Reaching the top…Posted: April 29, 2008
Niko Bellic is the player-controlled protagonist this time, and he is one of the most fully realized characters video games have yet produced. A veteran of the Balkan wars and a former human trafficker in the Adriatic, he arrives in Liberty City’s rendition of Brighton Beach at the start of the game to move in with his affable if naïve cousin Roman. Niko expects to find fortune and, just maybe, track down someone who betrayed him long ago. Over the course of the story line he discovers that revenge is not always what one expects.
Besides the nuanced Niko the game is populated by a winsome procession of grifters, hustlers, drug peddlers and other gloriously unrepentant lowlifes, each a caricature less politically correct than the last.
Hardly a demographic escapes skewering. In addition to various Italian and Irish crime families, there are venal Russian gangsters, black crack slingers, argyle-sporting Jamaican potheads, Puerto Rican hoodlums, a corrupt police commissioner, a steroid-addled Brooklyn knucklehead named Brucie Kibbutz and a former Eastern European soldier who has become a twee Upper West Side metrosexual.
Stepping off a boat in the shoes of illegal immigrant Niko Bellic as he arrives in Liberty City at the start of Grand Theft Auto IV, you can tell immediately that Rockstar North’s latest offering is something quite special. Yes, this is another GTA game in which you’ll likely spend the bulk of your time stealing cars and gunning down cops and criminals, but it’s also much more than that. GTAIV is a game with a compelling and nonlinear storyline, a game with a great protagonist who you can’t help but like, and a game that boasts a plethora of online multiplayer features in addition to its lengthy story mode. It’s not without some flaws, but GTAIV is undoubtedly the best Grand Theft Auto yet.
GTAIV’s Internet is filled with spoofs of all the kinds of Web sites that you’d only ever look at accidentally or when you know there’s no danger of getting caught. Some of them can be found only by clicking on links in spam e-mails, whereas others are advertised prominently on the search page. There’s plenty of amusing stuff to find if you spend some time in one of the “TW@” Internet cafes, but the most interesting site by far is an online dating agency through which you can meet women who, if they like your profile, will agree to go on dates with you. Dating and socializing with friends is something you can spend as much or as little of your time doing as you like, and though the people you meet can occasionally be demanding to the point that they become irritating, keeping them happy invariably benefits you in some way.
I’m pretty sure that, just like every GTA game since the second, this one will be impossible for me to beat.
The GTA series is, of course, now the king of Video Games. Arguably the only thing bigger is Halo.
UPDATE: Really Penny-Arcade explains it all…
Grand Theft Auto has had another problem, or rather, we have had a problem that intersects with what the game offers: the raw, virtually limitless opportunity presented is paralyzing, a sheer face with no purchase. We’re always impressed by each world’s livingness, but historically the story structure – the obvious thread that we can grip and pull ourselves along – is hung about the neck with frustrating, repetitive gameplay. We end up burning out on free roaming in a couple days, taking random missions or sitting in a parking lot listening to the radio. I feel guilty, because there’s probably no game more “important” globally than Grand Theft Auto. I certainly feel like I’m looking in on what I consider my own community. It never seemed to bother anyone else that the core of the game wasn’t much fun, so mostly the whole thing just makes me feel like a crazy person.