Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rickey's Obligatory GTA IV Review (Because you needed us to tell you to buy the damn thing)

As a wee lad, Rickey’s access to videogames was severely limited (his parents flat out banned ‘em from the house). Whether or not this was a wise decision we’ll leave for you to decide, but suffice to say that Rickey isn’t one of those individuals who knows the Contra cheat code by heart or how to instantly warp to the final level in Super Mario Brothers 3. So when Rickey finally purchased his first gaming system (the ill fated and woefully underappreciated Atari Jaguar) brand new horizons of listlessness opened up in Rickey’s life. Flash forward to today: a golden age of video gaming. An age when mastering Guitar Hero is as challenging and fun as its real life counterpart. An age when Bill Murray is recording new lines for an upcoming Ghostbusters videogame written by Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis. An age when a game like Okami can blend art and technology by allowing the player to restore vitality to a diseased landscape by using their wii remote to virtually paint soft pink flowers blooms on a dying sapling’s young branches and cause lush green meadows to breathlessly sweep away a blighted countryside. Ultimately, it’s an age when plopping down $60 on a game provides far more bang for one’s buck than any other entertainment medium.

But it’s also an age where you can experience a chillingly realistic depiction of modern warfare in games such as Call of Duty 4 and yes, Rickey will admit that it’s a tad unnerving that an entire generation of young men has had its perception of war shaped in some measure by video games. Generally, we’re not big fans of the idea of modern technology allowing both soldiers and civilians to detach from the reality of taking another human life. So yes, for the record, Rickey's more than aware of the perils of mindless displays of desensitizing violence.

And that brings us to Grand Theft Auto, a game franchise and cultural phenomenon which you might have heard a thing or two about. Contrary to what certain public figures would have you believe, this game does no more to foster violent Rambo fantasies (if anything, it mocks them) than a quick flip through of the morning newspaper or a trip to the local cinema. This last time Rickey checked, oil had hit $120 a barrel, there was a housing crisis going on, and the price of wheat had increased by 200%. But zounds, a well crafted and brilliant game that’s intended solely for a mature demographic is being released? Commence panicking post-haste.

Set in Liberty City, a stunningly vivid depiction of New York City, Grand Theft Auto IV embodies and satirizes the conflicts that constitute NYC life: profane yet intelligent, violent yet compelling, brash yet visually rich, and obnoxious yet endearing. After an initial hour or so playing the game, Rickey noticed something rather curious: playing GTA IV causes one’s facial muscles to spontaneously pull back into a state of constant grinning. This is because this game isn’t as much of a formal game per se as it is a set of tools that allow you to do whatever you damn well please. Set within a completely open environment, the sky’s the limit. We'll be honest, Rickey found himself transfixed by merely walking around the streets of Liberty City walking with the herds of pederestrians and listening to them talk to each other.
Those who fancy a compelling storyline can play through the main plot, which involves Balkan War veteran Niko Bellic arriving in Brighton Beach with the American Dream firmly in mind he works his way through the criminal underbelly of NYC and encounters an endless string of politically incorrect lowlifes from all walks of life. But if you want to forsake the game’s narrative structure, Niko is free to explore the all the spot-on landmarks, drive around the boroughs listening to the fantastically rich radio station offerings, purchase new clothes, pick up fares in cabs, surf the internet, watch a tv show such as “Republican Space Rangers” or the 24 spoof, “Brown=Suspect,” purchase real estate, play billiards, darts, or even go bowling, then GTA IV has you covered. It’s a level of immersion and detail that you’ve never seen before in a game, and best of all, it’s a razor sharp satire of modern American culture as well as an unabashed love letter to it. And to cap it all off, you can roam around this universe with your friends online.

