Grand Theft Auto 4: A Strange Relic from Open-World Gaming’s Past

Grand Theft Auto IV was released 15 years ago today and is known for being a distinct departure from the series’ previous entries. While the game’s technology made significant advancements in gaming, the approach to its storytelling attempted to question the very foundations of the open-world crime game. Although the game had flaws, it’s worth looking back at how it positioned itself as a bold move in video gaming, with its darker themes and characters.

A Technological Leap

Grand Theft Auto IV sparked a new era in video game verisimilitude, with its faithful recreation of a bleak New York City setting, signaling a path to a virtual world experience that had never before been seen. Additionally, the game introduced much-improved combat mechanics and a more realistic handling model for vehicles, which made the game less cartoonish in its violence and believable in its criminal hijinks.

Missing Elements

Despite getting high critical acclaim on its release, GTA IV was criticized for lacking many elements that its predecessor, San Andreas, had. Fans missed the diversity within the map, turf wars, and various other role-playing features. Some argue that these were left out because of technical limitations, but others believe that they didn’t fit with the tone that Rockstar was aiming for in GTA IV.

A Different Kind of Crime Story

The game’s narrative is modeled after dour films, being an immigrant’s story steeped in tragedy. It stands apart from the other PS2 era games, which essentially restated existing crime movie tropes. In contrast, GTA IV’s protagonist, Niko Bellic, spends the majority of the game bailing out his dim-witted cousin; Roman, who put himself in tight spots through his gambling habits. You can see that achieving the American Dream doesn’t come easy or quickly for Niko.


The game’s key events hinged on choices made throughout the story, and the player’s decision ultimately determined the emotions the game evokes. The moment Niko seeks revenge on the man that betrayed his military unit back in Eastern Europe is a prime example of this. The player must decide whether to execute or spare his former comrade. Regardless of your choice, the game delivers a blunt message about revenge and leaves a bitter taste.

Dividing Fans

Some praised the game for its ambitious storytelling while others missed the more cartoonish fun of the previous entries. Indeed, it’s an enduring example of a massive, world-conquering game that challenged its audience by taking a radically different approach than what was expected of the popular franchise.

The Journey

At the end of GTA IV, Niko may find a sense of accomplishment and relative comfort in his newfound reality. Still, the final line from Niko resonates, reminding us all that perhaps the victory is not what we long for in the end.


GTA IV continues to hold a place in the hearts of gamers as Rockstar did something incredibly bold in a series that had been a fan favorite for years. Sometimes it’s necessary to take risks and attempt something new. Because even if it doesn’t work out entirely, the result can still be a significant contribution to the gaming world.


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