The Grand Theft Auto series is monumental, with beloved entries that have sold tens of millions of copies worldwide. Despite this, 2008’s Grand Theft Auto IV is often disregarded and forgotten about — and unfairly so, as it’s one of the best in the series. While there are a number of reasons GTA IV is such a classic, arguably the most important factor is the way it paved the way for what would become Grand Theft Auto Online. Without GTA IV, it’s likely GTA Online wouldn’t exist, or at the very least, it would look much different today. Sure, the 2008 game’s multiplayer pillar was rudimentary, but GTA Online owes a lot to what Rockstar did with GTA IV — which is currently celebrating its 15th anniversary.
Revolutionary for the Time
Grand Theft Auto IV wasn’t the first game in the series to feature online multiplayer, but in 2008, it was definitely the most robust attempt. It allowed players to explore all of Liberty City with (or against) friends, to wreak havoc in more ways than one.
At the time, simply being able to explore the city with friends was a dream come true. It wasn’t overly complex and it didn’t need to be — players were having a blast causing chaos without any limited-time events, heists, or missions to complete. This meant players had to get creative to have fun in the Free Roam mode, which was apparently easy to do.
But beyond that, a hefty offering of additional modes was included to round out the online experience including Deathmatch and Race, along with multiple missions such as Deal Breaker, Hangman’s Noose, and Bomb Da Base II.
These extra modes offered tremendous variety, giving players plenty to do outside of simply free-roaming the city. Interestingly, many of these modes are featured in GTA Online, though they’re implemented in a more seamless way. Still, it’s fascinating to see how GTA Online was inspired by the game that came before it.
Another noteworthy inclusion was the ability to customize your character in GTA IV. While you couldn’t alter stats or any mechanical features, you could certainly change the way your character looked, which was featured prominently in GTA Online.
All of these features were groundbreaking at the time, as players would spend dozens of hours messing around in the multiplayer mode.
A Simplistic Approach
Despite all the things you could do in GTA IV’s multiplayer mode, it feels relatively simple all these years later. There was a limited progression system, no continuous story to follow, and certainly no major expansions to look forward to (at least, in the same way as GTA Online). The online mode did feature a ranking system, but the rewards for leveling up were cosmetic, so it wasn’t as important to earn XP.
While this might be a turn-off to some, it’s arguably one of the game’s strengths, as it doesn’t require players to pour as much time into it. GTA IV’s multiplayer feels much more casual, allowing players to drop in for quick fun, before jumping out. GTA Online is great and deserves praise for its robust offering of features, as well as its constant updates.
But there’s something to be said about GTA IV’s simplicity, which made it more approachable. It’s easy to see how a player may be completely overwhelmed when diving into GTA Online, as there are many things to do.
Sadly, there isn’t a great way to play GTA IV’s multiplayer mode in 2023. You can access the game on PC, but if you’re on a console, you’ll need to bust out a PS3 or Xbox 360. Here’s hoping Rockstar gives GTA IV the remaster treatment (though, hopefully, it would look and run better than the Trilogy remasters from 2021). Considering how Rockstar doesn’t seem to love GTA IV as much, we’ll likely get to play GTA 6 before a remaster of its 2008 predecessor.
Today, GTA Online is a behemoth and is home to millions of monthly active users. It generates around $800 million per year for Rockstar from Shark Cards (the game’s microtransactions) alone, making it a major success for the company. But still, it would likely look a lot different if Rockstar hadn’t tested the waters with GTA IV 15 years ago.