GTA Retrospective Review

This is a little piece i just felt writing, just for the hell of it. I thought about GTA IV some, and seeing a friend just recently play through the multimillion dollar game made me think a bit about the whole experience of the game. I wrote it a long time ago, and I just found the whole review on my Google Documents account. So uh, here it goes. Up to the launch of Grand Theft Auto 4, there was practically an embargo of information on the game, so much so that there was speculation on internet forums to how the HUD would actually look like. Rockstar kept pulling down early gameplay videos from youtube and other sites hours to the launch of the hotly anticipated game. So much of the game was kept under wraps it felt as if this was actually a super-secret government project (might as well have been one, really). So when video game reviewers had to review the game, it was short, quick and rather dirty, and to have them base the review upon any first impressions of the game were… well nonexistent. As such, I’m basing this whole review upon playing it, listening to other people’s reviews and concerns of the game, and as such, shaping it to be a review after the fact. When the first fully 3D GTA game came out, GTA3, it was almost a proof of concept to where can games go and what the genre can do. Think about it. There wasn’t much to do, save for the main storyline and the car racing (well, it was car racing, ambulance, taxi, and cop missions, but really, when you think about it, the three are just racing but with different style to each one) but it was a proof of concept, and a fun one at that. It also was a prime tech example of the Renderware engine, an obscure engine at the time, became one of the prime engines during the previous console generation. Everything from Tony Hawk to Spongebob Squarepants games were built upon this game engine. GTA3 led upon this platform, which made the programming upon the once difficult PS2 to be a breeze for developers. Games like this wasn’t so open as we knew it, and games to follow have followed along to that standard the original had set. The following Grand Theft Auto games brought along different ideas to the game, including the simplistic mogul concept from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and the gang control element from San Andreas. Each simply improved upon the sandbox formula and brought upon new flavorings to the genre. So where does this put GTA IV, then? Simple: right back at GTA3. The return to Liberty City as a setting is also one of a stylistic flavoring, for the developers to return to the original sandbox they had created and rebuild it. No, it was much more than that- it flattened the sandbox and built something new. What had been an algham of various New York city elements actually felt like a fluid city with its respective neighborhoods and people. What was at the time the de-facto standard for third person shooters (lock on and shoot and pray that you’re actually hitting the guy that’s shooting you) the game replaces it with a rather ridiculous cover system. (Mind you, i could not find a word for the aiming system in my vocabulary at the time- I instead turned to a friend playing the game at the moment, to which he responded “ridiculous” as he used said targeting to pop a headshot with relative ease.) This game is no longer simply a better version than its counterparts- by doing away with the standards it had set out to do, the game simply raised the bar for other games in the genre within this new generation of games to follow suit. GTA4 also attempts to push yet another new engine, Rockstar’s own RAGE engine, which is yet to be known if this engine will be licensed along the Unreal Tournament 3 engine and other next gen properties. However, its animation engine, known as Euphoria, had its first major debut at E3 2006. With videos showing crudely sculpted characters dynamically reacting to one another instead of using pre-scripted animations, it proved to be a major stepping stone for next generation games, and was to be released with a new Indiana Jones game (which with much of Lucasart’s non-Star Wars games, seems to have disappeared). With a high profile game such as GTA4, the Euphoria engine may recieve much more licenses in the future as GTA4 serves as a posterboy to the technologies in the game. However, as much as the game attempts to be it’s own GTA3 for the next generation, it’s own realism can be its downfall. GTA games were always campy in nature. It was ultra-violent, yes, but there was a level of surrealism and coy jokes layered upon the best selling series. Really now, is any regular person going to break into a Area 51-esque place to steal a jet pack? Is a drug dealer really going to rise to the top in a Scarface-esque fashion? Hell no. But the GTA series showed it, and gamers, while recognizing its parodying nature, enjoyed it. GTA:SA was worth simply having Peter Fonda as a hippie talking about erethral goats he rides (it’s in the pot farm mission). There were no memoral moments like that in GTA4. Sure, Brucie’s subtle gay innuendo was funny enough, but the game just took itself way too seriously for anyone of the series to truly enjoy it. The constant bleak reminders of Niko’s tragic past and events garnered very little concern- in fact, it almost brought on yawns among many gamers. Lighten it up, Rockstar. We know you can do better. The characters, while having some small comedic moments, end up giving the player little or nothing to connect with. GTA4’s characters either disappear or are killed in a quick and dirty manner (more so than any other game. How many characters that gave you missions ultimately died in the game? There were quite a bit…) so any connection a player attempts is short lived and rather unfulfilling. Consider Tommy Vercetti, CJ, and all the other characters in the series- they were outlandish, sure, but it melded with the already campy nature of the GTA series. The weapons were realistic, but it really isn’t a GTA game until you can light some people on fire (with a flamethrower, of course) in some ridiculous rampage that requires the Army to intervene. Here? Homeland Security. Realism has it’s place in games, but GTA isn’t one of them. GTA is (or should i say, was) a campy series in nature. Yes, graphics have improved, we see new game engines powering it, but why should the rather comedic nature of the series change? It was always ridiculous, it was always over the top, but it was fun. Yeah, there are rampages, yeah, there’s those over the top missions (especially the final one) but… it doesn’t have the grandiose and Hollywood style bravado that the previous incarnations did. This version may be simplistic, but hell, the way i see it, this is a start. Is it the grade A game of the year that we’ve all been expecting? No way in hell. But this new standard it sets makes every other game in the sandbox genre a run for its money, at least in its revolutionary game engines and tight-controls. Everything else the GTA games are known for- solid characters, campy nature- all but missing. A solid B would do in this case, but a grade-A/game of the year award winning game? No dice, Rockstar.

Leave a Reply