Grand Theft Auto IV remains one of the most impactful games to be ever released. It’s unique combination of a gritty storyline fused with relatable, interesting characters, its realistic atmosphere and dark, depressed tone resulted in something that was very different to past Grand Theft Auto games. GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas were its three main predecessors, and these all focused on fun before anything else – offering the player to do whatever they desired.
Grand Theft Auto IV also had this, but it was done differently. Its storyline and characters took the spotlight, and its gritty, but realistic recreation of New York City showed that the American Dream isn’t a reality. In fact, life can be far from it. Grand Theft Auto IV was the moment the crime-ridden series from Rockstar Games matured – and it gave us one of the best single-player experiences out there. Today, on April 29th, 2018, Grand Theft Auto IV turns 10-years old. To celebrate this milestone, we wanted to look back at one of the greatest masterpieces in gaming history.
Grand Theft Auto IV wasn’t just a great game – it pushed the industry forward with its stylish graphics and realistic gameplay mechanics. Back in 2008 when it released, there was nothing quite like it – and the step-up from San Andreas on the PS2 and Xbox was enormous. Grand Theft Auto IV was built with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles in mind, delivering realistic visuals with all-new gameplay mechanics – such as the new cover system and the ability to pick up a variety of random objects, as well as the vastly-improved shooting system complemented by a gripping narrative experience featuring memorable characters, as well as the ability to explore its reincarnation of New York City with friends and compete with the wider community across a variety of different game modes in the online component. All in all, Grand Theft Auto IV had it all when it first came out, and it still stands as one of the best in 2018.
There’s no denying how impactful Grand Theft Auto IV is. The intro cinematic set on the Platypus immediately gets the storyline setup with our first glimpse of those notorious diamonds, as well as an introduction to the game’s main protagonist, Niko Bellic – an Eastern European war veteran who moves to Liberty City to start a new life with his cousin, Roman. Niko always believed Roman lived the high-life – women, fast cars, and a mansion is how he described it in his letters to Niko.
Soon enough, Niko discovers this all extremely-exaggerated. Roman isn’t rich. He doesn’t have a sports car, he doesn’t own a mansion, nor does he have two women every night. The dynamic between Niko and Roman within the first fives minutes of the game shows the contrast between both characters. Niko had been traumatized by the war, witnessing the murder and mutilation of over 50 children – leading to his cynical view of life. He’s full of anger, regret, emotional distress, and severe depression. Meanwhile, Roman runs a Taxi business in Hove Beach, and lives in a small nearby apartment which he shares with Niko. Not only is it dirty, but Roman even kills a cockroach by steeping on it the first time Niko is taken there.
Roman also owed gambling debs across the city to several powerful criminals, and it isn’t long until Niko is dragged into it all. However, his military skills like close-quarter combat, basic helicopter piloting, shooting, and swimming gave him an advantage over the street thugs of Liberty City as he protects Roman from loan sharks and begins to make money and contacts that can help him locate Florian Cravic within the city, and later Darko Brevic – two survivors from an ambush whilst Niko was in the military, and two names he believes could’ve betrayed their group. Full of a desire for revenge, Niko is eager to find their whereabouts in Liberty City.
Grand Theft Auto IV is full of gripping characters, interesting faces you meet throughout your time in Liberty City. One of those is Karen Daniels, who dates Niko under the name Michelle. Niko grows close to her, only to later realize that she’s an undercover government agent who was secretly spying on him. What’s interesting though is how they appear to have a genuine relationship, which suggests she had honest feelings for Niko. This, of course, wouldn’t be Niko’s only attempt at a love life in Liberty City, but none of them ever worked out well due to his criminal lifestyle.
Niko also meets Brucie Kibbutz, a luxury automotive entrepreneur, fitness enthusiast, and lifestyle coach and he introduces him to some of the racing activities available in Liberty City. Another character introduced towards the beginning of the game is Vladimir Glebov, a loud-mouthed Russian loan shark with influential friends who has sex with Roman’s long-time girlfriend Mallorie Bardas, which leads to Niko killing him. Roman and Niko are also kidnapped by henchmen of his superior – the powerful, but mentally unstable Russian Mafia don, Mikhail Faustin, and his erstwhile assistant, Dimitri Rascalov.
