GTA IV – First Impressions – Games for Windows

10 min read
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by Dave De Gasperi

Meet Niko Bellic, an ex-military man who just moved to Liberty City from somewhere in region of Eastern Europe. He decided to make the move to visit his cousin Roman in the US, who told has told him tall tales of big luxury apartments, sports cars, and beautiful women tripping over their own feet to get with him.

Sadly, when he arrives, all is not as his beloved cousin has made it out to be. But no matter, family is family, they stick together and Niko quickly sets out to do jobs and help his cousin in whatever way he can. His military background, and callous, hardcore attitude proving to be quite useful with whatever sticky situation presents itself.

Ever since the release of GTA 4 on PC, I have heard many mixed feelings about the game. Sadly, none of them have to do with playing the game itself but rather the technical aspects of it. But I thought to myself, Rockstar have made many games in the GTA series, all of which were either a huge success, or at the very least, a borderline huge success.

So, how bad could it possibly be? Surely the first of the GTA series to cross into the Next-Gen gaming world is bound to be nothing short of brilliant.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

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I’ll start at the very beginning. Firstly, you have to go through a 16GB installation, which took around 2 hours in total, which in essence isn’t all that bad if it were as simple as just double clicking the shortcut after the installation has finished and running the game. But, it’s not. After the installation has finished, you are presented with a screen informing you that you require a whole list of pre-installed application to run the game. Some of the requirements are understandable, like DirectX and Adobe Flash Player updates, but further down the list you’ll discover that you also require Games for Windows Live, Rockstar Social Club, Sony DADC SecuROM, Microsoft .NET Framework, and Internet Explorer.

Now some of the previously mentioned applications aren’t too much of a problem, as 95% of PC’s running Windows XP or Vista should have the .NET Framework and Internet Explorer already installed with the latest service packs or updates, but my hiccup was with the Games For Windows Live, and the Rockstar Social Club. I’ve encountered Games For Windows Live before with the PC versions of Gears Of War, and Viva Piñata, and they both were no hassle. But for GTA 4, if you don’t have GFWL installed as a separate application on your system, you have to go through a 30MB download, and yet another installation before GTA 4 will run. The Rockstar Social Club on the other hand, will automatically install with the game, which in turn is a separate application running in your task manager that links to the internet to give you access to exclusive news, updates and content with regards to GTA 4.

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To be able to run the game, you HAVE to sign up as a Rockstar Social Club member, and verify the game’s authenticity online along with the 20 digit code given on the back of the booklet inside the case. After all this, as I was waiting for the game to load up for the first time, I though to myself – this game better be worth it, and surely the worst is over by now… but once again, I was in for another little surprise.

The game loaded up, and I was presented with the main screen, obviously wanting to get to the actual game play as fast as possible after my 3 hour endeavor, I pressed start, and the game loaded up. To my surprise, the game didn’t look as great as I had hoped, but then I realized that this is the first time I’m running it, so obviously the Graphics settings are still set to default. So I went into the graphics menu, and attempted to push the setting up, note the word “attempted”. I tried pushing everything from texture quality, resolution and render quality. But the game wouldn’t allow me to.

No, I’m not kidding, GTA4 actually has built in memory restrictions stopping players from pushing up the graphics settings. How it calculated the restrictions, no one knows, but on my machine, with 4GB DDR2 800Mhz Ram, and an NVIDIA Geforce 8800GTS, it somehow came to the odd conclusion that I only have 200Mb memory to spare on graphics. Immediately perturbed by this, I quit the game and jumped on the internet to find out if there is some sort of solution for this.

Surely I’m not the only one who’s a little more than slightly upset about this whole graphical restriction debacle, and surely they must have released an update or patch for it by now, which is one of the beautiful things about PC games. No matter the fault or bugs, they usually, once again, note the word “usually” release updates, patches, or fixes for these things. But for the third time, I was taken aback, as I discovered that there isn’t a patch, not yet at least. All I could find was a thread on the official GTA 4 Forum, promising that a patch would be released soon.

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But in my search, that lasted for well over an hour, I discovered some command line hacks that void the memory restrictions and let you tune up the graphical settings, along with a updates NVIDIA drivers that were specifically released to increase performance in GTA 4. I downloaded the NVIDIA drivers, another 60Mb download (groan) and installed them, as well as applying the command line hacks to the GTA 4 shortcut, and booted up the game. Once in the game, I turned up all the graphical settings, and attempted to play.

To my surprise, the game was almost unplayable. Not only was the frame rate ridiculously low, but the world, and textures took insanely long to load. I could get in a car, drive down the road, and a minute or two later, I was driving on nothing. The road, and 80% percent of the background and scenery weren’t there. I had to stop, and wait for it to load, which was only a good 45 to 50 seconds later.

Now, you have to understand where I’m coming from here. My PC is by no means a monster gaming rig with a R150,000.00 price tag, but it is certainly way up there border lining on “monster PC that can handle anything”. My current setup can handle Gears Of War, Bioshock, Dead Space, Unreal Tournament 3, Tomb Raider Underworld, and EVEN Crysis on full resolution and settings. And not only can it handle all of the previously mentioned games at full specs, it can also split them at full specs across two 19” LCD monitors, with an overall resolution of 2560×1024, which is essentially doing twice the amount of work, with no performance decrease whatsoever.

I have to be honest, GTA 4 doesn’t even look that great compared to the games that I mentioned previously, which is why I’m so baffled over why it was running so slowly. I heard rumors and I obviously don’t know how true this is, but apparently Rockstar rushed the PC port so that they could release it just before the festive season. It’s either that, or they have A LOT of optimizing to do still on GTA 4, which will obviously not happen, seeing as the game is already released.

This gets to me somewhat, because you stand in a store, pick up the game, and the first thing you do is turn it around and look at the required specs. The average gamer, with a slightly above average PC will think, “Cool, I can play this game on my machine”, only to discover after buying it and installing it, that you can’t. The point I’m trying to make here is that my specs FAR exceed the recommended specs for GTA 4, and I’m struggling to run it, which just says it all.

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Those of you whom have braved reading this article, might at this point think, “Well, surely its not worth it then?”, but… you are wrong. After all the schlep I’ve been through with this game, I eventually decided to suck up my pride and turn the graphics down to medium to make it remotely playable, and for the fourth and final surprise, it sure is playable!

Regardless of everything I previously mentioned, once you start playing, and really get into it, you forget about the ugly graphics, slightly less than ideal frame rate, and annoyingly slow texture pop-in. All of that goes completely out the window, as you immerse yourself in the dirty, crime infested city, where the world is so massive, that you can go days, even weeks without doing a single mission. You can spend countless hours exploring the city, stealing cars, and causing havoc. You can even go bowling, or play some pool, which isn’t just a cutscene, you actually get to control your character and play both pool and bowling. Of course, you can also become part of the actual story and do jobs for your cousin and other characters that you’ll meet along the way to earn some cash that you can later spend on anything from clothes to weapons.

Nothing gets to me more than a sequel, or installment to a series that doesn’t live up to it’s predecessors, but GTA 4 does the GTA series proud! And regardless of all the issues that you might hear, is a truly great experience, and in my opinion, is a perfect example that it’s not all about photo-realistic graphics and how good it looks, game-play does still count for something.

Last Updated: December 15, 2008

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