Wow!! Great debate here.
Iíve played all the GTA titles and I really like GTA 4. I haven't gotten board of the game at all, but I think Himuro has made some excellent points here and that Ash is in a bit of denial.
1. All the taxi stuff IS a bummer: The problem is the distance between safe houses. You go through a large chunk of the game with basically just the safe house in Bohan. Driving to missions and dates, etc. took so much time I started using the taxi to get everywhere. That was really sad because just simple driving was one of my favorite parts of GTA.
2. The relationship stuff got overwhelming: At first I really liked the idea of the relationships. There were times in the game though when the cell phone was ringing constantly. Roman, and Brucie and Packie were all giving me grief for not calling and it made me actually feel guilty!! Video games should be an escape from real life. Once it feels like the same kind of hassle of your job, I think some thing has gone wrong. Rockstar needs to scale down the neediness of the supporting cast.
Himuro, in terms of your charge of ďhand holdingĒ and lack of freedom of GTA 4, I completely agree, but I feel like that change happened back in Vice City. Thatís one really cool thing about GTA III is that there are multiple ways to do missions and most missions have a non-cheat way to cheat the mission like blowing up the enemies getaway car. Maybe San Andreas and GTA 4 have the most scripted missions though. You wonder if on some level Rockstar wishes they were making movies. I always find it annoying when the controls are pulled away for some long, drawn out ďcinematicĒ scene.
In terms of the realism VS mayhem, I think itís hard to say. San Andreas was a very different beast than the rest. If you compare GTA 4 with GTA 3 or Vice City, is it really that limited? Personally, I found the ambulance missions to be the thing I dreaded most in getting 100%, I was glad to see that and the fire trucks gone. Himuro again made a good point though; it was nice in the previous titles to get some reward for completing side-missions. You felt like you were building towards 100%.
I disagree that the visuals are nothing but fluff though. I mean, it IS a video game. Graphics count for a lot. And itís more than eye-candy; itís the way Rockstar creates a fully immersive world. GTA 4 has pushed that further than any of the other titles. The sound design of the pedestrians and ambient noises are a HUGE leap forward (playing the game in surround sound, hearing someone sneak up on you, is unreal). The humor and satire of American culture in the game is as razor-sharp as ever. So often overlooked, I think GTA is on par with The Simpsons (albeit from a VERY different angle) in terms of observations of American culture. Lazlo and Dan H are geniuses. Finally, I wonít even get into the Euphoria engine stuff, but has anyone else been totally blown away with the dynamic changes in light and shadow?
ONE THING TO TRY: Go to a section of Algonquin with dense buildings right before sunset. Stand in one place and just watch the sun pass overhead. Watch the way the shadows actually move and grow along the ground as the sun sets. Watch the way the light quality changes as the day ends. Iíve never seen anything like it.