As you play through Grand Theft Auto IV, you’ll begin to judge these characters for yourself, liking or loathing them, and in the case of many, it’ll be Niko and Roman you always want the best for, whilst the sooner you can kill the others – the better. From the moment you meet Mikhail Faustin, you become his latest hired gunman, eventually killing the son of a rival Russian mafia don, Kenny Petrović. Dimitri then sets Niko up to assassinate Faustin, under the promise of protection from Kenny Petrović to prove that the death should be blamed on Mikhail.
However, Niko and his cousin are about to experience a rollercoaster of events that dictate their future life in Liberty City. Roman’s business and their apartment is burned down by Loan Sharks, and they’re forced to move to Bohan where Niko is introduced to various new contacts and drug dealers, including Elizabeta Torres, Playboy X, and Dwayne Forge, as well as the McRearys, a weak Irish-American crime family and allies of Torres consisting of Packie, Derrick, Gerry, and Francis – the latter of whom is a prominent, yet corrupt police officer. Niko is also introduced to Ray Boccino and the dangerous Pegorino Family.
Throughout the missions and events featuring these characters, Niko begins to make a name for himself in Liberty City. One of the first major choices in Grand Theft Auto IV has you deciding between whether you wish to kill Playboy X or his former friend and mentor, Dwayne Forge. Taking down Dwayne offers you $25,000, but it’s Playboy X you really want to go after. Not only will Dwayne remain friends with you after taking down the arrogant dealer, but you’ll also takeover his penthouse in Algonquin. This leads to a higher standard of living for the Bellic cousins, but Niko remains frustrated as his desire to track down the perpetrator behind the ambush of his childhood friends at war remains deep in his mind.
Grand Theft Auto IV is full of story-drive moments like this, featuring various narrative key points and plenty of memorable characters. Some will help you, even becoming friends with Niko, whilst others will betray you. It’s a whirlwind of events, but Rockstar Games’ excellent writing and engaging cinematics make its easy to follow and understand. You feel involved with the storyline of Grand Theft Auto IV as you continue to discover everything Liberty City has to offer. With the help of Ray Boccino, Niko eventually tracks down Florian Cravic, only to discover he has now become a flamboyant homosexual called Bernie Crane – secretly dating the Deputy Mayor of Liberty City and intent on leaving the past behind him.
Niko ends up helping Bernie out and concludes that Darko Brevic was the man responsible for the atrocity but has no lead to his location. After completing a series of corrupt missions for a shady government agency – United Liberty Paper and Jon Gravelli, Niko is rewarded by having Brevic tracked down in Romania and flown specifically to Liberty City. Alongside his cousin Roman, they both confront Darko Brevic at the airport, who reveals he betrayed Niko’s unit for a mere $1,000.
Before killing him, Roman suggests forcing him to live his hard life he’s apparently living, which gives Niko a kill-or-spare choice. If Niko chooses to kill him, he later admits he didn’t feel any better about his move, whilst if he lets him survive, Niko is at first disappointed at his decision but feels that he did the right thing. Whether this gave Niko the long-needed closure he desired remains unanswered.
One of the most memorable moments in Grand Theft Auto IV was the mission ‘Three Leaf Clover,’ which was the big set-piece heist moment in the game. Whilst its successor Grand Theft Auto V mainly centered around heists in both its single-player and online component – with plenty of options, approaches, and set-up missions available to complete, the implementation in Grand Theft Auto IV was still best.
Three Leaf Clover saw you robbing the main Liberty City bank in Algonquin with the McReary brothers – fighting through waves and waves of swat and police forces as you headed underground into the subway and initiated an escape plan. This mission remains one of the best in the franchise’s history, packed with epic shootout moments and incredibly tense cinematics. Three Leaf Clover was a blast, literally – and it saw you bank $250,000.
Towards the end of Grand Theft Auto IV, Niko is presented with his most crucial and critical choice in the game. He could either complete a heroin deal with bitter enemy Dimitri Rascalov – or go straight to the boat where he’s hiding and shoot his way to Rascalov before killing him there and then on the boat. It’s a deal or revenge scenario, and it’s fair to say neither results in a very happy ending. Niko will feel regret and sorrow, regardless of which path he chooses.
