GTAIV – First Look

Received my pre-order copy of GTA IV at work yesterday, and it proceeded to burn a hole through my pocket until I finally had a chance to get home and check it out. I will admit that it has the look and feel of a GTA title, but this sequel is a whole new experience.

For starters, the controls are much more complex. The fighting engine alone offers multiple methods of attack (not new) but also offers powerful counters and combo’s. The old days of just punching until the other guy drops have been replaced with actual fights that cannot be slept through. If fighting isn’t your style however, you can always just draw a weapon and take their head off.

The vehicle controls are another story. I’m not sure what they were thinking, or if I have just been spoiled by the plethora of sandbox type titles since the last GTA release, but most vehicles in the game seem to have painfully realistic physics. In the old game, cars went a certain speed, and if you approached an intersection, jamming on the brakes or yanking the e-brake would get you around a turn somewhat painlessly. Now if you approach a turn at full throttle and lock up the brakes, you’re sliding through the intersection most likely into a large inanimate object. How about ABS as a downloadable mod, Rockstar?

The landscape is vast, as a very large portion of NYC has been reproduced in digital glory. One thing that bugged me however, is that if you’re driving through that landscape and are in an area not surrounded by buildings where you can actually see it – the game starts chugging. It’s ever so slight, but definitely noticeable. Also, the graphics really aren’t that good IMHO. While they’re on par with a GTA title, they’re on par with a GTA3 that got the airbrush treatment prior to release – and that’s about it.

Running the game in full 1080i over my Sharp Aquos, the picture just seemed grainy at times. The roads are blurry, and the way objects pop in to the landscape is about as smooth as a train derailment. Once you’re actually immersed in gameplay it’s not really noticeable, but it IS one of those subtle details that will drive fans of the genre like me crazy.

Like I mentioned earlier, the physics models are completely improved – and the damage effects from dents to fire to explosion are all very well executed. I’ve found the cars have an initial level of damage which is absolutely forgiving considering the new level of control allowed. Thankfully after about an hour or two of playing I got a handle of the cars well enough that I only wreck at every other intersection… One part of the game stands out, as I had a head on collision with a soccer mom and my car’s engine blew. I couldn’t start it. The minivan’s engine bay had burst into flame, so I decided to get out of the blast radius. It took longer than I had expected, but the crescendo arrived in the form of another inexperienced Liberty City driver who rear-ended the minivan and set off a devastating explosion that destroyed all 3 cars.

I didn’t get away entirely unscathed either, as I pulled away in a stolen taxi, I noticed flames on my passenger side front tire – perhaps from gasoline spilled during the crash. After about 3 blocks that tire blew and I was off to get another ride.

All in all – it looks like another knockout from Rockstar, and while their attention to detail shines in some areas – in others it seems they were asleep at the wheel. I believe the graphics have suffered but if the gameplay is solid, I’ll accept the sacrifice.  Last but not least, the cinematics seem quite a bit more drawn out – like I’m watching a show on FX and not playing a game.  For those who go for that total immersion factor it will be highly entertaining – for me they just brought the action of the game to a screeching halt.  Hopefully there will be some downloadable updates in the near future to address the few gripes I have, but until then – see you in Liberty City.

One last thing, to assholes like Jack Thompson. You’ve obviously been asleep for the past 3o years and missed the revolution in entertainment that is video games. The generation that grew up with Pong, Space Invaders, Super Mario Brothers, and Sonic the Hedgehog are sadly not stuck in the past. We are growing up, we now likely smoke, drink, and some of us even partake in sweet, sweet green leaf. Most nights, we watch television shows with tits, ass, and plenty of foul language that would make a priest faint.

Sure, I get some enjoyment by fiddling with the classic games of my childhood, just like you old farts might pick up an old book that you haven’t gotten around to burning yet – and read a few chapters to remember your Hitler youth… But as my age has increased, so has the level and quality of entertainment required to keep my mind happily occupied in the off hours. I’m a little old for Viva Pinata and Crash Bandicoot.

So go ahead, keep up your quest to prohibit the little ones from being harmed by playing the evil video games. I agree, it does desensitize a young mind to violence. While you’re at it, get Katie Couric off the nightly news. I’d rather see Dan Rather in a thong than have to watch that wannabe Tim Burton character report on the status of rape and murder in our nation every night. God forbid the little ones realize she’s female, our species will truly be doomed.

I’ll give you my video games when you take them from my cold, dead hands.

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