Having been delving into narrative heavy games this semester I decided to lighten the load a bit by playing Grand Theft Auto IV. Compared to other entries in the series, GTA IV is far more concentrated on telling a compelling and engaging story, but in relation to other titles I have gone through this semester it is a break from heavy handed storytelling.
The Grand Theft Auto series has based itself in the mechanic of guided player choice. By guided player choice I mean that the game allows the player to roam around a large game map to act as he or she pleases. Game progression requires that the player choose to visit the map icon that represents the next mission. This mechanic give the player the illusion of control and choice in a satisfying, albeit false, way. The original entries gave the player the choice to follow any of several diverging narrative paths. The player gradually aligned him or herself with a particular faction in the world. Ever since the release of GTA III, that dynamic has shifted. Rockstar began presenting a plotted and specific narrative for the player to follow at his or her own pace. While the new design has created consistency for players, I feel it has limited the effects of choice have on the player.
Every other in-game mechanic has improved with each entry. Targeting with weapons has improved since the series first went 3D, along with weapon selection. The manner in which the player manages health has greatly improved visually. While numeric health counters are effective, the game is enhanced by using a bar instead. New types of controllers have evolved the control scheme, making gameplay even more natural feeling. More powerful machines have resulted in more natural appearing physics algorithms. The gameplay has evolved to a point far better than even the immediate previous entry.
Overall I would say that Rockstar Games has crafted an offering that evolves, in every way, the path they chose to take starting with Grand Theft Auto III. My only complaint is that I wish they would bring back the loose narrative tactics from the earlier entries.
Rating (out of 5):