always seems to face the wrong way in cover, or take cover on the wrong side of an object. and some enemies out of view in cover force you to step out of cover to target them. And it gets very frustrating when you seek cover while surrounded and constantly are shot at from all sides and can't seem to gain the upper hand.

Most of your missions have good variety to them, and you're always doing something different, but at the same time you never really feel like you're truly getting anywhere. In other GTA games you were fighting your way to the top of the ladder or seeking some ultimate, meaningful goal, but in this one you just feel like a simple grunt, doing all the dirty work for someone else. It would have been nice to have bigger story developments or greater character depth. Trying to decipher mission details from your Jamaican friend is like listening to jibberish, and you'll find yourself checking your briefing log to read what he said seconds before.

Overall, there are many small things over the years in this series that have developed into hours of fun in each GTA game, and Rockstar decided they wanted to do away with these things at some point, and I myself can't figure out who's idea that might have been. You'd think on a next-gen console there would be nearly limitless details to explore and tinker with, but they are nowhere to be found here. Instead you are left with fewer options, and a prettier visual experience than before. Most will play GTA IV and enjoy the things they did before with greater detail (i.e. the police computer in vigilante missions, etc.), but will be left asking where their other favorite things are. Anyone who hasn't succumbed to the hype and bought this title should definitely rent before they buy- they may be left with a few too many questions.

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