First impressions of Grand Theft Auto IV

Having discovered San Andreas rather late I was curious about IV. I actually avoided it when it first came out. Something was wrong about the artwork and the look of the main character told me to stay away. But now, for £3, I thought I would at least check out the engine/environment.

So first impressions. Games For Windows Live. Any games developer with half a brain cell would stay away from this. It can’t even auto update itself like Steam can so I was left with a game that would not start until I dug up a special GFWL update for GTA IV. This is why RAGE was released on Steam.

Opening cut scene. Disaster. Voice acting ? Where did you drag these voice actors up from ? Storyline ? There is none.

Graphics. What is this weird HDR lighting ? Everything looks blurred out and muddy and not crystal clear as it does in GTA:SA. It seems we have a realism approach here rather than the “artistic rendition” that we see in SA. OK, so this is worth investigating.

Environment. Seems OK, ish. So far I’m not seeing any of this “social satire” that is supposed to be here. I think we can retreat to San Andreas for that. Anyhow, it looks like a nice enough engine, I just hope I can use it as a simple sandbox FPS or something.

Attitude. Something is seriously wrong here. Why does this seem like someone else’s idea of what GTA is ? Someone who has never played a GTA game in their life ? (OK, I’m very biased towards SA). I’ve seen this mistake made elsewhere. There seems to be this idea that some people want to play games – or even see films – with really nasty stuff in it (the excuse being “satire” … I’d suggest watching a little of Bill Hicks first before venturing into media production, OK?). Notice the guy being whipped at the beginning. S&M. Why ?! It’s not even done in a funny way. In fact everything here seems to be designed to puff up the Ego of people “wanting to be adults”. As if being an adult is about accepting horrible things as “sophisticated”. This is just innocence loss and is basically pretty sad really. An adult can retain their innocence (that the Universe is basically good) and NOT be naive. But here we get this “oh, grow up” sort of mentality where in SA there is a very effective stab of satire going on along the lines of “what on earth do we all think we’re doing?” kind. Look at this New York Times quote.

The New York Times wrote a favourable review as well, calling it a “violent, intelligent, profane, endearing, obnoxious, sly, richly textured and thoroughly compelling work of cultural satire disguised as fun.” ( Source )

Richly textured ? Maybe I’m just not getting the references here. Fun ? “Disguised as fun” ? What happened to IS fun ? San Andreas is primarily a game. A GAME. I don’t need to have this pseudo-sophistication crap rammed down my throat. Maybe IV is just a different beast. But the storyline is not for me. I’m not sure about the gameplay yet, maybe I can do something with that. But totally absent is the brilliant mocap, voice acting and genuine cultural sophistication that we saw in GTA: San Andreas. GTA:IV appears to inhabit a worrying void, a world devoid of true storytelling and artistic video game making. What happened ? Could they not find any ideas out there ? For example look at the turn of the Millennium. Rupert Sheldrake, Ralph Abraham and Terence McKenna made, I thought, a convincing case for there actually being a huge shift around the year 2000. Abraham – a mathematician – identified a bifurcation point where a choice was made by our and other cultures to change direction away from the quagmire of the twentieth century. Look at the predictions of the Maya or the more trustworthy parts of the New Age. There is something extraordinary going on in the historical context that our culture exists in that a video game could use as a deep subject that would really hold the attention of the player. But I don’t see any of that in IV – not that I’ve seen yet, and I don’t expect to. Look at SA again. Here we have a game that uses the entire cultural context of West coast America in a way that I never thought was possible. While Narco News was struggling to inform people about the enormous amount of corruption going across the border (in both directions) SA was just bleating it out on it’s radio stations ! Gary Webb was driven to suicide for being unfairly treated after he published investigative journalism about drugs being deliberately allowed into LA. Yet here we have SA pumping out the same messages seemingly with many people unaware of the actual journalism that the satire is based upon. Messages based on true underground knowledge. This kind of thing does not seem to be in IV. In fact very little actual research seems to have gone on.

To be fair the environments are very nice. I like the airport where the planes feel very realistic. The better aspects to this game are obviously very different to GTA:SA. That’s what I’m comparing it with here.


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