If he takes the deal route and works with Rascalov – earning himself $250,000 in the process, Roman is killed at his own wedding by a hitman sent for Niko. The revenge path will see Kate McReary, Niko's girlfriend, killed by an enraged Pegorino in a drive-by shooting when Kate is attending Roman's wedding. Following these scenarios, Niko either tracks down and kills Rascalov – who kills Pegorino before his own death, or he chases and murders Pegorino – aided by the contacts he has built up throughout his time in Liberty City.
Regardless of which path you choose, it all concludes under the State of Happiness – which amusingly has the face of 2016 U.S. Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton after remarks she made towards Rockstar Games over the ‘Hot Coffee’ mod featured in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and the controversy which followed. The status is also ironically holding a steaming hot cup of coffee. This little glimmer of humour is drowned by the hollow promise of the American Dream, which Niko, unfortunately didn’t achieve. He lost friends in the process – some of his closest friends, and whilst he has lots of money, his current state of mind leaves him in a place of despair.
The credits of Grand Theft Auto IV features Niko speaking to his friends on the phone. In the revenge scenario, Roman reveals to Niko that Mallorie is pregnant with their first child, whilst the deal option will see Mallorie inform you on the phone, in despair over her husband’s death and the lack of a father for her child. Niko tells her not to worry about being fatherless, hinting that he will help her take care of it and assume a fatherly role. The revenge variation of the call also sees Roman remind Niko that he and Mallorie are his family now after the death of Kate. It’s also presumed that Niko now gives up his life of crime in favour of living a normal one.
It’s a sad conclusion to Grand Theft Auto IV. It wasn’t a happy ending, it didn’t answer every question about Niko and his life, but it was unforgettable, and one of the most impactful scenarios in gaming history. Grand Theft Auto IV is one of the most memorable experiences in gaming, and its deep storyline and notable characters make the game what it is. Life doesn’t always go as you want it to and the American Dream is nothing more than just a dream for many, a hope for a new life for some people who move to America in search of happiness and freedom – and nothing portrays it better than Rockstar’s masterpiece that is Grand Theft Auto IV.
Music also adds to the immersion of Grand Theft Auto IV. Its soundtrack is yet another unforgettable aspect to the game. The ‘Soviet Connection’ theme used in Grand Theft Auto IV’s introduction sets the overall atmosphere of the scene and tone of the game as Niko embarks on his newest journey in life. One of the characters Niko spends time with on the Platypus – the boat which smuggled him into Liberty City, is Hossan Ramzy – an Egyptian man you meet later in the game in Algonquin as a random encounter. Little is known about him, but when Niko runs into him, it’s quite interesting to see them catch up as you help Hossan out with a quick errant to get his backpay. I do wish Hossan had a larger presence in the game, but his random encounter is a neat addition to its backstory.
Another aspect of Grand Theft Auto IV’s immersion is how it introduces you to weapons. You don’t receive your first handgun until you encounter Little Jacob – one of your closest friends in the game. Instead, your first few missions rely on the use of melee weapons, with most objectives focused on driving to locations and intimidating other characters. These introduced you, slowly, to the newly-refined mechanics in the game whilst also giving the storyline and each of its characters its own space to breath. It meant the player wasn’t overwhelmed either, though some did criticize its slower start. I for one appreciated the pacing used in Grand Theft Auto IV to add to its overall level of detail and realism. The moment you earn that first gun is a significant part of the game, in comparison to Grand Theft Auto V, which opens with all-guns blazing in a heist gone wrong.
Grand Theft Auto IV and V are both very different games. The former really focuses on its narrative, characters, and the reality behind the “American Dream,” whilst the latter placed the emphasis on fun, explosive gameplay in its modern-day reincarnation of Los Angeles. It’s down to the player as to which they prefer, though me personally, I absolutely adored the story-driven grittiness, memorable characters, and iconic moments of Grand Theft Auto IV as Niko Bellic seeks closure to his war-driven life. For me, the slower-paced gameplay atypical to Grand Theft Auto was also thoroughly enjoyable, and the reincarnation of New York City shows the attention-to-detail that the Rockstar North team put into their games.
