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Opinion thegamer: Grand Theft Auto 4 Was At The Cutting Edge Of Modern Culture, Now It's A Nostalgic Window Into The Past

IbizaPocholo

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Dec 1, 2014
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It's weird playing Grand Theft Auto 4 in 2021. When it launched 13 years ago in 2008, it was a contemporary document of the times—now it's a window into the past. I don't know if Rockstar ever thought about this game becoming a historical artifact when it made it, but Niko Bellic's misadventures in Liberty City brilliantly capture a very specific moment in time for America and the world. This is a game heaving with references to things that strongly resonated with people in the mid-to-late ‘00s, which dates it, but also dredges up nostalgia in an unexpected way. I was in my 20s when I first played it, and was essentially a totally different person than I am today. I've changed, but society has changed even more, which brings something to the game that wasn't there before.

Radio Broker is a perfect example. This station was written as a wry commentary on, and to poke fun at, the emergence of the Brooklyn hipster. Presenter Juliette Lewis talks about "asymmetrical haircuts" and "ironic t-shirts", and describes the residents of Broker (the game's version of Brooklyn) as looking like "they just came off a heroin binge" while also having hundred-dollar haircuts. This is a very 2008 image of a hipster, and one that will likely be lost on anyone under the age of 25. Also, at the time, music featured on the station—LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, Japanther, The Boggs, Les Savy Fav—were at the cutting edge of modern indie music. Now you'll find songs like Get Innocuous on ‘00s nostalgia playlists, and some of these groups don't even exist anymore.

Weazel News, GTA 4's answer to Fox News, gives you an idea of what kind of stories dominated the headlines in America in 2008. There are numerous reports on the radio referencing George W. Bush's then ongoing 'war on terror', including increased police presence in parts of Liberty City deemed to be potential targets. A suspected terror attack also closes the bridge to Algonquin (the game's take on Manhattan) early in the game. This was seven years after 9/11, but the threat of terrorism was still very much a part of the country's collective consciousness, which is reflected—and, naturally, made fun of—throughout GTA 4. This is evident in descriptions of the Jingoism Act, a parody of the real-life, post-9/11 PATRIOT Act, which made it easier for the US government to spy on its citizens.

Also, being a Fox parody, the TV and radio reports on Weazel News—as well as right-leaning talk radio station WKTT—also provide an insight into what conservative America was fixated on at the time. Gay rights is a hot topic, with presenters like WKTT's Richard Bastion (an angry Rush Limbaugh-a-like) complaining about the "homosexual agenda". This was 8 years before same sex marriage was finally legalised in the US in 2015. Immigration and homeland security are also debated and discussed, but it all rings very tame compared to how emboldened, tasteless, and straight-up hateful conservative news in America has become after the rise of Donald Trump. Reality is now, unfortunately, a lot worse than anything the writers at Rockstar could have imagined in 2008.

The game also frequently references and mocks 'bling' culture, which defined mainstream hip-hop in the mid 2000s. "The hottest jams, the hottest commercials, the hottest bling" says the announcer on radio station The Beat 102.7. Rappers flaunting diamonds and other crass symbols of excess was the standard back then, until the financial crisis hit in 2008—the same year GTA 4 launched—and put an end to it. "We just came out of the bling era," Amy Andrieux, a senior editor at The Source, told CNN in 2009. "Now we're starting to see artists become more socially conscious." This is an example of something that was outdated even when GTA 4 first launched—a result of the game taking three years to develop, as well as rapid changes in society and culture at the time.

GTA 4 also takes aim at electric cars, describing the hybrid Dilettante (a parody of the Toyota Prius) as "having a nifty dashboard screen with animations showing you how much gas you're saving while completely ignoring the thousands of pounds of toxic batteries on board." This is reflective of the general dismissive attitude to hybrid cars at the time, with the Prius being the butt of many bad late night talk show host jokes. But in hindsight, it feels somewhat short-sighted, with an all-electric future for cars now seeming like a very real possibility. I know lots of people who drive hybrids now. Humour like this makes GTA 4 feel very much like a product of its era—but it's also a valuable record of how people felt about these things at the time, albeit with a humorous, tongue-in-cheek slant.

There's more obvious stuff too, like Niko's laughably low-tech cell phone, the design of the in-game internet's websites, or the cars, which mirrored modern trends when they were designed, now looking incredibly old and outdated. Vice City and San Andreas, set in the 1980s and 1990s respectively, were intentional period pieces—but GTA 4 is now as much of one as either of them. As the years roll by, my nostalgia for the 2000s only grows more powerful, which makes this latest visit to Liberty City a strangely emotional one. But even if you weren't alive in 2008 and want an (admittedly highly distorted) idea of what society and pop culture were like, GTA 4 is a surprisingly effective history lesson—but one where you also get to steal cars, rob banks, and run people over.

