I Hate You, Dmitri Rascalov
Okay, so I’m finished with the GTA IV. I pretty much spent the entire weekend playing through the storyline to the end. I’ve done some jumps, capped some pigeons, and pretty much tasted (or entirely consumed) all the elements the game has to offer.
And I’m kind of disappointed.
The game got “perfect 10” scores from everyone. I’m not sure what game those people were playing, or if they actually finished the storyline or not, but the game is, by no means, a perfect ten.
Despite the graphical and usability enhancements, it is a far lesser beast than its predecessors – as a game.
I wonder if the developers decided to actually take Roger Ebert’s challenge about video games not being art. That’s what it feels like. Ebert says that games will only be art when they can move us emotionally. And, well, that’s what the story in the game does.
It’s a well-crafted story. It is complex. It involves some choices, and I like that. I’ve got saves for both “endings.”
But they both. . . well. They’re both really fucking depressing. There is no way out into the sunshine – there is no “winnning”. However, that may very well be the entire point: at the end of the journey, no matter how hard he tries, Niko Bellic lives in a world of bullets, blood, and funerals.
No wonder he’s such a fucking nihilist.
There are movies that I call “punishment theater.” Schindler’s List. The Piano. The Diary of Anne Frank. Requiem for a Dream. House of Sand and Fog. Hell, even Romeo and Juliet.
We, the viewers, are punished merely by watching the films. They’re great films, but they are subtle, and stab you as you watch, and you leave the theater feeling worse than you did going in. They are thought-provoking, and sometimes life-changing. But they are by no means pleasant.
Grand Theft Auto IV is a punishment theater film punctuated by short bursts of button clicking.
At the end of forty-odd hours of gameplay, I have to ask myself: was that fun? Honestly?
It was work.
At one point (I think about ten missions from when the “finale” missions open) I remember thinking to myself, “Christ, can we just hurry this up? I want to get it overwith so I can start doing the fun stuff.” You know. The fun stuff. Doing jumps. Exploring the map. Playing the mini games.
About 2/3rds through the storyline, the mission quality just turned into utter, complete shit. And I mean the drippy kind. I just wanted to get it over with – finish up the dirty business so that I could take a shower. Nearly every mission in the last 1/3rd of the game involves either:
a) Clearing Out a Building of Goons. These missions are not fun because it’s just blithe repetition. It’s Nintendo Hard. Other games do the exact same thing (like Gears of War or Army of Two or any other 3rd person tactical shooter) but they do it better because that’s what those games are about.
Gears of War has all sorts of combat mechanisms about getting cover, blind-firing, mantling, etc. It’s built for that. The GTA IV combat system is not – which means that the battles (and seriously, there are too many of them) are tedious. And just when you think you’re done? Oh noes. Another truckload of goons shows up.
b) A Tediously Long Chase Sequence. And these aren’t “good” chase sequences, either. They usually involve you being forced to use some crippled vehicle (a scooter, or a car without a wheel, or a dump truck) while the other guy has a Ferrari. That’s not so bad, though – all the GTA games had that. But here’s where it falls down: usually, the “mission” is simply, “kill the guy you’re chasing.”
Got it. Kill the guy.
Only, and this is seriously the most irritating thing ever: the guy you’re chasing is usually invulnerable for about five minutes of the chase. Throw all the bullets you want into his car. Nothing is going to happen until he reaches the trigger point in the chase.
I’m normally fine with that as long as you tell me that’s what’s going on. But there’s a violation of the player/developer compact here: don’t tell me to do something and then make it impossible for me to do it. It’s even worse in a game like GTA: sometimes, I just wanna fire a rocket at the dude at the beginning! I have one! Let me kill him how I want to.
c) A Combination of Tediously Long Chase Sequences and Buildings Full of Goons. This is the most popular configuration of the missions. Drive from point A to point Bumfuck. Chase the guy at point Bumfuck to point Fuckbum. There, go inside and kill a building of dudes. Oops, one is getting away; you have to chase him, too. Only this time we’re giving you a garbage truck and he’s got a motorbike.
(Another fun bit: the final mission’s last “leg” introduces a new kind of vehicle for you to chase someone in, and it handles like shit. Good luck!)
It feels like they forgot the fun in place of the story.
And what’s worse, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything. The XBox Achievement for finishing the storyline is called “You Won!”. I’m fairly certain that is intended to be sarcastic: you don’t “win.” You don’t get to have a cool mansion in the hills, and you don’t get to go around town and buy a bunch of buildings, and you don’t get the girl. No, you cannot have a pony.
You get a hollow feeling in your guts.