Why Grand Theft Auto IV Is So Much More Sad Than GTA V

GTA IV is so much sadder than its successor, GTA V. GTA IV is a top level single player gaming experience which takes itself very seriously. This is unlike its sequel GTA V which has a hefty amount of one liners in every cutscene.

Niko Bellic with SnapChat Crying Filter

Emotion runs high in the fourth installment of the Grand Theft Auto series. The game, released in 2008, still more than holds up and is fun to play in 2023. This hopelessly sad revenge story outclasses GTA V’s story mode in the department of its darkness.

The fifth installment of the GTA series will be continually compared to the fourth in this article since most new-age gamers’ introduction to the Grand Theft Auto single-player universe is GTA V. GTA V is a single-player experience that is very often quippy and satirical. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a Rockstar game and a damn good one at that. But outside of the murder of Trevor as an optional ending, the narrative generally suffers from an excess of jokes in situations that should be serious. 

This article is going to be heavy on spoilers from GTA IV and V so please do not read ahead if you don’t want the plot of either game ruined.

Here are reasons why GTA IV is so much sadder than its successor.

Niko’s Sad Background/ Upbringing

Grand Theft Auto IV sets the player in the perspective of Serbian immigrant Niko Bellic. A Yugoslavian War veteran with PTSD who flees his home in hopes of achieving the American Dream. This dream was sold to him through letters from his cousin Roman who is an immigrant already living in Liberty City. Upon arrival, Niko quickly finds out Roman isn’t a baller but a poor man who works for Vlad. Vlad is a tyrant who mistreats Roman and makes advances toward Roman’s girlfriend Mallorie. This cutscene at the beginning of the game posted on YouTube by Leonid Brezhnev Gaming highlights how much Roman lied about.

Where's luxury condo?

Niko takes work from Roman’s Cab Company and eventually runs illegal errands for Vlad to pay Roman’s gambling Debt. Thus beginning Niko’s downward spiral. This cutscene from TrueGamingVault on YouTube explains how Niko starts to work for Vlad.

Vlad tells Niko to get him coffee LOL // GTA IV

I found myself feeling bad for Niko and remaining engaged with this story mode due to how unfortunate Niko’s life in and before moving to America is.

Niko’s Lack of Empathy and Judgement When Money Is Involved

Niko doesn’t care who he helps or hurts in the pursuit of money and openly admits this. Through this philosophy, he ends up doing some horrible things and working for bad people. Including the clearly deranged serial killer Eddie Low who is among the most repulsive characters in the GTA franchise. GTA Series Videos has a quality video posted to YouTube of the cutscenes from both missions Eddie Low gives Niko. These interactions prove that Niko will work for anyone with money to pay him.

GTA 4 - Random Character #11 - Eddie Low [2 Missions] (1080p)

Michael from GTA V‘s redeemable quality is his family. And Trevor is most likable when he is acting like an Uncle to Michael’s kids. Franklin is Grove Street Family like Carl Johnson from San Andreas so he was never going to be viewed negatively by the public. But It can be hard to warm up to Niko in the same way due to being unable to ignore how despicable his actions are at certain points in this game. 

It is quite sad to watch as Niko delivers drugs to bosses who will distribute them to communities and destroy them. And very disgusting when he kidnaps Gracie Ancelotti so the McReary Family can hold her for ransom. This kidnapping is documented in another GTA Series Videos upload.

GTA 4 - Mission #67 - I'll Take Her [Ransom] (1080p)

There is no real excuse for this kind of behavior, but Niko undoubtedly bears psychological scars from his service in the war. He is too broken to be the good guy he shows glimmers of at certain times throughout the game for its full duration.

Mikhail Faustin

Mikhail Faustin is a prime example of a tragic character who the player can feel bad for. Faustin is unlike Vlad because there is much more to him than the fact he is also a jerk. He shot Roman, yes, but Roman was being very dumb in the basement by screaming for help as soon as he got freed when the situation seemed to be under control. Faustin kills the goon who is interrogating you as soon as you meet and immediately likes Niko. FerMeister on YouTube has this cutscene on his channel. 

GTA IV Roman in the dumpster

Faustin is a Russian army veteran who served with Dmitri and has lots of respect in Liberty City. Faustin is also an abusive husband to his wife and a bad father to his daughter but he is also pitiful to a certain degree. He is a cocaine addict who is paranoid for a valid reason, Dmitri. He sees through Dmitri and calls him out for being deceitful well before he later betrays Niko. KillerWeirdo posted the intro cutscene of a Faustin mission where he calls Dmitri out.