In fact, I walked through Manhattan when I was in New York last year and saw landmarks like Times Square and Central Park first-hand, as well as the Brooklyn Bridge, all of Manhattan’s towering skyscrapers with their incredible night lights, including those of the iconic ‘Getalife’ building – as it’s called in Grand Theft Auto IV. I was really impressed by Rockstar’s recreation of New York City that it felt like I’d been there before on several occasions even though it was my first time in-person. That’s how good Liberty City actually is in Grand Theft Auto IV, and you have to admire Rockstar’s work and ambition when it comes to overall map and level design.
Liberty City was also pleasing to the eye with Grand Theft Auto IV being the first entry into the series built for the HD era of games. On Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles, it ran at 720p resolution with an uncapped framerate, and can go all the way to 1080p at 60fps on the PC. Back in the day, this was next-level technology, and Grand Theft Auto IV looked incredible for its time. Nowadays, it definitely doesn’t look as polished or pristine as Grand Theft Auto V, but Liberty City still stands out for a variety of reasons – even ten years later in 2018. I love the how bright and alive the city feels at night time, which replicates real-world New York. You know, the city that never sleeps.
Whilst visual pop-in is a pain when flying across Liberty City at high-altitude and the texture quality falls short of what we’re used to in 2018, it still remarkably holds up well despite those flaws. I usually play Grand Theft Auto IV on the Xbox One X – where it currently upscales from 720p to 4K to fill-in the pixels on my 4K display, and sure enough it looks blurry unless you’re sitting far back from the screen, but it still looks great – it looks how I expect Grand Theft Auto IV to look. I often check out the PC version, too, and in fact, I’ve attained 100% completion in the game on both it and the Xbox 360 release. It's worth noting though that the PC version won't be celebrating its anniversary until later this year on December 2nd. Grand Theft Auto IV on the PC utilized Games for Windows Live, featured improved graphical quality and texture detail, and also introduced built-in game recording functionality with the Rockstar Editor creator tools.
Liberty City becomes a real playground of fun when played online with friends. With several modes, including familiar classics like Deathmatch and Races, co-op modes such as Team Car Jack City, Cops and Crooks and Hangman’s Noose, as well as Free Roam where the whole city is available to enjoy with up to 15 other players, there was a lot of choice in this first, early incarnation of an online Grand Theft Auto experience. In fact, it was a lot of fun, and I poured hours into it – discovering all it had to offer with friends as we’d uncover the loud, beating heart inside the Statue of Happiness and put the swing-set glitch to the test with all kinds of wacky, fast and crazy vehicles.
It was also fun to track down the hidden Sultan RS in Alderney or take the Annihilators from the airport based on JFK. Yep, no Shark Cards or microtransactions meant you didn’t have to buy cars, vehicles or weapons – you simple found them scattered across the map. Want a Turismo? You’ll always find one at the Turismo auto dealer where they can be stolen at no cost. Perhaps a high-end sports bike? Alderney has you covered with its dedicated motorbike dealer. Maybe you want a fast boat, a public bus, or maybe even a helicopter? Again, you’ll find them across various locations in Liberty City – available for you to take and enjoy, for free.
Grand Theft Auto IV was also my first taste of online gaming, and I met several players on it too who I’d regularly play with. These were undeniably great times, and some of the peak highlights of my experiences with online gaming. Whether it was raking in cash to level up from playing the small selection of co-op missions repeatedly or enjoying the variety of different Race events and Deathmatch modes available, there was a lot of fun to be had here. One moment that stands out to me is an epic 60-minute Deathmatch restricted at the airport, whilst one game of Hangman’s Noose ended up with me accidently destroying the helicopter at the end of the mission. Oops.
I also enjoyed gathering a bunch of weapons, body armour, and an escape vehicle, and using a rooftop by the East Borough Bridge leading to Charge Island, Algonquin and Bohan to initiate a lengthy cop shootout with friends, reaching the highest wanted level, and attempting to escape with the Noose on our tail. These were always a fun way to enjoy Grand Theft Auto IV in online with friends, but in Grand Theft Auto V, none of this feels as exciting or fun due to its focus on the microtransaction-driven economy and the in-game businesses.
