“Grand Theft Auto IV,” (“GTA IV”) the latest version of the controversial and outrageously popular series from game developer Rockstar, hit the street at midnight Tuesday. For an industry that has already set sales records in 2008, the release of the long-delayed but highly anticipated game will likely give Microsoft, Sony and Rockstar parent Take-Two even more sales fuel through the Spring.
While some parents and critics have voiced concern over the sex and violence upon which “GTA IV’s” storyline is based, game critics have almost universally hailed the game, some even going as far as naming it the best video game ever.
“GTA IV” has made Tom Orry, editor of Videogamer.com, wonder if he’ll “ever be able to look at ‘normal’ video games in the same way again.”
“I finished the game last week. When games are released on the back of this much hype, they almost always disappoint in some way, but ‘GTA IV’ is the first game I can remember that has completely delivered. Rockstar has made a game that will go down in history as one of the greatest of this console generation,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Playing the Role of Niko Belic …
In “GTA IV,” gamers take on the persona of Niko Belic, a former military member who hails from an undisclosed region of Eastern Europe. A man with a past he desperately wants to escape, Belic comes to the New York analog Liberty City, where his cousin Roman runs a taxi cab company. In his correspondence with Belic, Roman has spun wonderful tales of Liberty City and the riches the city has to offer.
Naturally, what Belic finds is far from an oasis of boundless opportunity. Very quickly, thanks in part to Roman, he is sucked into an underworld peopled by thieves and sociopaths. Belic must navigate a realm in which the dollar rules supreme and status is king. For the haves it’s a heaven, for the have-nots it’s a nightmare come true, according to Take-Two.
Initial missions involve helping Roman, who has run afoul of some very shady characters. Although the action is a bit subdued in its initial stages, it picks up as Belic tries to help himself and meet the many challenges that arise, Orry said.
“The way the story is told in ‘GTA 4’ is far superior to the previous ‘GTAs,’ with characters and dialogue good enough for movies. The way the story builds and the missions escalate is handled so expertly, ‘GTA 4’ stands head and shoulders above almost every other video game that has attempted to deliver a mature storyline,” Orry explained.
Walk On the Wild Side
Last July, John Riccitiello, president of game publisher Electronic Arts, castigated the gaming industry for relying too heavily on series and franchises with “rinse-and-repeat” titles. These games, he said, lacked innovation and “looked a lot like last year’s product that looked a lot like the year before.”
With “GTA IV,” gamers will not find a mere retread with a handful of new features thrown in, Jeremy Dunham, editorial manager at IGN Games, told TechNewsWorld.
“What really stands out about the game is that, while it’s really similar to other ‘GTA’ games in concept and execution, the way that it’s presented and a lot of fine tuning that they’ve made to various elements make it a much more realistic and personally more enjoyable experience,” said Dunham.
Technically, the more realistic behavior from artificial intelligence (AI) characters and an improved targeting mechanic are a few of the enhancements developers made to “GTA IV.””The city itself is very impressive. They’ve really captured the idea of the multiple boroughs of New York City and even part of New Jersey and put it into one believable city. It’s really hard to find repeating areas at all. Each neighborhood is very distinctive.
Put all those things together, he said, and throw in a multiplayer aspect that includes online play for up to 16 gamers as well as a strong story and you have a perfect game.
Still Got It
“GTA’s” violent story line may attract negative attention from watchdog groups, parents and occasionally the government, but it also is a game that appeals to players of all levels,” Videogamer.com’s Orry pointed out.
“The ‘GTA’ series attracts huge attention from hardcore and casual gamers, making it something of an anomaly in the video game industry. The ability to freely roam large cities and do what you want in what amounts to a virtual playpen has incredible mass appeal,” he said.
Known as “sandbox” games, games like “GTA IV” give players the option to follow the prescribed course of missions that drive the plot or leave the plot behind and do anything they want.
“If you just want to go through the storyline and go through the motions you can do that. You don’t have to commit … crime outside the storyline. Or you can decide to drive around the city, get into some races, or go bowling or play pool. Or you can go crazy and see how much mayhem you can create. Crash into cars and buildings, go swimming,” Dunham said.
“The fact that you have all those possibilities and the only limitation really is how far you can push your imagination within the environment provided to you is the No. 1 draw for that series,” he added.
IGN’s Dunham believes that some of the game’s allure lies in the opportunity it gives gamers to push aside the heroism normally associated with video game protagonists. Instead, they are able to give in to their dark sides and engage in some mild or major thug-like behavior.
“You aren’t playing the traditional video game hero. Typically you’re always the good guy in the situation. [In ‘GTA’] you are not. You’re a criminal trying to make his way in the world, and just the fact that you have that option is very alluring for people,” he explained.
Despite anyone’s preconceived notions about “GTA IV” and how close it may be to earlier version in terms of game play and focus, Dunham said, any adult gamer who would like to experience “the pinnacle of game development owes it to themselves to play the game.
“Everything it does, it does extremely well and better than its competition in just about every facet,” he said. “It’s definitely one of the best games of its generation and will likely stand as one of the best games of the last 10 years.”