Grand Theft Auto IV – Diary #4

GTA IV - Nicko Drives Boat Past Statute of LibertyGTA IV Diary: Entry #1, Entry #2, Entry #3, Entry #4

Key Stats: 43.45% done |  55 missions passed | 66 missions failed | $323,224 in cash | 37:47 Playing Time | 3rd & 4th safehouse

It’s been a week since Diary Entry #3. My objective was to get to the point where all of Liberty City was unlocked before making this entry. It was harder and took much longer to get to that point than I thought it would.

Despite being frustrated with GTA IV’s save system (see below), I’m still enjoying the game. I suspect I won’t post diary entry #5 until I complete the campaign.

Helicopter Fun!

Soon after the last entry, I was surprised to discover that you can park (and then save) the helicopter within the yellow lines outside the various safehouses. It’s not easy to land close to buildings without destroying the helicopter but its possible, as these pictures demonstrate (click on them for larger view):

GTA IV - Helicopter Parked at Bohan Safehouse GTA IV - Helicopter Parked at Algonquin Safehouse

I was able to fly to Michelle’s house, land there and take her out on a helicopter date – a personal flight over Manhattan (see picture below).

GTA IV - Nicko Takes Michelle on a Personal Helicopter Date

She didn’t seem particularly impressed but it worked. No comments on the clothes or car this time. That was worth it in itself.

Helicopter Tips:

Tip 1 – Landing at Michelle’s House: In order to land at Michelle’s house and successfully take Michelle on a helicopter date you must land the helicopter exactly on the yellow chevron (arrows) in front of her house. If you land a few feet away and walk to the chevron, the helicopter disappears after Michelle leaves the house.

Note: This was not the case when I took the helicopter on some later missions that required cut scene triggers by crossing the yellow chevron. Landing within a few hundred feet of the chevrons sufficed in most cases.

Tip 2 – Helicopter Bumper Buttons: When I got to the part of the game where you fly a helicopter as part of a mission for the first time, the game provides on-screen instructions on how to fly. These instructions do not appear if you jack a helicopter earlier in the game.  Use the left and right bumper buttons to steer  the helicopter.  I didn’t figure that out on my own.  I had flown the helicopter around for hours (including landing in front of safehouses and Michelle’s house) without that knowledge. Using the bumper buttons make it much easier to fly.

Tip 3: Using Helicopters for Missions: There are several tough missions where you have to first: 1) travel from a safehouse to place x to get instructions or pick someone up, and then 2) drive from place x to the mission location y. Those two steps can sometimes take 5 or more minutes in a car or by taxi. That’s fine if you have to play the mission just once. But due to the infuriating save system (see rant below), if you fail a mission, you have to travel to x and y over and over.  I now make a point of saving a helicopter outside my safehouse before attempting these missions. If I fail the mission I reload from the last save point and try again with the helicopter as my primary mode of transportation. It cuts down on this redundant travel time dramatically. I highly recommend this strategy.

Three Ricky Gervais Sitings

GTA IV - Ricky Gervais Comedy SkitI finally got to watch the motion-captured Ricky Gervais’ comedy skit. I recently started watching the Extras TV series.  It was a treat to see him in the game.

His skit was reasonably funny. I had a good laugh at his final punch line.  He appeared in another comedy skit when I watched TV in the Algonquin safehouse. And later, as I was riding in a taxi, I heard him being interviewed on one of the talk radio shows. All three comedy bits were different.

Unprecedented Attention to Detail

The game continues to delight with its attention to detail. To evade a 4 star chase I chose to run down into a subway and run through the subway tunnels under Algonquin. Halfway down one of the lines I came across a group of homeless people who had set up their home their. Fires were roaring in oil drums. What are the odds most GTA players will ever walk through the subway tunnels on foot to discover this? Impressive!