GTA IV: Do You Have Protection Mission (Cutscene)

Dmitiri the rat manipulates Faustin’s ill temper to make him cross lines that will get him killed so that Dmitiri can get a promotion. Niko takes out the powerful Russian Mob Boss Kenny Petrovic’s son Lenny under Faustin’s orders, and the Mob wants blood. Dmitri also promises that Niko will be fine if he is the one to Kill Faustin, his “brother for life”.

Faustin’s Death

When cornered at his club, Faustin doesn’t beg for his life. Instead he is upset about getting betrayed and having his suspicions confirmed. The video of his sad final monologue is on ThriceAMafiaSeiries’ YouTube channel.

GTA IV: Mikhail Faustin Death Scene

His missions are only about two hours of playtime total yet still have so many layers of narrative packed into them. This game also features pistol execution cutscenes to make the taking out of main enemies more cinematic. These finishers definitely add emotion to GTA IV.

GTA V featured villains like Devin Westin. This guy gives you jobs involving murder and theft in the same conversations where he will mention his upcoming triathlon. Phenom Gaming posted the cutscene of Devin Weston asking Franklin to kill Michael on YouTube. Note how much rimshot humor is stuffed into this two minute clip.

GTA 5 Story Mode: Franklin Asked By Devin Weston to Kill Michael

Or Martin Madrazo, the “terrifying” Cartel Kingpin who does not kill Trevor for eloping with his wife Patricia. The enemies in GTA IV like the Sopranos-esque wise guys in Alderney mean Business. They are a much more threatening presence and developed group of characters than Steve Haines or Tao Cheng.

Sad Conversations When Hanging Out With Friends

Hanging out with friends in GTA IV is a feature that allows the player to access additional lore by having one on one conversations with characters like Dwayne Forge and Little Jacob.

Little Jacob is a rebel without a cause, he does jobs for his friend Real Badman out of loyalty for him but doesn’t trust his leadership and violent impulses. He worries about the safety of his friend and tells Niko when hanging out with him.

Jacob also talks about how the “spliff” he smokes is no good for him and messes up his head, but how he is unable to quit it despite this.

He is also one of the happiest and best parts of this story due to how good of a friend he is to Niko and Roman without ever doing anything to make the player not like him.

This 30 minute long video of all of his interactions with Niko uploaded by György Nagy on YouTube is worth the watch due to how compelling Jacob’s character is.

GTA IV - Little Jacob

Dwayne Forge

Dwayne Forge is a secondary character who just got through with a bid in prison for selling drugs and has nothing and nobody upon his return to the real world. He is one of the saddest characters in the game because of how he juxtaposes his life after prison with his life in prison seemingly favoring incarceration in some of his dialogue. Dwayne is also suicidal due to his isolation. He speaks of taking his own life or wanting to go back in prison quite a lot and these are depressing talks. Such as when Niko first meets Dwayne, this cutscene is on Pixel Brother’s YouTube channel.

GTA4 - First meeting with Dwayne.

Niko has friends like Dwayne who don’t hold anything back from him and share their problems which are very real. He speaks of having it hard from the beginning of his life in a hang out dialogue posted to YouTube by ROCKSTAROS.

Dwayne Talks About His Dead Dad - GTA 4

Friendships amongst protagonists like Franklin and Lamar in GTA V are too silly, extracting serious moments from these characters is impossible because everything Lamar says is too funny. Michael and Trevor have more of a deep connection but instead of sharing real moments in cutscenes, Trevor is often is doing something gross like eating human stew to freak Michael out as a gag when just the two of them are on screen. ROCKSTAROS also posted this cutscene on his channel.

Trevor Eats Human Stew - GTA 5

These bits are funny but compromise the player’s ability to form a deeper understanding of their relationship. 

Prison and the Law 

Niko’s first girlfriend “Michelle” reveals herself to be a federal informant at the end of the mission “Snow Storm” with little Jacob and Elizabeta. This follows a recurring theme of characters being rats and feds around Niko. It is likely that Michelle was using Niko to help bring Elizabeta down without him knowing, and in working for her Niko directly contributed to her arrest. Elizabeta is none the wise to Niko being closely monitored by law enforcement in a cut phone call on YouTube uploaded by user whatever57010.