Rumor was that the game’s developer, Rockstar North, was going to include the suburbs extending as far north as the Catskill Mountains but scrapped the idea due to technical limitations, something which we sincerely hope becomes a reality in the upcoming expansion packs. Until then, we’ll have to make do with New Alderney, GTA’s fun little take on New Jersey. Yes, you can pick up prostitutes then proceed to beat them up and take back the money you just paid them, but if you’re getting your kicks from just doing that then there’s a good chance you fall into one of the many demographics that Rockstar Studios is lambasting in the first place. We know, with all this praise, you’re probably thinking “shill!” but rest assured, Rickey isn’t on the Rockstar payroll. And just to prove it, we feel compelled to state that the driving controls in the game are pretty tough to get the hang of, there are some nagging graphical issues (pop up, aliasing, and draw distance) and there are reports of the game occasionally freezing up for some folks. Also, we're pretty certain that Niko, fresh off the boat from some Eastern Bloc nation, wouldn't request that a cab driver flip to a radio station that's playing the new Yankee Daddy song. But these are relatively minor trade offs given the enormous scope of the game and how it uses atmospheric sights and sounds to create something that feels completely alive and vibrant. Rickey’s verdict: the GTA franchise is a juggernaut for a damn good reason. Obviously, due to all the violence and profanity, kids under the age of sixteen should probably sit this one out. Everyone else, do what you need to do in order to procure this game pronto.

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Anonymous said...

Hey Rickey,
I know why you reviewed the game. GTA4 review tops on Google trends list, and you just want some traffic.
Nonetheless, I bought the game yesterday, and it is absolutely terrific. One of the best games I have ever played!

Smitty said...

Smitty will gladly play this game...once he gets home from the hospital!

The Smitty twins were born this morning. Details here!

Rickey Henderson said...

anonymous: you're half right in the sense that GTAIV is a topical subject that Rickey figured his readers might enjoy a post about. As far as Google traffic goes, if you take a look at our sitemeter stats at the bottom of the page, most of our Google hits come from people looking for buffalo wing recipes or something called a "riding cult." Glad to hear you're enjoying the game however.

Smitty: mazel tov buddy! You have sewn your seed well. Congratulations on the two future beer aficionados!

AmyV said...

holy crapdoodles, those graphics are frighteningly realistic.

AmyV said...

oh, and congrats smitty!

Chris C said...

Sad that Opie and Anthony didn't make it on the GTA radio this time. Think they had a station in the last one.

I still play GTA III that is how replayable and enjoyable this series of games has always been. Well, except when it was a overhead view which was ghey.

Alex L said...

My mate got it the other day... have you tried riding a motorbike and then crashing into a concrete barrier full pelt... sickening but oddly addicting.

Rickey Henderson said...

The funny thing about the graphics is that the static screenshots really don't do it justice--driving across the Brooklyn Bridge towards Manhattan with traffic everywhere and the the sun setting behind the skyscrapers is jaw dropping.

Alex L: Rickey's not a big fan of how the motorcycles handle like bricks, but yes, the physics that govern Niko are ridiculous. The way he walks through crowds, behaves around them, and yes, the way he flies through the windshield if he hits something hard enough, it's just insane.

Alex L said...

I know whay you mean about the bikes, but well I guess realism is the way they wanted to head. But isnt the AI spectacular, I bumped into a guy after I'd finished a mission and he turns to sizes me up, so I turned around. And there was a nice little tense stand off.

I'd be interested to see what you think of the aiming system.

Rickey Henderson said...

the aiming system is ok... it took some time to get used to, but it's definitely a step up from the previous games.

Dan in Texas said...

Great post Rickey!

I went to the midnight launch to get my copy. the reason I bought my PS3 over a year ago was that this game was coming out.

I have to agree the driving is a little weird but I like driving and pretending I am in a Dukes of Hazzard eppisode the way the cars slide on turns.

Alex L said...

Yeah I thought the aiming was pretty good, anything was better than the last ones. But I'm quite happy with how it turned out.

Brandon said...

Gotta love how Liberty City's version of the Lincoln Tunnel is named Booth Tunnel.

The driving is ve-ery Dukes of Hazzardy. Crossing my fingers for a Catskills map pack.

Rickey: Multiplayer mode review is in order. Congrats on the engagement.

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