Last week, I finished Grand Theft Auto IV. All in all, I’d have to say that it wasn’t as difficult — and definitely nowhere near as out-and-out throw-your-console-out-the-window frustrating as its predecessor Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. This is fine by a casual player like me, who got in a few hours’ playing every week, with one marathon Sunday afternoon. Now it’s time to take the online multiplayer part of the game for a spin.
“In the past, Grand Theft Auto has been severely criticized for being too violent,” says Conan O’Brien. “Well, the new version — I got it yesterday and was playing with it — it’s been toned down a lot. I’m not sure it’s better…”
Here’s a first in a series of regular updates on the just-released and much-awaited Grand Theft Auto IV…
A Hint for Those of You Who Can’t Speak Niko’s Language
In some of the dialogue between Niko and Roman, they switch between English and (I’m assuming here) Serbian. The bits in Serbian are asides that aren’t crucial to the story and can be inferred from context, but if you really want to feel like Niko, you’d like to know what they’re saying, right?
The solution is simple: just turn on subtitles (you can do this from the Game menu). When they speak in Serbian, the English translation will appear in grey text.
Another 10 Minutes of Gameplay
For those of you who haven’t yet had a chance to try out GTA IV, here’s another video showing the next 10 minutes of gameplay (the video showing the first ten minutes is here), featuring:
A little exploration of Roman’s apartment,
a carjacking (which isn’t as easy as it used to be),
exploring the hood,
abusing a sportscar until it explodes (with Niko in it),
respawning outside a hospital,
noodling with Niko’s appearance,
and fun in multiplayer mode (including a rocket launcher mishap and gunning foos down with a pistol and fully-automatic weaponry).
An Observation from GameSpy
Here’s something from Fargo’s Thought for the Day, which is included in GameSpy Daily, an email newsletter from GameSpy:
Thoughts on Sandbox Games
Since around the time that Grand Theft Auto 3 and The Sims came out, the phrase “sandbox game” or “open world” has seeped into gaming literature and even into marketing speak. It kinda drives me nuts, because a “sandbox” in and of itself isn’t very fun. It’s easy to screw it up.
Ask any game designer and they’ll tell you: if you put a person in an open world, where they can do anything they want, they spend a few minutes testing the limits and then he or she will get bored. The real trick to these games is to provide a lot of directed gameplay even if people don’t realize it. The object of an open world is to let the player set his or her own agenda, and then to provide tons of cool gameplay once they decide what to do. Sims 2 is a great example: you can do whatever you want, but no matter what decisions you make for your characters, you’ll always run across interesting mini-games or tough decisions to make in order to accomplish your goal.
Of course the Grand Theft Auto games have an overall story that you can work through via a series of directed missions, but even when you go “off the rails” and start freestyling in the sandbox world, you’re never far from the guiding hand of a designer encouraging you to collect something, discover something, set a new record, kick off a minigame, etc. Few design teams can do an open world right — but when they get it right, the experience is spectacular.
The 30-car parking lot behind the store was full of cars that I could’ve sworn were lifted right from the previous game in the series, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: small sports cars painted in bright colours with lowered suspensions, chrome wheels and obnoxiously loud exhausts and stereos driven by guys in hoodies. The male-female ratio was high, but there actually were some teenage girls in line, which is a good sign: why should guys have all the realistically rendered fun in a virtual New York?
The door to the store is a few paces past the “no left turn” sign in the distance. I waited in line for about an hour and managed to get one of the last non-pre-ordered copies for the XBox 360.
A trailer for Grand Theft Auto featuring my character’s cousin Roman.
After getting back home, I played the game for about an hour, soaking up the the visually gorgeous opening sequence, running errands for my character’s cousin, Roman, shopping for clothes to impress a lady and beating up Albanian loan sharks. I’m going to have to jack a car and explore the city, as it’s so gorgeously rendered that it feels quite real. While the “San Francisco” segment of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas gave me the feeling of deja vu (I lived there for a year), Grand Theft Auto IV made me feel as if I was in Brooklyn right now.
Here’s a video of the opening of the game, featuring the title sequence and the first few minutes of mise en scene: