Grand Theft Auto IV is one of the most influential games of the 2000s, which is why it was sad to see it removed from Steam in January. More than a month after its initial removal, Rockstar Games finally announced that GTA IV will be coming back to the online games marketplace on March 19. Unfortunately, a significant chunk of the game will no longer be accessible, as the online modes have been cut.
As Rockstar's Steam post confirms, the version that will be available on Steam after March 19 is Grand Theft Auto IV: Complete Edtion, which comes with all of the game's DLC and is also available on Rockstar's proprietary launcher. Fortunately, all save files should be compatible for newer players and those who don't own just the base game or the Episodes from Liberty City DLC will be upgraded to the Complete Edition after a simple update.
Sadly, those that do boot up Grand Theft Auto IV: Complete Edition won't be able to access some things. Some radio stations (RamJam FM, Self-Actualization FM, and Vice City FM) will be "temporarily unavailable" when Grand Theft Auto IV: Complete Edition launches in March and no ETA was given on when they will be added back.
More notably, none of the multiplayer features will be accessible once the game returns to Steam. This encompasses the multiplayer mode that lets players free roam or participate in races and deathmatches as well as the leaderboards that accompany them. On the plus side, Grand Theft Auto IV will now fully support Steam achievements.
Grand Theft Auto IV's removal from Steam and the multiplayer mode's absence upon its return can both be attributed to one thing: Games for Windows Live. This mostly disliked PC service from Microsoft was very prevalent in the late 2000s and early 2010s, and companies are starting to run into issues as they can no longer get new keys over a decade out from the discounted service's launch.
In a statement given to PC Gamer, Rockstar elaborated. "Grand Theft Auto IV was originally created for the Games For Windows Live platform," they said. "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." Games For Windows Live was intrinsically tied to Grand Theft Auto IV's multiplayer modes on PC, so without that service, they could not return.
While some hardcore Grand Theft Auto IV online players are probably very disappointed by its removal, it was a necessary sacrifice to get it back on Steam. Rockstar also probably doesn't mind that much as Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2's multiplayer modes are both very successful and consistently updated.
The fan response is actually somewhat mixed. Many fans are happy to see a great game return.
Others chiming into the post's comments worry about the cuts and are saying things like "I know how RS will handle the bugs and kill the experience by cutting out content" and "they just keep making their old games worse and worse by taking out stuff from their games." As the Games for Windows Live issues seems to have been mostly out of their control though, I'm willing to give Rockstar the benefit of the doubt with this re-release barring any major, unannounced changes.
Grand Theft Auto IV: Complete Edition returns to Steam on March 19.