Grand Theft Auto IV

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Some magazine – Game Informer, I believe – had a “sacred cow barbecue” a while back where they pointed out faults in some of the games considered the best there are, the Grand Theft Auto series got something like “… is the proof that if you can’t do anything well, do a bunch of things poorly”. While this was an (intended) gross overstatement it still has a ring of truth; and it is both the series’ weakest and strongest points. While all the different segments of the game have improved in the latest iteration (some more than others), there is still a lot of really frustrating gameplay moments – and the fact that the game forces you to replay large chunk on each failure isn’t helping it. On the other hand, GTA is a seamless blend of events so frequent savepoints would probably ruin the mood, and the gameplay idea is probably the most ambitious one in the games industry.

GTA is as much a toy to play with as a game where there’s a beginning and an end, but there are a lot of gameplay moments in the missions it serves. The missions are different combinations of chasing someone, fleeing from someone and shooting up dens of other gangsters, not less varied than your average action game but since it’s so very long it becomes somewhat repetitive after awhile (I clocked in at some 30 hours – not counting the time spent replaying failed missions). Since there’s only a very loose form of progression, the difficulty and relevance of individual missions is varying, but that’s part of the game I guess.

I played the first GTA way back in 1998 and have played most of them at some point, but to be honest I have never really enjoyed sandbox games. Sure, the idea that you’re able to do anything is nice, but if there’s no clear goal – no incentive to do anything I don’t feel motivated to eliminate optional paths. GTA IV counters this by having a more solid narrative – while it’s still a parody of western civilization, the story itself is much darker, more personal and intensive. Niko Bellic is a man with a past and instead of becoming rich and famous his dealings with the criminals in Liberty City puts his friends and family in danger as well as forces the player to make some hard choices of what characters to back and whom to eliminate – much like Mass Effect. As a side note, it’s interesting to see people claim that GTA IV should somehow be more morally corrupt than it’s predecessors as it shows Niko’s life of crime leading to nothing but misery in the end.

… Which is all I’m going to say about the controversy, I guess, because the game itself isn’t very controversial – only the theme is, and there’s no sense dragging the game into a discussion with people who didn’t bother playing it. In conclusion, GTA IV is – as far as I can be bothered to research – the most expensive game production so far, and it is by all means an astounding accomplishment for everyone involved. I really like the game, but the fact that it is a game that aspires to please everyone (well… beside the moralists) leaves it with some big annoyances and I still prefer games that only contain the things I want to play.

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Posted on May 10/08 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »