A friend brought over his PS3 last weekend and we clocked a few hours on GTA IV. It is exactly what I expected: A series of mostly uninteresting and highly contrived challenges wrapped within some of the most spectacular technology and extravagant production values I’ve ever seen.
People are saying this game is less DIAS than its predecessors. That’s nice, I guess. Sort of admirable. Like finding out a pedophile has cut way back on molesting kids.
I only saw a few missions, and my friends assured me they were an aberration: The game had been fun and cooperative until the moment I started watching. Perhaps I just have bad luck, but the fact that Rockstar feels the need to spike the game with punishing “do it again” gameplay is depressing.
Even during the early stages of the game that I witnessed, Niko is asked to bring about incredible destruction for a pittance. I don’t know how much I’d charge to assault a building filled with heavily-armed gangsters, swipe their duffel bag of drugs, and then battle my way through the city police to freedom. While I don’t know what I’d expect to be paid, I do know that I would not expect to still be poor after the job was over. Perhaps the game is social commentary on the plight of underpaid illegal immigrants.
I spent a good hour just driving around, exploring the vast and highly detailed world. I’ve never been a fan of the four to six hundred dollar price tag of the PS3 and Xbox 360, but if I was going to fork over that sort of cash then this is the sort of technical wizardry I’d expect from such hardware. I’m not just talking about the graphics or the fancy shaders, I’m talking about the sheer breadth and depth of this immense gameworld, which is packed with details.
I can’t imagine how many man-hours would be required to make a city of this size, with this much detail. From a purely developmental standpoint, I’m not even sure how I’d organize the work. How can so many people work on a setting this vast without getting in each other’s way?
As I drove around the city I could spot little set pieces, undoubtedly placed for future missions. There is a rickety wooden pier that I expect gets driven off of at some point. There are empty buildings which no doubt will eventually serve as a locale for a shootout. A ramp near a major road blockage, which probably gets jumped over during a chase. Some of these missions will be fun and quasi-freeform. Others will have the player inhabiting the role of the clueless stuntman, as in this classic example.
You might find yourself standing in a brilliantly detailed little alleyway with litter and believable, movable objects strewn about. The walls of the buildings on either side look real – not just in their lighting, but in the richness of the surface, full of minor details, scuffs and scratches. Unlike earlier iterations, none of these buildings ever feel like “filler”. Yet you can glance out across the bay and see buildings in the distance. You can drive, swim, or fly over to those buildings and you’ll find them to be just as exhaustively detailed as the ones nearby, and you’ll never see a loading screen between here and there.
The spectacle becomes familiar quickly, at which point it becomes necessary to actually play the game if you want to gain access to those buildings in the distance. And here GTA IV bears a striking resemblance to its predecessors: A simple game of trial and error, practice and punish. I will never be a fan of this gameplay, and I will always marvel at the technology and fantasize about what else could be done with it besides providing a backdrop for recycled gameplay and epic churlishness.
It’s amazing how far the game has come without changing the underlying gameplay.
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