Elizabeta Torres calls Niko from jail - GTA IV removed phone calls

Michelle knows Niko is taking jobs from Elizabeta without Niko ever mentioning it, and all of Elizabeta’s buyer contacts are feds. Her bodyguard Jorge is also a government agent.  

Gerry McReary also gets picked up by the cops after having some suspicions that he is being watched soon after the Three Leaf Clover Heist. It is sad to think that the reason why he was able to be put away is also because someone was likely speaking to the police. The cops are a formidable force in GTA IV

In GTA V the police are the least of the trio of main character’s worries, Michael pays off FIB agent Dave Norton to not be under the scrutiny of the police. And the team has Lester who in GTA Online has the skills to make the cops turn a blind eye to someone’s crimes instantly. The law is a joke in GTA V.

Sad Struggles With Addiction

Several Characters suffer from addiction within the main story of GTA IV and in stranger missions. Most of the mob bosses and big-timers in various crime families enjoy doing cocaine and abuse the substance in front of Niko while discussing their plans and briefing him. The Opening Cutscene of the Three Leaf Clover mission in this YouTube video from GTA Series Videos’ highlights this.

GTA 4 - Mission #38 - Three Leaf Clover (1080p)

Little Jacob smokes “kali” all the time around Niko and fails in his ongoing attempt to kick this habit.

Derrick McReary is a Heroin addict who is often too high to speak to Niko over the phone. He is a sad character who refuses to get clean and distances himself from the rest of his family so he can tweak out in a park. Watch how he describes his habit and what he cares about in the world in the very sad opening cutscene from the mission Smackdown. Posted to YouTube by i TzaaaR’s Story

GTA IV PC | SmackDown

Roman is a gambling addict and can’t seem to quit becoming more in debt to people who will kill him if he does not pay them back. Fans of Lost and the Damned know about Ashley Butler and her sad battle with crystal meth as well. Niko himself is addicted to destroying things. Most of the characters in this game have an addiction to something really bad.

Sad Struggles With Addiction: Marnie Allen

Marnie Allen, who receives a call back in GTA V like Ashley, is miserable in Liberty City. She is withdrawing off junk and approaches Niko asking if he has any to give her. He offers her money and she counters by instead requesting that he goes with her to get more drugs to end her withdrawals. She reveals that she is a long way from her home in the Midwest and that she is breaking her family’s heart by making the choices she has been making. Seeing what drugs can do to people is sad, even in a video game. GTA Series Videos also has both of her missions posted on his YouTube channel.

GTA 4 - Random Character - Marnie Allen - Almost Free (First Mission)

She is another tragic character in GTA IV who goes home to her family at the end of her storyline in this game. She gets clean and eventually moves to Los Santos where she falls in with the Epsilon Cult. In doing this she loses the depth she once had before and is simply comic relief in GTA V. Proof enough for GTA V being less serious than GTA IV is how they treated returning characters like Marnie and Johnny Klebitz.

These characters’ vices humanize them to a level that one can become sympathetic to their struggle. Addiction is an illness and a large reason why the main plot unfolds when considering that drug trafficking is such a frequent occurrence in this story.

Niko’s Family 

Niko lost his friends and family in the war and now only has Roman and his mother in Serbia who he keeps in direct contact. Roman is more like a brother to Niko than a cousin and they go through hard times together. Like when Dmitri burns down their first apartment and Roman’s first cab company. They were kidnapped together and Niko constantly bails Roman out of his gambling debts. Niko loves Roman and protects him from bullies like Vlad. He also shelters him from the sad truth about his mother. ROCKSTAROS has the clip of Niko telling Kate the truth about his aunt on his YouTube channel.

Niko talks about what happened to Roman's mother - GTA IV

He does this out of love for Roman, which is one of Niko’s best qualities. Through it all, Niko has a friend who thinks the world of him and who he can relate to. 

Niko's mom will also send sad Emails to Niko which he can respond to at Internet cafes.

Niko’s mom will also send sad Emails to Niko which he can read and respond to at Internet cafes.

The McReary Family

The McReary Family is a disaster and the fine details make them one of the saddest parts of this game. After getting closer to Packie, he will tell Niko that their father molested him and Gerry when they were children and then killed himself. This is a video of the dialogue from Scepticalad on YouTube.

The Last Conversation Between Packie and Niko | GTA IV

Kate will confirm this too while she is drunk several dates into her and Nikos’s relationship.

