Grand Theft Auto IV PC Review
1.66GHz Core 2 Duo
8800GTS Go Video
3GB DDR2 RAM
Windows Vista 32-bit
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It's felt like a long wait, that time between the release of Grand Theft Auto IV on consoles earlier this year and Rockstar Games' eventual PC release a few weeks ago. But this event, which has happened with every GTA game since the developers moved primarily over to being a console developer, comes with some hefty caveats this time. Yes, the brilliance of a masterfully-realized city is all here, and the many hours of enjoyment can be had, but you'll also be up to your neck in technical issues if you're not PC savvy with a powerful machine waiting to gobble this game up. So come on in, folks, but be ready for a few issues and maybe some compromise if you want the game to give you everything it's given console gamers.
Not only are the system requirements the toughest for the series yet, but they're also very steep compared to what other games' current system requirements are right now. Whereas past games were pretty easy to get running on those days' mid-range PCs, you need to come at this one with some serious horsepower to make the experience even comparable to what we got on the 360 or PS3. Combine this with a serious set of bugs and hiccups with the list of required software you'll be forced to install just to get in-game - Windows Live, SecuROM for online authentication, and Rockstar's own Social Club program - and it highlights the worst of PC gaming's headaches simultaneously.
And since GTAIV was released and hailed as an instant classic by almost every reviewer who saw it, we've all gotten a little jaded about the game and found quite a few annoying things about it - all of those will quickly come back for us. But for someone new to the game or to the series, it's hard to care about Roman constantly calling to go out for a beer or why Niko never seems to find any real wealth or success despite working with even bigger players than Vice City's Tommy Vercetti did. Sure, the game's really quite boring once you've completed it, as there are no tanks or missiles to fire from helicopters, nor is there that much fun to have in setting up elaborate standoffs with the cops. But for those first twenty-plus hours, none of that matters, and GTAIV really does pull you in as much as those first reviews said it does.
The multiplayer is a fun diversion, as well, but it just won't hold up quite the way that PC native games, like the Call of Duty and Battlefield series, have done for so many years now. The mouse controls are clunky and the auto-aim given to controller-wielding gamers won't ever sit well with PC players, and the iffy performance is going to keep those guys who must maximize frame rates and input performance at all costs - you know the guys I'm talking about, the ones who run minimum detail settings in Quake 3 and know what the refresh rate of their mouse is - far away from this game. Yet again, another console game comes to the PC and adds some new features, but it still doesn't give hardcore PC gamers the precise things they want; not that this is really Rockstar's fault, as we're finding out quickly that very few developers left even have the capacity to please both sides equally.
But Rockstar has made some serious efforts to add unique features, and they shouldn't be ignored. The biggest of these is the ability to capture your gameplay and make movies out of it, and store your replays in a slick in-game interface, edit camera settings, edit the footage, and post it online in the Social Club application. But there's more, like the mouse-and-keyboard controls in addition to the chance to use gamepads and Xbox 360 controllers, and a custom MP3 interface, like in past PC ports, that lets you put together your own playlists and skip through songs directly from inside the game (that last part is something that the console versions were incapable of doing). The solid targeting system that GTAIV includes for controllers really does make manual aiming obsolete, though, so don't expect any kind of great revelation when playing this one with a mouse - and trying to control helicopters is a real pain without a gamepad, too.
None of these features really make the PC version of the game a must-have. Making videos is easy, but making really good ones will take you quite some time, and setting up MP3 playlists is kind of a pain as well. This is on top of the myriad of issues the game has, like where most textures won't appear if you've used a program like RivaTuner to fiddle with video card settings (and simply reinstalling new drivers won't fix it). WinXP users will have to install .NET framework 3.5, even though the game doesn't bother to tell you this or do it for you. There's more, and more casual PC gamers will find all this a bit too much to bother with - even if they can meet the game's steep system requirements. If you want to match the look of the console editions, you better come in with a dual-core CPU and at least an Nvidia 8800- or ATI 4850-level video card and 2GB of RAM, and performance will go up from there with additional hardware. Yep, you can jack up the details far past that, but be prepared to fiddle with shortcuts and command line parameters to do it. The first patch for the game broke as much as it fixed, and while the patching system through Windows Live (which, by the way, you need to have running if you want to save your single player game) is easy, I'm not holding out a lot of hope for how succesful patch #2 will be at fixing problems.
Liberty City is absolutely genius and the many breathtaking or hilarious moments players will experience are all here, but they're hiding under a layer of technical issues and system requirements nightmares. Get through that, and realy dig into the PC-specific features, and you'll find this to be a worthy port. But if you're more into a plug and play type of experience, then this is going to be one to skip. Niko and the rest of the cast of Grand Theft Auto IV are great, but for most gamers they're not worth spending $300 on an upgrade, or a week of sleepless nights trying to figure out the missing texture problem. And for the hardcore gamers who find all this child's play, then they still probably won't be too happy with the feel of the controls or the shoddy performance. It's kind of a lose-lose for Rockstar at this point, and it's too bad, because GTAIV is a wonderful game that doesn't deserve the problems this PC port has.