The GTA franchise has rarely ever put a step wrong. No game in the series can ever be discarded as a mediocre entry, which says a lot for a franchise that is this old.
Many often point to GTA 4 when discussing the biggest creative risks and ambitious moves pulled by Rockstar Games within the franchise. This is because GTA 4 ditched the glitz and over-the-top nature of previous games and chose to tell a much more grounded story.
To that end, the game continues to divide fan opinion. However, a major chunk of the fanbase has come to appreciate the game for its creatively ambitious nature.
Here, we take a look at what GTA 4 did better than any other game in the franchise.
What are 5 things that GTA 4 did better than any other game in the series?
#1 A compelling protagonist
It is difficult to deny just how nuanced and compelling Niko is as a character. An immigrant with a checkered and violent past, Niko isn't a man looking for trouble. However, he usually finds himself in hot water.
While that description might sound a bit formulaic, Niko is anything but. The character's writing avoids the trappings of the typical, gruff 2000s protagonist by carefully balancing the brooding with moments of levity.
Having said that, Niko isn't just a melancholic grunt. He also packs a lot of ammunition when it comes to wit and humor. His backstory gives the character a lot of baggage to deal with, and it comes to light in fascinating ways.
GTA 4 benefitted a ton by letting players play as someone who is not familiar with either America or Liberty City. This essentially puts players on the same level as Niko, adding a sense of relatability to the character.
#2 A sense of realism
A player's actions have more consequences in GTA 4 than any other game in the franchise.
The game benefits a ton from having real-world physics attached to every object. A badly-timed turn or brake will send the player's vehicle hurtling down the road and leave Niko badly injured.
Every vehicle in the game has a realistic sense of weight and is grounded in reality. While this was obviously a huge point of contention as it was taking away the apparent "fun" of GTA's open world, it did serve Rockstar's creative vision in a big way.
#3 A grounded storyline
The GTA franchise has always had trouble identifying and sticking to a tone for the length of the entire game. For instance, GTA San Andreas starts out as a story of gang warfare and the loss of family but quickly diverts into one about government conspiracies and city-wide riots.
However, Rockstar stuck to their guns with GTA 4. The game knew exactly what it was trying to convey and how to go about doing that.
There are no pointless detours or disposable characters for the sake of a laugh. The game knows the kind of story it wants to tell and manages to tell it successfully.
#4 More player choice
While far from being an RPG that changes as a result of the player's actions, GTA 4 did make a lot of headway in terms of increasing player agency. At certain points in the story, the player was allowed to make certain decisions that would impact not only the game's ending but the fates of certain characters.
As a result, Niko's story felt more real to players as they were often making a lot of important calls. While GTA 5 certainly requires the player to make a pretty important decision towards the end of the game, Grand Theft Auto 4 does it in a much more subtle way.
#5 A compelling cast of villains
Much like the MCU, the GTA franchise might have a problem when it comes to its villains. Typically, every game in the series will have multiple villains in place of one bad guy at the end of the game.
While that approach suits gameplay, as it usually signifies the player is evolving and meeting bigger threats, it doesn't make for great storytelling.
Grand Theft Auto 4 does something similar but ties it up in an organic way so it isn't as jarring.
One of the biggest reasons why GTA 4's villains stand out among the rest is the fact that their actions can be justified. Even someone as deplorable as Vlad has a certain level of relatability and charm.
However, the main antagonist, Dimitri Rascalov, is simply one of the best-written villains in the series and showcases just how far Rockstar has come in terms of their writing.