This really took the wind out of my sails and helps me to better contextualize their nasty hobbies and work. I do not have the qualifications to dissect every dysfunctional aspect of the McReary family. I’m no psychologist, just a gamer. But it does make me very sad to watch this family become more and more fractured as the plot progresses. 

The father of this household did irreparable damage to its members. Their trauma probably has some correlation with the brothers’ lives of crime. In the middle of it all is Kate who is innocent and their mother who is consistently grieving through the later part of the story.

Michael’s family in GTA V was one of the more serious aspects of the game. Michael loves his family and he is miserable during the times in the story when he has conflict with them. The sequence when they leave him is probably the most sad portion of Michael’s gameplay and represents rock bottom for him in the main story.

Sad Deal Ending

GTA IV ends with a choice players must make when Jimmy Pegorino asks Niko to once more work with Dmitri Rascalov on an H-deal which will yield lots of money. Niko is given the choice to go through with the deal or to get revenge on Dmitiri by cornering him on a ship and ending him.

If the player chooses the deal ending, Niko survives the botched transaction with payment in hand. Dmitri sends a hitman to Roman’s wedding to assassinate Niko and he instead kills Roman by accident. If the player chooses revenge, Dmitri is eliminated on the same vessel Niko lands in Liberty City on in the prologue. But it is now Jimmy Pegorino who is upset with Niko for blowing the deal. And so he does a driveby shooting at Roman’s wedding to whack Niko but ends up hitting Kate. These deaths are very hard-hitting and sad. CarnageBackUp has uploads of both endings on YouTube.

GTA 4: Roman's Death HD

Roman dying is possibly the worst thing that could happen to Niko and luckily is not the canon ending. The death of Roman represents the death of the only person who truly cares about Niko and the only real family he has. Roman let Niko sleep on his couch when he had nothing and shares all of his apartments with Niko through the story, he doesn’t even ask Niko to pay rent. Roman’s death is one that resonates with gamers most because of how gutwrenchingly sad the sequence of his murder is. To make matters worse, Kate, will not come to Roman’s wedding if Niko does the deal against her wishes. And after Roman is killed she will tell Niko that his life is too crazy for her and that she doesn’t want to see him anymore. Kate leaving after Roman dies is very sad for Niko.

Better, but Still Sad Revenge Ending

Kate’s death is also very sad and tragic, especially if the player went on many dates with this character beforehand. She opens up about being in love with Niko but is off-put by the way he makes money. And she has legitimate concerns for her safety and his. She tells Niko to get out of the life and he receives her messages because he loves her too and this is obvious from their dialogue.

GTA 4: Kate's Death HD

Her death which comes as a result of getting revenge represents the termination of a voice of reason to stop Niko from going too far. It also means Niko has no reason to stop living the life and hurting people.

GTA V definitely hits the mark here in the missions where the player can kill either Michael or Trevor. These are bad endings from the standpoint of getting to play as all three characters after beating the game, but super well done from a storytelling standpoint. Michaels death is sad but granted he spent the whole game sucking the entire cast into his debt to the government, some players may find this outcome to be sensible.

Trevor’s death though is so harrowing and sad that it sticks in the memory. Trevor never betrays his friends and is the most loyal character in this campaign, even though he is a psychotic cannibal. So Franklin stabbing Trevor in the back by killing him makes Trevor twice a victim of betrayal, which is sad.  Hearing Michael shout “You always liked gasoline Trevor!” puts a frown on my face every time I watch this scene. This is a video of the cutscene by LaroseTV: Game!

Michael Kills Trevor (Final Cutscene) - GTA V (PS4)

Trevor is a brute but even he doesn’t deserve a fate so gruesome. Other characters though like Lloyd and Deborah’s deaths are really unserious and more of a punchline than anything else. 

Sad Revenge Storylines

GTA IV places Niko at the center of several revenge and betrayal storylines. Niko comes to Liberty City looking for someone. The man who is responsible for the deaths of 12 of his friends in a setup. Niko works for peanuts in exchange for information on the whereabouts of Florian Kravic, and Darko Brevic, the only two other survivors within the militia.

Niko knows that one of them has to be the rat so he tracks them down for a confrontation. He eventually is delivered Darko Brevic who is in a drug-laden stupor when he meets Niko. Darko confesses to killing Niko’s friends for one thousand dollars. Niko’s reaction to this information made me sad. His face looks very distressed and he sounds as if he is going to cry. Darko then begs for Niko to kill him while going on about how miserable he is. Niko can choose to spare Darko and let him live with the bad he has done. Or he can smoke Darko in the most ice-cold pistol executions in the game. He shoots Darko 12 times, one bullet for each of his fallen buddies. This is another whatever57010 upload.

