Over the last 25 years, the Grand Theft Auto series has earned its place among the most esteemed and popular video games of all time, and no title more successful than Grand Theft Auto V. However, while there’s no debate that the game is a modern masterpiece, there’s plenty of debate over whether the latest entry in the popular crime series is the best.
Many gamers will passionately argue that Grand Theft Auto IV was a better game even though it was released more than five years earlier. While these folks seem to be in the minority, it’s difficult to dismiss the arguments after reviewing their reasons for proclaiming Liberty City’s superiority.
The Perfection of Liberty City
Although Liberty City was originally the setting of Grand Theft Auto III and its PSP spinoff Liberty City Stories, the entire location was drastically reimagined for Nico Bellic’s arrival. While Rockstar could have easily upscaled and expanded the city from their PlayStation 2 masterpiece, the GTA IV version is unrecognizable, yet superior in every way.
In comparison to GTA V, Grand Theft Auto IV has a much darker tone and less playful atmosphere. Walking through the streets of Liberty City feels much more like a seedy criminal underworld rather than the extravagant action movie playground created for Los Santos.
The Series’ Best Storyline
For some gamers, the storyline of GTA is an afterthought. Many purchase the game simply to drive recklessly, rob stores, and fight unsuspecting grandmothers casually walking the city streets. In spite of that, the GTA franchise is responsible for some of the greatest narrative masterworks in all of gaming.
The story of Niko Bellic currently stands as their greatest triumph. Niko arrives in Liberty City hoping to find a fresh start after crime, death, and betrayal leave him with no choice but to flee his old life. Regardless of the choices Niko makes, the central themes of the game remain the same. There’s no escape from the past, and crime never pays.
Realistic Car Physics
The driving of Grand Theft Auto IV has been polarizing since the day it was released in April 2008. Unlike GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas which all used the same driving mechanics, IV drastically overhauled the entire system and the result was not met with the universal praise Rockstar expected.
However, while it may be a bit lacking in approachability, the driving in GTA IV is some of the most realistic in any open-world title. Attempting to navigate the dense city streets without frequently employing the brake was a big mistake that sent countless players flying through their windshields.
A Challenging Combat System
In addition to overhauling the driving formula, GTA IV also introduced a massive upgrade to the game’s shooting mechanics. Instead of simply running in circles while locking onto enemies, players now needed to take cover, strategically choose their targets, and time shots appropriately in order to succeed.
When GTA V was released, the combat was mostly unchanged from IV with the exception of combat power-ups like Michael’s Bullet Time, or Trevor’s anger-induced Red Mist. While these power-ups are certainly fun additions to the game, their omission from GTA IV makes it the superior title when it comes to challenging gunplay.
The Best Protagonist in the Series
There’s no doubt that the story for Grand Theft Auto V was ambitious. After only controlling one character in each of the games released before it, the prospect of having three different controllable players throughout the story was a very welcome change to the formula. However, it’s become clear that this approach had some drawbacks.
Although Michael, Trevor, and Franklin are each great characters in their own right, switching between the three of them makes it harder to connect to anyone in particular. As a result, Niko Bellic in GTA IV feels much more personal, relatable, and human than the near over-the-top personalities gamers control in the sequel. Niko also has some pretty fantastic quotes.
Better Supporting Characters
A strong protagonist is certainly an important aspect of any game, but in many instances, it’s the NPCs that have the longest-lasting impression on players. GTA V has some beloved NPCs such as Lamar and Lester, but they don’t come close to stacking up to the premier characters in its predecessor.
Throughout the story of GTA IV, Niko’s cousin Roman manages to repeatedly steal both the show and the hearts of gamers with his antics. He is undoubtedly one of the funniest characters in franchise history. In addition to Roman, the standout performances of Brucie, Manny, and Little Jacob make it clear that Grand Theft Auto IV has the best cast.
Dating and Relationships
While controlling Niko, players are able to actively maintain a relationship and go on dates with several different women. Additionally, Niko can participate in a wide variety of social activities with his friends such as bowling, darts, or even visiting a local strip club.
Most of this is lacking from Grand Theft Auto V. Players are able to receive the occasional conjugal visit, but otherwise the dating aspect of the game previously present in both San Andreas and IV is completely absent.
While there are some side activities available in GTA V that don’t involve gunning down a neighbor, there are significantly fewer available than there were in GTA IV. A perplexing fact considering the ever-evolving state of Grand Theft Auto Online.
Nevertheless, fans are holding out hope that Rockstar will someday bring back these beloved side events. With all that’s available in Rockstar’s online offering, it seems like it wouldn’t be difficult to introduce games like air hockey, pool, or bowling when the company has done them successfully in the past.
Since GTA V launched on PS4 and Xbox One, Grand Theft Auto fans have been demanding to know when to expect the next entry in the franchise. GTA Online may be a massively profitable success, but players are desperate for another amazing GTA story. With so many compelling characters introduced, the real crime is not giving audiences more time with them.
It would truly be great to see GTA V receive some story DLC like GTA IV did. Despite being set within the same place and time, Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony expanded the narrative of GTA IV perfectly. Even now, these chapters are considered some of the best DLC to ever be produced.
There was once a time when the thought of spending a penny beyond a game’s retail price was considered outlandish. This was a simpler time when preordering was recommended and the phrase “required online connectivity” was liable to cause a riot.
Now it seems that every game requires a constant online connection and is trying to get some extra cash out of gamers’ wallets. While there’s certainly value in the shark card system of Grand Theft Auto Online, it’s hard to play Grand Theft Auto IV and not yearn for the days before gaming became so commercialized.
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