So I picked up GTA IV – Surprises and Revelations
After all the hype and “best game in a million years” talk, I just couldn’t resist. This is the first GTA game I’ve played mostly because of timing. I was out of gaming for all of the other GTA games so I’m looking at this through “virgin” eyes. First – a bit of background.
For fans of the podcast, it will come as no surprise that I generally don’t play sports games. I’m OK with platformers and puzzle games, hate driving sims (sorry GT fans), but love first and third person shooters. Back in the day I was a huge fan of fighting games but I seem to have outgrown that phase recently. Grand Theft Auto seemed like it would be a good fit for me – third person perspective, adult themes, shooting… Now I’ve played it for a few days, let’s talk about the hype –
The Best Game Ever
Um… No. No it isn’t. So far it is cool and I’m enjoying it but it is far from the best game. The sheer size of it it staggering and the thought put in to all the characters is great but the best game… sorry. My problem – the gameplay. Sure, it’s fun to do all the stuff you can do but I am more often irritated by the controls than anything else. Hand-to-hand fighting is a joke – the controls just don’t respond fast enough nor are they intuitive enough. The gunplay is better but the auto-lock function is a pain and holding down the aiming trigger half way when you’ve got 15 cops firing at you from all sides takes a bit more concentration than I have at my disposal. The driving is pretty good and you definitely get the impression that each of the cars is different but how is it possible that light poles fall like matchsticks at the slightest tap but the thinest tree can’t be plowed through even at top speed?
While there are plenty of instructions and hints in the game, I’m often confused as to what I’m supposed to do. During one of the mini-games, you are routinely “caught” by either rival gang members or cops. Now, with rival gang members I know what to do (shoot them) but with cops? Um… run? Fight? Not sure. Plus, there seems to be only one driving law in Liberty City – Don’t run into a cop car. Run red lights in front of them? Drive on the sidewalk or wrong side of the street? No problem. But if you tap their car you’re a dead man. I’m pretty sure if you run one of them over (or a pedestrian in front of them) you’re in trouble too but I haven’t done that yet.
A Great Game?
Oh yeah! The scope… the cinematics… the characters… You really feel like you’re playing a movie. The Main story moves along nicely with just enough gritty realism and character quirks to keep you interested. The side plots are like a break from the main story. You get a chance to practice some of your skills and earn some extra cash. The radio stations are great and really make all that driving bearable. The cell phone is nice because you don’t have to run all over town just to talk to people. All in all, it is a very immersive experience.
The graphics are mostly excellent in a “can’t touch Army of Two or Gears of War” kind of way. They feel like a step up from last generation graphics but still fall short of the top tier games. Are they good? Yes. But not perfect. Eyes, for example, just look… wrong. They either don’t blink enough or are too white… not sure the problem there. The way people walk and move is awesome though. Very convincing.
It wouldn’t be a GTA game without controversy but surprisingly (to me at least) the amount of bad press this game gets is way, way, WAY over the top. Do you have to steal cars to get around? No. Do you have to kill civilians to win the game? No (at least not yet). Does your character drink and do drugs? No (well, you can drink in the game but you don’t have to). Basically, in the game you are forced to kill criminals and drug dealers. Everyone else is optional. If you get drunk you have to option (other than driving while intoxicated) of walking home, waiting until you sober up, or calling a cab (so back off MADD). I will say that as someone that has been intoxicated before, they do a fairly accurate job in recreated the experience. I wouldn’t want to play a drunk scene too close to a projection screen – Dramamine here it come! In all the cut scenes (so far at least) your character refuses all offers of drugs and alcohol. When he is sent to kill a criminal and the criminal claims that he was set up, you have the option of letting them go. Do you? Who knows, but you’re aren’t forced to kill him.
Rockstar must have had a blast making this game as evidenced by the talk radio stations. Yes, I said talk radio stations. The characters they have on there are obvious slams at they type of detractors that love to denounce their game without ever playing it. It’s easy to do when your game is named after a crime. But this game isn’t necessarily about racking up the most kills (like Halo) or wholesale slaughter (like Army of Two or Gears of War), it’s about a story. A story that you, the player, become intimately involved in. It’s about trying to make money and get the girl (oh yeah, you never hear about how you’ve got a girlfriend in the game and if you stand her up she gets mad at you). It’s about survival for an immigrant that finds himself trying to make the most of a bad situation. It’s a story you’ve heard before, one you’ve paid money to see on the big screen. And now you can be part of it.
And yet those close-minded idiots out there that sit in their little worlds telling each other that it’s GTA’s fault that their child is a delinquent don’t need to play the game to be convinced. They don’t need to talk to gamers to “know” that GTA is all about having sex with whores and shooting children. They don’t need to look at the research to the contrary to “know” that the main audience for this game is young kids. The fact that they have ignored their own families while on their crusade doesn’t even factor into their thinking. They know where the real evil lies… outside of themselves. Of course.