Monday, May 12, 2008

Val Reviews Grand Theft Auto IV: Liberty City

Yesterday night I had the good fortune to watch a demo of Grand Theft Auto IV: Liberty City, and so I figured I'd add my two cents about it.

From a purely technical standpoint, the level of technology and research that went into this game is mind-boggling. Grand Theft Auto IV allows players to navigate through a pretty damn near perfect rendering of New York City, including Queens and Brooklyn. When I mean a pretty damn near perfect rendering, I mean that I could drive by my f**king block. "Hey, I know that crappy nails place on the corner!" I mean: like that.

The game was so hyper-realistic in terms of navigation and environment that it almost made me feel self-conscious about living where I do. Because: here is my humdrum, banal, everyday environment being replicated and presented back to me in a f**king video game. It's not happy mushroom land. It's my neighborhood! With all the sad alleys. And not even sad alleys like in Batman movies. I mean, my f**king sad alleys!

It really makes you think, that with technology like that in the future you could chuck the whole game component altogether and just have actual travelogues for people in this format. "Drive through the streets of Seattle! On Playstation 3!" Marry this game with the tech from Google Maps and those satellite shots. The possibilities are endless.

Okay, enough of the sublime. Let's get to the cop-killing.

There was only one thing that bothered me about the game, and that was the cop-killing. That really made me cringe, because even though there is a LCPD name on the police cars they are so obviously NYPD cars. I mean, you could steal a car in this game and try to outrun the police. Then, you could be cornered by the police and either turn yourself in (so I've been told) or take out your big gun and blast them into little bitty bloody pieces.

I'm not for censoring this game or anything like that, but I'm just telling you that those scenes made me cringe -- and I think a lot of that has to do with the hyper-reality of the game as a whole. In another part of the game, you go out with your friend, get drunk in a bar, and attempt to drive home. Your f**king controller actually gets drunk! The screen goes blurry. If you have been drinking in real life as you're playing this -- well, then, that adds another layer. And so you're running over people, the cops are on your ass, and your a**hole friend in the seat next to you is talking about the meaning of life.

But the real crowning layer of hyper-reality in this game are the little touches. For instance, the radio stations. You can choose between several different radio stations, all with different genres like Jazz, popular, and even an NPR clone. And they actually have programming! Similarly, you can go to an Internet cafe and check your e-mail. And there is a whole unique (but disarmingly familiar) AOL-type site to browse through. You can even go to a version of Craigslist -- "Craplist." And choose "Men Seeking Men!" Of course, that's going to be filled with some lame homophobic jokes about seeking "Euro-Tail" -- but the point is, the game makers went through this trouble to create this level of detail. And it really succeeds in creating this somewhat unsettling copy of reality.

I'm not a big game player, so I can't really speak to those aspects. I'm not really interested so much in Grand Theft Auto IV as a game -- so I'm just giving you my observations as an innocent bystander. Of course, in GTA, innocent bystanders get run over by stolen cars driven by drunk assassins. But whatever.

Bonus points: Go check out Liberty City's version of the Statue of Liberty and find out what makes it tick.


  1. im not far enough to get some of those things yet, buttt

    my complaint is the game is pretty fucking homophobic, maybe game 5 youll be able to choose straight or gay, cause as much fun as grabbing the date's tits or going to strippers is for me, most of the time i shoot the bitch for annoying me so much!

    i kid, i kid.

  2. I took a taxi home when I got drunk. $28 bucks for the ride. Is that good or bad?

  3. I liked that even though it wasn't New York, my brother insisted that the in-game Times Square analogue was pretty damned impressive, but couldn't remember where it was on the map, so I drove south-ish from a kind of familiar Not Central Park, took a kind of familiar left, a kind of familiar right, then thought "holy shit, this is actually where it would be!" when I saw that big Not Coca Cola sign with the windows.

    The GTA series (even its 2D installments) has always been an absurd hyper-reality, rammed home by the utterly unsubtle jokes and renamed analogues of real-world products (accusing the game of misogyny or homophobia is needlessly splitting hairs - it's relentlessly misanthropic if anything). It isn't reality and that's the appeal - the game gives you the opportunity to play at being a Bad Person, and in that respect, it's no worse than movies like Scarface or Goodfellas that allow the audience to be entertained by someone being a bastard onscreen.

    New York has been in pixellated form before - True Crime: New York did the 'real' big apple years ago, and you played through that game as a cop. Possibly it would be more suited to your sensibilities (though it's still pretty violent and vulgar).

  4. I tend to agree that the drunk driving is sort of unecessary in the sense that it doesn't offer anything in gameplay, and is sort of easily replicable, in the sense that killing innocent bystanders with your car is far more labor intensive then getting blitzed and getting behind the wheel.

    On the other hand, it is good that when your charcter goes to the bars, he will actually have a sort of penalty for his actions. Granted, it's not a severe penalty. Sure, cops will attempt to arrest you for drunk driving, and it's much harder to drive, but that's not a huge deturant in the GTA world. In fact, you rewarded with the other character's hillarious drunk ramblings, so it's sort of encouraged to drunk drive.

