Friday, May 2, 2008


I've spent about five hours with GTA IV. Five hours with a GTA game is basically just scratching the surface, but I've played enough to experience the core mechanics and a reasonable chunk of the world.

This game currently has a 99 Metacritic, which (I think) makes it the highest game *ever* reviewed.

That is fucked up.

While obviously no game is perfect, and I don't mind giving a "10" or a "100" or whatever to a game that really moves me even if it has some technical flaws, GTA IV has some serious problems that I can't ignore (on top of the control issues mentioned in the previous post).

The car physics are horrid. I mean really, genuinely, almost-unusably awful. Every single car I've gotten into has barely been able to go around a normal 90 degree turn at a relatively normal speed. The motorcycle handling is abysmal. Yes, I understand "GTA Physics" are not real-world physics, but when your car can't take a single goddamn turn in an entire chase sequence, something is *wrong* with the way you have the cars set up. When I dread driving in a game that's called Grand Theft AUTO you have a pretty serious problem. When you have that problem in one of the two major mechanics of your game, it would seem to me that that's the kind of thing that should affect your score.

Will I get used to it? Probably. But I've been playing for HOURS, and I still can't go around a standard corner with any sort of regularity. It's unbearable.

The second thing (again, this is all in addition to the awful character controls) is that they spend a huge amount of time giving me beautifully animated representations of SHIT I DON'T CARE ABOUT.

You know what the last thing I want to do in a game is? Play pool. There have been dozens, if not hundreds, of shitty pool games throughout the years. I don't want to spend 10, even 5 minutes to play a shitty version of a shitty videogame. Arguments that it lends the world depth and believability have been made, but they don't fly with me. The makers of GTA have spent a huge amount of time building a gorgeous world of epic scope, and they've filled it with minigames I wouldn't even play for free. The bowling sucks. The pool sucks. I haven't played darts yet, but given the quality of the other two games, I'm not all that compelled to.

Take a game like Crackdown - there's an open-world game (by one of the original creators of the GTA franchise) that takes what's fun about the open world sandbox (exploration, visceral combat, freedom of movement) and makes the fun stuff even more fun. GTA IV has taken exactly the opposite approach - they've removed the fun (by making the car physics unmanageable), and increased the real-world tedium (phone calls, people nagging you, etc.).

Yes, the story and characters in GTA are lightyears beyond Crackdown. Yes, the world is more detailed and fully fleshed out. And in the end, I don't care. I don't give a shit you can play darts. I don't give a shit I can buy clothes. I don't give a shit about all the real world bullshit I do *in the real world*. I feel guilty for doing the stuff the game requires me to do because the narrative is REALLY confused about what kind of guy Niko Bellic is. Sometimes I'm free to choose my morality, and other times I'm not - with no clear cut reason why, other than some stuff needs to happen because the core story is linear. It's lazy, it's inconsistent, and it really breaks the feeling of immersion and investment in the character.

I really want to like it. But I keep hoping it'll be more than it is. The controls are horrible. The car physics are even worse. The missions (so far) have been more tiresome and tedious than interesting. The world, while more realistic, has been less fun than previous iterations of the game. That every reviewer and their goddamn mother has given the game a nearly perfect score is *absurd*.


Jeremy said...

I'm only about two hours in and so far I'm in the same boat. Nothing too impressive yet (other than the quality of the world they have created). You're mention of Crackdown is perfect. I can't quite understand why someone can't make a sandbox style game of this quality with something other than the cheesy "realistic" gangster style. Give me a Blade Runner style game in this genre and I will be in love.

Seth said...

I totally agree. After a while you do get used to the cars more, but most chase scenes painful because you have the option of possibly not making the turn or slowing down to a crawl. Also, once I learned the taxi would move me around almost instantly I stopped driving around town because it was just too much of a pain.

It really worries me that most of the gaming press see this game as the peak of the medium so far. If something as fundamentally sloppy as GTA4 is the what designer should aspire to to get praise, gaming is not going to move forward at all.

hapacheese said...

If you were to take the shooting controls in *this* version of GTA and throw them in San Andreas (with the graphics of 4, of course), I think you'd have an *awesome* game.

