Tuesday, 10 March 2009

On GTA4 – 6 months too late

So I finally finished GTA IV. It required an effort from me, but at the same time, I was really compelled to finish it. More compelled than I have been to play MGS4 anyway (at the top of my pile of shame).

I love GTA games. Yes, from back before they were 3D. But from GTA III on in particular. GTA III was the purchase that justified the PS2 to me. Having seen it round my mate Russ' house, I knew instantly it would be something special, and it did not disappoint. However, to me, GTA III pales when stood next to it's two hot sisters, Vice City and San Andreas. I actually played Vice City on PC, and cannot really remember why at the moment. I enjoyed the hell out of it though, and played it through twice. The fleshing out of the world, achieved by better voice actors, empire expanding, and the emotive 80's setting was far more compelling to me than the generic New York of GTA III. So Vice City was nice. But San Andreas had me by the balls.

I played and played and played that game. On PS2, then on PC. Completion of the story first time round meant an instant restart for a 100% (did not make it – damn pilot licenses). I played the PC version endlessly, and was even active in the Mod scene for a bit, skinning cars. I think the reason I loved San Andreas so much was the advance in atmosphere. It took what Vice City did in terms of setting a mood, a sense of time and place, and then took it to a whole new level. To me, it was near perfect. I played it like an RPG. I went for drives sometimes. I collected cars and stashed them at properties. It was my go to game from November 2004, for about 2 years.

So I was hot for GTA IV. I was on GTAForums.com for the epic reveal thread, when the Internet ground to a halt. “New York” I thought to myself, “well, it's not what I thought it would be but fuck it, I'll take it.”

I picked the game up launch week, booked a week off work and settled in. Immediately things felt wrong. I sucked at driving. Hell, I even sucked at walking. The arcade style controls of San Andreas were gone, replaced by what Rockstar must have believed was a more realistic control system. To me, it felt like Niko had a fat suit on and had been hitting the Valiums. My longest play session was 3.5 hours in the first week, and this was never to be repeated. I felt bad. I wanted the spiritual sucessor to San Andreas, and while beautiful to look at, GTA IV never once tried to touvh my nuts. Huh. I loved the story, and the visuals, but the controls put me right off. Maybe my time with GTA on the PC had spoiled me, with the precision that mouse aim provides. I am not certain.

I finished GTA IV tonight. Hearing Ryan O'Donnell talk about it on Rebel FM, saying that he never took a taxi in the game astounded me. Because I struggled with the driving so much, I ended up taking cabs everywhere. Going back to the game now was quite an eye opener, especially playing it with someone who had not seen it before watching me play. I appreciated some of the details I had missed in my first block of time with it, blinded my my futile attempts to control my character in a semi realistic way.

I am glad I finished the game. The end story was a tad cheesy, but it is GTA so I guess that is par for the course. Overall, GTA IV will stand for me as an achievement in a technical sense, rather than as one of the greatest games. We all know the flaws (I accept that the control system is not flawed – the problem exists between the couch and the controller), and we know what it did well. I look forward to what comes next. This year, a Lost and Damned release on PS3 I would hope. Further in the future... well, here is my speculation. In GTA III the corrupt cop character of Ray splits town, telling you he'll see you in Vice City. At the end of GTA IV, Romain texts you on your phone, and mentions a trip to Vice City. Enough said.
1 line summary: The greatest technical achievement for videogames in 2008.

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