I like to explore nooks and crannies. As with many games, treasures (in this case usually weapons) can often be found off the beaten path. No matter where I go there is always something happening. Joggers are running in parks. Boaters are boating on the rivers. People are fishing on the shore. People are barbecuing in a park. Prostitutes and thugs are out at night. Peole use umbrellas and wear rain gear in the rain. No matter where I find myself in this large city there are always humans engaged in location, weather and time of day appropriate activities. I don’t recall ever seeing the same scenario being played out in two different places.

Thunder & Lightening Storm

I quite enjoyed the changing weather conditions in the game. The thunder and lightening storm I recently experienced was the best yet. I was on a sniper mission in upper Algonquin, scoping out locations for the shot and an Armageddon-style thunder, lightening and rain storm was raging around me. My controller shook when the thunder cracked. Wow! I don’t know if the game queues that storm for that mission or if it was random chance. But it was terrific atmosphere for a cold-hearted sniping mission. This is the kind of thing that sets GTA IV above the rest.

Achievement Action

“Full Exploration” (20 points) This achievement was a lllooonnngggg  time  in coming. At 43.45% game progress, I finally unlocked the entire city. There is a very tough mission immediately before this is achieved.

“Under the Radar” (40 points) To get this achievement you need to fly the helicopter under each of the 14 GTA bridges. I attempted it immediately after gaining access to (jacking) a helicopter over a week ago.  Unfortunately you can only fly under 9 of the 15 bridges when Alderny (New Jersey) Island is still locked. If you attempt to fly under those bridges before unlocking it, you’ll be chased by other helicopters and shot out of the air.  Flying under the remaining 5 bridges was the first thing I did after achieving Full Exploration.

“Sightseer” (5 points) OK, I was mislead on this one. I read somewhere that in order to get this achievement you must take a helitour from each of the six landing circles at the heliport. I was able to take off from 5 of the 6 landing circles very early on. But no matter how many times I went back, there was never a helicopter on the sixth landing circle (the one at the bottom of the ‘T’ shaped landing area). I had assumed that I needed to achieve/unlock the “Full Exploration” achievement before a helicopter would land there. Alas, even after reaching that achievement a helicopter never landed there.  So, I thought, perhaps I needed to take all the tours again before a helicopter would land there. So, I started them all again and that, my 6th helitour,, I got the “Sightseer” achievement. I never did take a t0ur that started from that last circle. So, I’m guessing that all you need to do for this achievement is to take 6 helitours and nothing more.

“King of QUB3D” (15 points) This little arcade game is available in the pool hall by Little Jacob’s haunt, in the Triangle Club and other bars. It’s a tumbling 3D, Tetris-like game. Beat the high score (which I did on my fourth attempt) and you get the achievement. It takes a game or two to figure out. After mastering the mechanic, the key to the game is noticing that the next two cubes are previewed on the top of the screen as you are working with the current two cubes. Factor in the next two cubes as you are dealing with the current two cubes and you’ll have it. It’s easy and surprisingly fun.

“One Man Army” (40 points) I forgot to mention this in Diary Entry #1, but I got this achievement on the first day by following the “One Man Army” achievement technique (cough, ‘cheat’, cough) described in Gamespy’s GTA IV Achievement Guide. :)

No More Stranger (5 points): I found my second and third ‘blue men’ icons on the map and dealt with them. Based on the number of points, I’m still guessing there are 5 of these in the game. So far I found two of them in Hove Beach and another near Packie’s home in Dukes. I have not figured out any way to hunt them down. They appear on the map when they appear – seemingly randomly. This achievement is still a conundrum for me.

Triggering 4 and 6 Star Chases:

You’ll need to trigger a 6 star and a 4 star chase in order to get the “One Man Army” and  “Walk Free” achievements respectively (though a 4 star level occurs as part of the Three Leaf Clover mission).  To trigger a 6 star chase, try to cross any bridge blocked off by the police. 4 star chases can be triggered by going out on the tarmac (runways) at the Francis International Airport, or by driving into the front entrance of the United Nations building.

