Review: 'Grand Theft Aut IV' ets expectations - vulgar, violent, fun
By Mike Antonucci
I was able to start playing the game over the weekend, and after my first six-to-seven hours of virtual mayhem and sleazy behavior, this much is clear:
• The game, as expected, revels in being hyper-violent, vulgar and offensive. But the context is sometimes so tongue-in-cheek that players are treated to clever, though extremely crude, parodies of American culture.
One example: Much of the game involves driving around the incredibly detailed environment of Liberty City (sort of an alternate world New York City). When you're in a vehicle, including those you've stolen, you control the game's rich soundtrack by changing stations on the car radio. When you get conservative talk radio, you get a near-brilliant example of sardonic political commentary.
• Most of the hype about the game's cinematic qualities and writing is just that, hype. There is a veneer of character development in the story of an Eastern European, Niko Bellic, who arrives in the United States as a refugee from a war-torn past. But it's hard to accept that anything literary will unfold over the rest of the game, partly because the dialogue is so cliche ridden and partly because the violence is so over-the-top that Bellic can't be taken seriously as a character with any human subtlety.
• The depth and interactivity of the gameplay is extraordinary. The size and complexity of Liberty City - particularly if you have Bellic walk instead of drive - sets up a fascinating virtual experience. Bellic's interactions with other characters, including when he "scored" (audibly but not visually) on his second date with a woman named Michelle, seem to be either trite or brutal. But the choice-and-consequence scenarios, such as using your acquired knowledge of the city to outrun the police, is even more compelling than in previous "Grand Theft Auto" games.
The $60 game, rated Mature (17 and older), is available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles. I'm playing the 360 edition and as yet haven't been able to compare it to the PS3 version.
Reviewers are finding as much as 50 to 100 hours of gameplay in the game's single-player mode (before even considering the online multiplayer option). Much depends on each player's skills, as well as how focused a player is about following the story line.
After about six hours of weekend play, which includes watching the non-interactive story segments (called cutscenes), I've completed only 5.58 percent of the game. The game's stat tracker tells me that, as Bellic, I've driven 30.30 miles, walked 5.33 miles, stolen 13 cars, killed 15 people and been shooting with 77 percent accuracy.
Based on clips released on the Web from deeper portions of the game, it's clear that I haven't encountered the most salacious portions. It also seems clear, just from the content so far, that the game represents another milestone in its singular combination of creativity and crudity.
Contact Mike Antonucci at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 920-5690.