Grand Theft Auto IV also had some of the best downloadable content ever with its Episodes from Liberty City. Instead of a Season Pass or microtransaction content, the only post-launch add-ons for Grand Theft Auto IV consisted of The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony – two standalone experiences that offered a different perspective of the events in Liberty City with their own distinct protagonists, overall style, and unique features.
The Lost and Damned was the first of these expansions to release and saw you assume the role of Johnny Klebitz in a biker gang known as The Lost. Like Grand Theft Auto IV, it features its own dark and gritty narrative with surprising twists and turns, but you do encounter the Bellic cousins as their storylines intertwine with those infamous diamonds. The Lost and Damned focused heavily on motorbikes and introduced a bunch of new vehicles to the game, as well as all-new weapons and radio songs, as well as more in-game TV shows and a variety of new gameplay mechanics.
It also featured its own dedicated online modes that made full use of these, including Club Business, Witness Protection, Lone Wolf Biker, and more. Also added were new mini-games, including Arm Wrestling and Air Hockey, to add to the Darts, Snooker, and Bowling modes already present in Grand Theft Auto IV. “Hey Niko, it’s Roman, you want to go bowling?” The Lost and Damned was a welcomed story addition to the Grand Theft Auto IV experience and in a way, it’s even gritter than the main storyline, and you can notice this from its visual style which features the addition of optional film grain which can be disabled.
The Ballad of Gay Tony was the headlining add-on from Grand Theft Auto IV’s episodic content and filled in any further blanks from the main game’s storyline. This time you played as Luis Lopez, a bodyguard and business associate of Anthony ‘Gay Tony’ Prince – who owns both the hottest gay and straight clubs in Algonquin. His story opens with him witnessing the bank robbery that Niko and the McReary family pulled off in Three Leaf Clover. Luis Lopez lives the high-life in Liberty City, and it gives us a unique perspective on Grand Theft Auto IV’s recreation of New York City.
Glitz and glamour replaces the dark and gritty tone saw in Grand Theft Auto IV and The Lost and Damned, and for many, this was breath of fresh air and it become the headlining way to experience Liberty City. There were nightclubs, plenty of new fast cars like the Bullet GT and F620, the return of parachuting, incredible new helicopters like the Buzzard and Swift, and even the return of the tank with an APC. Not to mention its action-packed plot and iconic gameplay moments.
From a storyline perspective, it might not be as gripping as the main Grand Theft Auto IV narrative, but its dazzling outlook on life does put the fun back into the overall experience. In addition, out of the three main protagonists in the game, Luis is the only one not to have someone close to him die. As we know, Niko loses either Roman or Kate, and Johnny lost his best friend Jim. Luis is also the only protagonist of the trio to not have a safehouse burned down.
Luis was also a calm character who didn’t lose his cool too frequently, which is also in contrast to Niko and Johnny, and again it shows the difference between all three protagonists. Niko, Johnny, and Luis all have different backgrounds, but their lives do intertwine throughout Grand Theft Auto IV with the diamond deal, and it’s all extremely well put together. It’s the result of some smart writing, talented use of narrative, and overall excellent character development as all three of them feel distinct and interesting to play as – offering their own unique perspectives on the land of opportunity.
Overall, these add-ons for Grand Theft Auto IV were fantastic and delivered hours of new content for $20 each when they first released. They were also bundled and released separately from Grand Theft Auto IV in a standalone package called Episodes from Liberty City. It’s a complete change in direction when compared to the recently-released Grand Theft Auto
V Premium Online Edition, which bundles microtransaction content for the online mode with the main game. There was nothing else like these Grand Theft Auto IV add-ons, and they were the most value for money I’ve ever seen from post-launch downloadable content. It’s a real darn shame these types of add-ons didn’t continue in Grand Theft Auto V.
Grand Theft Auto IV remains unforgettable and is still always a blast to revisit. It’s available on the Xbox One Backwards Compatibility program and it can be still enjoyed on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. It’s not the best PC optimized game mind you, and the severs aren’t always very plentiful if you’re aiming to head online, but you’ll still usually find players. Grand Theft Auto IV is a very special game – it’s the entry which matured the overall franchise, but it also introduced a lot of new technical innovations and gameplay improvements to the series at the same time.
