Sunday, May 4, 2008

Grant Theft Auto IV (Review)

I'm now 20.06% of the way through the story of the game. Each session unveils more of the Next Gen GTA's small, wonderful new details. The gun targeting is more responsive. You can drag people behind your moving car. The world seems impossibly rich and detailed. If you get into a really fast head-on collision, you smash through your windshield and roll across the pavement. And the new explosions are more beautiful than sunsets.

But now that I'm in my twenties (percents), the familiar errand-boy tone of the GTA formula is settling in. Follow this stoolie. Steal that car full of drugs. Blow up that factory. Kill those bikers. (Not to mention plenty of non-murderous The Sims-type drudgery: eating, dating, shopping, and bowling.)

Yes, the joys of the franchise's Next Gen detailing quickly fade into the background, and it soon feels like just another day in Liberty City. (After all, there have been five games with the exact same tone and story framework before this one.) At 20%, I'm skipping the Ben Hur-length cut scenes, and groaning every time I have to drive all the way across town. GTA: IV has a clever system that allows taxis to instantly take you across long distances. The problem with this is: now I'm furious when I can't find a cab. Even in a driving game, who wants spend so much time on the road?

I may be 20.06% of the way through completing the game, but I'm about 48% (if all goes well) of the way through completing the task of being actually alive. And spending any part of my remaining 52% on these repetitive thuggy tasks is starting to feel (is it possible?) like waste of time. Why should busywork be more compelling when demanded by a grotesque dramatis personae of human scum than when demanded by, say, my wife?

The answer to this conundrum is a multiplayer option with the straightforward name, "GTA Race." In this tour de awesome, you race against other online players through the most thrilling courses in Liberty City. In addition to speeding through the streets, dodging (or not) pedestrians, you are also assaulting the other players with the beloved retinue of GTA weapons. If your car is blown up, you can jack another. Players who realize they have no chance of winning the race choose to become agents of destruction, setting up well-armed road blocks for the potential victors. It is GREAT. It is the Monaco Grand Prix meets Michael Mann's Heat. Somehow, I was involved in a race that started out between two-door hatchbacks and ended between an armored car and a bus across a foggy runway as players on Vespas shot at us and jet liners landed above us.

This "mini-game" is a dream I never want to wake up from. I finally stopped playing because my copy of GTA: IV froze up at about 1 AM. I see this as divine intervention. Because if the game hadn't broken, I never would have had the willpower to turn it off.

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