I really like the world they've created and I like the times in the game where I *do* feel like an immigrant struggling in America. However, like you said, it seems like the narrative can't decide if he's a good guy in a bad place or a bad guy period.

It's strange - despite its flaws, I'm enjoying the game more than some of the previous games. Not that far into it, mind you, but I'm having a decent time. But, when looking at the game from the perspective that it is *supposed* to be a 10, it makes my brain hurt.

A_B said...

I disagree!

You wanted more than that?

Oh well ...

I think the rating is perfectly fine because game reviewers are idiots. 99? Whatever. I don't put much credence in anything they have to say so I'm not particularly impressed that they would give it such amazing scores.

Nevertheless, I can't think of a better game. I think GTA IV is so good in so many ways, it deserves to have the best score. Is it literally almost perfect? I don't give a shit. Make the top score a 110 and keep GTA IV at 99.

Car physics: I love the car physics. Each category of car is very distinct and anything except a big truck is tossable and fun.

They tuned the physics so the resulting display is dramatic like the chase scene in Bullitt. (video)

Watch that chase and tell me that GTA IV isn't like that (waits). From the skidding, the fishtailing, the smacking of parked cars, overshooting turns, to the traffic. Everything. There's no car game that recreates the feel of that video like GTA IV. None.

Indeed, I giggle like an idiot every time I pull off a perfect 180 or skid perfectly into a parking space.

I have no problems taking turns with a judicious use of the parking brake and the regular brakes. Using the regular brakes is lousy, but a few quick taps of the A button will kick the end around and I'm on my way.

The only thing I don't like about driving is the uncertainty over whether certain things are breakable. Oh, and the number of cops that randomly bang into me and set off another chase.

The bowling is awful, the pool "meh", and the darts is OK. You're not going to get much of a defense of that out of me. I think the inclusion is a great idea. The execution is sorely lacking.

"I feel guilty for doing the stuff the game requires me to do because the narrative is REALLY confused about what kind of guy Niko Bellic is."

I agree, with the caveat that it might be that his character was being developed as time went along and I wasn't paying attention. I'm about 30% of the way through the game (don't know how much of that is extra crap I've done or the Main Story) and I do like the Bellic that has developed. At first I didn't really understand him. To the extent one can "understand" a video game character, he makes a lot more sense to me now.

Nevertheless, the problem I have with all the GTA games is the fact that the main characters are such conflicted bad guys. Bad guys with good hearts, that I can't resolve the fact that one of the primary game mechanics is car jacking people. The person that you portray, generally, isn't a psychopath, but the ease and necessity of yanking people out of their cars is troubling.

And I won't drop any spoilers, but he seems to have no trouble getting involved in activities later (for the money) that he claimed to not want to get involved with earlier on. He is a liar, but I didn't think he was lying at that time. Well, who knows?

Sometimes I wonder if he's becoming a worse person as part of the story, but I just can't tell. At the point I'm at, it seems he'll do anything for money regardless of the rational for doing it.

At the beginning, he didn't want to get yanked around doing goofy shit for people. Now, the first thing he asks is if the money is good.

I don't mind the chores in the game like going on dates and such, but I do mind the fact it's either "in an hour" or never. There needs to be some flexibility in your responses.

Seppo said...

I'm a handful of missions past the acquisition of your second safehouse - the narrative is quite excellent, but the car physics still suck. Even if during high speed chases it feels right (though I still don't think it does), during low-speed driving, the cars feel horrible.

And it definitely doesn't need to be like that. Brake response at low speed is horrific. Turning radius at low speeds are terrible. In real cars, those things vary with speed. Why not here?

Niko's *completely* inconsistent, IMO - not only is the response of the world to your actions inconsistent, his character almost never acknowledges the things (apart from the main storyline) that he's done. Again, this isn't a completely impossible thing - they track a lot of the data you'd need to script those interactions already - they never actually do anything with that data in-game (so far).

Seppo said...

Oh, and re: dates - I think you can call 'em back, cancel the date/appointment, then reschedule at a later time.