Apologies and Grand Theft Auto IV, Once More

Commentary

I’ve had a bit of a personal red-ringing recently. Ever since returning from PAX I’ve been in and out of sickness. It’s cut into my Viva Pinata time, and so those reviews are being pushed back a bit. I don’t want to give you a solid date for them, for fear I end up in a coma or something. I’ve got lots of ideas brewing though, so keep coming back as I fiddle around with the content for the site. Expect more features, and hopefully a closer examination of games in my reviews. There will be less reviews overall, but I hope for them to be more personal, more insightful, and more thought-provoking – the kind of thing you read after you’ve played a game, rather than a buyer’s guide. I can’t review games in a timely fashion, at least not as timely as commercial websites, so I’m not going to try to.

I apologize if things slow down for a bit, but I will try to maintain one article per week. That’s apology one. Apology two relates to an article I wrote a while back regarding GTAIV.

I don’t particularly disagree with the things I said, despite some mediocre writing, as it accurately chronicles my feelings towards the first two-thirds of the game. But for completion’s sake, I have to include my feelings regarding the final arc of this tale. Sorry for taking so long!

Grand Theft Illusion

Grand Theft Auto IVWhen I compared Grand Theft Auto IV to Shenmue, I had no idea how far the analogy would go. GTAIV‘s first two-thirds are to Shenmue, what GTAIV‘s final act is to Shenmue II. Shenmue II took the amazing ideas and immersive world of the original Shenmue and milked them rotten. The minutely detailed world became nothing more than a vessel for gameplay, like an environment in a fighting game. As the immersion slipped away, the illusion that Shenmue was fun quickly faded. The experience was similar in the final act of GTAIV.

Everything fell apart in the ten hours it took me to conclude Nico’s quest of revenge. Gone were any likable characters, replaced with a cavalcade of stereotypical guidos. Gone was any desire to check up on my three girlfriends, all little more than glorified power-ups. Gone was any excitement to complete missions, as the linear action scenes had already peaked at the mid-game bank robbery. The environmental touches had grown old after over thirty hours of gameplay. The detailed internet cafes, cellphones, and police-trackers never truly substantiated themselves in missions. I got a glimpse behind the curtain and realized I was playing Grand Theft Auto III, a game I hated, this whole time.

Was GTAIV a groundbreaking, immersive, expertly plotted tale of an immigrant chasing the American dream through a life of crime? Or was it a shallow, heavily scripted, poorly written account of a lunatic with weak morales and a fucked world-view? It turns out it was both in nearly equal measure. It was so much in some places, and so little in others. A game of the year to some, and a disaster to others. Worst of all, once I got to the rotten milk, it became hard to remember what the fresh stuff tasted like.

It’s hard to recommend a game that never blossoms to its full potential. It’s even harder to recommend a game that attempts to undo all the great foundation it establishes. It’s also hard to deny how amazing Grand Theft Auto IV seemed at the start. That it ultimately fell flat doesn’t invalidate the great parts; that it had great parts does not excuse it from having ten horrible hours of gameplay. GTAIV is so vast in scope, had so many hands in its development, and aspires to every possible level of quality. It’s great, it’s horrible, maybe it’s just okay – but it’s probably something everyone should check out.

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