Grand Theft Auto means a lot to me. The hype leading up to IV had never been seen before, fans were dissecting every minor detail of every screenshot and trailer released. We were all hyping ourselves up for the game of the year. Well tonight, I shall reveal that it wasn’t the game of the year and it wasn’t even a GTA game. I’d like to warn you all now that this isn’t cold hard fact, this is my own opinion, as it has been with all past games I’ve done. So sit back, relax and let me take you back to April 29th 2008. The day that Grand Theft Auto died.
Before we get started, I don’t want to tell the you the plot. Let’s comment on it from the get go. Niko Bellic as the main protagonist comes across to me as an outsider, not a homeboy or a mafia toy. He’s not exactly the person we can all relate to or enjoy playing in a video-game, but for what he does, I think he’s actually pretty cool. The tale of him coming from Eastern Europe to find greatness, only to find more disturbance, it definitely rings more than a few bells. Niko’s story in any other hard brained shooter, it’d be a great gaming tale. But need I remind everyone that this is Grand Theft Auto?
I find it silly and out of place that such a series as Grand Theft Auto tries a new combination of storytelling techniques. There’s still that sweet crew of likeable characters, punchy dialogue and laughs, but it seems rather empty. I can’t help but feel odd, just as I finish the game, because I’ve seen a completely different breed of Grand Theft Auto. A serious one, with serious plotlines, sub-plots, hardened criminals and motives. I don’t want to see that side of GTA, I want balls to the walls. The story for me, in any video-game, should either be the centrepiece or the background. Not meddling in the action.
Still, there’s no doubting that IV pulls of its story and characters perfectly. Voice-acting is superb, as always, the cameos and delightful quirks that you’ll come across are matched by no other series. Although, I wasn’t all too convinced by Roman and Niko’s accents. They sounded a little fake to me, but that’s part of the charm, I even see it as a little nourishing detail that Rockstar put into the mixture. As I’ve said before though, it doesn’t feel like a GTA story. At often times I don’t know whether to pity the characters or figure out the plot. I’ll give you an example.
SPOILERS AHOY. At a point in the game, Niko finally finds his special someone, and the player is left with a choice on whether to kill the man who did him wrong or simply leave him. This was a startling thing for a GTA game to have a mature choice, a moral decision, it felt so out of place. In past GTAs, you didn’t need to care about killing and slaughtering your way to the top. Imagine how odd I felt when I let the chicken fly the coup, of course it’s something to test the players moral strength. It’s to weigh your decisions, there’s no wrong answer and no direct consequence. It just baffles me why it’s in a GTA game. SPOILERS GONE.
Gunplay, gameplay and all the whatsits make a GTA game a GTA game. That psychopathic impulse to just murder and mangle whenever you want, its still here. If a bit sedated. Your average course of the game will be to visit your buddy, be told that some guy has done them wrong, perform that task for them and be greeted by another cutscene. It’s a formula that persists throughout the game, but it can be a bit of a task to just get to places. Thankfully there’s a cab system in which you can just about warp to any destination. Except outer space of course.
They added a cover system. This is one of my main critiques of GTA IV, it’s not supposed to be realistic. In real life, if you don’t find a chest high wall or a piece of cover, you’re dead meat. In a video-game however it SHOULD be different. You should be able to take on multiple enemies, take cover without the need of the dodgy system, and then pop out and blast them to high hell. This is what every single GTA before IV did and this is a series trademark. Balls to the walls action, but now its a Serbian immigrant popping out of cover and taking a few pot shots. WRONG ROCKSTAR WRROOOONG!
There’s something missing from IV. The intense driving and off the beat soundtrack is here. Check. The colorful characters and brilliant environment to mess up. Check. Stuff to do… hmmm. By now, in San Andreas, I’d be hurtling out of a plane or helicopter and pulling a parachute out at 20,00. Either that or running away from the cops, diving into a hydra and then cruising across the barren desert. It’s exhilaration. That sense of freedom and wide scope not seen in any other series. But here in IV, I argue that there’s little to do. You can drive, fly a helicopter and then shootout with the police. All you have to do in IV is just run out of a giant circle.
This is my theory on what I think happened. GTA III revolutionized the free roam game, San Andreas perfected it and now IV has tried to do it again. It’s brought story into the mix, a cover system and a whole other host of new features. But what it’s really missing is that sense of fun, that wacky pulse pounding stupid fun. The type of fun seen in past GTAs, you see, Grand Theft Auto IV is not Grand Theft Auto. It’s a tribute. It’s taking what the series has done, and brought it to a more mature and sensible frame of mind. It’s a great game, my personal game of 2008. But it’s not Grand Theft Auto. Not the one I know anyway.
Oh yeah and if I hear “NIKO MY COUSIN, DO YOU WANT TO GO BOWLING.” one more goddamn time, the disc is flying out of the window.