Here are five of the reasons I love Grand Theft Auto 4, and two ways it could be better.
There are so many options, most of which you can do at any time; vigilante cop missions, street racing, killing innocent pedestrians, dating, playing on the internet, bowling, and I could go on.
It's almost like an RPG where these aspects of the game are the huge selection of sidequests. In fact, this can be seen as a very non-traditional RPG in a lot of ways, as I'll discuss as we go through some of these points.
2. Solid (Main) Storyline
The side storylines are great, but the main story is really pulling me in. I haven't played through the full game yet, (this is 5 reasons, not a review) but so far it's been fantastic. They've managed to keep a diverse enough set of missions, which is big, since a game like this could easily fall into a rut of repetitive missions. There are clearly going to be common themes: stealing cars, killing cops/civilians/criminals, etc. but if you're getting bored with that, you probably never started playing GTA4 in the first place.
3. Voice Acting
Excellent voice acting has been an up and coming feature in games, with my favorite being Mass Effect (you'll be seeing a review of this eventually), and BioShock is another good example. There used to be some mediocre voice acting, which would make games take up multiple discs, but as technology has progressed this aspect of games has really blossomed.
This is especially relevant for RPGs, since a common criticism is that they are too text heavy as a result of their in-depth stories. Why do movies sell better than books? People don't like to read that much, especially with the crowd that would be playing GTA4, which probably isn't your typical RPG crowd.
4. Smooth Controls
When I'm speaking of controls, I don't just mean how natural it feels to steal a car, leap from building to building, or get in a knife fight with a gangbanger, but how the game itself is controlled. (Though the game controls themselves are done well.) In point #3 I talk about how much there is to do in the game. One option is to have a big map, and you can drive to different parts of the game. GTA does this, but they're not the first to do this. You could select different missions from the pause menu, but that wouldn't feel very streamlined; it would feel like a bunch of separate games.
The three ways that they do this effectively are through the use of your cell phone, and the ability to take cabs. With your cell phone, you can call up contacts, and start missions up; this will still require some driving, so it doesn't feel like you're skipping around, but it's not tedious either. Don't feel like driving across the city? Take a cab. It'll cost you some cash, but you'll save time, just like in real life.
Don't be confused, this just means that it's not over or underwhelming. This sums up some of the above points in discussing the seamless integration of the game; combining points 1 and 2 (via point 4). Another way they do this is through the GPS unit. I have a terrible sense of direction in real life, and it only gets worse when I'm playing games.
A GPS in my phone in real life has done me wonders, and it's done the same in this game. I'm not just talking about a map in the pause menu, or overlaid on the screen which tells me where I am, but a HUD at the bottom of the screen showing me where I need to make turns. In a non-linear game focused on driving, this is a dealbreaker, and Rockstar did it excellently.
a. Stupid Cops
During the main storyline missions, the cops are fine, mostly because you always have a wanted rating, and they're chasing after you. However, during 'free play' if I'm just driving about, they're not so bright. If they see me steal a car, take down my license plate; have them be looking for me later if I'm dumb enough to not switch cars. I blow a red light right in front of you, while T-boning a car, and what do you do? Nothing! This is the type of thing I would like to see adjustable in by a difficulty option. It would be annoying if I couldn't speed without getting into a car chase, but if I want to play more stealthily?
b. Absurd Rating System
This is similar to point a, but different enough to warrant it's own point:
Shoot a pedestrian in the face, next to a cop. 1 star.
Shoot a cop. 3 stars.
That sounds like a fair comparison. Let's try another one:
Barely nick a cop because you didn't brake in time. 1 star.
Pull someone out of their car, stab them to death, and drive off in their car, whilst a cop watches. 1 star.
This aspect could have use some more balancing.