I really liked the focus on simulation of the game and the physics for the cars.


 

Stuart360

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Even though Vice City is my fave GTA (mainly due to the music, and cool 80's vibe), GTA4 is probably the pinnacle of the series in terms of story, and tight gameplay mechanics.
Also Nico is probably the only main character of the series where you can honestly say is likeable, and easily the best written main character of the series.

I doubt any future GTA game will reach the tightness of GTA4 in terms of writing, and gameplay.
 

TaiLopezFan

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It’s arguably the worst besides the first 2. The missions are repetitive as hell, colors are awful, City has no diversity (even GTA 3 had little greenery), Soundtrack is shit, Cheat codes are shit, All the generic cars and no planes, Cliche revenge storyline, Terrible driving mechanics, Customization non existent, Nothing to spend the money on. Hell even Rockstar realized the fuck up they made and released TBoGT to make amends after fan backlash.

Everyone hated it before GTA V came out. Trust me you all will be saying GTA V is the best GTA after GTA 6.
 

Thaedolus

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All the GTA talk lately has me wanting to replay this one, I haven’t really tried going back to it since playing it at launch on my 360
 

bender

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The story and characterizations in GTA IV exposed the weaknesses in the Houser's writing abilities. Predictable, laughable motivations and far from empathetic. It was made all the worse with the decision to stick to the tried and true formula of their past games with quest givers largely disappearing once they've dolled out their allotted quests. The cherry on top was the tonal mess the game was with an attempt at a serious narrative and a much less stereotypical and comical evil supporting cast juxtaposed with the Houser's sophomoric dick and ball jokes littered throughout the world.

The map and world design were probably as boring as Vice City, but at least Vice City had the 80s vibe and amazing soundtrack. Mission design, now long in the tooth, also suffered from the straight forward map. And speaking of soundtracks, GTAIV's also the low point in the series for me and the talk radio is dreadful.

I know some like the handling physics of the vehicles, but I couldn't stand it. Otherwise the physics engine is cool. The shooting controls were improved (hard not to be an improvement over GTAIII, VC and SA) but they still weren't great.

Side content was worse. Collectables were worse.

God bless you if you had to play this game on the PS3. That filter. Woof.
 

ManaByte

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grove street games gta4 remaster incoming
Kermit Suicide GIF
 

R6Rider

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It’s arguably the worst besides the first 2. The missions are repetitive as hell, colors are awful, City has no diversity (even GTA 3 had little greenery), Soundtrack is shit, Cheat codes are shit, All the generic cars and no planes, Cliche revenge storyline, Terrible driving mechanics, Customization non existent, Nothing to spend the money on. Hell even Rockstar realized the fuck up they made and released TBoGT to make amends after fan backlash.
Spot on. I did enjoy it overall, but definitely the worst of the 3D GTA titles.
 

rofif

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Sep 13, 2019
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Much better than 5
MUCH better.
The style, atmosphere, live city, balance of satire and serious story and characters.
Also amazing physics, details and graphics on original systems. The pc release did nothing but tarnish the way original gta 4 release looked and played on ps3 and 360. bad colors, ontrast, wrong depth of field. There are mods on pc to help with that.
The 3 way character story and overyly satirical view, completely destroyed gta 5 for me. Trevor is just too much.

And as for the article... the game captures the time amazingly. At least original releases with original music. The orange hue, ford escalade lol.
I got 360 especially for gta iv. Both in the same day. of course I will have great memories of it. The freaking detail. You could play this game for months and still find new details.

And the neogaf release hype topic was amazing and very positive. People bringing the game home, telling stores of what amazing physics/ai stuff happened to them and being impressed with story, graphics etc.
Same happened with bioshock infinite. I think gta 4 is a better game but I am always confused why these two games got forgotten so quickly. The 10s on release were really deserved.
 

Skifi28

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Recently upgraded to a CPU that can finally run it at 60fps, so naturally I had to replay it. It holds up great for the most part. Visuals and physics have aged very well, unfortunately mission design not so much. The gunplay is so-so, but not bad. The hardest part was going back to a single city after San Andreas, 5 and RDR2 expanded the map with so much variety. As for the color palette that many hate, I found it quite appealing. Gives the game style and makes it unique.
 
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intbal

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I only played maybe 2 hours of it. Perhaps if I had stuck with it, the story and characters would have grown on me. But something about the way everything moved in the game just felt slow and cumbersome compared to San Andreas. Like the game world was moving in slow motion. It didn't help that I was playing on lower-midrange PC.
 

