in Review

Here We Go Again

Grand Theft Auto IV

Everyone’s favorite murder simulator (ugh) hit the ground running last week, focusing all the media and gamers in the country on the dangerous streets of Liberty City. Just like how the game didn’t steal Iron Man‘s weekend (it had one of the best non-sequel openings ever), the media couldn’t be more incorrect about their presentation of GTA4.

This fourth entry in the series is by far the most sophisticated and satirical. The story, while perhaps not on-par with the cinematic greats, is still very good and engrossing. The folks at Rockstar put us in the shoes of Niko Bellic, an Eastern European ex-soldier who recently moved into Liberty City, which is essentially New York City. What follows explores the American dream, family, and much more. I haven’t finished it yet, but this has by far the best GTA story ever, because you real feel a connection with Niko.
But the real star of the show is Liberty City itself. The game delivers a realistic, living, breathing city unlike anything we’ve experienced before. There are drivers and pedestrians all over the city, each of them with a unique look and objectives. You’ll hear people having cell phone conversations, eating, even fighting with each other and getting arrested. Not only can you cause havoc in the city with, but you can go on dates and hang out with your friends. You can go bowling, to a restaurant, or get drunk (and then risk drunk driving, which is a dangerous as it should be).
There is so much detail put into this game. If you take a date to a comedy club and leave early, she’ll complain you didn’t stay. If you break a window to steal a car, passerbys will scream and run away. The amount of realism and freedom you’re allowed is incredible.
There’s a great multiplayer too, I haven’t really gotten to play it, but it seems absolutely fantastic. This is a polished and entertaining game, worthy of being the best-reviewed game ever made.
But the media doesn’t present it like that. It is so annoying for me to see the media so clearly uninformed about an issue. Every time I see it mentioned on any station, from CNN to Fox News, they seem to be pulling out the default responses we’ve been hearing since GTA3 so many years ago.
For one, the media needs to realize that gaming is something for the kids any more. The average gamer is in his 20s/30s. We’re a mature bunch of people worthy of mature entertainment. The average person on a video gamer strikes me as a much more sophisticated person than the average movie goer, yet there’s no outcry when an Eastern Promises or Hostel II comes out.
People seem to think that playing video games turns people into killers. What they don’t seem to take into account is that killers are crazy people. And these crazy people are living in a scary world. We hear about horrible violent things on the news, on TV, in movies, but some how people think its fair to pin it all on video games. When someone plays Mario, they don’t go out and try to jump on everyone. When someone plays Burnout, they try to get into high speed crashes. When someone plays Elite Beat Agents they don’t tryout to become a male cheerleader. But when they play Grand Theft Auto, they go on a killing spree?
No, video games are not the reason people become violent. But its a lot easier for our media to say it is. After all, that’s what brings in the viewers, and it’s an easy issue to mislead people with. Yes, in GTA you can go to a prostitute, which recovers your health, and yes, if you want, you can kill her after that. But the game doesn’t encourage that, it doesn’t suggest that, and the story itself makes you not want to do that. You can drunk drive, but its not fun and if you do get drunk, it becomes clear the game wants you to take a cab. With this GTA, you even might find yourself following the rules of the road.
At the end of the day, this is entertainment. People don’t want to watch movies or shows about people living normal, legal lifestyles. We watch The Sopranos, Goodfellas, and The Godfather. That’s what is interesting to watch, why can’t that be what’s fun to play. Gaming is pure escapism, the one art-form that allows people to truly live in a different world. Mass Effect lets you be a soldier fighting to save the universe, Call of Duty 4 shows us the true horror of modern combat, and GTA4 gives us a taste of life in those crime films.
GTA4 is an incredibly well-made game. Perhaps even the best game ever made. For the people that are missing out on it, I have nothing but pity.