    All and all, I really enjoy GTA IV and think the cop killing aspects are over played. There are few missions which actually require the murder of police, and anytime you even look at a cop the wrong way in the game you are swarmed and shot at. So it certainly doesn't encourage the mayhem as much as people think.

    Radio in this game is a total dissapointment. They offer more stations then previous games, but the content is less for each of them. The stations all get repetitive fast. That being said, the NPR and conservative AM station are still hillarious.

    Also, as someone who is moving to NYC this summer it actually did provide me with a general sense of neighborhoods. I know it's not a perfect replica, but it's a close enough recreation to for me to get the vibe. So that alone made it worth my $60.

    Also...anyone want to play on Xbox Live?

  5. Actually sounds like a lot of fun. Listening to NPR while running from the cops makes me chuckle inside.

  6. In my defense, those cops were totally shooting at me first. All I did was boost a car - they're the ones that brought lethal force into it.

    In all seriousness, one of the more subtle points of the game is that, as far as the AI are concerned, an empty health bar doesn't mean they're completely dead. It might sound like nit-picking, but I've seen it happen a lot in firefights - guy gets shot till his health is gone, guy falls down, guy keeps moving on the ground. They're clearly in a lot of pain (which adds a whole other level to the weight of your actions and how you choose to play - I didn't just pull the trigger until the bad guy disappeared, I hurt somebody, and now he needs help), and some of them die from their injuries, but others can be saved if an ambulance gets to them in time. It doesn't take the sting out of cop-killing (it effects me too, and I avoid it in everything but life-or-death situations), but it does make your actions more complex than just running around capping guys for fun.

    And Patrick - my drunk drive last night ended with me grabbing a cab for me and Roman, but only after three disastrous cop chases and flipping the car over. I'm a slow learner.

  7. I have to say-- this is really neither here nor there-- but the whole "cop killing" thing mystifies me. Like-- shouldn't killing civilians count more than killing soldiers?

  8. As a former cop I've always tried to avoid killing them as much as possible in the games, but sometimes the sh*t hits the fan and it's you or them. It's a hella lotta fun driving the police cars, though. LOTS of power.

    I've only seen the trailers for this game (waiting for PS3 to drop in price before I get it and this) but the reality is off the hook! I sincerely dobut they made it as far as my part of Brooklyn, but I'd love to get into the game and just drive around to see what they DID get. Spidey 2 definitely set the bar for realistic NYC renderings, and GTA4 blew the bar off the stand.

    And ya know, Val, that whole Google Earth merging idea? That's a pretty damn good one. Why wait till you're IN said city to get a tour? Why not get a pre-emptive tour so maybe you have more of a sense of purpose and destination when ya get there? I mean, hell, it's just like looking up what all the attractions are that you wanna see. Who knows; they may even make it VR in the future for those who can't even afford to travel. "It's just like being there!"

  9. I just finished the game last night. There are a couple of different endings, but either way, Niko has to make some hard choices!

  10. That travelogue? Already been done:

    As for the whole driving reckless thing... I prefer Crazy Taxi or Road Blaster.

    (Riding for hours across the Midwest as a kid, I would take a flyspeck on the windshield, and that would be my gunsight, blowing up cars (aim for the license plate), stop signs, trees, and the occasional cow.)

    Hey... can you hijack a subway train? City bus? A Mr. Softee truck? One of those stupid sightseeing double deckers?

  11. When I used to play "Vice City," I mostly did it as a taxi driver, totally legally. Sure, I had to steal the taxi but after that first crime I did no more. Until the time limit got really short and I had to cut a few corners, literally. People got hurt, I got arrested, did my split second of community service, went out and did it again.

    I like your Google/Yahoo maps idea. Living in Japan, sometimes I go to places like Tokyo and Kyoto and it'd be nice to be able to do a dry run from the train station to whatever hotel I'm staying at, or from there to whatever live house I'm going to.

    And if I have to steal a taxi to do it, so much the better!

  12. @ torsten:

    You can ride a rather intricate subway system, jack a city bus and ice cream truck.

    No double deckers or Duck tours. No planes either in this one, but there are helicopters, boats, and motorcycles.

  13. Bus, yes. Only ridden the subway once, so I'm not sure if you can get to the driver. Haven't seen an ice cream truck or a double-decker yet, but if they're in there, then yeah, you can drive them.

    Multiplayer is also lots of fun, but I haven't worked all the bugs out the experience yet. And won’t for another week. Just lent my copy to a friend at work to see if he’ll want to buy it and play with the other gamers at work (I’m on weird hours this week, so I won’t miss much).

    Chris – I went for the taxi first mostly because I completely screwed it up the first time the game tried to teach me how to hail a cab. I kept stealing them instead of getting in as a passenger because I wasn’t holding the Y button down. I’ll get around to testing the drunk driving sometime along the way.

    2 pigeons down! 198 to go!

  14. I played GTA III for way, way too long one day, took the subway to meet some friends, and surfaced at Astor Place, where a firetruck was parked. My reaction was "ooh! That's a really good one to steal!" but I only got about half a step towards it before reality set in.

    I imagine IV would get me at least three strides. But I still love this game just for existing without ever having played it. It's almost making me buy an XBox all by its lonesome.

    Plus! If Google Maps isn't informative enough, you can plot your course to someone's house so you know your way around when you come visit.