Rockstar’s 2008 crime spree Grand Theft Auto IV returns to Steam next month, after being pulled from sale over game-breaking technical issues. Bringing the base game and its Episodes From Liberty City standalone expansion under a Grand Theft Auto IV: Complete Edition, next month’s return had to make some cuts. Complete Edition? Well, not quite: for starters, it won't have multiplayer anymore
The problems started last month. Released in the hey-day of Microsoft’s Games For Windows Live initiative, a Rockstar spokesperson told USGamer that GTA IV’s reliance on the outdated service was making the game impossible to acquire.
"With Microsoft no longer supporting Games For Windows Live, it is no longer possible to generate the additional keys needed to continue selling the current version of the game. We are looking at other options for distributing GTA4 for PC and will share more information as soon as we can."
Games For Windows Live was Microsoft’s attempt to expand its Xbox ecosystem into Windows in 2007, affecting dozens of games before its ultimate deprecation in 2014. It’s regarded by many to be digital rights management (DRM) at its worst - restricting software access to limited accounts and devices.
If you’ve got GTA IV installed, you’ve got the Complete Edition. Simple as that. Next month there’ll be a free update to plug in Episodes From Liberty City. Owners of the standalone expansion will have their copy removed from Steam, with the Complete Edition taking its place in their Steam libraries. Same content, heavier installation.
But untangling GTA IV from GFWL came with a hefty price. Microsoft’s integration ran deep even after the service wound down in 2014, relying on players to log in with Xbox Live accounts instead. Unfortunately, it seems there was no way to salvage multiplayer in GFWL’s removal. When GTA IV: Complete Edition launches next month, it’ll be a staunchly solo affair.
Perhaps that’s not a huge loss. Compared with Grand Theft Auto V’s ever-expanding GTA Online, its predecessor is remarkably barren. Almost quaint, offering a scant handful of races and deathmatches. It was an interesting experiment, though, and a way to tear around Rockstar’s not-quite New York City with friends.
Returning to Liberty City comes with other compromises. On launch, Ultimate Edition will be missing three radio stations, culling an already limited soundtrack. In 2018, 50 songs were pulled from GTA IV after licenses expired. Next month’s outages bring that number up to almost 100 missing tracks.
It’s likely this is a technical hurdle rather than a legal one. All three affected stations were exclusive to EFLC. But their absence leaves Complete Edition launching with a comparatively sparse soundscape. It’s a merging issue that’s also caused pains in localisation. While GTA IV supported Japanese sub-titles, EFLC never did, leaving speakers stuck with a Complete Edition that only half-supports their language.
The fact remains though that, even in this sliced-up form, GTA IV is still playable. You’ll still be able to hop in and go bowling with your cousin, even if it’s by your lonesome with a much smaller soundtrack. It’s playable because one of the biggest studios on the planet had the resources to pull their game apart.
Other games that faced the same problem survived by making the jump to Steamworks, an alternative back-end developed by Valve that largely removed the need for services like GFWL. Others, however, haven’t been so lucky. Games like Street Fighter X Tekken or Fable 3 rely on fan communities to bypass outdated login screens.
In 2020, Microsoft isn’t really fussed where people play their games. The Xbox name is more brand than box, at this point. Xbox Game Pass works just as well on PC as it does on the console itself, and elusive first-party staples like Halo are trickling onto desktops.
If Games For Windows Live’s rot ran so deep that developers are cleaning up its mess nearly a decade later, Microsoft’s turn was sorely needed indeed.