GTA IV: Killing Darko Brevic


Michelle was a betrayal that came out of left field for most players in their first playthrough. It looks like she is really into Niko, and she seems like a nice girl. Plus, she is friends with Mallorie who is cool. But Michelle is a cop, and her name isn’t even Michelle, it’s Karen. She lied to Niko and faked an entire romance. This happening in real life would crush any man and is sad to watch unfold on screen.

Playboy X is another snake who seeks to employ Niko to deal with Dwayne. Dwayne is Playboy X’s mentor that got out of prison and wants to reassume his position in the drug game. Playboy X makes it clear though that he doesn’t need a mentor anymore and that cutting in Dwayne would just mean less money for himself to keep. So he asks Niko to make Dwayne slip and fall. If Niko goes through with this Playboy X will 180 and accuse Niko of being treacherous and killing his mentor. When all he did was what Playboy X literally asked him to do. He also excommunicates Niko once the hit is done. Another removed call from Playboy X posted by whatever57010 on YouTube where he would have called Niko again after cutting Niko off details how much of a hypocritical traitor Playboy X is.

Playboy X regret killing Dwayne - GTA IV removed phone calls

Dmitri Betrays Faustin before he betrays Niko and is a conniving mouse until his death. He manipulates Faustin into making war with the Petrovic family. Dmitri gets Niko to kill Faustin and then sets up Niko at a meeting arranged to give him his payment. From there Dmitri will once again kidnap Roman and ruin the deal at the end of the game. Granted the player decides to work with him again. Dmitri’s betrayal is less sad and more annoying, outside of Roman’s death.

GTA V also does this portion of its story very well with the Brad situation and endings. Michael is a bad friend for faking his death and letting Trevor believe Brad was in prison. When in reality Brad is in Michael’s grave and The FIB Agent Norton sending Trevor messages posing as Brad in a state penitentiary. This narrative is very clever and multi-faceted. When Trevor finally pieces it all together it leads to one of the best moments in the game. Van Dijkjes Games posted this video to his YouTube channel of Trevor’s revelation.

GTA 5 trevor finds brad and learns the truth about Michael!

Franklin can kill Trevor or Michael at the end of the game as well. And in doing so he becomes a traitor. These two noncanonical endings are fun to explore due to how great the storytelling is. The true ending to the betrayal/ revenge arc in this game is unique because it finishes with Michael and Trevor finding forgiveness for each other and remaining friends. A beautiful resolution that is nowhere near as sad as either of GTA IV‘s ending.

A General Feeling of Hopelessness

The saddest part of this game for me was making the realization that this universe has no hope. Everyone is on hard drugs, or so deep in crime that their only real escape is death, prison, or exile.

It is like everyone Niko comes into contact with is stewing in a vat of negativity. Pedestrians are rude to you, but this is something I’ll look past since we are in video game New York. The only amiable interactions Niko regularly has is with gun vendors, Little Jacob and Roman. Sometimes Niko will gain good perspective to help boost his morale from good friends of his. Captain Compton posted a video of Little Jacob giving Niko some very positive and encouraging words on his YouTube channel.

Grand Theft Auto IV [PC] - Little Jacob's Amazingly Beautiful Quote

Interactions like these are small breaks from the the story often making me feel like nothing I did as Niko mattered. Like he and everyone else in Liberty City were nothing more than dust in a virtual wind. The ambiance also is quite somber, especially when it rains.

The endings are also neither very good if a happy resolution is the main scoring criteria. Getting Revenge is better than doing the deal but both choices come at a cost to Niko. Niko kills Darko if the player chooses and Niko details how empty he feels after finally doing the deed. He kills Pegorino after Kate is hit and that same disposition returns. Niko’s face and words in the final cutscene reveal that he fully understands that killing Pegorino doesn’t bring Kate back. TheStoryLine Gaming uploaded this video of the final cutscene of the Revenge ending. 

GTA IV - Niko Bellic Kill Jimmy Pegorino

Roman actually does make things better here by reminding Niko that they have technically won. This helps the player and Niko find Solace. But does little for the sense of dread that still remains with Niko when thinking about Kate.

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