Grand Theft Auto IV

Since there are 5 patches now for this game, it was “safe” to start playing it (my “least bugs = most fun” principle). The first impression was less than great. “Rockstar Social Club” took care of that. It’s another application that starts with (and besides) the game and takes care of online activity (=multiplayer) BUT sticks around even if the player just wants to have fun with GTA by himself. Yes… Since Steam is always running too, there’s now more and more stuff always active. But RSC also tries to make the user create an account with Rockstar, possibly for features he’ll never use. With every launch of GTA, the client appears again and all the steps have to be skipped anew (including a window reminding the user that he’s not logged into RSC…). I hope the people responsible for this end up in the SPECIAL hell.
I’m also no big fan of the Microsoft Games for Windows LIVE stuff (the second experience gamers have with GTA IV, directly after RSC). It’s just bloat for the common/basic feature of creating save games. Naturally I use the offline option for saving games. I guess people are supposed to be happy about the fact they left this option. What shall I say, I like to be able to play my games, even if (for whatever reason) my Internet connection is dead.
The intro (couple of gangstaZZZ do gangsta stuff) and it’s duration made me think, that someone should explain to the good people at Rockstar, why GTA became the big franchise it is today. Because they seem to believe, that the purpose of GTA is to be a big movie or something. It’s not. It’s about driving vehicles around and crash into things (which is really easy in IV, because the handling of the cars is so great – interpret that any way you want). But even the intro ends at some point and the driving finally begins. And since cut scenes can be skipped by pressing return, forget this entire point or consider it as being invalid…
After all these steps are mastered, which obviously tried to keep the player from having fun (which is why people buy and play these games, btw), GTA IV really lifts off and the rich scenario takes the gamer all in for the first time. They took everything and enhanced it. I don’t know how many radio stations the vehicles can receive now. A LOT. It takes some time, until music or dialog repeats. This is no real problem either, since the music selection is so good, it holds up to anything that’s out there. Sometimes I’m glad I can listen to the same song again.
The focus here is on missions, so there’s less going on in the sandbox world (even “random friend” encounters are missions) and the game relies less on it than San Andreas did. I played almost constantly missions over anything else and it took “long” (I forgot the stats) to reach the end. This is a positive thing, for someone like me, who never was too fond of all the endless tattoo/clothes/fitness … shops in San Andreas.
But they just couldn’t make everything in-game fun and motivating. That’s what constant calls from various contacts and girlfriends were supposed to take down a notch. Honestly, it’s not possible to do 2-3 missions in peace, without having Roman (main character’s cousin), Little Jacob (some gangster), Brucie (just plain crazy) […] and several of the girlfriends calling! Spending time with all these ~10 “contacts” can unlock certain extras (that I never used), when the characters approval gets high enough. Declining any “dates”, will decrease this value each time by ~3%. So anyone who spent hours with all this people to bump it up to 100%, will be down again to 60 pretty soon. The method they use to ruin the gaming experience/pump up the pressure varies. Some of them call and expect the player to say yes (and then it’s time to drive them around endlessly instead of actually playing the game), others will expect the player to call THEM – every few (in-game) hours! Everyone who fails/forgets to do that, will receive angry messages and/or emails from all those people, once their deadlines were met. It’s possible to receive 4 of these messages simultaneously – even during missions, where important notes are distributed through the same channel… What also happens all the time, is that they call for drinks/darts/bowling/[…] during story-missions and then Niko Bellic hangs up automatically (going somewhere else would fail the story-mission), but this doesn’t save the player from the annoyance, because the approval rate sinks anyway! So, doing missions often just means lowering the like-factor of all the important folks… The consequence of this is, if the player tries to keep up, that playing GTA for hours could easily just consist of appeasing all of those clingy bastards. In which case, of course, you’d never see the ending credits. Ergo, by reaching this conclusion, you are done with all of them and never react to any call.

The cell offers an option to “freeze” these calls, but that shuts down the story too, so this certainly well-meant function doesn’t help at all/offers no solution to this problem.
What was extremely well done on the other hand, is the combat system. I thought it exceeded that of all other GTA games by far. I never had any problems to succeed in a mission, that had tons of gun fights on account of horrible controls. I sometimes failed to aim very well in San Andreas, but this is a thing of the past. The taking cover in IV is awesome. Other than ME1, the PC doesn’t just stick to walls by touching them, a button has to be pressed, so there is no accidental behavior when running around. Once in cover, it’s possible to blindly shoot around (“gangsta style”) or lean out of cover a little to aim more precise. THAT was immense fun and action. I hope they never trash this model. I didn’t perceive it as too easy either, because all of the options are necessary to get by. And the hostiles use all of these opportunities as well. It always makes a world more believable, when the same basic rules are applied to all its inhabitants and there’s no obvious difference between the player character and everyone else.
What really made the game likable (and what I consider as one of the best features) is how ironic the entire game world is created. No radio commentator is to be taken seriously – they all just mock someone or something, that usually really deserves to be made fun of. Next to the main story, which often jumps around wildly, this is the golden thread guiding through the entire game. Though this is nothing new in GTA, or could even be considered a standard, I felt as if they never pulled it off so well. There always seems to be a connection to current themes that I never noticed before. That Rockstar even cast people like Ricky Gervais is something I’d never have expected. It’s all a tribute to the fact, how big GTA has actually become.

Therefore I’m quite glad that “concerns”, that Rockstar (or whoever makes these decisions, could be the publisher as well…) might leave “everything” out, that could offend anyone (and then you don’t have a game, because that’s just not possible), basically a kind of self-censorship, were seemingly unfounded. After the ridiculous media circus over San Andreas, I wouldn’t have taken that one for granted. Maybe there’s some hope after all, that people might wise up.

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