Music / Radio Stations

Two things struck me about the radio stations:

  1. Quality Dependant on Car: Early in the game when you listen to the radio in average cars you get an average sounding radio. But as you acquire higher end cars, the quality of the radio increases and takes full advantage your home theatre stereo/surround sound system. The sound quality is far superior when driving around in a BMW, Porsche or Ferrari, for instance.
  2. New Songs as Game Progress?: I don’t know if its me, or if GTA IV deliberately holds back songs/radio stations/talk radio for play later in the game to change things up. At this point in my play, the radio stations seem to be playing different songs from earlier in the game. I particularly enjoy the jazz and classic rock stations, but most of the 200 songs in the game are enjoyable.

Police Escape Tips

You will spend a lot of time evading chasing police in this game. Often times they are started innocently – by just bumping a police car for example. Escaping efficiently is a key game skill.

Pay & Spray: If you are close to a pay & spray, head into the garage as soon as you can. Be sure no cop sees you going in the garage. If there is a cop on your tail, circle the block and come back before entering the garage. If successful, the chase will be history. You might want to plot a course to the nearest pay & spray on you map as soon as a chase begins to make it easier to find – or scope them out in advance.

Edge of the Radar: When evading police, the objective, of course, is to run/drive outside the blue radar area and stay there. As soon as you get outside the blue radar, STOP. If you stop, and no cop is in your immediate vicinity its unlikely another police officer will see you.  But if you keep moving you’ll likely bump into another  police car – expanding the blue radar around you again. It sounds silly, but it works. Racing just past the edge of the blue radar and stopping is the most effective way to end average 1 and 2 star police chases.

Watch The Backup Vehicles: Normally there is only one police car chasing you at first. The radar will show you where other backup police cars are.  As you head to the edge of the blue radar, avoid driving to the edge where a backup vehicle is closing in. Makes common sense  but I didn’t pick up on that until recently. My approach is to drive out of the radar in the direction where there are no backup police cars coming in.

Let Cops Get out of their Car Before  You Run: When a chase begins, you can stop your car and watch the police get out of their car and walk to yours. Just as they reach you – speed away. It takes time for the police to get back in their car and, alas, it takes much less time/energy to get away.

Prompt a Mission: If you prompt a cut scene for the next mission while being chased, the police chase ends. It doesn’t matter if there are 20 cops chasing you down, if you can get to a yellow chevron and trip the next mission, date with Michelle or whatever, the police chase ends.

Walking Bridges: The police will not chase you over walking bridges. Both the Broker Bridge and Algonquin Bridges have walking bridges between the lanes. If you can get on to the walking bridge you are safe.  You may have to walk across the bridge to get outside of the blue radar but you’ll eventually be safe. You can also ride motorcycles across the foot bridges and the police won’t chase you.

More Tips

Always Keep a Turismo (Ferrari F40.): The best car I’ve found in the game so far is the  Turismo – which is pretty much a Ferrari F40. It is always available for hijacking beside Vlad’s house. This car is the fastest, handles the best and is virtually indestructible (relatively speaking). I recommend jacking it (repeatedly) and keeping at least one at each safehouse parking spot. You can jack one, park it and then take a cab back to Vlad’s house to jack another. Notice the pictures above. I have a Turismo parked with my helicopter at both safehouses.

Avoid Shooting While Chasing: You can shoot your opponents while chasing them. In my experience, this is usually a bad idea. Whenever I did, this resulted in the police joining the chase and taking me out (while doing nothing to stop the car I was chasing). Assuming you have the Turismo, you should be able to keep up with virtually any fleeing vehicle. Sooner or later the other car crashes or stops and you can take out your prey by shooting them or driving over them at that point.

Using Police Cars as Your Ride: If you steal a police car you can use it as your main car for as long as you like. You can save it at your safehouse like any other car. Using it as a get-around vehicle has its advantages. You don’t have to pay tolls. Other police cars don’t chase you. You can turn on the siren and other cars will try to get out of the way. Not sexy – but it has its benefits.

