Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Grand Theft Annulment  

Games: So I went out and got a copy of...

the game everybody’s playing and the thing that’s racked up some of the highest-scored reviews of all time. The games media across tha intarwebs have been falling all over themselves to pile shimmering, golden scores on top of it, delivering the kind of unparalleled fellatio that’s usually reserved for the kind of sweaty teen dreams that only hormones can bring on.

As I write this, it’s currently got a 98/100 at MetaCritic after 66 reviews, the first 41 or so being perfect 100s-- seriously, that’s insane success. Rockstar must be thrilled, since any publisher out there would sell their firstborn for numbers like that.

Niko Bellic, on the hunt for Dan Weissenberger

So, after two days of playing, what’s my take on it?

I’m not at all impressed.

It’s not that the game is terrible because it’s not, but it’s certainly not deserving of all the accolades and perfect scores. Granted, I’m still very early on and have not yet completed the single player portion, but based on what I’ve seen so far… I don’t think I actually will. How's that for a ringing endorsement?

My man CJ from San Andreas... Check that fly ride.

Now before going any further, don’t start thinking I’m some sort of GTA hater. That couldn’t be further from the truth—I gave the first perfect score of my review career to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on PS2, and that’s a number I stand by. That was a tremendous game and a major achievement. GTA IV? Not so much.

I mean, looking at the game, I’m not even sure what I’m supposed to be impressed with.

Graphics? Well, the graphics are all right, but they’re not as stellar as most people seem to think they are. Quite honestly, I think there are a lot of games out right now that look a lot better.

Do you play games to admire the architecture?

Realistic replication of a city? Having never set foot in New York, I couldn’t tell you whether it’s realistically modeled or not—and really, who cares if it is? My ability to recognize landmarks or particular neighborhoods has absolutely no effect on gameplay.

Improved controls? I find the vehicle control to be atrocious, quite possibly the worst in the series, and controlling main character Nico Bellic is only slightly better. Everything feels slow and clunky, and quite frustrating at times.

Gameplay? From what I’ve seen so far, it’s business as usual. The same sort of ‘go here, kill someone’ missions that have always been in GTA have made up the majority of what I’ve done so far, with nothing interesting occurring, or even being promised.

Environment? I get very little value from observing AI characters exhibit random behavior while walking down the street, and I don’t usually play games for the scenery. Simply being somewhere and spending time is not a draw.

Story? Granted, this could be the game’s homerun, but it has completely failed to draw me in so far, and I feel (raspberry sound) for the characters. Sure, I giggled at some of the absurd lines and obvious jokes, but I don’t feel compelled to follow Nico on his journey, and I have absolutely no motivation to improve ‘relationships’ with the faces I’ve seen so far. I’m absolutely willing to admit that there may be some quality drama later on, but part of good game design and creation (and really, of any creative media at all) is the ability to capture a player’s imagination and immerse them in the world; motivate them to rise to the challenge and emerge victorious. At this point, I’m completely bored by what’s been happening, and I don’t feel at all engaged—without intellectual buy-in, I have no incentive to put up with what I see as a below-average (compared to San Andreas) GTA boilerplate.

Although I’m considering pressing on if for no other reason than it’s likely going to be one of those ‘must-play’ titles that any good critic should probably have under their belt, it already feels like work and that’s not a good thing.

If anyone out there can tell me what exactly is so great about this game, I’d honestly love to hear it… keeping in mind that graphics aren’t enough to sway me and that I’ve already played through four previous GTAs, exactly what am I supposed to be getting from IV? I would guess that if this was the first time I was playing a GTA I’d be more impressed, but I find absolutely no significant leap between what IV offers, and what every other GTA did before it.

Whatever critics are getting out of this game in order to justify the universal adoration, I just don’t see it.

It may be generic, but Saints Row plays like buttah

As a sort-of comparison, today I picked up a copy of Saints Row, since it had been billed as a GTA wannabe, and I thought it would be interesting to see what my reaction would be to it.

Not surprisingly (or perhaps surprisingly) I thought it started out really fun and frenetic, and I was quickly engaged with the customization and absolutely solid controls. I mean, this game is pretty much a next-gen version of San Andreas with the gang slant, recruiting homies, capturing territory, and so on, only it skips the pretense and gets right to the action.

I can't say that it's a good game since I only put in about 45 minutes with it, but not having to fuss with controls and camera was quite welcome, and it had waypoints and a mini-map, so it was almost exactly like IV minus the immigrants and New York ambiance. (Bonus points awarded for the prominent display of zaftig ladies.)

Saints Row and IV almost seem like flip sides of the same coin when played them back to back like that. Take that irresistible GTA hype out of the equation, and IV seems like standard GTA, just offering less than the last iteration and still not nailing the controls.

What next?

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1 comments: to “ Grand Theft Annulment


    And for that matter I actually enjoyed (the PC version at least) True Crime; Streets of LA better than I liked GTA3 or San Andreas.

    A game with "auto" in the title should have cars that handle a bit better than GTA's.

    I admit though: I do like seeing recognizable real-world places and buildings in games and, IMO, it does add something to it.