15 Years Later: Here’s Why There Will Never Be Another Game Like GTA IV Ever Again

GTA IV Billboard 15 photos
Photo: Pinterest
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That timeless cringe-worthy quip, "They don't build things like they used to," applies just as much to video games these days as it does a late-60's-vintage big block V8. But unlike muscle car engines, we can't, in good faith, say that video games are better now than they were in 2008, the year Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto IV blessed us with its presence.
Gamers of a certain era might find declarations about GTA IV's greatness to be a bit of a "duh" statement. But remember, plenty of folks were only introduced to Grand Theft Auto with the fifth main installment in the series. For these people, consider this your crash course (pun possibly intended). Today, let's celebrate 15 years of Grand Theft Auto IV.

From the moment billboards promoting the game showed up in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, GTA IV made an impact on the trajectory of video games in their totality. If nothing, these grand advertising displays only helped work the gaming community into a bigger fervor. They were only satiated on April 28th, 2008, the day the world was introduced to an all-new kind of gaming experience. As the franchise's first foray into the seventh generation of game consoles via the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, GTA IV's opening cut scene was the first window into an open world that was unlike anything gamers had seen yet.

This opening cut scene is also when we're introduced to Niko Bellic, one of the most fascinating video game protagonists of the 21st century. As Niko, an ex-Yugoslav soldier, rides a cargo ship into Liberty City, we're shown a high-definition and beautifully rendered panning shot of a city resembling a spitting image of New York City. This sprawling metropolis is a world the player can roam freely, exploring new and exciting parts of the city as the game progresses. Niko, a man riddled with PTSD from a war that killed all but a few of his comrades, arrives in Liberty City seeking the person he believed to have sold out his friends and had them assassinated during the war.

Niko has a fitting sidekick for his new adventures in Liberty City, his wise-cracking, gentlemen's club-frequenting, down-on-his-luck cab business-owning cousin, Roman Bellic. From the moment Niko steps off the boat and into Roman's cab, there's a sense there's something extraordinary about every aspect of GTA IV's gameplay mannerisms. In an era when game consoles had finally stopped measuring bits like muscle car fans do cubic inches on a V8, the Xbox 360 and PS3 flexed their metal through native 720p and even 1080p game resolutions.

GTA IV screenshot
Photo: Rockstar
These were features that GTA IV's Rockstar Advanced Game Engine (RAGE) was all too happy to dazzle with. Compared to the polygon-riddeled mess that previous 3D installments in the GTA Series like III, Vice City, and San Andreas became thanks to hardware limitations, the smooth-looking, dynamic fourth game beckons players to explore every nook and cranny of GTA IV's game map. Even 15 years later, players still occasionally find neat little visual easter eggs and trinkets hidden among a game map they've by now committed to memory.

As the game progresses, and the duo of Niko and Roman do their best to save their sinking cab business through low-level, back-alley gambling only to wind up on the bad graces of the Liberty City's crime syndicates, you're treated to an immersive and lively city with unique scenery and side quests unique to each of Liberty City's four boroughs and the neighboring State of Alderney. Together, these areas represent four of the five New York City Boroughs, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Manhattan, as well as Northern New Jersey.

As a parody of late-2000's American life, GTA IV is nearly without parallel. As Niko and Roman make their way into Liberty City's criminal underworld to a backdrop full of radio, TV, and billboard advertisements for in-game companies, it's hard not to feel like, at least in the Grand Theft Auto universe, that the bad guys won, and the American dream really is dead. But with so many cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, and helicopters to ride across Liberty City, the level of variety is only matched by the weapons at Niko's disposal as the player acquires them through cheat codes or continued mission progress.

All the while, GTA IV's iconic cast of side characters like cousin Roman, the juiced-up meathead Brucie Kibbutz, the scrappy Irish gangster Packie McReary, and the kush-smoking Jamaican Little Jacob give a life-like feeling to Liberty City. Much more so than later installments of the game like GTA V, in most respects. By being able to call any of Niko's friends through GTA IV's in-game cell phone, players form bonds with each side character that range from genuinely wholesome to meme-worthy.

GTA IV screenshot
Photo: Rockstar
The level of character development, forward-thinking world crafting, and addictive, action-packed gameplay in GTA IV made for an experience not just unlike any game before it, but it set the gold standard for open-world, third-person shooters for the next decade plus. And no, that isn't at all hyperbole.

Even while Grand Theft Auto V became one of the best-selling entertainment products in history, there simply isn't the same level of appreciation for any of GTA V's main characters as there is for GTA IV's Niko Bellic. With the possible exception of Trevor Phillips in GTA V, no other character even gets close in terms of a sheer cultural icon for this era of gaming.

That's all without mentioning GTA IV's innovative but flawed multiplayer feature. No doubt clunky by modern GTA Online's standards, especially on the PC port, GTA IV multiplayer mode made for hours of fun all on its own, so long as you had a few buddies to play with. In terms of replay factor, Grand Theft Auto IV is on a whole other level compared to almost any other M-rated game of its generation.

With the eighth main installment of the game already leaked to the public in its pre-alpha stage, one can only hope the finished game carries even a fraction of the charm GTA IV exuded without even trying. Of course, in some ways, it's practically impossible to design a game quite like GTA IV with modern sensibilities.

GTA IV screenshot
Photo: Rockstar
With day-one DLC and microtransactions galore, it's hard not to envision Grand Theft Auto VI raiding people's bank accounts far more than the $60 or $70 plus tax you would have paid to buy a copy of GTA IV of the shelf 15 years ago. But hey, maybe we're wrong, and GTA VI will be awesome.

But what do you think? Have you been playing GTA IV since the day it was released in 2008? Or are you about to pop down to your local used game store and get a copy to figure out what you're missing? Let us know in the comments down below.
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