Press A to Avoid Arrest: If you are being arrested, press A (X on the PS3) to escape. It took me to 39% of the way through the game to notice that this was an option. As I mentioned in a prior post, its better to escape the police and die in the trying than to be arrested and loose all your costly guns.

Auto Aiming: Let me be clear – using auto-aiming is for newbs and whusses! :) I hate it. It’s a pity Rockstar sets auto-aiming on by default. But if you get to a particularly difficult mission, using auto-aiming turns a difficult mission into a cake-walk. I only used this approach once in the game so far. While this cheapens the game somewhat, I feel justified given the ridiculous save system. If I could save where and when I wanted, I’d never use it.

“Don’t Completely Empty a Weapon” Here’s why. If you are in a fight and use all the ammo in a given weapon, Nicko throws the gun away. He never retains a gun with zero ammo. I really like the automatic rifle. But if I use all the ammo in a fight, the next time I go to buy ammo I also have to buy the gun, again, for $3,000.  I’ve repurchased the same gun at least 5 times because I emptied the ammo.  Leave 1 bullet in the chamber and the next time you go ammo shopping, you’ll still have your gun. Easy to say – very hard to remember this in the middle of a fight.

More Escort Missions

Jeese!  There was an  ‘escort mission’ early on with Little Jacob and two more so far with Packie – including the difficult Three Leaf Clover mission ….. Grrr!!! Escort missions should be banned.

The Save System is REALLY Starting to Anger Me

I described this problem in diary Entry #1, so there’s no need to go on about it at length. This is really putting a blemish on this otherwise terrific game.  Here’s how the inability to save is lessening the experience for me.

I genuinely enjoy driving around Liberty City. But when forced to replay a mission over and over (and thereby forced to drive multi-legged journey’s over and over) because I can’t save where I want, the joy is considerably lessened. I’d even be fine if Rockstar left out the ability to save during the fighting sequence of a mission.  But, by the Gods in the Heavens, stop forcing me to drive for long periods of time, to first get the mission instructions and then to drive to the mission only to die in the fight and do it all over again. Rockstar, this is REALLY starting to anger me. Adult gamers don’t want to replay more than a few minutes after a loss.  There is no need to use this out-dated contrivance to make the game last longer. The game is plenty long. Let us save where we want – or for the love of God create a save point immediately before a battle so I don’t have to drive for 5 or 10 minutes just to get back to the fight every time I fail!

I wanted to give GTA IV a 5 out of 5. But when I write my final review this infuriating save system will single-handedly result in my giving it no more than a 4 out of 5.

<<  Read Diary Entry #3


  1. // Reply

    Huh, didn’t know that A button press trick to prevent getting arrested. Was pissed I couldn’t fight these cops up close and Niko just gave up. As to your avoiding pursuit tips, I’ve also noticed you run really fast without tiring in this game so often ditched my marked car and ran the last bit to the edge of the pursuit area – also a good way to take shortcuts where cop cars can’t go. In some cases I jumped off bridges and such (to my death) to avoid capture as you suggest. I never beat that Tetris game.

  2. // Reply

    It may take a bit, but Nikko does tire after running awhile. I learned that trying to run across one of the main bridges. He will only run so far before he slows down to a canter. But, I’m referring to the fast running by pressing A, A, A repeatedly. If you just run normally he may not tire. Not sure.

  3. // Reply

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  4. // Reply

    You do realize that you are taking a whole point off because of a save system you think is lousy? From what I know, the Grand Theft Autos I have played in the past also use the same method, or at least San Andreas and Vice City do. Please be a bit unbiased.

  5. // Reply

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  6. // Reply

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  7. // Reply

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  8. // Reply

    Well, yes, since that is explicitly what I said above, I do realize it. I never did finish the game because I injured my hand. But, I stand by my position. The single biggest flaw of the game is the save system. This is 2010 when I’m writing this comment. I haven’t played any game in the last year or so that continues with this pre-hard-drive, 1990 game save mechanic. Let’s hope this is the last GTA to employ it. If not, I’ll knock 1.5 points off the next game for the same reason. Enough is enough.

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