The epic stories of early reviews of Grand Theft Auto IV are already legend: stalwart game reviewers, shipped to hotels in undisclosed locations, are given nearly a week of time with the most hotly anticipated title of the year. They spend dozens of sleepless hours inflicting upon themselves the sins of protagonist Niko Bellic and the depraved Liberty City.
When they emerge, tired and unwashed, and with a nagging feeling that their next ride is only a broken window and a couple of twisted wires away, they rush to compile glowing homilies to their week-long captor. The results, Legions of perfect scores, could fuel a multi-year study on Stockholm Syndrome. Were the scores on metacritic posted in the same way that the Boston Red Sox use to update their scoreboard at Fenway Park, we’d be suffering a national shortage of green placards that read “100 OUT OF 100!”*
To their credit, and I speak as a veteran with 28 hours of play time and a 42% completion rate, the glowing reviews aren’t just hyperbole. Grand Theft Auto IV presents by far the most immersive environment ever rendered in a video game. There are few other gaming experiences that I can recall that had characters this well-written, a story this clever, and an option to just putz around that, in many cases, is a lot more fun than the actual storyline.
For those who haven’t made the purchase, it’s natural to be skeptical of the unprecedented outpouring of love for GTA IV. There’s good reason for it, because as great as Grand Theft Auto IV can be, there are plenty of things that players, sucked in by the lure of the golden reviews, should know before hopping off the boat with Niko. Disclaimer: these should not be considered reasons NOT to buy the game, but just a friendly “heads-up” to my fellow gamers who may not quite know what they’re getting into. Minor, non-story related spoilers abound:
- Do you have a fear of commitment? There’s a geek syndrome that I call “Mulderscullyphobia,” the fear of getting trapped by the latest X-Files-ripoff TV series. The new show usually features a massive conspiracy/mystery that you KNOW you’ll have to follow every episode, whether the show runs for one season or ten, because once you start, you NEED to find out what happens. GTA IV inspires similar fear. Even though most reviewers say the game will take 40 hours, plan on a lot longer, especially if you’re new to the series. At four hours a night (you don’t have a job or family, right?), you’ll be in for at least two solid weeks of playing. And trust me, you’ll be stuck – this game is the epitome of “just one more mission, and then I’ll come to bed.”
- The immersive, expansive world is not immediately all available: Like with most GTA games, the most tantalizing locations are initially out of reach – all the bridges heading west are barricaded and protected by the Liberty City PD. I tried to run the barricade, and they called out the Special Forces. I tried to sneak through (hint: get your car on the El train track), and they called in Special Forces. I even tried to swim across the equivalent of the East River, and they called the Coast Guard to take me out. You’ll be able to cross eventually, but not until you put in 13 – 14 hours.
- You’re going to spend a lot of time getting places: It’s Grand Theft Auto, and it follows the standard Grand Theft Auto scheme: get a mission, drive across the map to the mission, fail mission, retry mission. After the sixth time around, you’ll manage to succeed, and then drive all the way back to where you started. Even with a built-in GPS map, it gets very tedious very quickly.
- But what about my needs?: Your virtual criminal buddies are all like insecure high school girls: pay them enough attention, and they’ll love you. Turn down requests to play darts a couple of times, and all of a sudden you’re out of the club. And since it’s in your best interest to keep them happy, you get to spend plenty of time with awkward bowling, darts, and pool simulators. And that doesn’t even include managing your in-game love life, which requires constant calls, dates, and wardrobe changes (my real life significant other’s favorite part of the game, incidentally). Nothing gets you in the gangster mood quite like choosing between the Russian hat and the Army hat.
- Didn’t I just do this mission?: Kill drug dealers/mobsters/bikers in a shootout that becomes disgustingly easy when you find somewhere to take cover. Chase someone in a car (or motorcycle), and shoot him. Perform a coup de grâce on a major mob boss. Lather, rinse, repeat.
- How am I supposed to finish the game when I can both watch TV and surf the internet in the freaking game?: I was even clicking on links in the spam, for God’s sake.
Daddy, please don’t play the hooker game again tonight!
(Source materials from www.azmortgageguru.com)
No darts? How about pool? Bowling? What about a strip club? Why won’t you LOVE me?
(Source materials from amazon.com)
If you haven’t bought Grand Theft Auto IV, and think that you can handle the time commitment and repetition, then it offers the best action and story combo since Bioshock. Just don’t be blinded by the brilliant gleam of all those perfect 100s – you’re going to have to work to get everything the game has to offer.
*For those that notice, yes, I know that metacritic adjusts everyone’s score to a scale that tops out 100, even if the reviewing site only rates on a scale of 1 – 10 or 1 – 5.
Editor’s Note: this is written by Dan Rubin, one of LIVEdigitally’s new reviewers. I’ll have a “welcome” post up soon enough, but in case you miss that one, welcome Dan!!