Developed on the new RAGE engine created in-house by Rockstar Games and the Euphoria physics engine, Grand Theft Auto IV was built to lead the series into the HD era – and it did so successfully. At the time, there wasn’t a Grand Theft Auto experience that looked as good or felt as alive, rich, and dynamic as Grand Theft Auto IV. Leading up to its release, I was dazzled by how brilliant it looked in the trailers and screenshots and playing it on its release date felt surreal. In fact, I managed to secure my copy of the game the day before its launch – and it’s something I’ll never forget either.
Grand Theft Auto IV sold over 3.6 million units within its first 24 hours of release before selling 6 million copies within its first week of release and over 8.5 million in its first month. Since then, the game has sold over 25 million units worldwide. It broke records for the highest grossing video game in 24 hours, the highest revenue generated by an entertainment product in 24 hours, and the fastest-selling video game in 24 hours – all of which were later broken in 2013 by its successor, Grand Theft Auto V, which has gone on to sell over 90 million units globally.
Regardless, there's no denying the success that was generated for Rockstar Games from Grand Theft Auto IV, and how one of the most eagerly-anticipated titles of the last generation delivered an unforgettable story with memorable characters and gripping morality choices, backed by its innovative and fresh online experience. Grand Theft Auto IV is simply one of those titles that shouldn't be overlooked by anyone. It was a turning point for the series to focus on darker and more mature themes and characters with the "Amiercan Dream" as its backdrop.
It’s a shame Rockstar hasn’t done anything yet to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of one of the company’s most impactful and memorable games. No remaster, no re-release, no new updates or enhancements. There hasn’t even been a 4K Xbox
One X Enhanced patch like the one 2010’s Red Dead Redemption recently received. Instead, an update on April 26th, 2018 removed a bunch of classic, fan-favourite songs from the game, especially from the Russian pop radio station Vladivostok FM.
Whilst this was due to licensing
expirations and Rockstar Games replaced the songs with new ones, it’s still a shame to lose a lot of the music which helped to create and set that overall tone and atmosphere that made Grand Theft Auto IV the gripping experience it is. Overall, there’s always the chance Rockstar Games could still do something to celebrate Grand Theft Auto IV’s historic milestone before April 29th, 2018 concludes, but as of writing and publishing this story, that hasn’t been the case.
I’ll be revisiting Liberty City today. I do frequently come back to Grand Theft Auto IV and appreciate everything it did for games and entertainment. I have many, many fond memories from this game and the experiences it led to. It has contributed to my love of games and my overall eagerness to work in the gaming business. In a way, Grand Theft Auto IV really is that perfect game. It’s almost impossible to fault, and whilst others might have different opinions on it, I for one thoroughly enjoyed everything Grand Theft Auto IV brought to the table and its online experience was fun and fleshed out enough for me to pour hundreds of hours into without the worry of microtransactions.
Life is complicated. Grand Theft Auto IV made that clear right from its beginning when Niko first arrived into Liberty City until the credits rolled after its conclusion. It’s a masterwork experience that only happens once in a console generation – it’s not something we see very often. Whilst Grand Theft Auto IV may not have focused so much on the fun element and instead placed an emphasis on realism and narrative, The Ballad of Gay Tony proved that there was plenty of fun to be had in Liberty City.
In fact, I love how Grand Theft Auto IV weaved moments of humour throughout its storyline. Whether it’s Roman hiding in a bin or Niko throwing some snide and sarcasm to those he doesn’t care for, there were plenty of moments Grand Theft Auto IV put a smile on my face throughout its storyline – something I’ve now replayed and completed several times. The serious tone of Grand Theft Auto IV simply brought the player closer to the experience, its characters, and its excellent writing. There’s no denying it, Grand Theft Auto IV was a masterpiece from the legendary franchise mastermind Leslie Benzies, and there may never be another one quite like it. Happy tenth anniversary, Grand Theft Auto IV.
Alan is the co-founder and co-owner of FullThrottle Media. As someone who enjoys spending all his free time playing video games, he delivers the latest in news stories, reviews, and feature articles to the website, as well as videos on his YouTube channel and livestreams over on Mixer.