It was quite easy to see that Rockstar Games had struck gold with GTA 3 at the start of the millennium, and a cultural phenomenon was born. Many often point to Rockstar Games, specifically the GTA franchise, as the ultimate symbol of excellence and consistency in the AAA space.
The publisher has made very few compromises when it comes to the production quality of each game. Even with arguably smaller titles for handheld consoles like GTA Chinatown Wars, they ultimately received the kind of polish and care a mainline release would.
This kind of dedication to quality separates Rockstar from the herd and makes the GTA series the industry juggernaut that it is today. This level of production value and polish aren't just the only things that fueled the franchise's success. Creative risk and innovation had just as huge a part, if not bigger.
Many often look to GTA 4 as perhaps the most creatively ambitious game in the series, but not one regarded as the most replayable in the current age. What makes the game so critically lauded yet not too popular amongst mainstream audiences is indeed quite puzzling.
Has GTA 4 aged as well as other games in the franchise?
It takes just one casual stroll through the internet for fans to likely come across GTA San Andreas memes and talk of Vice City's soundtrack, amongst the occasional "Niko, let's go bowling" joke. Even for a game that came out in 2008, Grand Theft Auto 4 hasn't stayed in the public eye as much as other games in the franchise from earlier have.
For instance, Vice City and San Andreas are massively popular games that are being enjoyed even in 2021. GTA 4, on the other hand, remains a dearly beloved classic, but most wouldn't elect to go back and play the game again.
Nostalgic, but nearly not enough
The problem largely remains that even though it has been 13 years since the game out, fans could argue that the game doesn't feel that old. The mechanics and controls can feel a bit dated compared to the game that came out five years after it did, or even Red Dead Redemption.
Take, for instance, Vice City. The game is undoubtedly old and feels as such with its bizarre running animations, dated AI, confusing controls, and blocky textures. Yet, instead of those elements working against the game, they add to the charm.
They essentially evoke a strong sense of nostalgia that transports players back to when they first played the game. GTA 4, on the other hand, feels old but not nearly as old as the rest of the games and is in a highly confusing spot.
The visuals look dated but are modern enough to pass for a 2012 game at best. The open-world is arguably one of Rockstar's best and feels as authentic as a modern video game.
Yet the controls and lack of modern features make it slightly less accessible than a game in 2021, or even GTA 5, which still sells incredibly well. Thus, when the consumer is looking to make an informed purchase, GTA 4 isn't as appealing as Grand Theft Auto 5, which is miles ahead in terms of both tech and popularity.