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Thursday, June 12, 2008

GTA IV succeeds where Bioshock didn't

I beat GTA IV last week, finally! I got the "Liberty City Minute" achievement for beating the story in less than 30 hours - though, I think extensive retries and loading had something to do with that. I probably put that many hours into it, overall.

GTA IV was a lot of fun. The shooting / combat system was much improved from the last GTA I played (Vice City) and made the "kill everyone at this location" missions a lot of fun. The occasional rampage also made Liberty City more pleasent - whenever some asshole driver hit me or my car by making a stupid driving move, I could just blow them up with a friggin' grenade! Who hasn't wanted to follow up a fender-bender with a few rounds of explosives? The minigames were entertaining (except pool), and I got really good at darts by the end of everything. Stealing cars and outrunning the cops is as fun as ever - grabbing a Hummer and running over other cars made it very enjoyable.

There were some parts that made the game a bit less golden. The physics were very frustrating on a number of occasions - as Zero Punctuation notes, slamming through rows of lamp posts, mailboxes and people only to be halted by the world's thinnest 2x4 really got on my nerves, and made some of the missions extraordinarily difficult. The car chases were very difficult, and often frustrating due to mixed up mission objectives: it would say 'take out these guys,' then give 'these guys' an invincible tank with perfect acceleration and handling. Really, you're just supposed to follow 'these guys' until they get to a more cinematic location. But trying to drive and shoot at them becomes impossible. Also, some of the missions were incredibly long, and having to redo multiple cutscenes on failure was pretty aggravating (bank robbery mission, I'm looking at you).

These are minor gripes, however, when you consider the story and what it succeeds at. It constantly puts you in up to your neck, and you can feel Niko's desperation as you try to dig your way out.

And, getting back to the title, GTA IV succeeds at something I have not seen in almost any video games - creating morally ambiguous choices. Most games which claim to "allow the player to make mature decisions" such as Bioshock, basically boil down to "Do you want to brutally murder this innocent person, or not?" Very rarely are there consequences (Bioshock promised these, but I found saving the little girls didn't make it any harder than killing them) for good or bad behavior, and very rarely do you ever feel confused about what to do. GTA IV breaks this. Several times in game, you're offered the option of letting someone you're supposed to kill go. Often, they're really slimy people who have it coming. That's pretty binary, but it gets better - two guys you work for, who both seem to play it straight with you, and neither of which seem like double-crossing dicks, hire you to kill each other. Which one do you kill? How do you decide? Even at the end of the game, you're allowed to make big decisions which alter the way the story plays out. It's really, really awesome.

Aside from the quibbles above, I only have one major problem with this game: there's nothing to buy! Niko and Roman are always trying to make it big - and you do! I spent half the game with $300,000+ because there was nothing to spend it on! No safehouses, no cars to buy, nothing! I got a cool suit, all the weapons & full ammo, then that was it. Once I had a huge amount of money, the game's plot stopped making sense - Niko was taking all these jobs to make money, and I'm like, "Dude, I have almost half a million dollars - why do I need this guy's measly five thousand?" I wish you could have bought more safehouses, or permanent car spawns, or buildings with missions attached (like in Vice City) - that would have added a whole lot to the game's sandbox appeal.

All in all, GTA IV was a freakin' blast, and very worth the wait and the money spent on it. Can't wait for the next GTA!

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