Thursday, January 24, 2013

Grand Theft Auto IV

Open world games or sandbox games, are video games where the player is given a great deal of freedom on a large map. The grandfather of these is Grand Theft Auto 3. I never played any of the older GTA games because, although they were widely praised by players and critics, the small print would state stuff like 'but the driving controls aren't very good...'. But the driving controls aren't very good?! That sounds like a rather critical flaw in a game with a lot of driving! Anyway, they had the fourth iteration of the series on sale on the Playstation store and figured I'd give it a shot since surely they had enough time to figure out the driving controls in the intervening years, right?

Were it that the driving controls were all that was wrong with this floating turd of a game. The character walks around as if his head were a balloon with his body hanging off of it.  The combat controls are sluggish (if an enemy sees you before you see them, you're dead, and likewise for any close quarters combat whether you see them first or not).  Auto-targeting combat AI would often choose the least threatening enemy to lock on to (the one furthest away with the weakest firearm), and the 'free aim' mechanic that's supposed to allow you to escape the auto-aim's grip rarely worked (as in 'broken').  The schizophrenic controls make helicopters operate like a one wheeled motorcycle. Then there's the game itself. There's no checkpoints (NONE) so even dying at the very end of a mission requires painfully re-driving to where the mission starts, then re-driving to a different location where the conflict starts, dying, and then having to re-do the mission..again, minus whatever ammo and armor that you happened to use during the failed mission attempt (have fun driving and buying that stuff first before re-attempting the mission) and a huge 'hospital bill' that stands in for a respawn penalty (I guess forcing the player to drive around for fifteen minutes in order to die again isn't penalty enough).

Speaking of which, I have a friend who won't play games in this series because portions involve killing cops in firefights, but if it makes him feel any better 99% of the game involves either running from or (more likely) being killed by the police force (the rest of the time is spent mowing down fellow criminals).

It's not a completely ugly game, but its five year old graphics haven't aged well and are fairly ugly compared to even contemporaries of the time like Uncharted. As well the game suffered from pop-in issues where when driving an obstacle would suddenly appear in front of the vehicle making it impossible to dodge. This all culminated during one mission where during yet another high speed driving attempt the entire screen was left undrawn, leaving my smoking, poorly drawn car to wander a pitch black waste full of unseeable obstacles for several seconds.

Is that all?  Of course not.  The game gives you a raft of friends that will nag you to death to play un-fun mini-games (or worse, go to un-fun places with no mini-games).  Objectives in the mini-map will show as above or below you even if they're standing on a the curve of the road that you're driving on.  The alert level is a joke (anything above 'minor disturbance' means that a restart is in your future).  When engaging in any form of parkour, be prepared to die falling off of buildings while fumbling with unintuitive controls.  The story is like a depressing drive through the welfare-crime ridden news pages from the bad part of town.  And, insult on injury, the horrific leftist radio/TV sounds like something piped in from MSNBC.  For example, the main news station is Weasel News, get it?  Funny! Not.  Just like the rest of the game, one giant unfunny joke that the writers/developers thought was oh so clever.

One star is in the offing for the game though because it uses a clever graphical technique to allow the player enter and exit buildings without seeing a loading screen.  I have to admit that my eyebrows went up the first time that I saw this and even Kid Sandmich saw this happen while I was playing and remarked "how'd they do that?".  He then wisely put in his Skyrim disk when it was his turn at the PS3.

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