Soltype

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The missions ,the story, and gameplay aren't the strongest, but the city is very dense and feels lived in. Would like to see them try New York City again with better tech
 

Miles708

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This was my first GTA on Xbox 360.
It was also the last.

Gameplay was absolute shit (but cars were great fun), checkpoint management and mission structure was amateurish at best, and it just didn't want to end with its padding.

I was honestly shocked at the time, i had so much hype to finally jump on the GTA bandwagon. But it's ultimately it's just an average-to-bad game with a lot of pop culture references, if that's somehow enough for you.
 
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anthraticus

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Also Nico is probably the only main character of the series where you can honestly say is likeable, and easily the best written main character of the series.
For me the most likable was easily Tommy.

Why ? Because I''m not a fan of these wishy washy guys who are essentially reluctant gangsters as main characters. San Andreas was the start of it I feel, and since then everyone has been a reluctant criminal in some way or another. Tommy Vercetti was the last true gangster of the series. Think about that. In a series about gangs, violence, and crime, the last guy who was a willing and active participant with intelligence and ruthlessness but still likability and not over-the-top humor was from a game in 2002. 19 years ago. CJ 'we gotta get outta dis game' was the beginning of the decline, and it just went from there. GTA 5 showed three protagonists, and each one of them was lacking in gangsterism. What happened to the hard core guys who just wanted to do nothing but be a gangster and run rackets?
 

SkylineRKR

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I think GTA 4 was boring, compared to what you could do in SA anyway. Got a lot of rave reviews, but those same outlets later bashed the game for lacking content and fun. But it might end up being a cult favorite like the Miami Vice movie. GTA 4 is perhaps the least over the top game and some might appreciate that.

The gameplay of classic GTA is horrible nowadays but I like the original trilogy the most.
 

Airbus Jr

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Not the best gta game when it comes to story mission and gameplay but 4 has my favourite protagonist nico belic this guy mean business and always get the job done

 
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Fredrik

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I only played it a little bit, don’t remember why I stopped. Does it hold up for a late playthrough? How long is it?
 
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How long is it?
how long is a piece of string? it could be anywhere between 20-240 hours. depends if you rush through it and only do the base game, or if you take your time doing the base game + DLC, or if you try 100% everything.

 
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if you want classic GTA gameplay (such as GTA, GTA2, GTA III) with no thrills and only pure chaos then GTA IV is probably the best. I can see how people would be disappointed in it after getting Vice City and San Andreas.
 

Soodanim

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The story and characterizations in GTA IV exposed the weaknesses in the Houser's writing abilities. Predictable, laughable motivations and far from empathetic. It was made all the worse with the decision to stick to the tried and true formula of their past games with quest givers largely disappearing once they've dolled out their allotted quests. The cherry on top was the tonal mess the game was with an attempt at a serious narrative and a much less stereotypical and comical evil supporting cast juxtaposed with the Houser's sophomoric dick and ball jokes littered throughout the world.

The map and world design were probably as boring as Vice City, but at least Vice City had the 80s vibe and amazing soundtrack. Mission design, now long in the tooth, also suffered from the straight forward map. And speaking of soundtracks, GTAIV's also the low point in the series for me and the talk radio is dreadful.

I know some like the handling physics of the vehicles, but I couldn't stand it. Otherwise the physics engine is cool. The shooting controls were improved (hard not to be an improvement over GTAIII, VC and SA) but they still weren't great.

Side content was worse. Collectables were worse.

God bless you if you had to play this game on the PS3. That filter. Woof.
Very well put. There seems to be this resurgence of love for 4 in recent times for some reason, but it all but killed so much of what made the series good for me.

I haven't forgotten the time I drove slowly round a corner in a police car and the car tipped over. So much for those physics. I played on PS3, too.
 

NeoIkaruGAF

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I’ve not played the game, but are we at the point where “old thing is old” is article-worthy?
 

Boy bawang

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Gta4 is soon gonna be as retro as Vice City was when it released.
 
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Hypereides

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Aside from being a window into a bygone era, its also an attestation of how better Rockstar used to be.

Regardless of what some think I'd say It aged gracefully. Especially, from the technical side. It shows how the industry used to go out of their way to push boundaries of in-game technical advances. Things like physics have largely become forgotten or an afterthought in most cases now. Given they don't stir interest in the casual mainstream as much as new, fancy and shinier graphics do.

"Nostalgic"

If Rockstar were to remake it, most of this would be censored for "modern audiences".

Just an example of we didn't know how good we had it until it was gone.
 
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