It's really surprising that GTA IV is so often thought of as a standout example of ludonarrative dissonance. I just replayed the game recently, and it gives plenty of reasons for why Niko is capable of doing terrible things despite having some semblance of caring and conscience. A poster below me has already explained why in some detail, but I'd like to briefly reiterate the fact that Niko's contradictory nature is part of what makes his story so compelling and tragic. He seems to be an essentially good person who leads a life of crime simply because he can't see any other way; the situation he finds himself in when he arrives in America (trying to deal with the mobsters terrorizing Roman), the set of "skills" he acquired during wartim, and his all-consuming desire to get back at those who betrayed him are all factors that serve to blind him from the opportunities and chances to start anew that Liberty City offers him. In many ways, Niko's characterization mirrors players' tendencies when it comes to open-world games; we love to race through environments, indulge in mindless killing sprees, and complete one mission after another, but very few players take the time to truly luxuriate in a sandbox environment and find alternate ways to interact with it. Long story short, the character is very well established in the game's logic, and I'd strongly encourage anyone who doesn't see that to replay the game.
I can understand a character having questionable morality, that is the charm of many characters.
However, the moment Niko decided to rob a bank and kill dozens of police officers was the moment that crossed the line for me. I don't care how cool the developer thought that mission would be, there was no redeeming Niko after that. He was just bad and wasn't trying very hard to start a new life.
@WTA2k5 I think player preferrance has a lot to do with it. I was wholly engaged with Niko's moral plight, while my brother just couldnt care less. It really holds only if you care enough to understand Niko as a person and not as a tool for vicarious mayhem.
@WTA2k5 Thank you! I agree with you completely. Niko's character is arguably the most human character in games as his flaws work as great narrative and in how it explains his and the player's actions. I also found going on random rampages just felt kind of wrong near the end game as Niko does evolve, which reflected how i had evolved with him. It was kind of breathtaking, i nolonger expect such childish shinanigans from my GTA anymore and am excited to see what compelling narrative they tackle next (as opposed to what types of weapons or clothing i can run around in).