GTA IV was a big creative left-turn that could ever be in the franchise with Rockstar opting to go for a much more realistic, gritty, and darker tone with their game. The game did not feature an explosive story that revelled in its ridiculousness, but told the story of a deeply wounded man with a checkered past.
The game still holds the highest critics score on Metacritic of all the GTA games. Yet, the fans' opinion seems to be extremely divided when it comes to the game. Many felt, although ambitious, GTA IV was somewhat misguided in its approach to the tone and gameplay.
Therefore, GTA V did feel like Rockstar was steering to correct the course, and perhaps, even overcompensated and overcorrected in parts.
GTA IV vs GTA V: Changes that Rockstar made in its approach
1) The realism of driving
Rockstar Games made an incredibly bold move in GTA IV when it decided to ground the game in reality in a way that no other game in the franchise had done before. The driving felt like a whole different game with cars having real weight to them, and sliding around corners wasn't as easy as it was before.
The change was welcomed by many, but left a sour taste in the mouths for a lot of fans of the older games. Rockstar decided to go back to the more arcade-style of driving from the previous games in GTA V.
To that end, some have even called GTA V the best arcade-racing experience in modern-day gaming. Therefore, meaning that going back to an arcade-style version of the driving mechanics was indeed the right move.
2) A lighter tone
GTA IV was perhaps the most heartfelt and emotional writing from Rockstar in the GTA franchise, and the story was grounded in reality. Despite lacking in explosive and ridiculous moments of action and hilarity, it made genuinely emotional character moments and captivating plotlines.
The darker and more grounded tale won over many fans but was also a huge turn-off for a major portion of the franchise, which is why, at times, GTA V felt like it was compensating for the darker tone in the previous game.
Grand Theft Auto V suffered from an identity crisis with it not being able to put across a uniform tone. However, the game did a fair job of being enjoyable throughout and was much more accessible than its predecessor.
3) Color Palette
The latter half of the 2000s was dominated by games, films, and music videos that were supposedly going for a much 'darker' tone and not just their writing. The color palette of GTA IV was devoid of vibrant colors, and everything looked as if a layer of grey had been added on the top.
Many attributed this new 'gritty' color palette to the success of movies like the Dark Knight trilogy by Christopher Nolan. The game, as a result, suffered from a lack of anything visually attractive.
GTA V brought back the vibrant color palette, and in return, the game felt all the more inviting and accessible to a larger portion of the gaming community. While pandering to the fans shouldn't be a priority, fan reception can sometimes be considered as positive feedback.
4) Humor and Satire
The GTA franchise is perhaps known as the pinnacle of satire in modern entertainment, and no game would ever be complete without heaps of satire embedded in the game.
Grand Theft Auto IV was no different, but it did scale back and felt like Rockstar had their focus set on other, more story-related writing in the game. That does not say that the game was devoid of humor, as it might just be the most offhand and creative writing from Rockstar.
GTA V was more 'in-your-face' with its humor, which seemed to resonate with a larger fanbase. Grand Theft Auto IV elected to layer its humor as a defense mechanism for characters rather than using it merely as punchlines.